The popularity of rock climbing has been on the rise, with a big part of it being due to the increase of indoor climbing options. I get occasional requests to take friends and acquaintances climbing. “You rock climb? I want to learn.”

Climbing is a fun and an interesting sport. However, it does have risk of injury. Knowing the basics could help reduce accidents or injuries. Below is a guide to teach your friends to rock climb. Start by taking them to an indoor gym to see if they know what their doing before going outside.

*Disclaimer: This does not constitute formal instruction in climbing. Climbing is a dangerous activity and you undertake it at your own risk. I recommend taking a course at your local climbing gym.

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1. Ask the right questions

If you’re not familiar with the person’s climbing experience, it may be best to make sure you ask the right questions to know where to start. If they have climbing gear, they might know enough to go to the gym or even climb outside.

  • Have you ever climbed before? – What’s your experience? Indoor? Outdoor? What grades can you climb?
  • Do you own your own harness? Shoes?
  • Do you know how to belay? Most gyms require a belay test in order to climb on the ropes.
  • Do you know how to tie a rewoven figure eight?

2. Start in a climbing gym

Many gyms have classes to teach the basics I’ll cover today. The gym instructors are trained and know the risks of climbing. It may be worth $50 if it means you (or your partner) aren’t going to fall.

All the climbing gyms I’ve been to do NOT allow instruction and require a belay test in order to belay other climbers up the wall. This includes the next steps of putting on a harness (and harness checks), how to belay correctly (don’t take your brake hand off the rope), and how to tie-in.

Learn how to pass an indoor climbing gym belay test.

3. Explain the climb rating scales

Climbing scales may not mean anything to your friend. The lower the number after the “5.” the easier the climb will be. Some gyms use letters on climbs that start with “5.10” while others use a plus or minus sign. Plus means harder than a minus and “a” is easier than a “d.”

4. Do a warm-up

Don’t scare them but explain your routine when you go to the gym and how you warm up. Some may disagree, but I have many friends injure finger pulleys while climbing because they did not warm up. Your fingers pinch and hold different than most activities and just like stretching is important in soccer or basketball, warming up your fingers and stretching is recommended. Do this by climbing a couple of rate that aren’t overly challenging. After I’ve been away from climbing for a few months, I focus on endurance over grade and try to get in as many repetitions as possible to get my body back into shape.

5. Focus on climbing first

Instead of adding the complexity of climbing knots and belaying techniques, consider bringing another friend or two with you that does know how to belay or start with bouldering where climbing knots, belaying, and harnesses aren’t required. You can belay the new climber but also can climb yourself if you want to get on routes that aren’t auto-belay, or the devices that allow climbers to climb without a person belay.

6. Demonstrate technique

Even though you can’t teach knots and belaying in the gym, you can usually get on the wall and explain how you use your balance to move from hold to hold, also called beta. Focus on feet placement first, even though basic instinct is to use upper body strength. Trusting you can put weight on tiny holds and stand up on them took years for me to figure out. If your friend does yoga or other sports, try to use terminology they’ll understand.

7. Watch your friend

Assess your friend’s experience by seeing how they move on an indoor rock wall and their emotional tolerance. If the person is scared of heights, consider going to the gyms a few times before adding outdoor exposure without color-coded holds. Practice makes perfect after all.