Roads Rivers and Trails

Dream. Plan. Live.

Outdoor sport climbing opens up the opportunity to explore beautiful places.

6 Tips for Beginner Outdoor Sport Climbers (5/8)

With warm weather upon us, you’re bound to want to take your climbing from the gym to the crag. Here are 6 tips for the beginner outdoor sport climber as you expand your horizons.


1. Learn to Lead Climb Indoors

Lead climbing involves bringing the rope up with you while climbing instead of climbing with the rope already attached at the top (toprope climbing). Lead climbing can be dangerous; you should learn from experienced climbers before attempting to lead on your own. When you lead climb inside, you clip the rope to preset carabiners as you make your way up the route. Taking a lead clinic in a gym or practicing indoors is a great way to familiarize yourself with the clipping motion and proper technique in a controlled environment.


2. Know What Not to Do

When learning to lead, you need to understand the dangers of back clipping and Z-clipping. When done correctly, the climber’s side of the rope should be on the outside of a quickdraw. Dangerous back clips occur when you clip the climber’s side of the rope on the inside, creating potential for the rope to unclip itself if you fell. Z-clipping happens if you clip rope from under a previously clipped draw, creating a “Z” with the rope which can amplify the length of a fall and increase rope drag.

Kentucky's Red River Gorge has excellent outdoor sport climing.

3. Catch a Fall

An inevitable part of lead climbing is falling. Lead falls can be longer and more dangerous due to factors such as rope stretch, distance above a bolt, amount of slack present, and comparative weight of climber and belayer. With that in mind, catching a lead fall is paramount. As you learn to lead, you’ll also need to learn the ins and outs of lead belaying. Rather than taking in slack, you’ll be feeding out slack, managing the rope, and checking your climber’s clips. Communication and trust with a partner are key. With practice, you’ll soon be comfortable catching a lead fall and learn the quickest ways to take out slack.


4. Understand Safety Protocols

As you learn to lead, you’ll come to understand methods for properly placing quickdraws. You don’t need to worry about placing the anchors when leading inside since draws are pre-placed. Climbing outdoors, however, you’ll need to set up your own anchors that are Opposite and Opposed. Make sure the gates of your quickdraws are facing opposite directions when you set the anchors. Check that both gates face out and away from the route and the gates form an “x” when opened, which ensures the rope can’t come unclipped from the anchors. A final tip is to ensure the draws are Equalized. This means that the bottom of the carabiners should be at the same height so that the two draws bear the weight of your rope equally. You may need to adjust where one draw is placed on the chains to accomplish this.

Clipping is an essential skill in outdoor sport climbing.

5. Clean Routes Effectively

Cleaning after climbing consists of taking all your equipment off the climb and getting back to the ground safely. Cleaning is the most dangerous part of climbing. At the top of the route, you’ll transfer your rope to a new safety system and remove your gear as you descend. To clean properly, you’ll need two slings and two locking carabiners to create a Redundant system. I personally like 120 cm Dyneema slings because they can be used in many variations. I also prefer auto-locking carabiners like Petzl’s Sm’d Twistlock because they’re easier to take off than screwlock ‘biners.  There are a number of methods for safe and effective cleaning, and you’ll need to learn one from an expert and practice extensively before doing it on your own. Regardless of the method, any safety system should be opposite and opposed, equalized, and redundant. Always perform every safety check while cleaning and don’t rush the process.


6. Assemble Your Gear

Now you know all the basics of leading and cleaning a route and you’re prepared to climb sport routes outside! But first, it’s time to buy all your gear. Assuming you already own a harness and shoes, the next steps are to buy quickdraws, rope, and a helmet. You can always split your purchases with a consistent climbing partner to break up the cost. A great rope is the Tommy Caldwell 60-meter by Edelrid. You’ll also need quickdraws. There are endless options to choose from, but I recommend Petzl’s Djinn Axess Quickdraws. Twelve quickdraws is desirable for most routes near Cincinnati. Finally, safety is always a priority, so a climbing helmet is a necessity. This will protect your noggin from a fall when climbing or from loose rock while belaying.


These tips should help you transfer your skills to sandstone, granite, or limestone sport routes outside. The next blog in this series will open your eyes to crack climbing through tips for traditional climbers.


by: Sean Masterson



Opposite: The gates of carabiners face different directions. Even if one gate is unintentionally opened, the rope cannot come unclipped from both carabiners.

Opposed: Carabiners are oriented in the same direction (Top to top, bottom to bottom). In this way, if both gates are open and overlapping they form an “X.” In this manner, even if one carabiner were to rotate so that both gates faced the same direction, the gates would still open differently (up versus down), reducing the chance that the rope comes unclipped from both.

Redundant: Every weight-bearing system- ropes, carabiners, slings- need to be redundant. If one fails, there should be a backup. This means setting anchors with two carabiners, building an anchor from multiple points, and cleaning with two slings. Even if the extra piece of gear isn’t absolutely necessary, it could save your life.

Equalized: In an equalized system, both points of protection should be bearing your weight evenly. If one were to fail, this prevents shock-loading the system and causing system failure. Both slings when cleaning should be taut under your weight, and both carabiners should hang at the same level to cradle the rope.


*Climbing is inherently dangerous, even in a gym. All techniques should be learned from an expert. This blog is not meant to be a how-to guide, but rather a source of clarifying information and advice.