Skills All Rock Climbers Should Master

Are you ready to graduate from bouldering on a gym's wall to real rock climbing? First you should know that climbing is a skill sport. The adventurer in you doesn't have to look too far: National parks and forests in the U.S. and all over the world offer thousands of opportunities for a thrilling challenge. But climbing on a real rock is quite unlike.

"The biggest difference is that when you're outside, you have so many other factors playing a part, Sarah Laine, a climbing at Brooklyn Boulders, a rock climbing facility, says. "It takes more effort."

These factors include falling rocks, weather, unfamiliarity with the route, and not knowing where the holds are.

Problem-solving skills

All of the above need problem-solving skills because climbers need to figure out where everything is, Laine says. "The best way to train yourself to think about these things is to just go outside and climb," she adds. "The gym is never going to be the same."


Finding foothold can be obvious outside but you also may have to do a lot more smearing, Laine says. This is when you are pasting your climbing shoe directly against the rock and move up using friction to gain vertical ground. You have to master this skill to maintain your balance. The steeper the terrain, the more pressure you'll need to apply to your toes.


Footholds vary in size and shape. You are guaranteed to come across tiny ones that don't perfectly fit your foot. What then? You have to know how to edge. You have to work with the big toe area of your shoe. By holding your inside edge, where you should rest your body weight, onto a foothold, you can move up the rock until you find a handhold to stay steady until your next move.

Getting the gear down

"The biggest deal [in rock climbing] is the process of getting the gear down," Laine says. In most cases, there is not a permanent anchor, which is the way the climber or the rope is attached to a rock. "You have to take all the gear you placed out of the rock," she adds. You don't want to leave any gear behind – it's expensive – because it may be in the way of other climbers and endanger them.

Don't lower off a single quickdraw. Tie a bite of rope, forming the number 8, through the anchors at the top. Attach the rope to you with a locking carabiner and come down. Untie all the knots as you go down and, when you're down, pull the rope down.


Abseiling involves descending rope using a friction device (e.g. belay device) attached to your harness. It's used to tackle terrain that would be too dangerous or time-consuming to descend on foot. The take-off is often the hardest part of abseiling as you are leaving the horizontal cliff top for the vertical cliff face. If you find it awkward consider sitting on the edge and slowly sliding off. This lowers your center of gravity making you more stable.


You can't reach the top in one quick climb; you'll have to rest at one point. "Find a really good hole and put your weight on your feet," Laine says. Switch from one arm to the other.

"Another technique is to go quickly through the hardest parts and rest at easier parts," she adds.  


Remember to make the most of the area connecting your hands to the holds. Think "maximize." Apply as much pressure as you can because that makes it easier to bring your body up using the hold. Weight imbalance is an injury risk factor. All fingers should take the same amount of weight.

More readings: 

The Best Places to Go Rock Climbing in the World

The 15 Most Dangerous Rock Climbs

11 Most Dangerous Places for Ice Climbing