Gym To Rock: Getting to Grip with Outdoor Climbing Etiquette

Granola Products
Made Possible by
Curated by

Imagine a time without factory sized buildings loaded with brightly colored multi-angled climbing walls, sandpaper fresh and clearly marked plastic holds, crash pads for days topped with some reggae jams reverberating off the walls. There would be nowhere to climb, but outside. However, let's face it, the Henry Barber'sand the Peter Croft's are becoming few and far between, as nowadays it seems everyone and their mother is a climber. With the increasing popularity of rock climbing and the recent boom in climbing gyms, there are more people enjoying this sport today than ever before.

While some climbers will never leave the comfort of the indoor wall, others will eventually decide to venture to the outdoors to test their skills on real rock. Not only will the surface be completely different, but learning how to become an effective and attentive spotter and belayer becomes extremely important. Checking, double checking, and checking again your knots and gear.

While confidence and skill is most certainly an important component of climbing in the outdoors, climber's etiquette also plays a large roll in everyone's safety and enjoyment of outdoor climbing. Cody Roney, Executive Director of the Southeastern Climbers' Coalition, and I, with the help of the Access Fund, narrowed this huge topic down to a list of five ways to make the transition a little smoother.

Jake Wheeler

1. Minimize Impact

Nature may seem like one big playground for all of us, but we need to be respectful and minimize the impact that we have on the environment when we hike, climb, and throw our stuff around the crag. Keep your bags, pads, and people off the sensitive vegetation that surrounds the trails, try not to break any branches off the trees or disturb any wildlife. Control your pets or leave them at home, as they can also do damage to the environment.

2. Respect the Rules

This is a big one, and something Cody feels very passionate about. "Imagine that you own a beautiful piece of cliff line, untouched and quiet. A group of climbers comes to you and convinces you to open the area to climbing. Within a year you now see trash, fire pits, rare vegetation trampled by people moving off trail, sounds of screaming and loud music, and people disrespecting your simple rules regarding closure times and camping. What was once your quiet oasis has now been taken over by loud, disrespectful climbers. Often, climbing areas here in the southeast, are owned by private land owners who are gracious enough to open their land for access to climbing. There is no guarantee that one day these land owners are going to tire of climbers disrespecting their rules or trashing their land and cut out the climbing altogether. Outdoor climbing areas are not just naturally open and accessible. Someone worked hard to ensure access to the areas we climb, but it is the entire climbing community's responsibility to make sure those areas remain open."

Here a few tips from Cody on how to respect access:
-Research areas where you haven't been online before you go. You can visit the SCC's website to learn about any of the Southeastern climbing areas.
-Look for the Kiosk and READ THE RULES.
-After you read the rules, Respect the rules! If there are waivers, sign them.
-Respect closures.

3. Be Nice

Jake Wheeler

Be friendly. You never know when a landowner will visit the crag. Everyone is looking to have a great day in the outdoors, so avoid having a bad attitude or being loud and obnoxious. Turn your music off if there is more than just you and your group around. Nature makes its own beautiful noise, learn to appreciate being away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

4. Keep it Clean

Climbing tape and cigarette butts are trash, so be sure to pick them up. Dispose of human waste as well as pet waste. Brush off your tick marks on the rock. If you see trash, pick it up. Leave no trace, pack in and pack out everything. Cody suggests bringing along a grocery bag to pick up any trash throughout the day. "You might be surprised how many little pieces of tape, cigarette butts, and water bottles you can find out there."

5. Get Involved

Get involved in your local climbing community. Participate in trail days and clean ups and join your local climbers coalition. Take some pride and ownership in the climbing areas you enjoy so much by helping ensure they stay safe, clean, and open for everyone to enjoy. Not only is getting involved a great way to meet fellow climbers, it's a great way to learn more about climbing etiquette.

Check out out this video from the Access Fund and Commit to the Pact.

Commit to The Pact from Access Fund on Vimeo.

Last Updated:

Next Up


5 Amazing Bouldering Destinations Two Hours from Atlanta


Planning a Road Trip to the Bouldering Paradise of Joe’s Valley