Whether in the great outdoors or inside at a gym, rock climbing is all the rage: Last year, 4.6 million Americans tried the sport. But taking that first step and hovering above the ground can be scary. “Most people are surprised how incredibly fun climbing can be,” says pro climber Cheyne Lempe. “A lot of people assume that it's dangerous, which isn't true. Most of the time it's an extremely safe environment.”
Of course, before you scale any cliffs you’ll need to learn the basics. (They’ll help you climb without getting hurt and without looking silly, too.) Here are a few beginner tips—and some key pieces of climbing gear—so you can get started moving on up.
1. KNOW THE LINGO.
If you’re taking a lesson, your instructor will likely tell you about must-know terminology before you start working your way up any rocks. But here are a few common terms that you should know before you go:
Anchor: A point of attachment for a climbing rope
Belay: Adding tension to the rope to prevent you from falling too far
Pumped: When your arms build up with lactic acid and get very tired
Slack: Loosen the rope
Trucker: A totally solid anchor
Wobble: When you get tired or lose your cool
2. GET INTO POSITION.
To stay stable when you’re beginning, think about maintaining a tripod position, with three points of contact against the rock (either two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot). Hovering with your hips close to the rock, rather than sticking your butt out, helps you keep balance.
3. WATCH YOUR STEP.
Climbing is all about carefully planning your moves and where you place your feet. “Not focusing on my footwork was something that I didn't realize was happening when I was first climbing,” says Lempe. To avoid getting hurt, take the time to think about each step before you take it. “You want to look for the best possible hold to help you make progression upward,” he says.
4. POWER UP FROM YOUR LEGS.
You might assume that rock climbing involves a ton of upper-body strength, but your lower body is actually where you should get your power. “It's really important to focus on using your legs instead of your arms,” says Lempe. Rather than pulling up with your arms, he says, you should use them to maintain your balance.
5. GEAR UP.
There can be a lot of technical accessories needed for climbing, but you don’t need to buy it all to get started. If you’re going out with a guide or taking a lesson, they’ll likely lend you stuff like ropes, carabiners, belay devices, and a harness. But here are a few pieces of equipment to get you started.
Mountain Hardwear Dynama Ankle Pants ($70)
These lightweight pants are super-stretchy, helping you move comfortably as you work your way up the side of a rock. The fabric is durable but incredibly soft, and zippered pockets can hold chapstick, keys, or other small items.
Petzl Meteor Helmet ($99.95)
Protect your head from falls or hitting it against the rock with this lightweight, breezy helmet; it’s covered with large openings to provide lots of ventilation, and it’s easily adjustable for a comfy fit.
Prana Chalk Bag with Belt ($20)
To keep your hands from getting sweaty and slipping while you climb, reach for the chalk you keep inside this bag, which features an adjustable draw cord to open and close it quickly. Plus, it has a durable exterior but soft fleece lining.
Scarpa Origin Shoes ($89)
With extra-sticky 4mm rubber soles for incredible grip on rocky surfaces, these shoes are ideal for beginners. Soft suede uppers and padded aero mesh tongues are comfy, and the heels cup your feet for a snug fit and zero slipping.