ROCK CLIMBING AROUND THE WORLD
WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK
Rock climbing, if approached correctly, can teach you a lot about humility and simplicity. It’s also a wonderful motivation to travel to off-the-beaten-path locations. And one of the easiest ways to quickly make friends, from Vietnam to Saudi Arabia!
This guide is for beginner to intermediate climbers on a budget wanting to explore the world. And as a bonus, you’ll find a list of the top 25 world-class rock climbing destinations around the world.
Climbing Safely Everywhere
Every crag, country and climbing community has its own particularities when it comes to safety. Some practices frowned upon in Europe are regularly used in North America. And vice versa. Like the European death knot. What is deemed as unsafe varies a lot. While maintaining a healthy skepticism, it’s also important to keep an open mind. Always try and chat with locals about safety tips, anchors, etc. Soon you will develop a real expertise.
Different techniques, languages and habits quickly lead to miscommunication between parties and partners. More than ever implement the usual safety checks. Religiously stick to them. Put a knot at the end of your rope. Double-check everything. Make sure you understand each other when it comes to basic commands.
A key point that is systematically overseen is the dynamic belay. This is crucial for lighter climbers, especially with heavy belayers. Girls are often victims of the hard catch. A surprising number of experienced climbers are incapable of giving a good dynamic catch, wherever you go. And perhaps even worse, incapable of admitting it. Never trust a new partner.
We’ve seen far too many avoidable broken legs, ankles and knees. Don’t hesitate to take a test fall where it is safe to do so.
Am I good enough to head abroad?
No, you don’t need to be a talented semi-pro climber to roam around the world. In fact, mixing traveling and climbing is more likely to transform you into a rock master than anything else. Get out of your gym!
Shoes are the most costly item that needs to be regularly replaced. As a beginner, you simply want a pair that is fairly comfortable and cheap. Poor technique means you are going to trash them quickly anyway. Avoid the common mistake of buying painfully tight, aggressive and expensive shoes. Learn proper footwork instead.
Once you have decent technique it’s still a good idea to have a cheap pair on easier routes or indoors. Have a look at something like the basic Decathlon model. At 40 bucks they are not exceptional, but still surprisingly adequate for lower grades.
If you already know what specific model works for you, keep an eye on sales and second-hand offers. In the age of online shops many people get the size wrong. And if you are traveling to the EU and live elsewhere you might be able to get a tax refund of up to 20%.
The other obvious budget trick is to get your old pairs resoled. Beyond finding a shop with a good reputation, it’s important to send them in just as the sole wears out at the front. And not a millimeter after! A worn-out rand can be fixed but the result will be nowhere near as good. A solid resoling job can feel better than new since the shoe is already broken in. Having a couple of pairs of your favorite model allows you to cycle them efficiently through resoling.
Ropes & Hardware
Rope. Cheap ropes are absolutely fine for most climbers, as long as they are certified. For example, the Vieux Campeur shops in France sell an 80m 9.8mm Edelweiss rope for 90 Euros. That’s an 80m rope for 80USD after tax refund!
Yes there are some differences in durability and handling. But it’s much more important to learn how to take good care of your lifeline. Rappel instead of being lowered off. Beware of worn anchors and carabiners. Avoid unnecessary friction and sharp edges. Keep your rope away from sand and dirt in a rope bag. Don’t walk on your rope. Wash it once in a while. Go for a longer rope so you can still use it once you start chopping the worn-out ends. And know what a core shot is and how to recognize it.
Harness. Unless you will be spending hours hanging on big walls, the simpler and cheaper models are perfectly adequate. The Czech company Singing Rock makes very decent harnesses at competitive prices.
Hardware. Quickdraws, and cams if you are a trad climber, represent a big one-off expense. Make the best of whatever offer or online sale you can find. Don’t settle for the retail price! If you are heading to South America, Africa, Asia or Australia, it’s best to stock up. Gear can be difficult to find in these parts and horrendously expensive. You can even resale your old gear at the end of your trip!
Other Stuff. No, you don’t need the latest overpriced clothing, gadgets and accessories by premium brands. Stick to the essentials.
The Way Of The Dirtbag
If you are a climber then you are probably already familiar with the Weekend Warrior and the Dirtbag. If you want to travel a lot with limited funds, the Dirtbags will be your best mentor.
For those of you unfamiliar with the great dichotomy of the rock climbing world, Weekend Warriors usually have a regular job and dedicate holidays and weekends religiously to the sport. Hopping on planes at short notice or driving long distances to seek the good weather is par for the game. Their energy and enthusiasm is legendary.
Rock Climbing Cheaply:
Van Dwelling. A favorite for longer trips in expensive countries in Europe, North America and Australia/New Zealand. Converting a van so that you can sleep and cook inside gives you a lot of freedom to follow the sun. A larger car with a flat sleeping area in the back is already sufficient in drier climates. A stealth set-up is very useful to keep a low profile when needed.
Camping. Many climbing areas have cheap or free camping nearby. It’s also usually where the core of the local climbing community stays. No need for a fancy tent, unless you are heading into alpine territory.
Rentals. Particularly in tropical destinations such as Thailand and China camping can be quite uncomfortable. Rooms and bungalows are often very affordable at a few dollars a day. Shoulder and off season can yield significant discounts while still having decent weather. And longer stays always warrant at least some bargaining.
In countries such as Spain or Greece holiday apartment rentals are often quite affordable, especially if split between a larger group. This can even work out cheaper than camping, and usually includes access to a kitchen. The main downside is that you often have fewer contacts with other climbers if camping is the preferred form of accommodation.
Rock Climbing Cheaply:
Street Food. In Asia and to a lesser extend South America street food is delicious and cheap. Follow the locals. They usually know best. The main downside is that it’s not always as healthy as you would like it to be.
Self-catering is the norm in more expensive countries. Your fellow climbers are often amazing cooks, experts at concocting healthy meals and master a surprising number of cuisines. Regularly sharing dinners and stories with friends is one of the simple things that makes the climbing community so lively. And even in cheaper countries exploring the local markets and bazaars is an endless source of fun during rest days.
Rock Climbing Around The World:
Top 25 Destinations
As a climber you are part of a growing and very welcoming worldwide community. Like surfing and skiing, having a passion in common makes crossing cultural and linguistic barriers easy. And sharing a simple life quickly creates strong bonds. Finally, it’s also a great excuse to stay for weeks and even months in beautiful areas that you would otherwise never go to.
There is a lot of good rock on planet Earth. And about 30+ destinations where you can just show up without a partner, make friends and scale world-class rock. They are also the perfect place to recruit accomplices for missions to less popular crags in the region. Below is a list of our top 25 world-class rock climbing destinations.
Rock Climbing Around The World:
North & South America
North America :
Squamish, Canada. The outdoor capital of Canada has it all. Trad climbing, sport climbing, bouldering and big walls, all on excellent granite. Season: April to October. Driest weather and most crowded Jun-Aug.
Yosemite, USA. The Mecca of rock climbing and granite big walls. Lots of shorter classics too, as well as bouldering. Stay now sadly limited to two weeks, but near endless opportunities in the nearby mountains. Season: Apr-Oct. Very hot in summer.
Red River Gorge, USA. Mainly steep sport and some trad climbing on juggy sandstone. Season: Mar-Nov. Hot summers.
Potrero Chico, Mexico. Winter quarters for many North American climbers. Single and multi-pitch sport climbing on limestome. Season: Nov-Mar.
South America :
Hatun Machay, Peru. A small hut in a stunning location surrounded by over a hundred sport climbing routes in the Cordillera Negra. Season: Jun – Sep.
Serra Do Cipó, Brazil. Brazil’s limestone sport climbing paradise. (Dry) Season: Apr – Oct. Hot year round.
Frey, Argentina. The granite spires around the Rifugio Frey are home to countless trad climbing classics. A great introduction to Patagonia. Season: Nov – Apr.
Piedra Parada, Argentina. Patagonia’s biggest sport climbing venue. Volcanic rock in the Argentinian estepa. Season: Oct-Apr. Very hot in Dec-Jan.
Cochamó, Chile. Dubbed the Yosemite of Patagonia, although the locals insist Yosemite is the Cochamó of North America. Long trad routes and cracks on big granite domes. Season: Dec-Mar. Often rainy, lots of horse flies in spring. Drier but busy in February.
Rock Climbing Around The World:
Europe & Africa
Frankenjura, Germany. The iconic limestone sport climbing venue in Germany with thousands of routes. Season: Apr-Oct.
Céüse, France. An absolute classic among French limestone sport climbing crags. The different orientations make for a long season. Season: Mai – Oct.
Margalef, Spain. One of the many famous destinations in Catalonia, home to hard test pieces on pocketed conglomerate. Season: Oct – Mai. Winter months can be quite cold. Head to nearby Siurana if you want some limestone crimps.
El Chorro, Spain. Another very popular limestone sport climbing paradise in Spain, particularly during the winter months. Season: Oct – Apr.
Kalymnos, Greece. Lots of steep limestone sport climbing on a small island. Season: Sep – Nov and Mar – Mai. Very hot in the summer, and cold and damp in winter.
Rocklands, South Africa. Africa’s most famous bouldering destination on quality red sandstone. Season: Mai-Oct.
Rock Climbing Around The World:
Asia & Australasia
Geyikbayiri, Turkey. Beautiful sport climbing on limestone and lots of sunshine. Most popular during the winter months. Season: Oct – Mai
Hampi, India. Monkeys, ancient temples, green rice paddies and bouldering on perfect golden granite. Season: Nov – Mar. The weather is hot even in winter.
Tonsai, Thailand. Sport climbing on steep limestone by the sea. And legendary parties. Season: Jul – Mar. High season is Dec-Feb, but monsoon Jul-Sep is fine and much cheaper with fewer tourists. Hot and humid year round.
Thakhek, Laos. A camp just for climbers surrounded by steep limestone sport climbs. Season: Oct – Apr.
Yangshuo, China. More steep sport climbing spread around the famous limestone towers of Guangxi province. Season: Nov – Mar.
Arapiles, Australia. Arguably one of the best destinations in the world for trad climbing. Quality quartzite climbing for all grades. Home to a large dirtbag community. Season: Mar – Jun and Sep – Dec. Very hot in summer, and damp during the winter.
Castle Hill, New Zealand. World-class bouldering on sculpted limestone. Season: all year. Hot in summer, can be snowy in winter.
Total Cost For A
Budget Climbing Trip
Sport climbing gear will set you back around 200-400$ per year for moderate regular use. Trad climbing has higher initial costs, but the equipment should last you a long time. Accommodation will be somewhere between 0-15$ a day, with less than 10$ being the norm. Finally food shouldn’t cost you much more than 5$ a day if self-catering or eating out in cheap countries. Per month that adds up to around 200-600$ for an extremely fun and healthy lifestyle.