Rock climbing as a beginner can sometimes be daunting and you may not know where to start. While Indoor climbing is great for practice and the winter season, outdoor climbing is where you can gain the most experience. There are benefits to both and if you’re a beginner, how you want to train will determine if indoor or outdoor climbing is the best for you.
Indoor rock climbing is great for beginners to learn the sport and determine their limits. Outdoor rock climbing allows beginner rock climbers to gain true rock climbing experience and enjoy nature. However, beginner rock climbers should have someone with them at all times while rock climbing.
Here I will talk about indoor and outdoor climbing and which one is best for your particular needs. I will assess the pros and cons of both and share unique things about each of the two climbing environments. I will also go over some safety tips you’ll want to know as a beginner no matter where you choose to climb.
Indoor vs Outdoor Climbing
When it comes to indoor vs. outdoor rock climbing, there is a significant difference. For a beginner, you may want to start indoors and then move outdoors. What climbers tend to love about both is how it helps them both physically and mentally accomplish their goals. While these two are wildly different from each other, they both should be treated as great opportunities, whether you are a beginner or an advanced rock climber.
One of the biggest differences between indoor and outdoor rock climbing is safety. Indoor rock climbing is significantly safer than outdoor rock climbing, especially if you are a beginner. Indoor rock climbing gyms typically have safety mats, so if you do fall, which is extremely rare, your injuries will likely be minor.
The other thing indoor rock climbing gyms have is professionals that have been rock climbing and sometimes bouldering for years. These professionals can help you with any questions you may have as you begin rock climbing. Most indoor rock climbing gyms even offer private or group lessons to help you learn how to rock climb.
Outdoor rock climbing is where you can get the most experience. While indoor rock climbing walls are specifically designed to guide you up the wall, outdoor rock climbing is obviously natural and is not always designed for climbers. Outdoor rock climbing will teach you how to navigate a mountain, even on the toughest rock.
Outdoor rock climbing will also teach you how to properly set up your gear, no matter what the terrain is looking like. Outdoor rock climbing is great if you are wanting more of a real experience and have already mastered the basics of overall rock climbing.
While indoor and outdoor rock climbing are different, they each have their pros and cons. Depending on what you are looking for when you rock climb will decide which one is best for you or if you want to do both.
Indoor rock climbing is the best choice for beginners, especially if you don’t have an understanding of what gear you need to get, how it works, overall safety, and what to do if you find yourself in a tough situation.
Indoor rock climbing allows you to take the time to get to know yourself, your skill level, and the gear you are using. This is the best place to become familiar with everything you will need to learn and use for rock climbing. This is the safest place to test yourself as you are learning since there is little to no risk of injury.
Here are some things that make indoor rock climbing great for beginners:
- Indoor climbing is very safe.
- Indoor climbing focuses on strength.
- Indoor climbing can be a social activity.
- Indoor climbing is easy to learn for any age.
- Indoor climbing has relatively simple gear.
- Indoor climbing can be done all year long.
- Indoor climbing requires strength and technique.
If you are wanting to do rock climbing more for sport rather than professionally, then indoor rock climbing is the best option for you. I personally have only indoor rock climbing, and I see it as something to get a workout in and learn some new techniques. The best thing about indoor rock climbing is you can do it all year long and climbing gyms are pretty easy to travel to.
I have heard that if you don’t outdoor rock climb, then you haven’t truly rock climbed before; while this may be true for those who avidly rock climb, for a beginner, I say take it slow when it comes to the outdoors. Rock climbing outdoors can be much less forgiving than rock climbing indoors.
Safety while outdoor rock climbing is not guaranteed, so do it at your own risk. If you have no idea what you are doing, it’s best to start indoors until you do understand the basics of rock climbing.
With all that being said, outdoor rock climbing absolutely has its perks! Here are just a few:
- Outdoor climbing puts an emphasis on endurance.
- Outdoor climbing is for those who want to be more independent with the sport.
- Outdoor climbing builds callouses but can be rough on the hands.
- Outdoor climbing tests skills and abilities due to its difficulty level.
- Outdoor climbing requires more gear but has better-made gear.
- Outdoor climbing is seasonal.
- Outdoor climbing requires more mental skills for problem-solving.
Outdoor rock climbing is where you can get the most experience and is great for those that are looking for an outdoor activity. There are instructors that are willing to teach rock climbing outdoors, but they tend to cost quite a bit of money due to travel costs. Nonetheless, if you’re looking to get real experience that will test every single one of your abilities, outdoor rock climbing may be great for you!
While indoor rock climbing may be safer than outdoor rock climbing, both have a level of safety that must be understood and met before you even begin your rock climbing journey. There have only been a few indoor rock climbing accidents in the past few years compared to hundred of outdoor rock climbing accidents.
Indoor rock climbing accidents usually occur because of a misunderstanding on how to properly use the gear or someone accidentally missing a step when anchoring themselves. Outdoor rock climbing has an added risk because the outdoors is unpredictable. You can do everything right, and something can go wrong that was not in your control.
While indoor and outdoor rock climbing both have the same basic safety rules, each is slightly different. Indoor rock climbing safety is standard no matter which rock climbing gym you go to, while outdoor rock climbing can change depending on where you are and what you are trying to climb.
Indoor safety includes, but is not limited to:
- The harness must fit properly; a hand can slide in the front, but a fist cannot.
- Tie a figure-eight knot to guarantee safety.
- Belaying and lowering off; knowing how to properly do this is important for your safety and others’ safety.
- Know your surroundings and who is around you.
- Pushing off the wall lightly to lower and avoid hitting others.
- Communicating with the person who is belaying.
- Optional: use chalk to make your hands less slick.
Outdoor safety includes, but is not limited to:
- The harness must fit properly; a hand can slide in the front, but a fist cannot.
- Tie a figure-eight knot to guarantee safety (there are other knot techniques).
- Always wear a climbing helmet.
- Guarantee safety of belay and rope.
- Use a long rope.
- Pay attention to everything; this includes surroundings, people, rocks, and debris.
- Always overpack gear just in case.
- The rope must remain over the leg while climbing.
- Use safe anchors and test them before continuing.
- Carabiners must be able to hold 5 times your weight.
- Always double-check everything before you begin climbing.
Common Outdoor Climbing Accidents
While you may understand that accidents can happen anywhere, outdoor climbing accidents happen a bit more often than indoor climbing accidents. The best way to learn about rock climbing safety is to understand the accidents that can happen.
Falling rocks are very common when rock climbing. You can never guarantee that a rock wall has not been weathered and will not have falling debris. This can be a problem if you are not wearing a helmet. Helmets will not protect you from a fall, but they will protect you from falling rocks and debris.
Lowering someone is an extremely important thing that needs to be done right. This is not exclusively an outdoor accident but tends to happen more often outdoors than indoors. Lowering someone too quickly can result in sprained limbs, and possibly even broken bones.
Getting banged up while outdoor rock climbing is common, especially if you don’t do it very often. Some rocks can be much sharper than others causing many scrapes on the skin. Bruises are also quite common, especially if you misstep and hit your arm, leg, or foot against a rock. Make sure you are always carrying tape, bandages, disinfectants, and other first-aid supplies. If you get a cut that needs stitches, make sure you apply pressure, wash the wound, wrap the wound, and get to a hospital as quickly as possible.
When you are scouting areas to climb, make sure they are areas where you can still get cell phone service and where if a rescue helicopter is needed, it can easily get to you. There have been many occasions where climbers have either chosen a climbing area with no cell service or one where a medical team could not reach them. This is important, especially when you are a beginner and may end up getting hurt.
Watch for the weather! Professional rock climbers are known to rock climb in almost any kind of weather, but they risk their lives every time they do. On hot days you can easily get heat stroke, on cold days you can get frostbite, and on rainy days you can get struck by lightning or slip and fall due to wet rock. Always wear clothing that is appropriate for the weather and understand the safety measures you have to take in order to climb in that kind of weather.
User error accidents happen all the time and are probably the most common in both indoor and outdoor accidents. It is a fear of many that gear will weaken or break, but this is actually extremely rare. What typically happens is someone doesn’t use their gear correctly and it causes an accident that injures them and sometimes others. Always check your gear and make sure you have done things properly before you begin climbing.
If you’re a beginner, you may not know the gear you need for both indoor and outdoor rock climbing. Gear is the same, but also different for indoor and outdoor rock climbing. Outdoor climbing requires a lot more gear than indoor climbing. Most climbing gyms will actually have gear that you can either use or rent from them when you pay for a membership.
Indoor Rock Climbing Gear:
- Climbing shoes
- Carabiner (can be provided by the gym)
- Belay device (can be provided by the gym)
- Dynamic rope (can be provided by the gym)
If you have questions on what your local climbing gym can and cannot provide regarding gear, give them a call.
Outdoor Rock Climbing Gear:
- Climbing shoes
- Belay device
- Dynamic rope (make sure it is a long one)
- Anchor system
Optional Gear for Both:
- Chalk bag
- Belay glasses
- Belay device
- Rope bag
Make sure you do your research on the best brands before you purchase your rock climbing gear. If you have any questions regarding gear, contact your local rock climbing gym, sports store, or someone you know who rock climbs.
Overall, rock climbing is a fantastic sport and can really test you both mentally and physically. If you are a beginner, it’s safest to start indoors and move outdoors, but if you are an adrenaline junkie, starting outdoors is great too. Always make sure you know what you are doing, are always climbing with someone, and that you’re double-checking all your gear before you begin climbing.