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A Beginner’s Guide To Climbing—Essentials For Getting Started

From knots to selecting your first rock shoes, to training and safety, you'll find it here in our climbing 101 compilation.

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I am a self-taught climber. When I first tied in, sometime in the early 1970s, my buddy Donnie and I were on our own. There was no one to figuratively and literally show us the ropes. We looked at pictures to learn the knots, and started out just tying a bunch of overhands on top of each other, and used bootlace for “carabiners” by tying the lace around the pro, usually a hammered-in framing nail, and then looping it around the rope, a nylon thing Donnie had found wrapped around a pier at the lake. The mistakes we made were monumental, and we got it all wrong. We were lucky. Our techniques and gear were so rudimentary we rarely got high enough up to get hurt. But we loved climbing and kept at it and over time, about five years, we got it right. We got real gear, learned the actual techniques, and embarked on lifetimes of vertical adventure.

Old photo of author climbing in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma, in 1976.
Me, climbing in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma, in 1976. I sewed the harness and knickers myself. Donnie and I had by then scored some real climbing gear and a real climbing rope, but we still had a steep learning curve ahead of us. (Photo: Donnie Hunt)

Don’t use Donnie and me as examples. Fifty years later it’s easy to get competent, professional instruction; and pretty much every city in the country has a climbing gym to safely introduce you to the sport. Gear has gotten much, much better, and the thinking behind training has gone from doing as many pull-ups as possible in a day to complex structures with actual science backing them, and coaches who do nothing but coach climbers. That climbing was in the Olympics shows how far it’s come.

What follows is a compilation of articles, advice written by experts, most lifelong climbers, on everything from choosing rock shoes to knot tying, to essential safety tips. It’s mostly all here, or enough to fill in the gaps of your knowledge in some way. But don’t stop here, this is just a starting point. Enroll in a basic climbing course, climb with an experienced partner, and above all, be careful out there—gravity is the constant that hasn’t changed.


A Beginner’s Guide to Climbing Shoes

8 Simple Things I Wish I’d Known as a Beginning Climber

First Time Indoor Climbing? Here’s What You Need to Know

5 Things You Need to Know Before Climbing Outside

Essential Climbing Knots — The Complete Guide


Learn to Climb Trad: Knots, Rappelling, and Logistics

Learn This: Preferred Knots for Rappelling

Rappelling Is Climbing’s Most Dangerous Activity. Here’s How To Make It Safer.

The Complete Guide to Rock Climbing Training, 5 Lessons

The Training Bible: Everything You Need For A Full Year, Right Here. Phase 1: Conditioning

How To Climb Injury Free For The Rest Of Your Life

Learn to Climb Trad: Leading and Following

13 Gear Mistakes New Climbers Make—And How to Fix Them

Learn To Rock Climb: Basic Techniques From Handholds to Footwork and Drop Knees

Gym Bouldering Grades Vs. Outdoor Grades: 11 Reasons Why Outdoor Climbing Feels Hard


Training: Perfect Pull-Ups for Climbing Strength

Learn the Secrets Of Heel Hooks (For Beginners To Intermediates)

Rookie Mistakes: Seven Things Beginner Climbers Get Wrong

What Shoe is Right for You? See Paige Claassen’s Flowchart.

Quit Floundering—Turn Your Feet Into Precision Instruments With These 10 Tips

Everything You Need to Know to Boulder Safely

Get Better At Slab Climbing—Master This Critical Skill

Belaying Outside is Different From Belaying in a Gym. You’d Better Know the Difference.