Indoors or outdoors, climbing covers a wide range of styles and its popularity is reaching unprecedented heights. Welcome to the vertical world of climbing!
Want to learn to climb? Great! Climbing is a thrilling activity that comes in many forms and can be practiced inside, outside, or both. The most common styles of climbing are: bouldering, traditional rock climbing, top rope, sport climbing, ice climbing, and speed climbing. If the number of choices makes your head spin, this guide will help point you in the right direction (up!).
Once considered a fringe activity outside the realm of traditional sports, climbing has now been democratized thanks to the emergence of indoor climbing gyms equipped with artificial rock structures. For over a decade, climbing has been on the rise and has attracted a growing number of followers.
If you’ve never climbed, we highly recommend taking an introductory course at a climbing gym to get a solid grasp of the basics before heading out on the rocks. Indoor climbing is done on artificial walls dotted with colourful holds. Each route or “problem” is assigned a colour code indicating its level of difficulty. You’ll be able to practice bouldering, top rope, and lead climbing. Speed climbing is also offered in some gyms.
Bouldering was invented by rock climbers and mountaineers who wanted to train and have fun on rest days or rainy days. Whether indoors or outdoors, this discipline is practiced without a rope or harness and consists of climbing walls or rocks that reach up to about 5 m tall. Protective landing mats called “crash pads” are placed on the ground below the wall to cushion falls. One of the advantages of bouldering? It’s not very expensive. All you need to get started is a pair of climbing shoes (that you can often rent on site for a small fee) and some chalk (sometimes called a “pof”). You don’t even need a partner. You can just show up to the bouldering climbing gym on your own. This may seem a bit intimidating at first, but the climbing community is generally very welcoming.
In sport climbing, you clip quickdraws onto bolts drilled along the route to protect yourself from falling. This style requires more equipment: rope, harness, climbing shoes, helmet, quickdraws, chalk, a belay device, and a chalk bag. Indoors, the quickdraws are usually already attached to the wall.
The name says it all: ice climbing is done on an icy wall with ice axes and crampons. Rock climbing and ice climbing are distinct disciplines. Even if you’re an experienced climber, it’s best to take an introductory ice climbing course and learn the techniques before exploring this new world of vertical ice.
In North America, climbing routes are graded using the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) that ranges from 5.0 to 5.15d. The higher the number, the harder the route. From 5.10 on, grades are subdivided into A, B, C, or D to further define the degree of difficulty. For bouldering, the North American grading system starts at V0 (easiest) and goes to V16.
In general, choose stretchy, breathable clothing. Outside, rocks can be unforgiving and can rip or tear light fabrics. Opt for long clothes that will resist wear and tear and offer protection against scratches and bugs. Indoors, wear athletic clothing: T-shirt, tank top, shorts, tights, or leggings. Loose-fitting clothing can actually restrict your movements and make climbing uncomfortable. Finally, be sure to remove any jewelry and tie up long hair to avoid getting it caught or pinched.