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Ready to Climb? Here’s Your First Step

As beautiful and inspiring as rock climbing may be, for decades it wasn’t an easily accessible activity, because becoming a climber hinged largely on being born near an outdoor climbing area. Luckily, in recent years everything’s changed and there are now more than 400 climbing gyms in the US and Canada, with new facilities opening every year.

The Golden Age of Yosemite’s vertical exploration may be long over (or, is it?) but there’s never been a better time to learn how to climb.

Find the Right Shoes
Most indoor climbing gyms offer rental shoes, but having a pair of your own will massively improve your experience from the get go. However, buying a pair only to use once is not ideal. Call up your local gym and book an introductory climbing session first. Once you’ve made sure you’re going to stick with it, head to a shop and try a few models on.

Your first pair doesn’t need to be expensive and, contrary to popular opinion, they don't need to be painfully small. Search for models with a flat sole (the downturned ones will be useful later in your climbing career) and only make the decision after trying at least five different options. And don’t be embarrassed to be picky; your comfort and good footwork are both at stake.

Use Chalk
The white powder that can often be seen on climbers’ hands is mostly made of magnesium carbonate and commonly referred to as chalk. It absorbs skin moisture and makes holds less slippery, therefore easier to grab on. You can buy chalk in the form of a liquid (stays on for longer and makes less mess) or traditional powder. Opting for the latter, you’ll also need a chalk bag.

Using chalk tends to dry the skin, so wash your hands very well after each climbing session. You might also want to apply moisturizer but some climbers believe it softens their skin and makes it more prone to blistering.

Unfortunately, some blisters are inevitable, especially at first, so equip yourself with some climbing tape. Experienced climbers use it to stabilize injured finger joints but it also does a great job of covering abrasions.

Learn The Craft: Step by Step
A brief introduction to safety rules will allow you to climb independently at many gyms but to really learn the ropes you should participate in an indoor or outdoor course that usually takes a few days. You will not only get to know how to belay and lead climb, but also practice the correct movement technique. Surprisingly to many, being a good climber depends more on technique than on strength!

If you are lucky to live close to an outdoor climbing area, the best thing you can do is befriend some seasoned climbers and learn the craft from them. Although gyms make the sport easily accessible in the city, climbing on real rock is a life changing experience. It’s an immersive, beautiful way to interact with the great outdoors that’s likely to get you hooked forever. 

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