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What is Good Climbing Gym Etiquette?

I just started climbing at my local gym. It’s so much fun but I’m nervous that I don’t have good gym manners. It’s a little intimidating being around all these great climbers. I’m a newbie - where can I learn proper climbing gym etiquette?

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1. Always be aware of your surroundings. Always. No really. Every single second. 

This is the single most important thing to keep in mind while climbing in a gym. It’s also the source of the most common beginner etiquette mistakes.

Always know where you’re standing or climbing relative to other people in the gym. It’s like crossing a busy street...with the added threat of meteors. Look up, down, left, and right. Then do it again. Staying aware of your surroundings will save you from many dangerous and/or embarrassing situations.

Bottom line: If someone falls on you, it’s your fault.

Specifically, this means:

  • Keep yourself and all of your belongings out of potential fall zones. Look where people are climbing, where their route is going, and where they might fall if they come off the wall. Stay away from those places.
  • If someone is on the wall already, they have the right of way. When you start a climb, make sure your route doesn’t intersect in any way with another route someone else has already started.
  • Before moving a pad, be sure no one is already using it. If there are people near a movable pad, whether or not there is someone climbing at that moment, ask if it’s alright for you to move it.

Staying aware of your surroundings is the first thing for having good etiquette and will protect both you and your fellow climbers from injury.

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2. Respect the psych of others around you.

Climbing culture, at its core, is all about psych (or syke, or sike). Psych is deeply personal, but also a product of community effort. It’s what we honor, what we seek for ourselves, and the best gift we can give to another climber. By the same token, doing something that pops another climber’s psych bubble is seriously bad etiquette.

We all benefit as more and more people discover the joys of our sport. However, climbing is growing so fast that newcomers often don’t get the benefit of learning community and social norms from more seasoned climbers. Because of this, new climbers can unknowingly violate these norms and ruin the psych of others in the process. The good news is that if you’re reading this, you probably care enough to not do that, so here are a few pointers to help you out.

Bottom line: Be a good member of the gym community.

Specifically, this means:

  • When in doubt, ask. Climbers tend to be helpful, supportive people. Yes, they’re super strong and impressive, but they also remember what it’s like to be new to the sport. They are almost always happy to help as long as you aren’t talking to them while they’re in the middle of a climb. If you could use some guidance, just ask.
  • Don’t be afraid to go rogue. There are set routes in a gym that are a lot of fun. But when you’re new, don’t feel like you have to follow them exactly. Feel free to use holds and/or feet that aren’t on the official route - just getting up the wall is an achievement in its own right. Just don’t veer way off a set climb since you might confuse other climbers who are trying to jump on a section of the wall that they think is open.
  • Take turns on the bouldering wall. In a bouldering gym, there’s no set order or timing for when to climb and when to wait. Getting on a crowded wall is part empathy, part selfishness, and totally a feel thing. Simply be aware of the rhythm of those around you and, when the wall seems free, jump in. If you’re feeling rushed and/or stressed out while climbing, you aren’t doing it right. And don’t forget, rest is important for peak performance - spazzing rarely gets the job done.
  • Be aware that others might want to use the rope you’re on. If you’re climbing on ropes, hanging briefly to rest and get some more attempts at a particular move or section is fine. But if the gym is crowded, chances are there are other people who want the rope you’re on, so don’t stay up there for 15 minutes trying over and over again. Lower down, take a break, and regroup while others get their psych on.
  • Don’t offer unsolicited advice. It’s fun to figure out how to do a route. If you think you have advice for another climber, be sure she wants it before you say it. Whether she is on or off the wall, ask if she wants a suggestion before making one. Giving unsolicited advice is called “spraying beta” and can annoy climbers who love figuring a route out for themselves. It can also be distracting for a climber who is already on the wall. Just to be clear, spraying beta is not the same as pointing out interesting routes. Feel free to tell someone about a route you really like or don’t like - just don’t get into what to do or not do unless you’re sure that the advice is wanted first.
  • Those who brush it, crush it. Don’t get on a problem in between when someone brushes it and when they’re putting the brush away. Climbers brush holds to get rid of excess chalk, shoe rubber, and other residue that prevents the holds from feeling optimal. Don’t take the fruits of their labor for yourself. Or course, if they brush it and then for some reason don’t immediately get on the route, go ahead and jump in.
  • Don’t disrupt the peace. Climbing is hard. Sometimes, you’ll make a really difficult move and yell. Sometimes you’ll go for a hold, miss, and groan out of frustration. Just don’t make a habit of it. Loud noises can be distracting psych-killers for other climbers, so keep them to a minimum. And try hard to avoid throwing a temper tantrum if you can’t do a climb. Those are called “wobblers” - not only are they annoying to listen to, but they also make you look silly.

That’s it! Wasn’t so hard, was it? Don’t worry if you make a mistake, it happens. Gym climbing etiquette pretty much comes down to safety, respect, and awareness. And just like climbing, those are all things we can always get better at.

Still confused about something? Let us know in the comments and we’ll get back to you!

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