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  • Writer's pictureVertical Horizons

Climbing Gym Etiquette

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

In a universe where the only inevitable is impending entropy (the general decline into disorder), humans create rules, laws, and guidelines to attempt to control and order their lives and those around them. Some rules are less liked than others, but the risk of danger often increases without them. While written-down rules plastered on signs, posters, websites, etc., are easy to understand, other implied rules, otherwise deemed social etiquette, govern society. Rock climbers are often known for their free-spirited, laid-back nature, but like any human-run operation, there are rules to keep anyone testing their strength safe. In a commercial or indoor rock climbing gym, there are explicit rules that participants must abide by for their safety and the safety of others, much like classroom rules, airplane rules, etc. Yet, indoor rock climbing has its own set of implied rules, fittingly called climbing gym etiquette. But, implied etiquette is tricky because if you haven’t been privy to it via immersion in the rock climbing community, you may find yourself going to a rock climbing gym and getting stares or comments from the hardcore climbers that come off as rude or leave you feeling embarrassed for not knowing you were doing something wrong. To help you avoid the above situations, we’ve prepared a list of all the essential climbing gym etiquette tips you need to know to ensure your safety and the safety of other climbers and ensure your experience climbing is enjoyable, leaving you counting down the days until you get to climb again.

Climbing Gym Etiquette: The Insider Climbing Rules To Know Before You Go.

1. Take Turns but give priority to those Who’ve Waited Longer.

When bouldering or rope climbing, multiple people may be vying for the same climbs as you, but navigating this situation is simple, take turns! Priority always goes to those who went up to the boulder problem or rope station first, and everyone else goes based on how long they’ve been waiting. Of course, if you have a friendly exchange and decide to change the order, that’s cool! Just ensure you aren’t cutting someone off who has been waiting their turn to try the climb.

2. Watch Where You Are Walking and Sitting (aka Lookup)

Hopefully, this is common sense, but you’re in a climbing gym. Climbing implies that people will be above eye level. Ensure you always look up around a bouldering area to avoid walking in front of or under rock climbers. The same goes for sitting. Sitting under a person actively climbing has potential consequences for you and them. Please don’t test this out yourself - trust us, and you won’t be paying for a hospital bill (yours or someone else’s). Additionally, the rock climbing gym staff should tell you this upon your first visit, but in case they don’t, make sure not to walk under use climbing ropes. If you do, you are putting yourself, the belayer, and the climber in danger. Always walk around ropes hanging/in use.

3. Fall, but you’re okay? Move out of the way!

This piece of etiquette applies to bouldering. If you fall on your climb, assuming you fall safely and aren’t hurt, quickly move out of the way and away from the wall. It is a courtesy thing to do as other climbers may be waiting to climb, and it can be a safety hazard for you or another rock climber in the vicinity.

4. Don’t be a grouch. Return words of encouragement.

Like many sports communities, the rock climbing community is full of good-hearted people. Random people may encourage you if they see you trying a complicated move, congratulate you after sending a climb, or compliment your climbing. Politely receive encouragement or compliment and return the kindness by cheering for them when it’s their turn to climb. Not only is this the polite thing to do, but it’s a great way to make friends with other climbers and enjoy yourself even more!

5. Look Out for Other Climbers

If you understand proper safety techniques and see a safety violation (i.e., someone belaying improperly or acting irresponsibly), tell a staff member what you saw. It’s essential to go to a staff member and have them address the situation, especially if you don’t know the person. The staff receives training to handle these situations appropriately, but it may be thanks to you that they are alerted to the violation. You can speak up without going to a staff member if you see another individual under a climb where someone is actively climbing. The best thing to do is to get their attention and let them know they should move for their and the climber’s safety. Say something along the lines of, “Hey, watch out! I don’t want the climber to fall on you accidentally.” If you can’t move/get them to move in time, alert the climber on the wall that somebody is below them. If the above scenario happens to you, where someone alerts you that you’re walking in a dangerous area, listen to them. A sudden “hey” might startle you, but there is only so much time before a climber comes down or may fall, so they are likely just trying to get your attention as fast as possible.

6. See Blood, Tell Someone (specifically a staff member)

Tell a staff member if you bleed or see blood on a climbing hold, gym ropes, or wall. Blood-born pathogens are gross. Who wants to touch someone else’s dried blood? The rock gyms have a unique, industrial-grade cleaner that the staff will use to remove the blood.

7. “Clean Up! Clean Up! Everybody, Everywhere. Clean Up! Clean Up! Everybody do your share.”

Many rock gyms are now equipped with small weights or cardio areas. You’ll also notice (especially post-Covid) that these areas have wipes or cleaning stations. These are there for your use to clean up after yourself. Don’t ignore these stations; especially in the post-pandemic world, everyone should understand the importance of hygiene.

Read the etiquette tips, and you’re ready to head to the climbing gym and fit right in! If someone says, “Hey, watch out,” you won’t miss a beat and move out of the climber’s landing zone. If you hit some weights after the climb session, you’ll know to look for wipes/cleaners and leave them germ-free! For all you veteran climbers, let us know if we missed any climbing gym etiquette tips in the comment section below!

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