Top roping is my favorite kind of indoor climbing because it’s a buddy sport and you can work on problems with your partner. Also, it’s the safest form of climbing. You can climb as high as you please and a trusty rope will catch your fall. Top roping does require a decent amount of knowledge about rock climbing, including how to put your harness on, safety checks, how to tie the figure-eight follow-through knot, buddy commands, and how to belay.
These skills are easy to learn, and I one hundred percent recommend taking a belay class at your local gym. Rock climbing classes will teach you everything you need to know to climb safely. Almost all injuries that happen during top roping are due to human error; please don’t just youtube how to tie the knot. The University of Youtube is indeed awesome, but you will learn so much more from a class. It’s worth it, I promise.
Top Roping Gear
There’s a little more gear involved with top roping than bouldering, which includes: a harness, rock climbing shoes, a chalk bag, and a belay device. Sometimes gyms have a grigri set up on the ropes for you already (different version of belay device), but regardless, all of this gear is usually available for rent at the rock climbing gym. If you decide that you love rock climbing, you might as well invest in your own rock climbing shoes, harness, and belay device. Eventually, you might want to start climbing outdoors, and these three things are absolutely necessary outside of a rock gym.
Safety is always the first priority in top roping because you depend on your belayer not to drop you and vice versa. After three years working at a rock gym, I found some common mistakes amongst new climbers when it came to tying in and belaying. Always make sure your knot is going through both critical points, and that your harness is double backed.
Top Roping Harnesses
There are two types of harnesses you will come into contact with: an auto-locking harness, and a double backing harness. An auto-locking harness will lock on itself when you thread the hip belt through. A double backing harness will not- you have to take an extra step to loop it back through. If you do not double back your harness, it could come undone once you put weight on it…and you will fall out of it. When belaying, make sure to NEVER take your hand off the break. Even a split second of letting go could cause your partner to fall to the ground if they happen to fall and put weight on the rope it at that moment. See images of an auto-locking harness and a double-backing harness accurately double backed below:
Communication between a climber and belayer is undoubtedly the most important part of safety. Before even getting on the rock wall, the climber and belayer will do a safety check. The belayer will check their climber’s harness ( to make sure it’s double backed), their knot (that it’s threaded through both critical points and is tied correctly), and that the knot has around four to six inches of tail.
Top Roping Checks
The climber will check to make sure their belayer’s harness is double backed, that their belay device is connected to the carabiner through the belay loop, that it’s oriented in the correct position, and that the carabiner is locked. Once the gear is checked, it’s time to climb! From there, all communication is handled through verbal commands. It’s the language of climbers, that ends up transpiring into everyday conversation. Learn it well.
When you finally hit the rock gym with your partner, and you have passed your belay test, it’s time to climb! You will notice that routes are rated starting with a 5 followed by a number. The 5 stands for a vertical environment where you need a rope to get to the top. The second number defines how difficult the hardest move on the route will be. The lower the number like a 5.7 or 5.8, the easier the climb. Usually, the route gets significantly harder once you hit 5.10 and requires more skill…but try it anyway!
The harder you push yourself, the more quickly you will catch on. Some body position tips: don’t try to pull yourself up the wall, you will get tired quickly. Think about it, your legs are much stronger than your arms are; you aren’t walking around all day on your hands in a handstand position. USE YOUR LEGS! For every three steps up the wall you take, reach for the next rock hold with your arms. Think long arms, and walking your way up the wall. It will feel really difficult at first, but look around and mimic what other climbers are doing as they ascend a wall, you will catch on in no time.
Is bouldering more your style? Check out our guide to safely bouldering indoors!
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