Gym to Rock Transitioning Tips

Looking to make the transition from indoor gym climbing to outdoor rock climbing? 

You are in the right place! 

WARNING this website is not a replacement for a technical rock climbing course. Rock climbing is inherently dangerous and you should always assume your own risk when climbing outdoors. The information on should be used in combination with a climbing course or guidance from an experienced mentor. Respect the dangers and learn necessary climbing skills from a trained professional.

Step 1 Read the Code
It is essential that you read about the Climbers Code and Leave No Trace

Step 2 Take a course
Climbing gyms create a safe and accessible atmosphere that is not found on the real rocks. Don't believe everything your buddy at the gym taught you, or what you saw on You Tube. Hire a certified climbing guide for a day with some friends, read informative books/articles written by outdoor professionals and practice everything in a controlled setting (on the ground!!) before taking it to the cliff. Find an experienced climbing mentor to learn the skills necessary to climb outdoors. Read through our 'Important Outdoor Safety Considerations' below.

Useful Outdoor Climbing Courses:
"Intro Course" teaches the basics like technique, knots, belay, communication, hazards.
"Anchor Building Course" teaches how to set up top rope anchors for top roping outside.
"Sport Lead Climbing Course" teaches the fundamentals of leading sport climbs outdoors.

Step 3 Learn the Area 
  • Find a guidebook
  • Research the area on local climbing forums or sites like Mountain Project or The Crag
  • Ask local climbers/gear shops/guides about safety or access considerations.
  • Research the difficulty, protection and hazards in the area.
  • Come prepared for changing weather and long physically demanding days outside.
  • Don't expect all bolts/anchors to be safe
  • Learn how to recognize unsafe bolts and unsafe anchors/fixed gear 
  • Know the local climbing ethics and abide by them

Step 4 Get Involved
These climbing areas exist because someone put in the time, money and hard work to develop the climbing, trails and gain approved access (ie. route devlopers, access coalitions, volunteers). Do your part to help keep these areas safe and open for everyone to enjoy. Support your local access coalition and get involved in the community events and clean ups. Report unsafe or concerning issues at the cliff to local guides and climbing organizations.

Outdoor Safety Considerations

1.Rock Fall
As incredible as it is to climb on real rock, it unfortunately comes with the inherent risk of rock fall.

Climber cautions: When you are climbing outside, knock on the rock if it looks suspect. If it sounds hollow, look for a more solid sounding place to grab or stand on. Warn your belayer if you find loose or suspect rock, try not to pull outward on loose rock. If a rock breaks, or if you drop gear, immediately yell "ROCK!" as loud as you can (at least twice). Be aware that springtime can be much worse for rock fall as the freeze thaw effect can shift the rocks. Wear a helmet.

Belayer hazards: Do not stand directly beneath the climber, adjust your positioning as they advance up the route. If "ROCK!" is yelled, don't look up. The safest place is generally as close to the wall as possible, or underneath a roof/overhang. Be aware that springtime can be much worse for rock fall as the freeze thaw effect can shift the rocks. Wear a helmet.

2.Bad Weather

Climbing outside brings the added risk of weather, which in some cases can pose extreme risk to a climber.

Rain can make rock slippery and thus increase your chances of falling. Soft rock like sandstone will be more susceptible to breaking after rain fall. Do not climb on wet rock in certain climbing areas (generally certain types of sandstone) or you will risk permanently damaging the rock, it can take between 24-48hrs to dry. More solid types of stone like Granite will dry much faster. Wet rock can also decrease the strength of your gear placements when trad climbing.

Wind can make communicating with your partner very difficult. It is imperative to use simple words that are easy to understand/differentiate when communicating with your climbing partner. For example, "On belay" and "Off belay" are easily confused in wind, as are "Safe" and "Take", either could pose a deadly situation. Use easy to differentiate expressions like "In Direct! <insert belayers name>" and "Belay off! <insert climbers name>" --using your partners name is ideal to not get confused with a nearby groups that are also yelling commands. Learn proper communication from a mentor or certified guide.

Wind can also pose the extreme likelihood of your rope getting stuck when pulling ropes down after a rappel/lower. Plan accordingly, check the weather.

Lightning is a serious weather hazard for climbers. If you are climbing a big wall that requires hours to complete, check the weather conditions before you are committed halfway up a mountain when a storm rolls in. "When thunder roars, go indoors" is a good rule of thumb, if you get caught in a storm you need to be aware of what not to do. 

Do nots
Do stand/sit on a back pack/boulder pad/something to separate you from ground currents
Do leave your gear and wait until the storm has passed
Do not stand in high, exposed places.
Do not go into/under caves
Do not hold on to metal
Do not stand on tree roots/lay on the ground

More information about lightning at:

3.Climbing Systems & Safety Skills
The skills you need to stay safe on a cliff take time to learn and master. Take a course and learn up to date skills from trained professionals. If it has been a while since you've used the skills, consider a refresher course. Once you learn necessary outdoor climbing skills, always use appropriate back-up's for your climbing systems and triple check everything.
  • Always have a proper knot tied at the end of your rope while lowering or rappelling (Double overhand with a 10-12inch tail)
  • Always use a back up for your rappel device (third hand=friction hitch/fireman belay).
  • Always build safe and sufficient anchors
  • Always protect yourself when working on a cliff edge
  • Always keep your hand on the break when belaying, the Gri-Gri is not a hands free device
  • Triple check everything 

"Triple Checks"
Accidents are often caused by complacent small mistakes, or lack of knowledge and bad habits. These accidents can be catastrophic and are almost always preventable. Develop good habits that will keep you safe, triple check everything before you leave the ground. It is important to always triple check the system, it will keep you and your friends alive. Climbing is inherently dangerous and the risks increase dramatically if you miss an important step. Slow down and pay attention.

  1. Both climber and belayer check that belay device is properly loaded, attached, locked.
  2. Both climber and belayer check harnesses and the climbers figure 8 knot.
  3. Communicate with your partner 

4.Take Care of Your Gear

Your climbing gear is your lifeline, treat it that way!
Replace anything that you are starting to question, how much is your life worth? 

  • Replace your gear when it becomes worn or damaged. 
  • Inspect your carabiners for sharp grooves, and make sure the gate functions properly.
  • Inspect ropes for flat spots/core shots and switch up the end you're climbing on regularly.
  • Inspect slings/draws for wear and tear. Take note of expiry dates.
  • Protect your rope/cord/webbing from sharp edges. Untie knots after each climbing day.
  • Buy a rope bag to keep your rope clean. 
  • Don't store your gear near strong acids or chemicals such as a batteries, strong acids, chemicals, petroleum products, and cleaning solutions. Find a protected spot like a storage bin and store in temperature controlled environment, away from sunlight.
  • Do not put your rope on the ground in a parking lot/road/garage. Gas and petroleum products will silently eat through your rope!

a) Bad Rope
"The Pinch Test"

Inspect your rope regularly by searching for flat or irregular spots. If you find a spot that feels different, perform the pinch test (pictured above). If the rope goes completely flat in that spot (like the rope on the left in the photo), then it is time to cut that end of the rope off to where the rope feels normal again, or replace your rope. If you decide to cut your rope, burn the cut end so it doesn't fray and also remember that you now have a shorter rope. A common climbing accident is when a belayer accidently lowers a climber off the end of the rope, on a climb that is longer than the length of the rope. This is avoidable by ALWAYS tying a knot at the end of your rope. Best practice is an 'overhand flat bend' or a 'barrel knot' with 10-12inch's of tail. 

b) Bad Carabiners

Over time your carabiners can become worn and eventually unsafe (like the photo above). Watch out for sharp edges on your carabiners that can cut your rope! Replace carabiners that are worn/sharp. Inspect any fixed protection (permanent draws or anchors on a route) for the same wear marks and replace them with one of your own if it looks unsafe.

Read more about this at: 

Note that dropping your carabiners from height on to a hard rock surface can cause micro-fractures (that you can't see), that greatly reducing strength. These carabiners will make for good water bottle clips, not protection.

DO NOT top rope directly through fixed anchor hard ware. When you are setting up a top rope on a sport climb it is important that you use your own gear to do so. Top roping directly off of the anchor hardware puts extreme wear and tear on the fixed anchor, eventually making it unsafe to use. Read more about why here:

c) Bad Bolts

Never expect that the bolts out doors will be close together, safe, or exactly where you want them to be. Outdoor sport climbs can be bolted in a variety of styles depending on the rock quality, the person who bolted it and sometimes the year it was put up. Often the older the route, the "bolder" it will be bolted, as a lot of the old climbs were put up on lead (ground up). Some of these routes have since been "retro bolted" (when a climb is re-bolted to be more safe), so consult a guidebook or local guide about the climbs and climbing style in your area. Old routes were often bolted using 1/4 inch or sometimes homemade bolts, which are now considered rather unsafe due to years of exposure. Newer routes generally have much larger expandable or glue in bolts. Never assume all bolts and anchors are safe and learn how to identify unsafe bolts and anchors. 

Read all about bolts and how to identify bad bolts at:

Report bad bolts to your local climbing access groups/guiding companies/bolt fund.  

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