A Beginners Guide to Rock Climbing Part 4

Climbing Ethics and Expectations

Welcome back to our Beginners Guide to Rock Climbing series! In Part 1 we covered what climbing is and what different types of climbing there are. In Part 2 we covered what type of gear you will need in order to get started. And in Part 3 we covered the skills you will need in order to start climbing. Today we will cover basic ethics and expectations of rock climbers within the overarching climbing community so you can feel confident and be welcomed by climbers when you begin your climbing journey.  

**An Important Distinction** 

The above all rule in rock climbing is to be nice. This guide is meant to act as a guideline for folks who otherwise don’t know what may or may not be considered rude or inconsiderate in climbing spaces. But, if and when we make mistakes, the appropriate response is always kindness. It goes without saying that within the climbing community bigotry of all kinds should never be tolerated. 

Climbing ethics vary depending on your geographic region, and whether or not you’re climbing indoors or outdoors. I will be breaking the following information into Inside Ethics and Outside Ethics

Inside Ethics

When climbing inside a gym the general rules of gym etiquette apply: don’t scream, clean up after yourself, and don’t hog the equipment. But there are a few other things that might not be obvious at first. 

Don’t Hog the Wall

If you’ve been working on a problem for a while with your friends – either bouldering or top roping – look around and make sure you’re not preventing others from giving it a try. If you’ve been giving the problem many burns in a row, take a seat and let some others have a go at it. 

Keep Your Shirt on

Many gyms have a shirt on policy, but it’s good to remember that keeping your shirt on while climbing makes for a more comfortable environment for everyone. 

If someone is brushing off a hold, let them go next 

When bouldering, sometimes you’ll see someone brushing off a climbing hold. This indicates they are trying to clean off a hold for their next attempt at the climbing problem. If you see someone doing this, let them go next!

Don’t make a mess

Keep your chalk in a contained bag! Sometimes we can’t help it and chalk gets everywhere, but minimizing this keeps the gym clean and makes for a more enjoyable experience for everyone. 

Take your shoes off when you go to the bathroom 

The bathroom floor is dirty! And in a gym, foot holds and hand holds can be nearly the same thing. Don’t let gross bathroom floor detritus end up on the walls of the climbing gym. 

Positive Encouragement 

Climbing is hard, and for many folks can be scary. If you want to encourage someone, use positive vocabulary. Say things like “You got this!” or “Nice job!” is a good way to show someone you want them to succeed. Calling someone names, or saying “Don’t fall” or other negative types of encouragement is not a good way to speak to your climbing partners. 

Take everything out of your pockets before you climb

This should go without saying, but if you fall on your side while you have keys in your pocket, or you drop your phone from the top of a route, you could seriously injure yourself or someone else. 

Outside Ethics

Outside ethics are a vast and complicated space. There are many rules that apply to only specific climbing areas, or are different because of the size and popularity of the climbing area. Make sure you do some research before you head to a specific area to find out if the ethics are different than what you’re used to. 

Leave No Trace 

In all climbing areas, we must adhere to the Leave No Trace Principles. These principles are as follows: 

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Check out our blog post on Leave No Trace Principles for Rock Climbers to dive deeper into this. 


We don’t poop in the woods anymore! Bring a wag bag, use it properly, and dispose of it in a wag bag specific dumpster. DON’T throw wag bags into regular dumpsters. You can google your location and wag bag specific dumpsters to find one near you. 

Ask before you play music 

It’s common practice to not play music when climbing outside. That being said, many people enjoy it! If you bring a speaker to the crag or bouldering area, check in with the folks around you before you start playing. 

Keep your dog close

In some areas you have to always have your dog on a leash, but in most climbing areas it’s preferred if you keep your dog close. There are many folks with dogs at the crag and no one wants a dog fight! If you know you have an intolerant pup, then keep them on a leash or leave them at home. 

Brush off your tick marks before you leave

If you’ve made tick marks on the climb, brush them off with a bouldering brush before you leave! Chalk marks are unsightly and ruin the experience for the next climbers. 

Walk away from the crag if you’re going to smoke

This is a courtesy to all. Don’t smoke at the crag. 

If someone has hung draws on a long term project, you can use them, but don’t take them

You might see quickdraws left on a route, and every time you go to the crag you still see them. This is a common practice for folks who are working on a climb over the course of a whole season. You can climb on them if you want to give the route a try, but don’t take them! 

Don’t expand social trails

In accordance with the Leave No Trace Principles, don’t expand social trails! Stay on designated trails, and don’t bushwack through the brush just because it’s shorter!

Adhere to climbing closures 

If a climbing area is closed because of seasonal animal inhabitants, or because of a recent environmental disaster, stay away! Climbing areas rarely get closed, and when they do it is often for the health and well being of everyone. 


As always, things vary from location to location. It is recommended that before you visit a new climbing area that you do some research on local climbing ethics and wildlife closures. Mountain Project often shows area closures on their app, but you should also browse an area’s Climber’s Facebook page, which often has representatives from that community sharing updates. 

Best of luck to you all, and remember: Be Kind.  

Read the rest of the series:
A Beginners Guide to Rock Climbing Part 1
A Beginners Guide to Rock Climbing Part 2
A Beginners Guide to Rock Climbing Part 3

Cover Photo Credit: Kaya Lindsay

About the Gear Tester

Outdoor Prolink Pro

Kaya Lindsay is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker with a passion for rock climbing and the outdoors.

In 2016 she converted a Sprinter Van into a tiny home and has been traveling around the US & Canada to pursue her passion for rock climbing. Since hitting the road she has begun a career in filmmaking and is currently working on her One Chick Travels series, highlighting solo female travelers who live and work to pursue an adventurous lifestyle. Her films have been highlighted by major brands such as Backcountry and Outside TV. To fulfill her passion for writing, she chronicles her many adventures in her blog. Professionally, she writes for the adventure sports company Outdoor Prolink and The Climbing Zine. Kaya hopes to spend many more years in her tiny home on wheels, Lyra, and is currently living in Moab Utah.

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