Etiquette for climbing outdoors

When climbing first became a ”thing”, back in the day, there weren’t much indoor gyms to climb at. Most climbers started climbing outside with ”mentors”, more experienced climbers. Etiquette for climbing outdoors was passed down by word of mouth.

And back then, the climbing community was not nearly as diverse in styles and numbers as it is today. Nowadays, there is an estimated 25 million people who climb at a regular basis. Think about that for a second. 25 million! That’s alot of climbers. Back when climbing took it’s first steps, there where maybe just a few thousand people.

25 million climbers would have an irreversible impact, if all climbers were regularily climbing outdoors. Luckily that’s not the case. I didn’t find any numbers on how many actually go climbing outside, but my gut feeling is less than half? What do you think?

Anyway, with the increasing popularity of the sport, we as climbers, need to have rules on what is allowed and what’s not. The point is not, that we need to make rules just for the sake of making rules. The point is preserving the nature and minimising the impact that climbing has on the crags. That’s what this whole article is about.

If more and more climbers are mindful of their own actions, it will hopefully make climbing outside possible for future generations too.

I put together this list of ”rules” for climbing outdoors. These are meant for the beginning climber transitioning from the gym to the crag. But I know a few more experienced climbers too, for whom it would be beneficial to take a look also.  Here we go.

Etiquette for climbing outdoors
Photo by Johan Rapakko

1. Respect other users

This is one of the most important things to keep in mind when transferring from the gym to the crag. Be courteous of other people.

There is no denying that the number of climbers transitioning from gym to the crag will increase drastically in the nearby future. If there really are 25 million people regularly climbing, the odds are that crags might get a little crowded sometimes. Being nice goes a long way.

Remember, that not all users are climbers. In my eyes, one of the most visible acts of being courteous to other people, climbers and other people enjoying the outdoors, is brushing the holds after finished with climbing. Lets be honest here, chalk on rock isn’t a pretty sight. Especially to non-climbers who, don’t know what chalk is and what it’s used for.

Brushing the holds after the climb is really important. And don’t forget brushing off the tick marks too.

2. Dispose of human waste properly

In other words, if you have to poop outdoors, bring it back with you in a sealable bag or such, to minimize the impact on the environment. Sometimes digging ”catholes” to do your business might be acceptable, but with the increasing number of climbers hitting the outdoors, makes it less desirable. Use the toilet before you go to the crag or pack out all human waste to have the least impact. Peeing is okay. But number two, bring it with you. (Notice the clever little rhyme 😉 )

3. Park and camp in designated areas

Nowadays, it doesn’t take many seconds to google the appropriate parking at a crag you are planning to go to, or the nearest camping area, if on an overnight trip. Or you could even have an old-school approach and ask some local climber face to face, where to park or where to camp. A local gym is always a good place to ask around. Though I understand, that conducting real human contact is going out of fashion, due to social media and all. It’s still an option, though.

Many crags are located on privately owned land. The worst thing you could do, is disrespect the landowners wishes. Leave your car ONLY at the designated parking areas and in such a way, that your car is not restricting other vehicles, may they be cars, trucks or tractors, from driving by.

Keep your voices down, pick up trash, keep on the trails and so on. If the landowners get fed up with climbers they can ban climbing on their property from everyone. (Too) Many crags have been closed from climbing due ignorance and disrespect. And it’s not only privately owned land you have to be cautious about. Most national parks have rules too.

Etiquette for climbing outdoors
Photo by Marko Kauko

4. Stay on established trails

The Project Magazine wrote a great article about the environmental impact of the increasing number of climbers hitting Magic Wood, a legendary boulder area in Switzerland. Magic Wood is known for quality problems on quality rock. Go and read the article if you already haven’t.

The growing number of climbers at the crag takes it’s toll on the environment. The least we can do, is to try to minimize the impact. It’s everybodys responsibility.

Studies (link here) have also shown that not staying on trails can have a negative impact on wildlife, since the movement of those staying on the trails is much more predictable (to wildlife).

Also, people wandering around randomly can damage vital plant life, preventing new sprouts from growing and developing into the beautiful and diverse green kingdom that caught your eye in the first place.

5. Clean all excess chalk and tick marks

Tick marks are commonly used to locate an important hold on the climb or a certain spot on the hold. There is no need to mark all the holds. I’m sorry to say, that it only makes you look like a total amateur and a dumb ass.

Tickmarks are small ticks or dots on the rock, not two feet long massive lines (and I’ve seen those too). How do you think the landowner and potential other users of the area feel when coming across such ”graffiti”? Cool drawings or ruined natural beauty?

Etiquette for climbing outdoors
Photo by Johan Rapakko

Use tick marks sparingly and only if you really need one. Brush all holds after you are done with the climb. Try to leave the crag or boulder at the same state as it was before you came there. Even better, try to leave it in better condition than when you arrived.

6. Keep a low profile

Meaning keep you voices down. Please don’t shout out curse words after a failed redpoint. Even if Adam Ondra does. It ain’t nice hearing that when trying to enjoy the calmness of being out in the wild. Keeping your voices down is respecting other users. And please, no loud music from the boombox. Use your new bluetooth headphones if you need to fade out the beautiful sounds of nature.

7. Pack out, what you pack in

Lets play with numbers here for a second. If there are 25 million people who climb regularly, my estimate is that maybe a fourth of them go climbing outside, about 6 million people. Lets say that every tenth climber leaves some trash at the crag, an empty can of soda for instance. That is about 600 000 empty cans! Just due to pure laziness. Therfore, if you are willing to carry something to the crag, you can surely carry it back to the car as well.

Packing out also includes all your crash pads or other gear. I understand, that one might be tempted to leave the pads under the boulder problem. Especially if you are coming back to it the very next day. In the worst case, the pad won’t be there waiting for you when you come back. That would suck.

8. Respect closures

Be mindful of closures. Like I mentioned before, several crags on privately owned land are closed due to poor behaviour of climbers. Climbing at closed crags is one of the worst thing you could do. It would be like a slap on the face. Play nice.

Best scenario is that after letting the crag calm down for a few years, the landowner might allow climbing on their premises once again.

9. Be a good example

Give back to the community by being a good example to others. Guide less experienced climbers to the rules of climbing outdoors. Use a positive tone to steer others towards responsible decisions, may they be ecological or social.

Related articles:

How to start climbing outdoors

How to start rock climbing [Guide]

How to choose a climbing shoe

How to spot in bouldering: Top 7 tips




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