When we visited NYC a couple years ago, we were able to check out Brooklyn Boulders. We had so much fun there that we ended up staying for 6 hours when normally we’d be at the gym 3 max. When we decided to move to New York, our top priority for apartment hunting was based on how easy it was to get to the gym. Now, it’s easily our second home.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 3 years since we first started climbing in San Diego. It feels like just yesterday. Since we move to a new city every year and also travel quite a bit, we’ve been able to visit a lot of climbing gyms and meet many different climbers.
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Last Updated: June 29, 2020
15 Rock Climbing Tips, Hacks, Tricks, and Etiquette
This week, we decided to put together some hacks, tips, and tricks that we learned from others over the years plus some more insightful tips we recently learned from Garrett, the head setter at Brooklyn Boulders. Hopefully, these will help you get better faster on your climbing journey.
1. Funky Shoes
Depending on the person (and shoe), climbing shoes can have a STRONG odor caused by moisture. Mine are pretty nasty since I’m constantly scared and constantly sweating. The best way to combat funky shoes is to make sure you take them off in between climbs and dry them as soon as possible after your climbing session. Some people use a hair dryer to dry out any moisture, then add cedar chips, baking soda, baby powder, or gold bond into the shoes.
Our latest discovery is using coffee pouches in the shoes! It’s been working well for us.
Pro Tip: When they get unbearable, I take some laundry detergent and scrub them down with a toothbrush.
2. Shower in Your Shoes or It's Hammer Time
We’ve had a hard time explaining how climbing shoes should fit, but think about them like ballet shoes. You want to have a slight curl and be able to stand on your toes. In other words, they should be uncomfortable but not painful. If your toes are crossing or curling under, then you should get a bigger size. Once you have your shoes, it helps to break them in. Wearing them at the gym does that, but here are a couple hacks that also help accelerate the process:
- Shower with them! We’ve heard this one from several climbers when we were first starting out. The warm water in the shower will help stretch the shoes out. Just be sure to let them fully dry before wearing them to climb. Whether this works will depend on the type of material your shoe is made of!
- 15 on 15 off. You can bring your shoes with you to the office and put them on for 15 minutes, then take your heel out for 15 minutes to give them a break. Do this a few times to start breaking them in.
- Hit them with a hammer. Grab a hammer, bend your shoes in half, and hit them along the sole. This will start breaking in the leather. This is a tip from the lead setter at Brooklyn Boulders and it was the first time I heard about it.
3. Chalk Your Arm
This is definitely a heated topic as a lot of climbers have strong opinions about what’s using too much chalk. Some people who boulder don’t wear chalk bags on their waist and prefer to use a large chalk bucket and leave it on the mat. If you fear sweat as much as I do, halfway up the climb, the chalk dissolves on my hands.
Another climber told me to put some extra chalk on my forearms so that when I need it I can easily transfer it to my hands. Also, if you’re petrified by heights while you’re climbing, it’s also less scary than having to reach behind you for your chalk bag.
4. Take Care of Your Hands
Climbing puts a lot of stress on your hands, especially in places you wouldn’t normally during everyday activities. You’ll often see climbers tape their fingers or wrists. This helps when your hands are getting beat up or skin is getting torn.
We recommend chatting with other climbers to learn different ways to do this. We’ve also found that using an ointment on your hands after climbing really helps them heal quicker. We use this Metolius Hand Repair Balm after every climb.
Lately, we’ve been using Vitagenne’s Pure Relief Cooling Cream on sore muscles and weary hands. We love that they focus on pure and natural wellness. They are made in the USA, have thc-free options, are vegan and gluten free, and have the US Hemp Authority Certification Seal. We also picked up the sleep capsules to help Esther get better rest.
Most importantly, the best way to take care of your hands is to know when to rest. We’ll talk about this more in a bit.
Typically, we wear the same workout clothes we would wear to any other gym, but this past year we discovered Boulder Jeans. They’re great to wear every day and you never know when you want to make a spontaneous trip to the gym (we’ve been going almost every day lately!).
They are comfortable, stretchy, and chalk will easily wipe off of it. They also have huge pockets that are great for overall traveling. You should check them out!
Rock Climbing Etiquette
As you start climbing at the gym, it’s always helpful to know proper etiquette. This is especially helpful when the gym is busy. Here are some basic rules:
6. Don't Be a Spraylord
A big part of climbing is figuring out each problem. Don’t yell beta at people without being asked (if you don’t know what beta means, read this to learn basic climbing vocab). It’s like spoiling the ending of a movie.
If you do want to offer guidance to someone who looks like they are struggling with a problem, ask if they want any beta first. Here are other ways you might be a Spraylord (read it! It’s hilarious. I know we’re guilty of some of these).
7. To Spot or not to Spot
Spotting is a common practice outdoors but depending on who you ask or where you are, it may or may not be common indoors. Only spot someone if asked and you know how to properly spot them, otherwise you could risk even more injury.
For example, when I know there is a portion of the problem I might fall on, I may fall in a specific way knowing that the mat is below me. If suddenly someone is there trying to spot me, I or him/her could get hurt even more. You can always ask for a spot as well!
8. Brush Your Holds
Generally, you’ll see people brush the holds while they’re working on a problem, but it’s also nice to brush them after so that it’s ready for the next person to climb (especially if you tend to over chalk).
It’s like when you go the gym and after you use the equipment, you wipe it down as a courtesy to the next person. This isn’t a common practice, but it’s courteous.
Also, if you sweat a lot, please wipe the holds! A few weeks ago, I was working on a climb and got to a part where I was taken by surprise and my hands completely slipped off what should have been a good hold. When I looked at my hands, they were covered in a gray sludge of chalk and someone else’s sweat.
9. Be Aware and Mindful of Others
This one is a common mistake with new climbers. Even when the gym is busy, they’ll get on the wall and try a move over and over and not realize the crowd of people waiting to try the same problem or the one next to it. Typically you should only try once or twice then step back and let others have a go at it.
If you want to work on a problem but someone is on there and it looks like they almost have it, it’s nice to let them finish up before you get on to figure out your own beta. You may ruin the flow and groove they have going.
10. Stand Away from the Walls and keep your Bottles and Bags in Check
It’s always important to be aware of where people are climbing and where they potentially may fall. Stay clear of any of these areas.
We’ve seen people really hurt themselves land on water bottles or tripping over chalk bags (this happened to one of our friends in Portland). Be aware of where they are and make sure they are clear of any landings.
Tips to Improve Your Rock Climbing Technique
11. Try Something Different if You're Plateauing
Sometimes climbing can get frustrating because it doesn’t feel like you’re progressing. For example, you may be able to flash all V5s, but can’t even start most V6s. When you reach this plateau, try not to stay focused on climbing the rating ladder.
Often times, you get so focused on wanting to climb the next level, that you get discouraged and that hinders you from getting better. Once you feel like your plateauing, rather than trying the same thing over and over with no progress, change what you’re doing. Change the type of climbs, slopers vs crimps, overhung vs slab, or trad or sport climbing vs bouldering, or even play climbing games/exercises.
12. Know When to Rest
If you feel your fingers getting sore or fatigued from doing certain problems, try to mix it up with different types or styles of climbs. When climbing, there’s always a risk of injury especially if you push yourself too far outside your ability.
Jacob recently hurt one of his fingers, and most climbers said the best thing to do is let it rest so you don’t risk an even more serious injury. (However, most people also have trouble practicing what they preach and end up regretting it later. This includes our climber friend who is a doctor).
Depending on the severity of the injury, it also doesn’t mean you have to stop climbing. For example, when Jacob hurt his left hand, he did easier climbs with his right hand only and worked on footwork and positioning instead.
As always, staying hydrated and stretching really helps. If you are injured, you should consult a doctor and if you’re interested in reading up more about climbing injuries, this book is a great resource.
13. Top Rope Will Help You Work on Stamina
You may love bouldering more than rope climbing, but it’s the sprint versus the marathon. We found that we learned technique better through bouldering, but we don’t get to work on stamina as much. If you try bouldering and are scared of the idea, you can also start on ropes. It’s easier to get comfortable knowing that the rope is there to catch you, and it tends to be less soul-crushing.
14. Try a Climbing Comp
Most gyms hold comps for all skill levels. We have yet to enter one but plan on trying this year. It’s a unique experience where everyone is trying the same climbs for the first time.
15. Make Friends
One of the fun parts of climbing is being able to workshop a problem together with other climbers. It’s also interesting to see that different people approach a problem in different ways. Now we have a small group of climbing friends that we hang out within and out of the gym, but it all started by working on a bouldering problem together.
Have you been climbing or bouldering before? Do you have any other hacks you can think of?
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Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.