From Gym To Crag – Learn to Climb Outside

Most gym climbers will never venture outside that safe and comfortable world of the indoor climbing gym. But for some, the outdoor spirit inevitably yearns for its place in the sun. If you’ve made the decision to try “real” rock climbing then there are quite a few extra things to consider and to get right beforehand. Outdoor climbing requires similar skills and knowledge to gym climbing, but with additional challenges. So you need to do the same preparation plus some extras to have the right gear and master new skills.

Climbers on top rope climbs at the gym - Jurassic Climbing, Dorset

Find a Guide

Your first move on the journey from gym climbing to outdoor climbing should be to find a qualified outdoor instructor. An instructor experienced in teaching beginners in outdoor climbing techniques and safety. A good instructor will be able to teach you the basics of outdoor climbing safety and the more advanced skills of cleaning your own anchors, escaping the route, use of the ClipStick, etc.

Would you like to progress further with our help? Then why not Book Some Coaching

Gear for Outdoor Climbing

The basic gear for outdoor rock climbing –  Rock shoes, helmet, harness, rope, personal climbing gear, rucksack (we share out the gear to get it down to the crag), food, drink, sunscreen, suitable clothing to meet all weathers, any medicines.

You are best advised to buy your own climbing gear. Your guide or instructor should provide a list of all the gear you need to purchase before your outing or class.

A Word of Warning. Never borrow any safety gear or other climbing gear. You don’t know the gears history and it could have hidden damage such as micro cracks to karabiners, and spring clips or UV ray damage to harnesses, quickdraw dog bones, and slings. A notable exception to the “what not to borrow” rules is gear provided by your instructor. These professionals are required to do extensive safety checks, and to keep a detailed safety log for all key pieces of gear.

If you are booked on a course with Jurassic Climbing we can supply any climbing gear that you don’t have, but please let us know in advance.

Would you like to progress further with our help? Then why not Book Some Coaching

Climber Leading an outdoor climb - Jurassic Climbing, Dorset

Outdoor Climbing Options for Beginners

Different styles of outdoor climbing require different levels of experience. The best options for those venturing outside for the first time are listed below.


If you have been bouldering at the gym then outdoor bouldering on real rock will look very similar. Apart from two points, the holds are in the natural features of the rock, and there are usually no soft landings. You don’t need a lot of climbing gear to try outdoor bouldering as no ropes or harnesses are needed. You will need rock shoes, chalk, and a bouldering pad (a fairly soft portable landing area). Although you are relatively close to the ground, the risk of injury is still present. Therefore it is probably best to find an outdoor instructor who runs beginner sessions and can coach you how to boulder on real rock and to do so in safety.

Top-Rope Climbing

Top-Rope Climbing outdoors will be similar experience to top rope climbing at the gym. However, outdoor top rope climbing is a step up in technique and safety, it is suggested that you find an outdoor instructor. You tie onto one end of the rope which is already set through an anchor at the top of the climb. You then climb to the top of your route while your instructor belays you. Once at the top of the climb your belayer lowers you back down again. Outdoor top rope climbing does require some equipment. You’ll need a harness, helmet, rock shoes, chalk, some karabiners, and ropes.

Sport Lead Climbing

Outdoor Sports Cimbing is again similar to leading routes at the gym. The routes have hangers bolted or glued into the rock but without quickdraws already in place. So you must carry quickdraws as well, that you use to clip into the hangers and then to clip the rope into. When you lead climb, you can no longer rely on a top rope attached to a top anchor to hold a fall. Instead you rely on each hanger that you clip your rope into as you ascend to hold a fall.

Obviously this is a far more serious form of climbing and it can’t be overstressed that you should find an outdoor instructor. The outdoor instructor will teach you how to lead safely on outdoor routes, especially clipping hangers, use of the lower off, cleaning your own anchors, escaping the route, use of the ClipStick, etc.  Initially, when you sport climb, your instructor may do something called “mock lead climbing.” That requires both the lead rope and a top rope. This technique lets you practice clipping into bolts, etc, without having to fall as far when you make a mistake.

Trad Climbing

Outdoor Trad Climbing is the most serious of the standard climbing methods. When Trad Climbing there is no ready made protection placed into the rock, you must construct your own with Trad protection gear. Moving into Trad Climbing from the gym definitely requires you to find an outdoor instructor who has a good record in teaching Trad to beginners!

Would you like to progress further with our help? Then why not Book Some Coaching

Jurassic Climbing client happy and smiling after leading her first Trad climbing route.

Climbing Etiquette in the Outdoors

Climbing outdoors comes under the Countryside Code and Leave No Trace Code. With huge numbers of gym climbers now making the move into a very limited number of outdoor climbing areas it has become critical to observe these codes. Access Fund groups and funds such as the BMC work hard to keep existing crags open to climbers and to also open further areas for climbing. The waste, disturbance and perceived liability issues can mean climbers no longer being welcome, so we all need to help and conserve our climbing access. The following is a great place to start:
  • Park in designated parking areas, not on grass verges, or across entrances.
  • Stay on established paths where possible.
  • Respect other users, minimise group size, don’t use music pods, keep dogs under control.
  • Keep gear in one location, don’t leave ropes/gear on a route (you and your group doesn’t own it!).
  • Clean up chalk and tick marks after your climb.
  • Walk out all trash, inc human poo and dog poo.
  • Respect path closures, bird and wildlife climbing closures.

Would you like to progress further with our help? Then why not Book Some Coaching

Free Training & Coaching Videos on our Jurassic YouTube Page

Photo of climber training weights and the words Training Videos

Photo showing climbing shoes and coaches hoodie with the words Coaching Videos

Photo showing a young climber reaching on a climbing problem with the words Team Videos

 Coaching & Courses


Jurassic Head Coach Paul Jackson, watching students at a climbing wall.

Jurassic Climbing Academy Online Coaching Advert with training plans on a desk.
Climber on a sports rock climbing route
Climber toping out on a trad rock climbing route

Snowdon National Park

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Reply