A Beginner’s Guide to Climbing 

STORY BY Megan Hughes 25th June 2018

With so many climbing and bouldering walls in the UK, it has never been easier to get into climbing. For many people, climbing is a great and entertaining replacement for going to the gym as it engages your brain as well as your body. Some people only ever climb indoors, while others use indoor climbing as a pathway to start climbing outdoors or as training for outdoor climbing. However, having a Beginner’s Guide to Climbing can make the process much easier.

We caught up with Phil Minal, Centre Manager at the popular climbing centre Redpoint Birmingham, to find out what top tips they would give to anyone wanting to give climbing a go for the first time.

1. Learn the Basics

There are two basic disciplines in climbing: Bouldering and Roped Climbing.


This is lower-height climbing with thick crash mat-type flooring and no ropes or harnesses. Bouldering can be done on your own, but requires a brief induction about the safety rules to ensure that you enjoy yourself while staying safe.

Indoor bouldering requires very little gear – just climbing shoes and maybe a chalkbag, both of which can be hired for a few quid. Bouldering is often more about power and technique than stamina so it’s good for an aerobic workout and for developing climbing technique.


Roped climbing itself is divided into two basic disciplines: Top Roping and Lead Climbing.

Top Roping 

This is where the climber wears a harness and has a safety rope above them. This would be what constitutes most people’s first introduction to “proper” climbing.

For all roped climbing, you need two people – the climber and the belayer. The belayer is responsible for locking the rope if the climber falls off or when the climber gets to the top and wants to be lowered back down. This isn’t hard to learn and there are various modern belay devices to make life easier here. If the climber falls, they only fall a few feet as the rope is dynamic and stretches a little to absorb the force.

Lead Climbing 

Once belaying and intermediate climbing skills have been mastered, this is the next step! Lead climbing involves taking the safety rope with you and clipping it in so that it runs through the “quick draws” as you go. This means that if the climber falls from above the last place that they clipped they will fall a bit further before the rope catches them. Lead climbing is more challenging than top roping and is closer to replicating the sort of climbing that goes on outdoors.

2. Get Some Lessons

Many people book lessons as a way to get into climbing. This gives you a good head start and is certainly essential for learning the safety side of things for roped climbing. Climbing instructors can teach you how to use the equipment as well as how to climb in the best way? so starting out with some instruction is a great way to stay safe while you are learning as well as getting a head start on climbing technique.

Climbing centres tend to be friendly places and the staff and customers are always happy to help newcomers to the sport. Getting into climbing at your local centre is a great way to make lots of new climbing friends.

3. Head Outdoors

Taking skills that have been learnt indoors and translating them onto real rock presents a few more challenges, but also opens up a new world of opportunities. If you do decide that you want to give the outdoor experience a go, without safety flooring and in-situ ropes it’s best first to get some instruction with an outdoor course or a local climbing club.

Outdoor climbing requires more equipment than indoor climbing, so going on a course is a great way to find out if you like it before you splash out on lots of shiny new gear. Many people develop their outdoor skills in places like the Peak District before going on to longer routes in places like Wales or Scotland. From there, the world of climbing can extend into mountaineering, winter mountaineering, alpine climbing, ice climbing and even the Himalayas!

4. It’s OK To Be Scared!

A lot of people say that they are scared of heights when they start climbing, but most people manage to turn this into a healthy respect for heights rather than a fear!

Climbing walls have hundreds of colour-coded routes at every level of difficulty, so there is something for everyone and always something to challenge you. However, try not to get obsessed with the grades and routes – climbing is all about enjoying the process!

5. Safety First

Statistically, climbing is a pretty safe sport; in fact, more people are injured playing netball each year than climbing! However, as with any sport, it’s only as safe as you make it, so be sure to pay attention to safety briefings and instruction and don’t get complacent, no matter how confident you become in your climbing ability.

Redpoint Birmingham runs climbing lessons for everyone and all abilities and also runs outdoor climbing courses.

Head to redpointbirmingham.co.uk for more info.

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