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How to start roped climbing

Do you want to challenge yourself, learn something new and have fun while you do it? Roped climbing could be for you.

Getting started

What is roped climbing?

Climbing with ropes can be done as an indoor or outdoor sport and typically requires two people. The person climbing is tied into one end of the rope, and the other person managing the rope is called the belayer.


Roped disciplines

Climbing indoors

Roped climbing indoors can be divided into two main categories: top-roping and lead climbing. When top-roping, the rope is already attached at the top of the climbing wall. The belayer takes in the slack (loose rope) as the climber ascends the wall and lowers them when they get to the top. 

Lead climbing is the next step and involves the climber clipping the rope into in-situ carabiners as they move up the wall. The belayer has to make sure the climber always has enough rope to clip, but not too much rope, in case the climber falls. It’s a delicate balance!

Finally, auto belay (which we have in The Prop Store) is a system by which a climber can top-rope alone whilst clipped to an automated system which retracts from the top as they climb and lowers them gently when they stop.


Roped disciplines

Climbing outdoors

Once you discover outdoor climbing, this can be split into even more categories, primarily trad and sport. These can be single or multi-pitch climbing. In trad climbing the climber places protection as they ascend and a “second” removes it when they follow. They leave nothing behind. Sport climbing is done on in-situ bolts which have been drilled into the rock. Climbers place quickdraws into these bolts as they climb and descending from in situ belays. Look out for seasonal outdoor courses run by TCA.



The Kit List

In order to get started roped climbed, you will need a harness, some climbing shoes and a belay device.

Chalk for your hands is optional – but trust us, you’ll probably want it on those warm evenings to minimise sweat. There are a lot of belay devices out there, and we recommend trying out a few to see what you prefer. If you notice your friend has a device you’re not familiar with, ask if they can show you how it works.

Once you are have completed a course or are a little deeper into your climbing journey, you may enjoy our talk on safer belaying!

If you are starting by top-roping in a climbing centre, you won’t need to buy your own rope initially. We will supply ropes that are fixed in place. We sell lots of climbing kit in the TCA shop. Pop into our centres and staff will be happy to advise you.

If you start lead climbing you will also need your own rope, and a helmet if you’re going outdoors. Ropes come in different lengths and you’ll want to find out what length you need for the environment you’ll be using it in. If you’re using a rope indoors, find out how tall your climbing wall is and buy a rope twice that height – if you want to come back down!

Similarly, if you’ll be heading outdoors you’ll want to know how high the crags are that you’re most likely to visit. Guidebooks will provide this information. You might even want several ropes of different lengths depending on the day, but for starters, we recommend getting a 30m rope that will allow you to climb in most centres. Ask your local facility before you buy.


Starting out

Learning the ropes

Unlike bouldering, where most centres will simply require you to watch a short induction video; with roped climbing there are skills that you’ll need to learn before you can belay and climb safely. If you’d like to try it before committing, a taster session is the perfect introduction or if you have decided that climbing is definitely for you then jump straight to a beginners course.

Our beginners’ courses assume no previous climbing experience and will equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to become a competent top-rope climber. In Bristol we also offer the option of a straight-to-lead course; if you’re up for the challenge! TCA offers a cheap new member deal for your first month of membership.  

Book now – Roped Beginners’ Courses

The Church in Bristol / The Prop Store in Glasgow

Climb with friends

Alternatively, you could ask a couple of experienced friends if they’d be willing to show you the ropes. This will have to be done in a group of three so that one friend can back up the end of the rope while you belay, and the other friend climbs. Lots of climbers learn this way, but we do recommend a formal course where possible.


Top tips

11 Tips to Help You Start Climbing

Finally, if you’re looking for some tips at the start of your climbing journey, check out these from world renowned climber Adam Ondra! 


In Bristol you can try roped climbing at The Church and in Glasgow you can start climbing at The Prop Store. Once open, you will also be able to try roped climbing at The Arc in Chippenham.