The rise in popularity of climbing is great for the sport but has led to crowded crags, especially in areas like the Northeast with limited rock and lots of people. Although there isn’t much to do about the lines of climbers waiting for five-star routes, there are some steps everyone can take to improve the cragging experience, most notably following some general rules of etiquette.

Credit: Tim Peck

1. Embrace Patience

If you’re at a crowded crag, realize you’re as much a part of the problem as all the other climbers. If you’re dying to jump on a classic route, you’re probably not the only one;  It will most likely attract a crowd during the weekend. If you can’t arrive at a low-traffic time, such as early in the day or mid-week, prepare yourself for a wait. A good attitude won’t clear the queue any faster but is more enjoyable for everyone, which brings us to…

2. Have a Friendly Attitude

A good rule of thumb at the crag is to simply act nice and treat everyone with respect. As popular as climbing has become, it’s still a surprisingly small, tight-knit community. Plus, you never know: That person top-roping your warm-up could have the beta on some under-the-radar routes, a place to park your van, the best local burritos, or a secret swimming hole.

3. Hogging Routes

Taking over entire crags and monopolizing routes is poor form and bad etiquette. If the draws are hung or a top rope established, someone should be climbing on it—if you are moving on to another climb, clean the draws or break down your top rope before doing so. Just taking a break between burns? Consider letting another party have a crack at the climb while you recover.

Credit: Tim Peck

4. Crag Dogs

Crags are busier than ever and the addition of canines is only making them more crowded. We know that everyone loves their dog, but not everyone loves your dog at the crag. Climbing is dangerous and dogs are a distraction, especially when they’re nosing around other people’s packs or barking like crazy because you’ve left them alone at the bottom of the climb. If you’re going to bring your dog climbing, make sure the area you’re headed allows them, that you don’t abandon them, and that you keep them under control (preferably leashed). Many of the dog rules for hiking also apply at the crag.

5. Neatness Counts

The crag isn’t your garage or gear room, it’s a shared space. Keeping your pack, gear, puffy, rope, lunch, etc. organized and contained prevents it from getting mixed up with other climbers’ stuff or being left behind. Likewise, if you’re climbing as a party of three or four, confine your group’s gear to a single spot—don’t spread it across the entire area. This helps leave room for other users and all their stuff.

6. Just Say No to Music

It’s highly likely that the other climbers at the crag don’t share your taste in music and/or would prefer to listen to nature, the clipping of carabiners, and the sounds of struggling on a route we just floated. At its best, music is an annoyance and poor etiquette, and at its worst dangerous, as it makes communication between climber and belayer much more difficult. No one wants their desperate cry of “take” drowned out by whatever it is you’re listening to.

7. Keep Other Noise to Minimum

Just like the beats bumping from a Bluetooth speaker, loud and excessive talking at the base of a climb can make it difficult for climbers and belayers to communicate and is distracting. Keep chatter at a reasonable decibel and make sure you’re not disturbing other climbers. As well, improve your own communication by using a climber’s name after a particular climbing command. Otherwise that “off-belay” you shouted to your climbing partner might cause confusion among other climbers on the same cliff.

Credit: Tim Peck

8. Be Better About Beta

Know about a secret hold? Have a great way to pull the crux? Think the climber on the route next to you needs to get a higher foot? Keep it to yourself—unless someone asks, that is. A lot of climbers want to figure this stuff for themselves and spraying them down with beta robs them of that opportunity. That said, if there’s a safety hazard on the route you just climbed—bees, loose rock, or a missing bolt—passing it along to the next party in favor of safety is better than a hurt ego and is good etiquette.

9. Stick to Small Groups

Large groups are loud, unwieldy, and can quickly take over an entire cliff. This might not deter your group, but it isn’t great for everyone recreating around you. If you’re traveling in a crowd—like your crew from the gym—consider breaking down into smaller groups. Small groups leave a smaller physical footprint, make less noise, and can more easily adapt to crowds at the crag. It’s also easier to find one or two open routes than three or four and quicker for a party of two or three to move around than a large group.

10. Clean Up After Yourself

Whether climbing, hiking, paddling, or any of the other ways we recreate outdoors, Leave No Trace principles should guide our behavior and etiquette—they both help preserve the places we recreate and protect our access to them. The seven principles of Leave No Trace are:

  • 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

Some climber-centric issues to avoid include leaving bits of climbing tape and rope-end labels behind, along with other trash like energy bar (or Snickers bar) wrappers. Similarly, banana and orange peels, apple cores, and peach pits should all be packed out, not tossed into the forest. Another common climbing faux pas: spilled chalk—it belongs in your bag/pot, not on the ground. Make sure bags are closed up when you’re not actively reaching into them.

A few other indiscretions to avoid: leaving tick marks behind (if you make them, clean them before leaving) and trampling vegetation with your pack, rope, or pad. If this all feels overly complicated, a good rule of thumb is to try and leave the crag in better condition than you found it.

Credit: Tim Peck

As more and more people discover climbing outside, it becomes increasingly important to practice good manners and etiquette at the crag. When in doubt, leave things better than you found them—from situations to people to the crags themselves. And if you find yourself frequenting a crag, pay it forward by volunteering for a crag day, chipping in for new anchor hardware, or donating to help resolve access issues.