A guide to rock climbing

How to get started and why it’s worth a try.
Published August 19, 2018

They say one of the keys to an effective workout is variety – mixing up your routine prevents your body from falling into an exercise rut and keeps fitness from becoming boring. So… ever thought about rock climbing?

It may look like an activity reserved for experts and hardcore athletes, but rock climbing is actually pretty accessible.

The best place to start? An indoor climbing gym.

“They have all the equipment you need, a range of levels from very easy up to the most difficult, and the weather is never a factor!” says Patrick Sweeney, a rock climbing instructor, keynote speaker and self-described full-time adventurer.

Sweeney says a seasoned instructor can show you how to climb efficiently – you need to use your legs more than your arms and back, for example – but perhaps the most important thing you’ll need is in your head.

“The biggest thing most people need to do is make friends with fear,” Sweeney says. “I call using fear as fuel because it can power you to extreme performance.”

Author, speaker and former beginner rock climber Janice Holly Booth agrees indoor climbing centres are the way to go when you’re starting out.

“Those man-made walls can handle any kind of fitness level,” she says, “the self-belaying mechanisms [controlled tension on the ropes to prevent falls] are safe and you can gain confidence quickly.”

Booth says after you graduate from indoor rock climbing, it’s best to hire an instructor or guide on your first few forays into the great outdoors.

“All kinds of things can go wrong quickly, and it’s good to have a set of experienced eyes watching everything that you do,” Booth says.

“While you don't have to pay for lessons, someone needs to teach you,” says Shawna Newman of Active Weekender. “Often, this is another climber, but you [can] look for a climbing group that doesn’t mind newbies or check if your local outdoor retailer offers classes.”

Once you are ready to try climbing outside, Newman says the essential gear you’ll need to pick up includes:

  • Climbing shoes
  • Harness
  • Belay
  • Chalk bag and chalk
  • Carabiner
  • Helmet
  • Rope


For more on gear and climbing etiquette, check out Newman’s guide.

“It's a great full-body activity that works everything from your biceps to your calves,” Newman says. “And since each climb is different, you end up engaging different muscles each time you go out.”