I recently realized that I’ve been rock climbing for over 20 years. It made me think back on how I started to climb and how much the sport has changed over the years. Climbing has transitioned from something obscure and rarely seen into the mainstream, featured in national commercials.

My own rock climbing story began with a slight fear of heights and a class I took at a local university. The class was held at a rock formation I had wondered about for years and curiosity proved to be enough of an incentive for me to take on my fears. After the beginning class I was hooked, I took another class, made some “climbing” friends and the rest is history as the saying goes.

So what’s the best way to learn how to climb today?

1. You can take a class indoors or out.

2. You can hire a guide.

3. You can have a mentor/friend teach you.

For many folks just starting out I would recommend the first two options. Taking a class is a great way to see if climbing is for you. Classes and guided instruction most often offer equipment rentals, a much better option than buying your own gear before you know if you’ll love climbing or what kind of equipment is best for what you want to do.

Formal instruction is offered in a variety of ways: through a climbing gym, through outdoor equipment stores, through schools, and through climbing or adventure guide companies. Instruction can be held indoors or out and as single or multiday outings. While a class in a gym is convenient, I think being outdoors in nature while learning is still a best way.

With so many options for a beginner climber these days, I think it’d be hard to beat a class or guided experience for the best and safest introduction to the sport.

When researching your options, find out if instructors are accredited with the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). This association certifies guides and climbing instructors and is the United States’ representative to the 21-member International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA), the international governing body responsible for guiding standards and education around the world. If an instructor is certified with the AMGA I’d personally give that class priority, especially for higher-level classes.

If you are lucky enough to find friend or mentor who is willing to teach you, keep in mind that rock climbing is constantly evolving and instructors and guides will have the most up to date information available. Also, realize that you are putting your life in this person’s hands and what that kind of responsibility could mean to your friendship. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, just to consider it.

Still interested in giving climbing a try? Go forth and research your local options (or take a plunge and book a vacation with an accredited and well reviewed guide). But remember, climbing is an inherently dangerous sport, it should be something that you try with an eye towards fun AND awareness.

About EILEEN RINGWALD: Born and raised in Southern California, Eileen spent many of her summers on family camping trips scrambling on trails and rocks and growing her love of nature. She took this love of adventure and formed, a climbing and outdoor community. She is also the organizational force behind the annual Joshua Tree National Park rock-climbing meet up. Eileen’s photography can be seen at


Comments (0)

What's a Chaconian?

You are Chaco!

Chaconians are our pride and joy! They pound pavement, trails, and waves. They teach, reach, and perform. They're people who trust their Chacos, and we're honored to support them.