How To Climb Respectfully

It’s up to all of us to protect the places we play. Follow these 12 essential rules of climbing etiquette.

Climbing outdoors will appeal to your senses like few other activities: the smell of pine trees; the feel of real rock; the nerves that settle as soon as you leave the ground. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the moment and forget your surroundings. And though you should definitely immerse yourself in the experience and let down your hair a little, it’s important to remember that we’re all visitors to the public lands on which we climb. When climbers act as poor houseguests, our access to those areas becomes threatened. 

Conversely, when climbers serve as stewards of the land, while acting polite to one another and to other user groups, land managers are more likely to look favorably upon the community and open up new areas to climbing (score!). So, whether you made your first climbing trip years ago or it’s just around the corner, heed these tips for model crag etiquette. 

1. Respect Closures

Many cliffs are closed seasonally for Indigenous ceremonies, raptor nesting, private land use, or other cultural or ecological reasons. Always double-check for closures before you go out, and obey any you find.  

2. Share the Cliff

Outdoor climbing is a limited resource. If another party wants to climb the route you’re on, be polite and find a way to work them into your rotation. Also remember that, while climbing may be the best sport out there, it’s not the only one. Always be polite to hikers, bikers, trail runners, hunters, and other land users. 

3. Pick Up After Yourself

In many climbing areas, trash—even apple cores and orange peels—don’t decompose. Besides, nothing puts a damper on a beautiful nature experience like seeing someone else’s pistachio shells all over the ground. When you climb, pack out everything you bring in, including food waste, little bits of climbing tape, and spilled chalk.

4. Pack Out Human and Pet Waste

The “pack it in, pack it out,” mantra extends to all categories of waste—even the kind we don’t want to talk about. If you’re in an unpopulated, rainy environment with deep, rich forest soil and you have a trowel, feel free to bury your waste in an 8-inch-deep hole (pack out any TP, which doesn’t decompose). If your spot doesn’t meet those criteria? Best to bring a W.A.G. Bag or Restop Bag instead. The same goes for dog waste which, like human waste, can spread pathogens to wildlife and pile up in popular climbing spots (gross).

Group of climbers hanging out

5. Stay on Trail

Climbers’ trails are notorious for shooting up steep embankments and crisscrossing all over the place. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right way to go. Avoid cutting switchbacks (steep trails can cause erosion, destroying plant life) and stay on trail whenever possible.

6. Belay on Durable Surfaces

When you get to the base of the cliff, try to drop your rope and other gear on a patch of dirt, rock, or gravel rather than on vegetation. Just a few belay sessions can kill grass, flowers, and other delicate plant life that local wildlife depend on.   

7. Turn Down the Tunes

We all have a favorite grungy gym that blares heavy metal or ’90s hip-hop to help climbers summon their try-hard. This is awesome, but it’s not the experience most people go outdoors to find. Before playing music of any kind, make sure those around you are OK with it. If they are, keep the volume low—loud tunes can drown out safety commands. 

8. Leave Rocks Unmarked

It can be tempting to engrave your name into a sandstone plate in the desert, or carve a heart into a tree trunk on the hike in. But all this counts as graffiti, no better than spray-painted tags. When you come to a new place, resist the urge to leave your mark on it. Instead, spend your time soaking in the experience instead.

9. Limit Chalk Use

Both overchalking and ticking (marking key holds with streaks of chalk) change the experience for climbers who come after you. Try to use the minimum amount of chalk possible for the route, and brush off any ticks after your session.  

10. Keep Dogs Leashed 

Hiking with your dog can be an amazing experience. But when you’re climbing, you’re spending a lot of time off the ground with your belayer engaged in a critical safety task—which means if your dog gets into a cactus, rodent den, or a fight with another dog, you won’t be able to come to the rescue right away. Dogs are also oblivious to rockfall, dropped carabiners, and other cliffside hazards. Always keep pets leashed, or consider leaving them at home. 

11. Learn the Local Ecology

Before you visit a new climbing area, ask a ranger or other land manager if there are any particular environmental concerns. Above treeline, for example, it’s critical that climbers stay on rocks and gravel to avoid damaging the delicate alpine tundra. In the desert, avoid cryptobiotic soil, which is critical to the desert ecosystem and can be destroyed with just one step.  

12. Respect Local Landowners

While a lot of climbing takes place on public land like national forests or national parks, much of it is on private land. If this applies to your home crag, be extra careful: Even the actions of just one or two climbers can leave a sour taste in landowners’ mouths and make them rethink their climbing access plan. Take care not to block locals’ driveways, leave closed gates open, or leave trash or graffiti. Likewise, if your crag is on ancestral Native American territory (most are), take extra care to learn about the land’s history, brush up on any local concerns, and treat the land with the utmost respect. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.