Man Lead Climbing a Mountain

How to Lead Climb (FULL GUIDE)

Lead climbing is something you may or may not be familiar with. It’s a very special way of rock climbing that involves attaching leads as someone climbs a rock face.

It’s something that must be practiced to get it right, so it’s not a good fit for beginners. So, if you want to learn how to lead climb, if it’s something you have a passion for or if you’re intrigued about it, there are several important points that you should know and look out for.

Here is a look at lead climbing entails, as well as tips to make sure that you are doing it properly.

What Is Lead Climbing

Lead climbing involves a climber being connected to a rock, and as he or she climbs up, they place leads every so often, to lessen the chance of falling and to be sure that they are safely getting up the cliff. It’s a little more complicated than that, however.

It’s up to the climber to decide where to put these holds, so that they have a clear way up, which is also as safe as possible. It’s not just a matter of placing them in a nice straight line, since rock formations can have many areas that are cracked and are risky.

This is why it’s essential to train and practice before you try to climb using this method, as it can be dangerous if you don’t know the right techniques to employ.

Top Roping

This climbing method is a little bit different than the normal way people get to the top of a rock. With top roping, someone climbs to the top first and sets up a rope, which allows each subsequent climber to have help getting up, since they can hook themselves onto that rope and start climbing.

Who Is Lead Climbing For

Lead climbing is definitely not for the faint of heart or for those who don’t want to keep at it until they get it right. It isn’t something that will come naturally at first, especially since you have to place holds on the fly. You’ll need to be sure that you are making good decisions and not second-guessing yourself. It should not be attempted by newbies.

Some people climb like this because it seems more freeing and gives them a sense of adventure. While most types of climbing do this, since you are setting your own path, you can feel like you really did all the work when you reach the top. This can change your life as a rock climber, especially when you’re serious about your sport.

How to Lead Climb – The Basics

A good thing about this method is that it usually is at least a 2 person type of climbing. Here’s how it works.

Lead climber

The lead climber is the person who is ahead of the other person. They are attached to a rope that is at the bottom of the rock and will have to climb up and set different holds to get up the face. This means they will have to pin things in place, as they are usually not already found in the mountain. Fastening these holds will help prevent falling, but not always. However, the climber is always fastened onto some hold, so they won’t fall all the way down the mountain, even if they mess up and miss a particular hold.


This is the person who is below the lead climber, who is typically found on the ground. They are holding the rope and making sure it has enough slack. They may have to pull in the rope or let it out a little bit, to make sure it’s right for the other climber.

7 Top Tips for Lead Climbing

Here are some tips to remember when you’re trying to learn lead climbing.

1. It’s not for beginners

This is something you will have to practice. You’ll need to train on how to place leads, anchor them, and get up a cliff in this manner. You’ll also have to learn how to be the belayer, since you won’t always be lead.

2. Learn before you try it

It’s not advisable that you try this before you have practiced and become proficient at it. This means you’ll need to get all the techniques down before you attempt it in real life. There are indoor facilities where you can practice that are low risk, and you won’t have to bring your own gear. Try these out first before you experiment outdoors.

3. Get all the proper gear

You won’t need all the different types of gear when you’re learning indoors, but you will need them outside. Get the best products you can, so you’ll know you can trust them when you’re using them. A gear malfunction could be tremendously dangerous, so make sure you have adequate materials.

You’ll need the following gear:

4. Keep practicing

Make sure that you feel comfortable climbing indoors before you move on. You’ll have to be able to trust yourself and know you’re always using good judgment when it comes to placing leads and climbing. You don’t want to get hurt.

5. Trust your gut

Don’t be arrogant; instead, be honest about your skills. There’s no set time table for how long it takes to learn lead climbing. Practice in a safe place for as long as you can, until you know that you will be successful doing it without any help. You can even find beginner areas to practice outdoors if there are some in your area. This can give you a real-life experience that is relatively low risk.

6. Learn how to take a fall

Another part of this is learning how to take a fall. There will inevitably be moments where you stumble or were unable to place a lead where you wanted to. This will result in falling, so you’ll have to know how to take a fall without getting hurt. The good news is, you should always be strapped in, so the fall won’t be all the way down, especially if you can count on your belayer.

7. Make sure you go with others

Having other people helping you out and watching your back is always something positive. They will be able to provide tips and help on the fly, especially if they are seeing things from a different perspective than you. Never go out climbing on your own if you’re using this method, as that can be extremely dangerous.

Important Notes About Lead Climbing

Remember it’s best if you know both parts of this type of climbing, so you can not only know when your belayer is doing a good job, you can also perform those tasks when you need to.

As a belayer, there are skills you have to learn and you will need extra gear, just like when you’re the lead climber. When you’re able to do both things, it should give you a better understanding of the whole process, and make you feel more confident in your skills. This can also help you teach others in the future how to approach lead climbing, since you can perform all the tasks it requires.

You should also keep in mind that this practice isn’t for everyone. If you don’t like climbing this way or it just doesn’t come naturally, it isn’t the only way you can climb. There are other techniques you can follow, so you can always give it up if you want to.

On the flip side, you should never approach this task if you haven’t practiced; it’s not safe unless you have been properly trained, so be sure that you train at a place where the instructors are experienced and are able to give you hands-on tips and lessons.

You absolutely have to know how to rock climb beforehand, or you won’t have the foundation to grow your other skills. This is the main reason why only people who have been climbing a while should attempt to learn. It is unlikely to be right for people who won’t stick with it.


Lead climbing is a bit different than other types of rock climbing, mainly because you are placing your own path in the cliff as you climb. It involves attaching leads in the rock and attaching yourself to them as you ascend.

This will limit your falls and is a safe way to reach the top of a rock. At the same time, it isn’t something that can be done unless you learn how to do it, since you will be responsible for doing all the work.

There aren’t any lines for you to follow and no guide wires or anything like that. You can have help though, in the form of a belayer, who holds the end of the rope, to keep you safer and lessen the risk of injuries.

Overall, it’s a process that is well-liked by experienced climbers, since they feel free to set their own paths and enjoy the scenery. This may be something that you’ll like too, especially if you are into different types of rock climbing.

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