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Outdoor Bouldering for Beginners

The weather in Arizona is just perfect for outdoor climbing.  Are you ready to make the transition?  Bouldering outside is a great way to start your outdoor climbing, but there are some things to consider.

How to get started?  We recommend you begin by planning.

  1. You know that climbing in the gym is dangerous. Let’s face it we are committed to a dangerous sport and when you leave the gym, the danger increases.

Outdoor climbing is more than just climbing.  It is knowing where the routes are understanding route ratings and deciding if it is worth the hike to even get to the climb.  So, you may be able to pull over to the side of the road and find a nice craggy boulder, or you may have to hike several miles in to find the routes. Consider the terrain, is it scree covered mountainous territory that is likely to challenge your flip flops?  If so, you know you are going to need boots.

Some watch outs:

  • Bouldering landings are usually covered with sharp rocks- ensure you have enough bouldering pads to cover your landing zone
  • Rock that breaks off, or that falls from above hurt and can lead to “drain bamage” (wearing a helmet is NEVER a bad idea)
  • Weather, rain, lightning, flooding. Slot canyons become rivers in storms, know where you are climbing, understand the weather conditions and pay attention to sudden changes in weather.
  • Skin injuries. You’re not climbing on soft plastic anymore; rock can tear you up!  Bring tape, band-aids and ointment.  If you are climbing cracks, be prepared to tape your fingers.
  • Know how long it takes to hike in and out and be prepared; if you are night climbing, bring flashlights and headlights.  It is difficult to find the bouldering pad in the dark and you need a safe landing zone.

Always make sure you’re over-prepared with gear, water, and food. Hauling a slightly heavier pack is a small price to pay for having all your bases covered.

  1. Start outside with an experienced climber that you trust.

If an experienced climber wants to take you with, then go right now and stop reading.  They will teach you what you need to know.  If however your friends don’t have the skills, tools, or mindset, you can still CRUSH outside.

We encourage our members to mix and mingle and build new friendships at Ape Index.  We are rewarded when we see new climbing partnerships being formed and awesome pictures being forwarded to us about your outdoor adventures.

We host several opportunities a month to mix with and get involved in our local climbing community.  In fact, Ape Index is joining the other Rock Climbing Gyms in the Valley on a project to clean up the Beardsley Boulder.  Find or start a group that wants to climb outside, just ask while you are at the gym.  We are happy to connect our members with each other for these types of opportunities!

You might also look to the internet for social resources. Make a post on the Arizona Mountaineering Club or use the Meet Up app to see if any locals would be willing to meet up with you.

Best Advice: Climbing outside with an experienced group or individual is hugely beneficial.

  1. Climb somewhere with many established climbs of all grades.

If you are local to Arizona, you have a rich selection of climbing options from Flagstaff to Tucson.  Give yourself as many options as possible for your first outdoor climbing experience. is an online resource that can provide details about climbing locations. The more climbs you can try, the faster you’ll get accustomed to climbing on rock.

We also like to climb where other climbers are climbing!  This allows us to build our network, learn from other climbers and have a blast!


  1. Try easy climbs first. Then repeat them.

Remember that route you were working in the gym that took you weeks to get?  Yeah, it is like that outside too.  When you are adept the gym, it may seem a natural transition to Crush it outside like you indoors but what you will find is that climbing on rocks feels way different than the gym holds.  What is rated a V8 in the gym may feel very different outside.

Always try the easy routes first.  You will get a feel for the rock and climbing style of the area.  You can build confidence and then try for the harder climb.  Plus you may avoid crazy injuries as you are aiming for that bouldering pad as you descend.

When you fall, be sure to look down, push away from the rock slightly ensuring you don’t hit every rock protrusion on the way down and that you land dead center on your bouldering pad.

  1. Set your landing zone and practice falling.

Do yourself and your spotters a favor, fall on purpose.

Falling in the gym into thick pads is different than falling on a 3”-5” thick pad you hauled up a mountain.  Pads, placement and body position matter!

If you’re bouldering, try to climb in a small, organized group of friends. Being 15 feet up an outdoor boulder is infinitely more frightening than in the gym—but having multiple spotters beneath you can be a huge mental relief.

To be safe, try simple bouldering problems with flat or as close to flat landings as you can find.  Doubling up bouldering pads feels better and ensuring there are not gaps will save your ankles.  Set up the landing zone and take some practice falls so you know what it feels like.

Remember, the outdoors only remains pristine if we pack out what we pack in. Please leave every outdoor space cleaner then when you arrived.  Be prudent with chalk, we know you need it, but you don’t need to paint the entire mountain with it.  Pack out human waste and any foreign objects you brought in.

Finally, some recommendations on things to pack for your trip:

  • Mosquito spray if climbing near water sources
  • Sunglasses
  • More water than you think you need
  • A beanie – dang it is cold in the mornings or when the wind blows and you are in the shadow
  • Sunscreen unless you like looking lobsterish
  • Tape for when you leave all your finger flesh on the rocks by accident
  • SPOTTER(s)
  • Night headlamps
  • Cell phone
  • Tell everyone (back at home) where you went and when you will be back
  • Real shoes, unless you like pebbles in your flipflops between climbs
  • Snacks, I get hungry, don’t you?
  • Oh, yeah, send us your photos when you get back. We’d love to post you on FaceBook!