5 Things To Know Before Your First Climbing Competition


My first climbing competition has come and gone. I'm not competitive in nature, so I never set out with the goal to compete when I started bouldering regularly. In fact, I wasn't even planning on doing this one!

The reason I chose to is that my gym requires everyone (even spectators) to fill out the same waiver, so I figured if I'm going to be there and be signed up anyway, I might as well get on the wall. Now that I've done one, I'm hooked! I'm already thinking about how to train for the next one in November. I'm still not competitive, but I do like having a way to quantify progress on my favorite hobby.

That being said, I was definitely scared and confused and a little worried leading up to the day. If you're preparing for your first competition and you've been googling disjointed strings of climbing-related lingo, I was there, too! It's hard to learn about these things if you don't know where to start, even as someone who's been climbing for a while. Here are my five main takeaways/need-to-know for any first-time competitor:

Know your comp structure.

Details about this should be on the competition website, but that can be somewhat vague. For instance, I knew this one was a 5-try Redpoint, but without knowing what that means it's not super helpful!

For a redpoint, there are a few different ways to get into the particulars but the general format is that each problem is assigned a point value. If you finish the route on your first try, you get full points, second, you get less, and so on. You can attempt a problem 5 times for a score — if you get it after that, no points are awarded. Your score is then calculated as an average from your 5 best climbs. You keep track on a scorecard, so bring a pen!

I've never seen an onsight, but from my understanding, you're not allowed to see the routes before you climb them, and you're given a time limit in which you have to send the problem or move along. Sounds scary!

You will be there for a long time.

Plan on things being BUSY. My gym is generally busy anyway so I thought I was prepared, but not for this volume. Don't be surprised if you get 1 attempt every half hour; be thankful for the extra rest! Even with the crowds, I was done in about 3 hours due to my hands still being delicate little babies.

Plan your strategy.

I admittedly didn't do this well, but I certainly will next time. There's a great Reddit post I found about strategy here — different things work for different folks, but I would go in with a plan. Otherwise, you'll end up wide-eyed and overwhelmed once your scorecard is in your hand (not that I know from experience).

It's tempting to get intense.

Being competitive isn't at all in my nature, but once things got kicked off I was starting to feel a little edgy. The energy is high, the points are there for the taking, and there are children cutting lines left and right, so it can be a recipe for being grumpy if you let it! Just remind yourself to have fun and enjoy it. You only have one first competition!

Stay until the end.

My comp was an evening event with an end time of 10 PM and not enough pizza — meaning I left before the end. In hindsight, I would have definitely stayed! There was a raffle and seeing the winners announced would have been cool.

If you can, go the next day, too.

This might be a gym-specific thing, but my gym left the competition problems up all weekend. While climbing in the event was helpful in its own ways, I was able to go back and try again on Sunday for some of the problems I wasn't able to get day-of. That helped me better understand where my threshold lies (and made me kick myself for not trying a few more problems the day of..).

Like I said, I'm training for November's Battle of the Bay, so if you have any training tips, send 'em my way!

Amanda McDowellComment