If you’re just starting out with rock climbing, you’ve likely heard of top rope climbing. In fact, if you’ve already started practicing in a climbing gym, it’s likely that you’re using this climbing method.
But what is top rope climbing, and what do you need to know about it?
Top rope climbing refers to a form of climbing in which the rope to which a climber is attached moves up from a belayer to a secured point at the top and then back down again, this time to the climber.
This climbing setup offers greater protection in many ways, making it the perfect setup for beginners. Mastering top rope climbing can help you as you look to start your rock climbing journey.
As you look to master top rope climbing, however, you’ll need to keep a lot of new information in mind. As you’re likely new to rock climbing in general, it can be difficult keeping track of all this new information.
That’s where I come in. Below, I’ve put together the ultimate guide to top rope climbing. From equipment and techniques needed to its difficulty compared to other styles, I’ve included everything you need to know about this popular climbing form.
Are you ready to master the art of top rope climbing? Let’s get started!
What Equipment Do I Need for Top Roping?
In order to start top roping, you’ll need a set of gear. If you’ve been rock climbing before, you likely already have everything you need.
Because beginners usually practice top roping, however, you may need to invest in an all-new set. For this reason, keep the following information in mind.
If you don’t have any gear yet, I have good news for you. In order to start top roping, you won’t need all that much gear. In fact, everything you’ll need can be considered basic rock climbing gear that you’ll likely need to invest in at some point anyway.
To start rock climbing, you’ll need:
- Climbing Harness
Your climbing harness will be used to secure you into the belaying system, as well as help you carry any additional gear that you may have. If you’re just starting out, you may not need much additional gear, though many advise to always carry a second rope as a precaution.
Selecting the right climbing harness can be tricky. Ultimately, you’ll need to find one that offers the right fit, as well as the right balance between weight and functionality.
For a more detailed look on choosing the right harness, as well as my pick for the best beginning climbing harnesses, check out my in-depth guide. Otherwise, keep in mind that you’ll need to select a harness that’s both strong, durable, and functional enough for you to get the job done.
For top roping, you won’t need any advanced harnesses, as you’ll only need to secure yourself into the belaying and anchoring system, as well as carry any smaller gear of your choice.
- Climbing Shoes
If you haven’t invested in a pair of climbing shoes already, don’t put it off another moment. Finding the right pair of climbing shoes can feel overwhelming—especially if you’re just starting out.
With so many different options to choose from, it can be difficult knowing which shoes are right for you. As you can see from my guide on how climbing shoes should fit, you’ll need to make sure that you’re buying shoes that fit your climbing level.
The good news is that beginning-level climbing shoes provide greater comfort than more-advanced ones. The trade-off, of course, is that they sacrifice a bit in the way of functionality in doing so. In other words, beginning climber shoes provide for a looser fit, making it harder to precisely place your feet on the rocks.
If you’re just getting started top roping, however, beginner shoes will prove more than enough—especially if you’re practicing inside at your local climbing gym.
Don’t know where to get started finding the best beginner-level climbing shoes? Check out my pick for the top ten here!
Additionally, because top roping routes can be longer than average for more-advanced climbers, wearing looser-fitting climbing shoes can prove useful for maintaining comfort.
Rock climbing chalk dries out one’s hands to allow for a better grip while climbing.
This chalk works to prevent sweating and the formation of excess moisture that can make it difficult to secure a solid grip.
Chalk comes in a variety of different forms, with the two most common being dry (as a powder or bar) and liquid. The type of climbing chalk you decide to invest in depends on your personal situation. If you’ve got particularly-moist hands, for instance, you may find that liquid chalk provides for better drying action (ironically).
No matter the choice you end up ultimately making, keep in mind that you’ll want to moisturize your hands when not climbing. Though having dry hands makes your climb safer, the consistent application of climbing chalk can significantly reduce the moisture in your skin. This can leave it cracked and peeling even when you’re not climbing—which isn’t a good thing.
For this reason, make sure to balance your chalk use with moisturizers while not hitting the rocks.
Surprise! In order to top rope, you’ll need … a rope!
Okay, maybe that’s not so surprising, but taking time to choose the right rope remains important nonetheless. Standard single climbing ropes should work well enough for your climb—especially if you’re top roping indoors.
Depending on the distance of your climb, you may want to invest in a longer rope; however, this will depend on your personal situation.
A more complete guide to choosing climbing ropes for beginners can be found here.
Keep in mind that if you want to stick to indoors climbing, you probably won’t need to buy a rope as the climbing gym will have them for you. If you’re going to top rope outside, however, you obviously would need to get your own rope (or make sure your climbing partner brings one).
Because top roping requires the rope be passed through a belaying device on the bottom and an anchor on the top, you’ll need an anchor.
Finding an anchor in an indoor climbing gym should pose no problem. However, if you choose to top rope outside, you’ll need to find a secure anchor.
Your anchor should be one that can properly secure your rope during the climb and hold up under your weight. Many people tend to use sturdy trees as anchors, but keep in mind that this can damage the tree over time. Environmentalists within the rock climbing movement encourage finding non-living anchors if possible, but ultimately, the most important consideration remains choosing an anchor that will support your weight.
Keep in mind that if you’re going to set up an anchor outdoors, you’ll likely need to carry a more-advanced set of gear. You’ll need to tether and bolt your anchor to ensure maximum security.
What Techniques Do I Need for Top Roping?
With this information in mind, let’s take a look at some of the important techniques you should master to successfully top rope climb.
Many of the techniques needed for top roping prove fundamental to nearly every rock climbing variation. For this reason, mastering these skills now can prove useful as you look to tackle other forms of rock climbing later.
So, what techniques do you need to learn to start top roping like a pro?
I didn’t include belayers as part of your required equipment because I wanted to talk about them here, instead. Keep in mind, though, in order to successfully top rope, you’re going to need a belaying system.
When top roping, belayers will need to stand at the bottom of the climbing route. Climbers will be hooked into the belaying system by a rope.
And—take note because this is important—should the climber fall, the belayer will use their device to help keep them from crashing. If you’re top roping, you’re unlikely to crash anyway because of the anchor at the top, but you still may find that you fall with more impact than you’d like. This can lead to some pretty nasty injuries if you make contact with the rocks.
For this reason, belaying remains just as important when top climbing as it does with any other variation. Belayers must always remain alert to tackle any sudden challenges to help keep the climber safe.
- Tying a Figure 8 Knot
Don’t even think about hitting the rocks until you can tie a figure 8 knot. This fundamental knot proves to be one of the most important aspects in all of rock climbing—and can help make sure that you’re properly secured.
You’ll never be taken seriously as a rock climber until you master the art of tying the figure 8 knot. If you don’t know how to tie it, I’ve got you covered. My detailed step-by-step guide here will show you exactly how to get the perfect knot every time.
- Standard Climbing Skills
Finally, top roping requires that you learn a number of basic climbing skills. These include techniques such as smearing, crimping, edging, heel and toe hooks, and a few other basic climbing skills.
Practice these fundamental skills as you top rope at your local climbing gym. Until you’ve got these skills mastered, make sure to keep your climbing indoors. This can help keep you safe as you gain necessary experience.
How Difficult Is Top Rope Climbing Compared to Other Climbing Styles?
Generally speaking, climbers tend to view top roping as an easier form of climbing. Top roping indoors has long been the traditional way of training new climbers.
Because these climbers have the double protection of a belaying system and an anchor, they can climb more securely while practicing their fundamental techniques.
As noted earlier, top roping outdoors can be a different story. Because these routes are often longer, climbers will have to be a bit more experienced to pull them off. Even still, however, top roping generally doesn’t require the use of more-advanced techniques—though it definitely could depending on your route.
At the end of the day, however, all climbers will likely agree that top roping is one of—if not the—most basic forms of climbing. If you’re new to the rocks, this makes it the perfect choice for you.
What’s the Difference Between Top Roping and Lead Climbing?
Top roping differs from lead climbing in a number of key ways. The most obvious and important, of course, is that top roping requires the climbers to secure into a belaying system that hooks into an anchor at the top of the route.
In contrast, lead climbing doesn’t feature an anchor at the top of the climb. This means that the belayer below is the only protection that you’ll have during your climb.
For this reason, many consider lead climbing to be a more dangerous form of rock climbing. Because you’re more likely to experience a bigger fall, lead climbing often requires additional certifications to be practiced at some climbing gyms.
If you’re just starting out with rock climbing, chances are that you’re not yet ready to start lead climbing.
And that’s okay.
For now, make sure that you master some of the fundamental aspects of the discipline while top roping. With that in mind, however, don’t assume that just because you’re top roping you don’t have to pay as much attention to your safety. Accidents can occur while top roping, too, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re staying alert at all times—something you’ll definitely need to do while climbing other styles, anyway.
Ultimately, top roping proves to be one of the most common and effective forms of rock climbing for beginners. Even non-beginners, however, sometimes choose to take part in this popular climbing form when performing longer routes outdoors.
If you’ve just gotten into climbing and need to practice top roping, this guide is for you. Keep the information above in mind as you prepare the gear you need. Additionally, make sure to practice the outlined skills, as they’ll help you as you look to master this basic rock climbing style.
With time and a little practice, you’ll be ready to move onto more difficult climbing challenges. Until then, have fun becoming a top roping master.