Sure, climbing is year-round sport, but prime outdoor climbing season in Colorado means summertime. Warm weather and dry conditions are perfect for your outdoor climbing sessions. Here are my tips for preparing your body and your gear for outdoor climbing season.
Check Your Gear
You should always be inspecting your gear anytime you climb, but use your first time out as an excuse to really inspect your gear. This is everything from ropes and harnesses to water bottles and chalk supplies. Check your gear before you head to the crag so you’re not left climbing with borrowed or even worse, worn out and unsafe gear.
Ropes & Protective Gear
Inspect your rope THOROUGHLY. Flake the rope, in your home, a couple times. This is important to get any twists or kinks it might have had all winter but also you need to check to core make sure it’s still in good condition for climbing. This is Petzl’s guide for inspecting PPE (personal protective equipment). Different equipment has differing shelf lives, but check the manufacture date of your gear, look for any excessive wear and always, always air on the side of safety if you think it’s time to replace. REI’s anniversary sale is coming up and your dividend burning a hole in your pocket so go ahead and replace your gear anyways!
While you’re at it, give your rope a bath, too! This way she can start with a clean slate.
PSA: I am not a safety expert so if you have any serious concerns about your gear, talk to a pro. This is just my personal opinion on how I’m going to prepare for climbing.
If you’re like me and have a different pair of climbing shoes for indoor and outdoor climbing (maybe even bouldering, too) give those a quick inspection. This could be for everything from fit (maybe your feet got bigger or you lost a toenail throughout the winter) to the sole. If the edges have split or a super worn out, consider resoling. There are lots of options for resoling but depending on the price point of the shoe, it might cheaper to just buy a new pair. Also, if they’re stinky (let’s be honest, they probably are) air them out and give the inside a spritz of a mix of vinegar, water & essential oils (I’d go with a few drops of tea tree to kill and fungus and lavender or orange to battle the stink). If you have constantly sweater or stinky feet consider purchasing a set of Charcoal Shoe Deodorizers.
Just make sure you have chalk. You probably didn’t use it much this winter at the gym (if you did, that’s weird, TBH) so just make sure you have some left.
Sidenote: climbing chalk works better than any other dry shampoo I’ve ever used if you’re trying to go a few days without washing your hair.
Water Bottles & Crag Bags
Just like your shoes, water bottles and backpacks have probably been cooped up all winter. Take everything out, dry them out and throw away the 13 Clif bar wrappers you’ll inevitably find. For water bottles, run these through the dishwater a few times and if it still stinks – consider retiring it and getting a new one. You don’t want to not drink your water because your bottle stinks.
What to Buy
There are some things that come up every climbing season that you’ll most likely need to re-up on. Consider it an investment and just part of the sport.
Always have snacks. Never don’t have snacks. Never be hungry. Always be prepared with snacks. Check out my favorite climbing snacks to bring to the crag.
Updated Guide Books
Depending on where you are, you might need to get the updated version of climbing books. This could be because routes have been added or even removed. Check with your local stores to see what the latest edition is and if it’s time for you to upgrade. You can also compare to Mountain Project if you’re not quite sure how accurate your guide book is.
Just get a new bag while you’re at the gear shop. You’ll go through it. Also, if you have a brand or type of chalk that works for you, don’t switch.
Sunscreen & First Aid Kits
You most likely used all your band-aids from last year and there’s a chance your sunscreen has expired. Yes, sunscreen expires and if you use it past its expiration date it is less effective. Refill your kit and make sure your Ibuprofen, sunscreen and hand sanitizer are not expired. Again – expired just means less effective.
If your safety gear needs to be replaced just replace it. Don’t even ask. But there’s other gear that’s a nice-to-have. Maybe it’s the perfect pair of climbing leggings or the perfect windbreaker. If you replace things little by little each season, you won’t break the bank all at once. This year, I purchased a new bigger, backpack (the Marmot Gunnison 33L) so I can finally fit everything in one bag. It has lots of small compartments for snacks (see above) and a separate shoe compartment which is clutch!
How to Train
I’d like to pretend that all the snowboarding I did this winter kept me in perfect climbing shape but we all know that’s not true. Here are a few tips for getting your body in shape for what’s to come.
No, you can’t really train your skin but you can do a little bit of maintenance so you don’t end up with insane flappers or hangnails. First, hydrate but not too much. You want your skin (especially around your nails and the pads of your hands) to be healthy and hydrated. This way you’ll have less tearing (eek). Over-hydrating means those healthy calluses can’t form – and that’s what protects your hands. Use whatever hand cream works for you. Some people swear by Tiger Balm or other climbing-specific products but sometimes I just go with old fashioned Vaseline.
Aside from skin, your muscles will take the biggest beating on your first few climbs. It’s important to stretch to maintain flexibility while your build that muscle back up. Take advantage of the yoga classes your climbing gym most likely has. You can also spend some time on a hangboard. This is important because your big burly muscles, like bis, tris & traps will repair themselves quicker than your more sensitive parts like fingers and wrists – this includes tendons too. Stretch and listen to your body. You’ll know when that sensitive elbow or wrist has had enough.
As a climber, I tend to overlook the hike or approach that comes along with some of the best climbs. Denver-local crag, North Table Mountain, has a 1 mile approach with over 1,500 feet of gain. This is a pretty intense hike on it’s own, even more strenuous with a big pack. Spend some time on cardio. Whether you take an intense yoga class, go for a run or two or just run after the bus everyday. Spending some time getting your heart and lungs in shape is never a bad idea.
As the weather warms up, don’t forget to get your mind, body and gear ready for the best season of the year! Leave a comment below if you have any other tips for prepping for climbing season.