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How to Crush Your First Climbing Festival

Get the most out of your first climbing festival with these tips and tricks.

Attending a climbing festival is sort of like going to summer camp for climbers. Each one is a celebration—a chance for the climbing community to come together and for newcomers to explore a new area with the help of experienced locals. Some fests are organized by brands or climbing nonprofits. Others are put on by local community groups. Each one has its own flavor, traditions, and quirks—which is why climbers rarely attend just one. Whether you’re new to the sport or simply looking for an excuse to get out of town, attending a climbing festival is a bucket-list experience. In this guide, we’ll cover what you need to know to find your first fest, come prepared, and make the most of all the resources the event has to offer. That includes:

  • How to find climbing festivals near you
  • What to expect 
  • Are the clinics worth it?
  • How to find food and lodging
  • What to bring 

How to Find Climbing Festivals Near You

Usually, searching the internet for “climbing festivals in [your state]” will reveal a few options pretty quickly, but you can also refer to Common Climber’s annual list of rock climbing festivals

The American Alpine Club (AAC), a national nonprofit climbing organization, also has a wealth of information on its wildly popular Craggin’ Classic festival series. If you’re looking for smaller local fests—or can’t find the one you heard about at the gym that one time—reach out to your local climbers’ alliance. Ask them via email if they know of any upcoming events.

What to Expect 

While each fest is different, they all have a few things in common. For most, you can expect a two- to three-day weekend affair packed with clinics, games, speakers, presentations, film screenings, and evening events. It’s generally a welcoming environment packed with climbers from all ability levels and walks of life. 

Most attendees stay for the whole weekend, either camping or crashing in a hotel nearby. While most climbing festivals are fairly affordable, you can often secure free entry by signing up for a volunteer shift. After all, most fests rely heavily on volunteers to set up booths, check in attendees, and clean up the site at the end of the weekend. Bonus: Volunteering is also an easy way to meet people and get the lay of the land if you’re attending a fest solo. 

If you’re planning to climb at an area where a fest is being held, be prepared for crowding at popular, easily accessible crags. Groups and guides are always friendly and happy to share the space, but if you’re not part of a clinic, consider grabbing a friend and exploring a new crag that’s a little off the beaten path. 

Are the Clinics Worth It?

Climbing festivals are celebrations of the climbing community, but education is always a huge focus. Most offer everything from beginner-focused climbing clinics to advanced technique and rescue-skills clinics. Some are half-day clinics and some are full-day. 

Clinics are a fantastic way to make friends and get the lay of the land if you’re new to the area. Attending a clinic is also a great way to learn and grow as a climber. Besides, this is what the focus is on. The tents and booths of the festival grounds tend to be quiet while guides, brand reps, sponsored athletes, and festival-goers are occupied with clinics. Are clinics worth the money? Festival clinics tend to be extremely high-quality and taught by some of the best guides and athletes in the country. Most folks find they’re worth every penny. 

Note: Most clinics take place at beginner-friendly crags with short approaches and easy top-rope access. If you choose not to take a clinic, feel free to climb anywhere else during the day. Just be aware of crowding in these zones. 

Photo: Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition

How to Find Food and Lodging

Food

Many fests bring in food trucks or local vendors to peddle coffee, breakfast, and/or dinner throughout the weekend. Others provide one meal but expect you to bring everything else yourself. It can be smart to grab some groceries on your way to the site and pack a camp stove just in case. Be sure to check on the food situation at the festival webpage. 

Snacks and lunch are almost always your responsibility, so be sure to pack water, a sandwich, some bars, and whatever else you need to fuel each climbing day.

Lodging

Whether you’re booking a campsite or a hotel room, always reserve well in advance—many festivals take place in small towns where rooms and tent pads fill up quickly. 

If you’re attending a fest that’s close to a population center, you might find it easy to rent a hotel room or AirBnB nearby. Indoor lodging is especially recommended for ice-climbing clinics, where it can be tough to dry gear in a tent overnight. 

For fests held off the beaten path, camping near the crag is often the easiest and most cost-effective option. Some festivals partner with local campgrounds, which allow you to stay on-site or nearby for a small fee. Check the festival website for recommendations before you book. 

What to Bring 

Everyone’s needs are different, but here are some basics to pack if you’re attending a festival and plan to climb in a clinic or two: 

  • Harness
  • Helmet
  • Belay device
  • Climbing shoes
  • Lots of warm layers 
  • Rain shell
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Comfortable hiking or approach shoes 
  • 20- to 30-liter climbing pack
  • Reusable water bottle 
  • Bowl
  • Utensil
  • Mug
  • Camp chair 

If you plan to climb on your own after or in lieu of attending a clinic, also bring: 

  • A rope 
  • Draws and/or trad gear
  • Sufficient anchor-building gear for the area
  • Any other personal gear for a day out climbing

If you plan on camping at the site, also bring: 

  • A tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad 
  • Extra warm layers 
  • A small camp stove 
  • Lighter 
  • Fuel (buy in town if you’re flying in) 
  • Headlamp
  • Camp shoes
  • Ear plugs (late-night events can get loud) 

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.