How Do I Learn to Climb Outside?

Breaking out of the gym and going climbing outside requires a certain level of technical knowledge.  Many experienced climbers who have been at the sport for years overlook the skills that are needed to safely climb outside.  It comes as second nature to them.  But, buy for a new climber, cure all of the knots, cialis systems, belaying, and rope management may seem very daunting.

I have compiled three methods for acquiring the necessary knowledge to climb outdoors with your friends.  Many of you will follow, or have followed these in the order they are presented.  The methods are in order from the least expensive to the most expensive.  However, that same order will provide you with the least amount of knowledge, to the most (and likely safest) amount of knowledge.

Method 1:  Meet More Experienced Climbers

The best place to meet other climbers who are more experienced than you (a beginner) is at your local climbing gym.  Obviously, this tip takes for granted that you have a gym nearby, but most big cities have at least one climbing gym.  A local college or YMCA might also have a climbing wall.  This is the cheapest and easiest option to learn how to climb outside.  Many start with this step.  Some progress through the next steps, but many learn all they need from their friends.  Learning to climb outside through friends you meet at the gym may be unreliable.  Some of these climbers may not be safe climbers (even though they think they are) while others may not want to show a newbie the ropes… pun intended!  But, with a little luck and perhaps a case of beer, you may find the perfect mentor that will teach you everything he or she knows about climbing.

Method 2:  Join an Outdoor Group

PSU Adventure Recreation rock climbing

PSU Adventure Recreation guide hard at work!

The next best option will likely cost some money.  Climbing groups or clubs can be found in most colleges and also in most big cities.  There will probably be some type of membership fee for a club, and there may be fees for associated trips or instructional classes.  Trip leaders and instructors have likely applied to get the position they hold.  This means they must have some level of technical knowledge.  Also, there is a good chance they are safe climbers since they are leading outdoor clubs.  I went on a couple trips with the Adventure Recreation Club at Penn State when I was a student.  This club did not offer any specific instructional classes.  Instead, when we were on a trip, I would incessantly ask the guide questions.  I would ask them to teach me the technique and we would have mini-classes at the base of the climb.  It turned out, many of the participants had the same interest in learning as I did.  Joining a club is a great option to learn, but it is not the best.

Method 3:  Hire an AMGA Guide

Rock Climbing Otter Cliffs guide

Acadia National Park, my first AMGA experience.

In my opinion, taking a class from an American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) guide is the best option, if you have the finances to do so.  It may cost you a couple hundred bucks for a weekend course, but the instruction will be top notch.  I have personally taken 3 classes from 2 different AMGA guides and the instruction was worth every penny.  The first time I took a class, Gaelyn and I were at Acadia National Park.  We wanted to climb, but we knew our knowledge was not up to par.  We hired a guide through a local guide service (that was AMGA accredited) and we went climbing.  We climbed a lot, but also emphasized to the guide that we wanted to learn.  I believe this was our break in to climbing.  When we went home, we bought the gear needed and started top roping outside on our own.  My next two classes, I hired a guide at the New River Gorge.  The classes were all instruction and minimal climbing, which is what I wanted.  The AMGA is constantly testing and re-testing their methods.  They update old, complicated methods with newer simpler methods.  I truly believe AMGA instruction is the safest and the best!

In summary, start with Method 1.  If you are very new, and your outdoor knowledge is limited, you can learn a lot from a trusted friend.  Depending on your experience with Method 1, you may move to Method 2, or bypass it and move to Method 3.  I think everyone should take at least one AMGA class.  Whether you are learning to set up your first top rope with natural protection, or you are learning new systems to climb your first big wall, an AMGA guide will teach you what you need to know.

What methods have worked for you?  Did you find a climbing mentor and have them teach you everything?  Who has taken AMGA courses?  Please let me know in the comments!

  • Jersteck

    I’d have to agree with your conclusion here, that taking a real course with certified professionals is the best way to ensure that you learn to climb properly. However, I feel that this is the least common method by which people learn the ropes.

    I originally was exposed to climbing in the Boy Scouts, which I have learned over the years, is not necessarily the best group of people to teach you the proper skills. Often, the leaders here do not really know all that much about climbing.

    Through trial and error, my friends and I just bought equipment and started climbing and we learned a lot from others at the cliffs. This is also not recommended in my opinion as we were lucky that our mistakes did not kill us.

    In college, hooking up with the outdoors club was the first time I learned from skilled folks who knew what they were doing. This, to me, was the foundation for my basic climbing skills. Often, these clubs can provide the equipment needed to properly teach you by doing…in a fun, inexpensive, and informal environment to learn all of the basics.

    Now, when it come to trad climbing, which I’ve done almost primarily for my climbing career, nothing beats finding an experienced partner. Having someone with experience to critique your placements over and over is very important. To become proficient with Trad, you can learn the basics in a workshop type setting, but you just can’t learn how to do trad without climbing a lot of trad routes. Placing good pro is an art. Having an experienced partner allows you to begin the learning process immediately, and it puts you in real situations that can only be learned first hand.

    • Gif

      I think most people don’t take an AMGA course because of the cost. They are expensive, but worth it. Similar to you, I have heard from many people that they bought gear, went out with their friends, and figured it out on the rocks. All these people say they are lucky to be alive. I didn’t want that experience so I went with a proper class..haha!

      College clubs are excellent because most of the cost is subsidized by the school, making the price very modest. I agree that the best way to learn to be a good trad climber, is to climb more trad. A class is a good start to get the basics, but practice does make perfect in this case.

      Thanks for stopping by and for the comment!

  • Alecmpitt

    Was wondering which guide company you hired at New River Gorge? Thanks in advance.

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