Rock climbing is a great sport. It is fun, challenging, rewarding. But rock climbing is also dangerous unless you take the necessary precautions. In the controlled environment that are climbing gyms, you probably feel safe and confident. If you plan on moving from your local climbing gym to the outdoors, however, you may want to check our guide to rock climbing safety to save yourself some trouble later.
1. Use your own gear
When you decide that you are ready to go outside, make sure you do it with your own equipment. At the gym, any borrowed equipment will do fine and is safe enough. When you’re out in the open your gear is what keeps you safe. Quite often it is also what keeps you alive.
The quality of your equipment is something you should never compromise with as cheap and low-quality equipment may cause you a lot of pain… literally.
Don’t forget to regularly check your gear for signs of wear and replace it when needed. This is especially important for the harnesses and ropes.
2. Pack carefully
It is easy to remember to bring your climbing shoes, harnesses and rope, chalk and a chalk bag. But did you bring enough water to stay hydrated? Did you take the extra light in case you are late? Are you sure how many quickdraws you’ll need or maybe you’ll just pack a few more? Don’t forget a first aid kit as well, even when you hope you won’t have to use it.
If you go climbing regularly it is a good practice to keep a list of everything you need for your climbing sessions. Having a detailed list will help you with the most commonly used equipment, however, always consider each situation separately.
3. Always wear a helmet
When you climb outside one of the most important pieces of equipment and a key to rock climbing safety is the helmet. Whether you are climbing or belaying, the helmet is the only thing between your head and the falling rocks. Head injuries from rockfalls may be not only painful but sometimes even fatal so make sure your head is protected at all times.
While you climb watch for loose stones and try not to touch them with your body or equipment. Avoid climbing under another climber as well or you risk more stones falling your way.
4. Choose the right partner
When you choose a climbing partner pick someone with similar experience. If one of the partners has significantly lower experience it is more likely to become a burden in the long run as they will not be able to support their partner properly.
Keep in mind also that choosing a belayer means choosing someone to keep you safe and sound while you climb so make sure you choose someone you could trust fully and unconditionally.
5. Learn the climbing commands
There are many climbing commands between a climber and a belayer, that are already agreed in the climbing community. The commands are used for better and faster communication and learning these commands will help you communicate better, especially if you are new to the group.
As an example, it is common that the climber will ask “On belay?” to know if the belayer is ready. If so, then the belayer will answer with “Belay on”, which would mean they are set to belay.
This is just one of many examples, however, you could always agree upon your own commands as well, as long as they are short and clear to everyone involved.
6. Double-check everything
Just before you start to climb you should make a habit of double-checking your equipment. These checks should include:
- Are there any signs of wear on the harness?
- Is the harness positioned properly?
- Are the helmets fastened correctly?
- Are all knots knotted properly?
- Is there any possible damage on the rope?
- Is the belay device fasten with a lockable carabiner?
- Are there any sharp edges on the carabiners or any of the other metallic details?
It would be best if you perform these checks together with your climbing partner. After all, four eyes are always better than two when it comes to rock climbing safety.
7. Practice falling
Falling is a natural part of the climb. Learning how to fall properly will help you conquer the fear of falling and will eventually encourage you to try more difficult movements even if it means to fail and fall the first several times.
To learn how to fall safely pick a suitable spot and tell your belayer you will take a practice fall. Once they confirm you’re good to go push away from the wall with your feet.
8. Keep the rope over your leg
While climbing always make sure that the rope is positioned over your leg and not behind one or between them. The proper rope position will prevent you from flipping upside down and hitting your head in case you fall.
9. Consider the weather
Weather can have a huge impact on rock climbing safety, especially in the mountains where sudden changes in the weather are common. When you pack, be sure to prepare for different weather conditions. This is even more important if you plan to stay over several days. In case of heavy rain, strong wind or lightning avoid climbing until the weather improves as such conditions may turn to be fatal.
The tips above cover the general the rock climbing safety tips you need to keep in mind while climbing.
Still, if you plan on climbing outdoors, especially on more complicated terrains, you should keep in mind that this requires a higher level of expertise and is greatly recommended that you take a course at the gym or through a local guide. This is the best way to learn not only how to tie a proper knot but also to grasp the different climbing techniques and to prepare yourself how to handle the different dangerous situations that may arise.
Remember that staying safe is the only way to keep enjoying rock climbing and getting the most of all the great benefits it brings.