A beginner’s guide to take your climbing skills outside in a safe, prepared way

Rock climbing gear
All the gear you need for a day out at your local climbing crag.Marcus Garcia

You have practiced climbing inside where you learned basic climbing techniques and route reading. Now you feel a desire to get outside and merge a sport you love with the elements that only Mother Nature can offer. Let us help prepare you to take your skills and love of climbing to your local outdoor climbing crag. 

Know Your Discipline

Rock climbing offers a variety of ways to get outside. Most importantly, before going outside, know your preferred climbing discipline. There is a big difference between bouldering, top rope, trad and sport climbing. When transitioning from the gym to crag, it is best to start with bouldering or top rope.

Bouldering: Bouldering doesn’t require knowledge about anchor building or belaying. When bouldering, climbers use a crash pad, rather than a rope, to protect themselves when they fall.

Top Rope (top roping): Many crags have anchors bolts that are accessible by foot. You simply build your anchor, drop the rope and walk down to climb and belay with a partner.

Trad Climbing (traditional climbing): Trad climbing involves placing gear (cams and nuts) as protection during a climb on belay. Often, the climber will then need to build an anchor at the top of a pitch or climb. 

Sport Climbing on Lead: In this scenario, a climber follows a bolted line to bolted anchors, clipping the rope in as they go.


Safety is the number-one priority. Here are a few steps to keep you safe:

1) Have an understanding of your limitations as well as knowledge of climbing technique and protocol. Do you know how to tie in? Do you know proper climbing communication? What fears do you have? Do you know how to build an anchor?

2) Ask for help from someone you trust. Before going outside it is a good idea to check out a local climbing gym and ask about specific training for the discipline you desire to take outside. 

3) Be honest with yourself and your partner about what levels you feel comfortable. In this situation, your life and your partner’s life depend upon trust. 

4) Be sure you have the proper gear. 

Rock climbing belay device
A belay device serves as your “brakes” when rock climbing by applying tension to the rope. Marcus Garcia

Here is what you need to get started.

Equipment for Bouldering:

• Crash pads

• Chalk bag and chalk

• Rock climbing shoes

Personal Equipment for all Roped Climbing: 

• Rock climbing shoes

• Chalk bag and chalk 

• Harness: These can be rented from a local gym if you don’t own one. You want to ensure that it is not frayed and that it fits snug around the waist.

• Belay device: Highly suggest one with a secondary locking mechanism (Gri-Gri by Petzl, Sport Jul by Edelrid) with a locking carabiner to attach to your harness. 

• Climbing helmet: Always protect yourself when climbing, belaying or standing at the cliff-base.

• Climbing Rope: 50-70 meters in length, 10-11 mm in diameter

Basic Top Rope Equipment:

• Slings/webbing to build an anchor

• Four locking carabiners: two to attach anchor to bolts and two to attach rope to anchor

Additional Equipment for Lead Climbing:

• 12-16 quickdraws for sport routes

• Proper amount of protection (cams and nuts) for trad routes: necessary gear is frequently mentioned in guidebooks. 

• Rappel device: most belay devices can be used to rappel as well. The main exceptions to this are the Gri-Gri by Petzl or sport specific devices. 

* Don’t forget lots of water and snacks to keep your energy high!

Rock climbing gym in Durango, Colorado
Starting out in the gym is a great way to meet other climbers and work on building basic skills.Marcus Garcia

Training incorporates education, physical strength and an understanding of ropes and safety.

Physical Training: Build up your finger and core strength to prevent injuries. This training should include weight, cardio and finger hangs. Learning to activate the muscles you use in climbing will keep your body healthy.

Movement: Many people think climbing is about being strong. In reality, most climbing is foot driven movement. Find a program that will help you understand how to move your body around your feet. This allows you to climb longer and feel less fatigue. 

Understanding: It is imperative that you educate yourself on ropes and safety before going outside. Taking your climbing from a controlled indoor environment to the unpredictable outdoors can seem overwhelming. But if you know how to stay safe, the experience will be much more enjoyable. 

Your Local Crags: Educate yourself on the local crags. You can find details in guidebooks that are available at most outdoor gear stores. You can also use an app called Mountain Project.  These resources detail what is needed for every route at each crag. 


Finally, find a community. Many gyms have lists of people looking for climbing partners. They also offer classes to their members that not only build skills but allow you to meet other climbers of all skill levels. You learn from each other, encourage each other and build trust. These days you can also join social media groups that are designed to help climbers find partners. The most important thing to keep in mind when finding climbing partners is honesty. If you don’t know how to do something, that is ok; however, for the safety of both of you, never hide your limitations.


Crush: To dominate a climb

Choss: Loose, undesirable rock

Beta: Information about specific moves required in a climb

Crux: The most difficult section of a climb

Bomber: Fail-proof gear (often used sarcastically)

Crag: A term used to reference a rock-climbing area

Spot: To protect a boulderer in the case of a fall; the aim of spotting is to guide a falling climber toward a safe landing on the crash pad.