Category Archives: Sport Climbing

Climbing Slings

Climbing slings are a stable protection in climbing they can be be used to attach the climber to spikes, trees and threads. They can also be used to equalise multiple anchor points to a single point.

How to carry a climbing sling when lead climbing.
How to carry a climbing sling when lead climbing.

Slings generally come in a variety of sizes the most common are 120cm, 240cm and 480cm. This is the total length of the sling that is sew together. The other option you have is whether the thickness of the sling which is often governed by what it is made of.

Thicker climbing slings are more often 100% nylon, they are usually coloured, as Nylon can be dyed. Thinner slings are a mix of nylon and dyneema. Dyneema is much stronger than Nylon so less material makes it as strong. Dyneema cannot be dyed so is the white material in slings.

Whilst light and thinner the disadvantage of dyneema slings is that they are more prone to wear and dyneema has a low melting point. This low melting point has cause some slings to unexpectedly break in dynamic falls if there is a knot tied in the sling. If you are not tying knots in the sling or if the force on the sling is going to be more static than dynamic then dyneema slings are OK. (see the DMM video below.) Nylon slings also stretch further making them less likely to have the extreme impact forces that you get with dyneema climbing slings.

Video on Climbing Slings

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Karabiners

There are many different types of Karabiners. However they can generally be described as snap gate or locking gate karabiners. As we are about to see there are many other sub-type with different pro’s and con’s.

Top six: A selection of alloy and wire snap gate karabiners, with some straight and bent gates. Bottom four: Screwgates, all but the left hand one are HMS or Pear Shape karabiners
Top six: A selection of alloy and wire snap gate karabiners, with some straight and bent gates. Bottom four: Screwgates, all but the left hand one are HMS or Pear Shape karabiners

Snapgates Karabiners

Snap gate carabiners are generally used for leader place protection as it is easier to clip and unclip them whilst climbing. They are also a lot lighter meaning the climber can carry more of them. The generally come whilst either an alloy or wire gate.

The alloy gates are a lot heavy and prone to gate chatter as the gate can build its own momentum in a fall. The wire gates are light and less like to open with gate chatter however they can be open much more easily by rubbing against the rock. (See exercise below).

Some snap gates are bent rather than straight, these bent gates help you clip the rope into the carabiner. These are very helpful on difficult sports routes where you need to get first time clips in difficult positions.

Snapgate Karabiner exercises

Hit the back bar of a each type of karabiner against your palm. The alloy gate will make a clicking sound, if you do it hard enough. The wire gate won’t. The heavier weight in the alloy gate, means that during a fall the added momentum makes the gate vibrate open and close during a fall.

Now run the gates of both types of karabiners alone the edge of a wall. The wire gate catches far easier and is prised open, whereas the alloy gate, require a more sizable notch to open it.

Locking Gate Karabiners

Locking gates karabiners tend to come in one of three shapes. D-Shape, Oval Shape and Pear Shaped or HMS. Whilst for general use the D-Shape is great for attaching a rope to protection at a belay the other karabiners have much more specific uses. The locking mechanism can also be a screw gate or some form of twist lock.

An oval shape karabiner is best used for a belay device, as it is less likely to turn upside down or twist and have the rope running over the gate potentially opening it. The other type of karabiner recommended for a belay device is a HMS or pear shaped one.

HMS or Pear shaped are also very good for using to tie yourself to belays. Especially oversized HMS karabiners that can take two clove hitches ties off to it.

Clove Hitch back to a HMS screwgate karabiner.
Clove Hitch back to a HMS screwgate karabiner.

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Buying a Climbing Rope

There are many different type of climbing rope, as the article at the bottom will highlight in hopefully humorous way just how bewildering it can be. Starting out though all you need to know is there are two main type of rope: Single and double ropes.

In the main beginners want to start out with a full rope, as it can be used on it own and will make rope work a lot easier to start with. It will also last longer than a half or double rope. You best bet to start off with it to go for either a 50m or 60m. Also don’t go to thin as a standard single rope is around 10.5mm, any thinner and it won’t last as long. Unless you plan on going out in winter then you won’t need a dry rope treatment either.

Simon Lake showing you how to use double climbing ropes on the classic pump fest. Wind, HVS in Llanberis Pass
Simon Lake showing you how to use double climbing ropes on the classic pump fest. Wind, HVS in Llanberis Pass

Single Versus Double climbing ropes

Single ropes are easier to use sports climbing and indoors and for easy trad climbing. However if you progress in trad climbing you will need to consider Double or Half ropes, as these are thinner and help reduce rope drag if use correctly and can allow you retreat a full rope length off if necessary.

A different ropes and lengths of quickdraw can help prevent rope drag when climbing outside.
A different ropes and lengths of quickdraw can help prevent rope drag when climbing outside.

Length of climbing Rope

Ropes can come from 40m to 80m. Dependant on what you are using it for then different lengths are requires. Indoors most walls are OK with just a 40m rope. Outdoor sport climbing you may need a 80m rope in some places, although many ropes are only 30m high so you can get away with a 60m rope. It may be worth see what you local sport climbing venue is like for pitch lengths before buying a rope.

In trad climbing I would recommend a 50m any longer and you will struggle to carry enough gear. If you are a more advanced trad  climber then a 60m climbing rope will be much more useful, especially on alpine length routes for abseiling retreats and descents.50

Buying A Rope – Story

So I haven’t had any half ropes for some time and needed some for work decided to head to V12 Outdoor to buy a pair. As a qualified and experience outdoor professional I naively thought that this would be an ‘easy’ job. I walked in with the idea of seeing which was cheapest and going with that, however I hadn’t really thought the whole thing through. As I start looking at what I can only say is a vast array of ropes of nearly every conceivable length, colour of the rainbow, thinness, rating, treatment and brand.

My first problem a common one for men was a question of length, I turned to my friend and said that “50m is for girls”, he said “but my ropes are 50m”, “exactly” I said. Now 60m is a good length but recently in Spain I had been climbing on 70m half ropes. These things are so long I swear you could do a retrievable abseil off the moon.

Then I remember that I was going to go sports climbing this winter and maybe I would need that 70 or even 80m full rope to lower off some of those long routes. This basically then made the whole decision making process a whole load more tricky, as I picked up a pair of Jokers, the first rope to be rated as a both a single and a half rope. At just over 9mm in diameter it wouldn’t be the lightest option.

Then someone piped up have you considered the triple rated rope? Well of course I hadn’t as I never even knew one existed. A rope that could be used as a single rope, half rope and twin rope. However these were not cheap, about £200 a rope retail price. I also think that these ultra thin single ropes are not what I need, I seem to hammer kit and a thinner rope in my experience mean they wear out quick as the sheaf by the very nature of the thinnest is, well, thinner.

Despite this I felt that the flexibility of having a two ropes does all approach would be great, so asked to have a look. I was then asked do I want the new or the old dry treatment. The old was just a treatment to the outside of the rope where the new apparently was to the core and the sheaf. At the point my head near exploded, as to be honest ‘dry’ treatment to me seems like selling snake oil, as whilst yes it is water repellent, in a proper downpour in wales you are having a laugh if you actually think it is going to work for more than two minutes. I have seen the treatment literally wash off the rope on the first soaking.

The price of two multi rope made me think about getting one of these thin multi ropes and one ‘normal’ half rope. Given there were two types of multi rated ropes I found and then many more choices for simple half ropes. Anything from 8.7mm to 6.9mm, but another problem I have had is using the thinnest diameter ropes of around 7mm in a guide plate and having the plate fail to lock as the ropes are too small for a normal sized belay plate, which means you need new belay plate as well. On the plus side at least this eliminated some choices from the decision.

I then remember that the advertised length on the ropes are often wild guesstimates, so the thought of buying one rope from one manufacture and another from even the same but not technically a ‘pair’ would mean that the chances would be that the ropes would as a result be wildly different lengths. This could be a safety issue as it becomes easier to abseil off the end of one rope. So I then decided that I needed to buy a pair of ropes.

I returned eventually to the cheapest cir they had, and walked out happy if not a little bewildered after an hour. After all I just wanted to buy a climbing rope!

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Belay Devices

The variety of belay devices is seemingly endless. Used correctly any brand or model should be adequate, however some are more slick than others and a few are auto-locking.

Essentially a belay device stems from early stitch plates that were just a piece of metal with a hole in. These developed into sprung stitch plates, and then onto the more common tubular designs, where the greater surface area of metal help dissipate any heat that builds up during a long lower or abseil.

Some more recent advancements are the adding of grooves or offsetting where the karabiner rests. Both designs help add friction to the system, making the device grip the rope harder, easing the locking off of the rope.

There are also some belay plates that can be used in what is referred to as ‘guide-mode’. There are pros and cons of using a device in this way and it is beyond this section of the site to cover this. Generally though unless you are a guide or instructor then this facility is not needed.

Although dubbed ‘auto-locking’ devices like the Petzl Gri-Gri don’t work every time. Generally they will lock the rope in the event of a fall, but you still need to manage the dead rope correctly as they cannot be fully relied on. Auto-locking devices also have the disadvantage of being more compli- cated to lower a climber, and you should read the instructions carefully and practice with a climber close to the ground.

A variety of belay devices. Top Left: A Sprung stitch plate; Top middle: A burette, a micro belay device for skinny ropes; Top right: A metolius BRD with a degree of assistance when it comes to locking the rope off; Bottom Left: Stainless steel belay device with grooves for added friction; Bottom Middle: Petzel reverse Mk1, which can be used as a guide plate; Bottom Right: Petzl Gri-Gri an almost 'auto-locking device, it needs proper instruction as it can be used incorrectly.
A variety of belay devices. Top Left: A Sprung stitch plate; Top middle: A burette, a micro belay device for skinny ropes; Top right: A metolius BRD with a degree of assistance when it comes to locking the rope off; Bottom Left: Stainless steel belay device with grooves for added friction; Bottom Middle: Petzel reverse Mk1, which can be used as a guide plate; Bottom Right: Petzl Gri-Gri an almost ‘auto-locking device, it needs proper instruction as it can be used incorrectly.

Belay Devices – Plates and Tubes

Most belay devices fit into the generic type, they are design for one or two ropes and require the belayer to be actively involved and concentrating on belaying the climber. These devices essentially create a lot of friction when used correctly to help arrest a fall. They can be used sport or trad climbing and are extremely versatile.

Belay Devices – Auto-locking

Whilst it is technical wrong to call a device auto-locking as non elf the manufactures actually claim this. These devices have a mechanical element that locks down on the rope and arrest a fall. As these devices have a tendency to lock quickly the impact force is greater than a normal belay plate. As such these devices are not recommended for trad climbing as they increase the impact force on the top runner.

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Chalk Bags

There are many chalk bags all do a similar job, the main thing is to make sure it is big enough to get you hand into, preferably not just the tips of your fingers. The chalk you use is a matter of personal choice, although indoors a chalk ball prevents the air becoming saturated by chalk dust.

Different people attach chalk bags to them a in a variety of ways by a karabiner, specialist belt or cord. The belt or cord attachments are best at giving a high position of the chalk bag and also allowing you to move the chalk bag to the front or side if in a tight corner, groove or chimney.

You are better to attach your chalk bag to you with a piece of cord, preferably one of 7mm or more (Left) rather than clipping it on with a carabiner (right). This means not only can you move the bag round to your front in a chimney or confined corner, but you will also have something to abseil off if the weather changes when you are climbing.
You are better to attach your chalk bag to you with a piece of cord, preferably one of 7mm or more (Left) rather than clipping it on with a carabiner (right). This means not only can you move the bag round to your front in a chimney or confined corner, but you will also have something to abseil off if the weather changes when you are climbing.

Types of Chalk Bags

As well as a personal chalk bag you can get a chalk bucket for bouldering. These are bigger with a flat bottom to prevent them getting blown over. However they are still prone to this, so many climbers place some stones in the bottom to weight them down.

Types of Chalk

The type of chalk you put in the bag is up to you. You can buy a solid block from many sources or get loose chalk. Many companies make various claims over the best chalk however it is not obvious how well these claims would hold up to scientific scrutiny.

Generally for the majority of climbers the type pf chalk you use will not make too much difference to your performance. However if you are looking for the edge some people like to chalk up with liquid chalk before they start up a route.

Some people will apply liquid chalk before climb. This means you get a excellent base layer of chalk before doing a hard route.
Some people will apply liquid chalk before climb. This means you get a excellent base layer of chalk before doing a hard route.

Finally if you are climbing indoor, many climbing walls now insist that you use chalk balls, rather than loose chalk. These are essentially small muslin bags filled with chalk and placed in chalks bags. This limits the amount of chalk that gets into the air, making the indoor climbing experience much more pleasant. They can be used to dry hold when outdoor as well, although they don’t generally let you get as much chalk on your hands as loose chalk.

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Rock Shoes

There is a profusion of rock shoes to choose from. At first you are better off going for comfort, rather than performance, although a reasonably tight pair will pay dividends with your footwork. Generally one model of boots will fit better than the others, so don’t go on any recommendations, try on lots of different makes and models until you find the right shoe for you.

This is a cardinal sin in climbing having dirty rock shoes. Not only do you make the route dirty for the next climber, that high performance rubber you paid so much for won't work when covered in mud.
This is a cardinal sin in climbing having dirty rock shoes. Not only do you make the route dirty for the next climber, that high performance rubber you paid so much for won’t work when covered in mud.

Some boots are designed specifically for different types of climbing. A stiff midsole makes for good performance if you are going to climb on edges like slate or volcanic mountain rock. A soft midsole makes for a boot that is suited for smearing on rock like gritstone, sandstone or some type of granite. Many modern boots have a drop toe configuration these are great for steep or pocketed like limestone or bouldering. To start off with you are better getting an all round boot rather than a specialist boot.

A nice tight pair of edging boots
A nice tight pair of edging boots

Fitting a Rock Shoes

If it is your first pair of rock shoes then spending more than 15 minutes trying on different shoes. As a rule of thumb your big toe should be up against the front of the shoe. Not necessary bent right over but a degree of bending in the toe joint will mean the the toe is more claw like and active when standing on holds.

How tight you by them will depend on how much you climb, what you are trying to climb and how long you have been climbing. As it takes a degree of getting used to the tightness required in a rock shoe. Certainly gone are the days when you should be buying a pair one or two sizes too small.

Once you have found the one you think fits you, then walk round the shop in them for 10 minutes to ensure you can wear them for a short while.

Notes for young climber – having overly tight rock shoes has lead to permanent foot deformity in later life. Children need to be at least 16 before they start cramming there feet into overly tight shoes.

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Rock Climbing Helmets

Whilst not essential, wearing a climbing helmet is a very good idea. A crag may not appear to have much loose rock but there may be some hidden blocks up on ledges waiting for a passing climber or a rope to knock it over the edge. A climber above you could simply drop a piece of climbing gear. Should you fall, a helmet will help to protect your head if you hit the wall or deck out.

Any helmet is better than none at all

Old arguments of heavy cumbersome helmets that were impractical, simply don’t stick anymore and whilst the lighter the helmet, the less protection there is, they all reach UIAA guidelines, so offer better protection than none at all.

The helmet you feel comfortable in is the best helmet as you are more likely wear it all the time. Discomfort may tempt you to remove your helmet, but here is a tale that might make you rethink that decision.

‘I once was one of the rst climbers on the scene of a nasty accident where a climber had tumbled down 50 metres down a descent gully. He had quite neatly clipped his helmet to his harness at the top of the climb. When he was airlifted to hospital they discovered he had fractured his skull in the tumble and took months to recover. What would have happened if he had been wearing his helmet?’

Types of Climbing Helmet

There are three main type of helmets nowadays. The first is a hard shell helmet made of either polycarbonate, fibreglass or carbon fibre. These helmets offer the best protection against falling blocks as they try to deflect rocks and have the highest ballistic rating (impact force from a rock). They tend to be heavier though and as such have fallen out of favour to a certain extent.

An old hard shell helmet from a previous generation. These were the original head protection.
An old hard shell helmet from a previous generation. These were the original head protection.

The second type are super lightweight polystyrene helmets that have been moulded. They resemble cycle helmets but have been tested to climbing standards and past. Whilst they have a lower ballistic rating they are so light you can forget you are wearing them. Some of them look better than the classic dome shape of the hard shell helmets.

A hybrid climbing helmet, with a semi hard shell and some polystyrene inner. Offer the best of both worlds when it comes to helmets in term of weight versus protection.
A hybrid climbing helmet, with a semi hard shell and some polystyrene inner. Offer the best of both worlds when it comes to helmets in term of weight versus protection.

The third kind is a king of hybrid, where by there is a thinner hard shell and some polystyrene. Meaning you get a little benefit from the shell but the helmet is still light.

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Rock Climbing Harnesses

What rock climbing harness you use is in the main comes down to fit and comfort. The only advice worth considering is what you intend to use the harness for. Traditional, sport, alpine and winter climbing have different requirements. It is far cheaper to start with to get one good multipurpose harness with adjustable leg loops.

The reason for having adjustable leg loops on your climbing harness is that if you are going to climb year round or your weight is likely to fluctuate, then you can adjust the leg loops dependant on how many layers you are wearing on any give day.

Other choices are type of gear loop and what type of buckle the harness has. Hard plastic type gear loop that protrude from the harness are good people who tend to rack up gates in (see the later chapter of lead climbing), whereas the less ridged gear loops suit people who rack up gates out. If it is your first harness you probably won’t know which feels better for you unless you try and clip stuff to the gear loops.

Racking up on a climbing harness is like belly buttons, you are either and innie or and outie. Not like in this photo both.
Racking up on a climbing harness is like belly buttons, you are either and innie or and outie. Not like in this photo both.

The number of gear loops and there location is also key. If you are only ever going to sports climb then a couple of gear loops on each side is all you will ever need. However if you are going to trad climb then you will need at least two on each side and one on the back to carry enough equipment.

The type of buckle the harness has can be either a fast-tech buckle that you pull tight and just tuck in the slack end to an elasticated holder. The other type requires the user to deliberately double back the buckle and lock it off. Personally I prefer the double back buckle as on long multi pitched route, I have found the fast-tech buckle has become loose. There was also a problem on some harnesses where the fast-tech buckles on leg loops good be undone, when using a leg prussic to act as a safety on abseils. These issues are small and easily avoidable and both type are considered safe.

Some harness are specifcally design with women in mind and one manufacturer has even created a harness, where every part of the harness is rated to at least 10kN, after a series of accidents where people have inadvertently clipped into their gear loops, only normally rated at a few kilos. The risk of this can be lessened by keeping your belay device clipped to a rear gear loop, so you have to unclip it and move it to the appropriate place for belaying (not the front gear loop!).

If you an outdoor instructor who is going to spend a lot of time in you hanging in your harness or you are planning to climb some big walls. Then getting a Big Walling harness will be advantageous. As the added padding will make your life better in the long run.

A fully loaded Trad climbing harness
A fully loaded Trad climbing harness

Fitting a Climbing Harness

It will be in your interest to go to a good climbing store to get a harness, as the greater the choice the more you can see which is the right harness for you.

First off try on the type of harness you have decided you needed from the criteria above. Then try on a couple of sizes around the size you think and look at how much spare tape there is for adjustment when the harness is fitted properly. Too much excess and the harness is too bib and too little and it is too small. It may take a few tries to find the right size.

Once you have done this see how the harness fits, are the gear loop symmetrical on your body compared to the belay loop at the front? Does  it feel comfy? Can you clip into a point and suspend yourself from it, if so remember these are ‘sit’ harness so sit down rather than try and hang upright.

If it feels right then maybe this is the harness for you. Above all take you time when choose a harness. As one will be be better than the rest for you, and remember you have a different sized body to your friend so simply buying the same harness as them may not be the best idea.

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Warming Up Overview

Warming up will get the heart, lungs, muscles, joints and tendons ready for action. Whilst some people will do a full aerobics style warm-up, some will opt for easy bouldering or climbing. Some climbers will choose to do none. Although this might feel like you will be able to get more climbing in because you have not ‘wasted’ energy on the warm-up, the opposite is true.

Warming up promotes blood flow through the muscles, dilating the capillaries and actually allowing you to climb harder for longer. It will also help switch your mind from normal life to to climbing mode. A good warm up will help make your muscle and tendons more flexible, a bit like warming up blue tack or silly putty. Once you have got them warm they are less likely to snap.

If you don’t warm up and jump on the hardest route straight away you will get what climbers refer to  ‘flash pump’ – your muscles instantly become exhausted because the blood cannot flow effectively through arteries, veins and capillaries restricting the muscles they supply. It is often difficult to recover from the flash pump as you need to go all the way back to the start of your warm up.

Warming Up

Starts heart and lungs working. Promotes good blood follow through cap- illaries. Helps tendons prepare for activity by making them more elastic. Helps promote uid in the joint to increase lubrications. Helps switch the mind to climbing mode.

A good warm-up should last about twenty minutes. It will help to set the scene for your whole session, get you in the right frame of mind and help you to concentrate on skilful climbing.

Video of Warming Up using Bouldering

Warming Up Key Elements

  1. Raise you heart rate by light jogging and extremely easy bouldering/climbing. Do this until you feel out of breathe and are starting to sweat. (5 – 10 minutes)
  2. Do some more very easy climbing, you should never feel pumped so maybe try slabs to start with. (5-10 minutes)
  3. Work up to one grade below you maximum (5 – 10 minutes)
  4. You should be ready to climb at your max now. If you find yourself getting pumped then drop a few grades to a very easy route, this will help you de-pimp.

The Pump

Bodybuilder’s coined the phrase ‘the pump’ for the swollen feeling and appearance of muscles after a workout. For climbers it is pertinent to climbing in our anaerobic zone, where the build up of lactic acid makes the muscle less and less effective. It starts with a dull ache and ends in a complete inability to contract the muscles effected, resulting in failure. If you carry on to failure the muscle will feel solid to touch, and you will need at least 15 minutes rest to recover.

Iy is essentially cause by you contracting the muscles so hard that you start to squeeze the capillaries shut and starve the muscles of oxygen and energy. In order to de-pump you need to rest the specific muscle but also use them lightly. As the blood pumping too the muscle will help so the accumulation of lactic acid, it is however the contraction of muscles that helps flush the lactic acid out of the muscles.

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Warming Up

Whether you climb indoor or outdoors on routes or boulders you need to do some form of warming up. Failure to do so will often lead to poorer performance and/or injury.  We cover some of the basics of warming up for indoor and outdoor climbers.

Warming up for the Indoor Climber

At an indoor climbing wall a good warm-up will extend the length of a session, by allowing you climb harder for longer.

The majority of climbing walls will have some easy top roping for groups, these routes are ideal for warming up on as they will allow you to work your muscles without tiring. You need to operate below the level where you nd your arms becoming pumped because of the build up of lactic acid. You should be excercising in anaerobic way. If you do start to become pumped lower off and drop the grade and angle of the routes that you are warming up on. Very easy bouldering on slabs, traverses or juggy routes can offer an alternative.

Throughout the warmup, how does your body feel; are you finding it too intense? If so, make things a easier, the level you warm up at will rarely be too easy. You will be able to feel your body warming up, and the blood flowing more freely through the muscles, a raised heart and breathing rate and a glow of light perspiration. Keep going until that feeling is well established (for about twenty minutes).

The warm-up is a great time to introduce some climbing drills that help reinforce technique on this easy terrain. So as part of your warm-up visit some of the exercises we’ll in the Basic climbing techniques section. Exercises like climbing only facing left, then right, being sideways on (zigzagging up the wall), climbing silently, climbing slowly, Climbing one or no handed and climbing like a monkey. All these exercises develop good technique and used during the warm-up will help switch you mind to climbing mode. Doing them every time you go climbing will engrain them in your subconscious and help ensure that you think about effeciency whenever you climb.

Warming up at the wall

  • Remember climbing during the warm-up can never be too easy!
  • A warm-up should last for at least twenty minutes.
  • Consider doing some technique drills.

Video on the importance of warming up

Warming up at the wall

Warming Up Outside

At the crag it may be harder to do a thorough warm-up, although sometimes a long walk-in suffices. You may find that by the time you have rigged a top rope or racked up you have already cooled down, so consider doing an easy route as a warm-up. If you have warmed up on the approach wrapping up in an extra layer of clothing once you have arrived at the bottom of the cliff can make a big difference.

If climbing an easy route isn’t possible then bouldering up and down the first few moves of a climb several times is a good alternative. This process of going up and down the start of a route can be extended to actually placing gear and coming back down, not only getting warmed up but also getting to know the route and the gear.

Simply walking around the bottom of the crag, moving and flexing your arms and hands as well as jogging on the spot will all help to get the heart and lungs into gear. Whatever you do, any form of warm-up will help you climb better and fight off the pump.

Warming up at the crag

  • The walk-in can be part of the warm-up.
  • Start on an easy route or boulder up and down the start of the route.
  • Boulder around the base of the crag.
  • Use an easy route or small boulder to work on technique.
  • Doing an easy route can help you get to know the rock type.

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