April 29


Rock Climbing Outside: Steps to Climbing from Gym to Crag

By Michael Bryant

April 29, 2021

climbing, how to


start climbing outside

In the modern era of rock climbing, numbers clearly show that most people are introduced to climbing through climbing by gyms, rather than rock climbing outside. This has created a lot more folks wanting to take the steps to go from gym climbing to the climbing outside. Sun, fun and it doesn't smell like a dirty climbing shoe! 

Embracing the love for the outdoors has long since been a part of being a rock climber. So get outside and enjoy it, just remember to respect it in the process. 

While I highly encourage you this spring to take your climbing motivation outside to real rock, I also want you to be safe. This article is for informational purposes only and CLIMB AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Let's Go UP


Step 2 -  Risk Assessment of the Climb

Swallow all of your pride and be prepared to be humbled. There's no colored tape and not pre fixed draws and perfect clipping stances? Wait...The ground isn't a trampoline? 

Nope it's not. But recognizing these risks should be a part of your routine every time you rack up to go climbing outside.

  • Research Your Route: This entails length compared to your rope, anchors rack and route finding. 
  • Scope Fall Zones: Look at the ground fall potential before you have gear and any ledges that may be en-route
  • Human Essentials: There's no coffee shop on this approach so bring what you need to eat drink and be merry for sending.
  • Know the Approach Risks: You have to get to the climb. Which can be sketchy, know the navigation and think about daylight hours. Give yourself extra!
  • River Crossing and Flooding: Not to be reckoned with, check weather every outdoor climbing day and be aware.
  • Listen and Learn: You should be climbing with someone more experienced than you. So listen, learn and have fun. No ego is the way to climb. 


Step 3 -  Climb with a Mentor

The best way to become a better rock climber is to climb with people better than you. Primarily for safety but also for all of the little tips and tricks the have picked up along the way. This is how I learned and it certainly was the best thing for me. 

Not only did I get technical advice but I also was immersed into the lifestyle of rock climbing, Learning crag etiquette and good style, which is just as much of being a climber as pulling hard. 

Places to Find a Climbing Mentor:

Find someone you can trust and take their advice. There is nothing better than learning from the Lifers in your community. 

Progress so far


Step 4 - Work Through the Grades

As we mentioned, drop any ego, rock climbing is meant to be fun. We all start somewhere and if you feel discouraged by climbing outside. Let it go. 

Work through the grades outside. Start lower than a comfortable gym route and work up. Even if you climb well at one crag doesn't mean you'll have success elsewhere. Be humble work through some classics below your normal gym sending grade ranges. 

  • 1
    Start a few number grades in the YDS below your comfort level. That rock isn't going anywhere soon so you may as well feel comfy your first time climbing outside. 
  • 2
    Stay aware of route finding: This can be difficult for the novice outdoor climber. Spending time getting exhausted looking for the colored tape that isn't there will have an impact on stamina. In, turn on route length possibilities. 
  • 3
    Gradually push yourself: You don't need to match your personal best in the first month climbing outside. Focus on safety systems and then work on difficulty. Staying alive and smiling is the priority.  
Progress so far


Learn how to CORRECTLY fall Outdoor climbing

How to Fall Outdoor Rock Climbing:

Try not to most of the time 😉 But it will and should happen. If you're trying hard you are falling at some point. Learning how to fall safely can give you the confidence to try that hard route with safe fall potential.

  • Watch where the rope is: This will determine your fall pattern.
  • Make sure you don't have a foot behind the rope: Or you're upside down and probably terrified and hitting your head. 
  • Talk to you belayer: Let them know when this outdoor rock climber is goin into orbit.
  • Keep your body away from the wall and absorb with outstretched legs
  • Watch out: For any ledges, tree or any other object in your flight path, outdoor climbing has many other hazards.
Progress so far


Step 6 -  Climbing Systems and Difficulty. 

Challenge Yourself on 1 Discipline at a Time.

In the beginning on the steps to climbing outside ,focus on safety systems. These have to be dialed before the grades should be pushed. Recognize that each route might have unique gear, run-outs, anchors or route finding difficulties. If you don't want to dial the safety system you may experience:

  • Fatigue: Including but not limited to cramps, utter exhaustion, loss of control.
  • Danger to Others
  • Elvis Leg: Uncontrollable jittering of the legs and or any extremity. 
  • Serious Injury or Death: No Joke


Step 3- Watch out for loose holds

Honestly, rockfall terrifies me. I've seen some monsters almost wipe friends off the face of the earth. There are no t-nuts behind the holds climbing outdoors and you don't want to throw them on your belayer. 

Test holds by gently tapping on them and listen for hollow noises, That is a no-go hold and steer clear. Keep a level head and move along past. If you see any pieces of rock with an X marked on it in chalk. Most definitely do not grab it. This is not X marks the spot. X marks danger!

Progress so far


Step 0 -  Leave No Trace and Have Respect for Climbing Outside, the land and others.

I will keep dropping this quote. " Take only pictures, leave only footprints."

  • 1
    Leave no trace: We share these places so show them the respect they deserve. 
  • 2
    Think about your crag neighbor and how you affect their day. Be courteous and make a friend. 
  • 3
    Go Climb. Have fun and have your safety systems dialnd before you try and push the grades climbing outdoors. Enjoy!
Progress so far: The Work is Never Done 😉

You've been training and pulling hard on plastic, it's time to take those gym hours to climbing outside. The fresh air is wonderful, the adventure level gets a bump and you get to explore your local area in a whole new way. 

Find a trusted guide or mentor and pay attention. Once your safety is dialed, you are open to pushing your grade ranges. Enjoy the whole new mental game!

Michael Bryant

About the author

After a lifetime spent in the outdoors and 10 years in the outdoor sports industry, I figured out what I'm best at. Finding great mentors to show me the ropes. Without the Lifers that taught me all I know, I wouldn't be where I'm at, which is... "pretty solid" at most adventures outside.

Mentors are the best way to access the backcountry. Learn with us.