Updated: Mar 16
Top tips for choosing the right trad and sport routes
Have you ever been so keen to climb a certain grade that day, that you’ve jumped on a route that’s not actually that good or that appropriate?! Ever started up something, only to find that it’s way too run out for your current confidence levels or way harder than you expected? Have you ever chosen a route because everyone else says it’s amazing, but not considered whether you actually like it or not?!
I can say a solid yes to all of those questions, but over the years have become a lot more savvy, experienced and confident in making good personal choices in the routes that I pick.
This makes a huge difference to my enjoyment, progression and mindset in climbing, but has taken years to develop, and is as much a skill as the rest of climbing is.
Here are my top tips on choosing the right trad or sport routes for you on a climbing trip or day out.
1) Gather recommendations and resources
When visiting a new area, local knowledge and recommendations are invaluable. Ask other climbers, use online resources such as UKClimbing, and read guidebooks carefully. Having said that, sometimes we can get a bit caught up in only trying the most popular routes (at many venues this can mean polished holds or queuing for routes), so don’t be afraid to try less well travelled routes too. In my experience, this all depends on the venue and what I want out of the day. Extensive, quality climbing venues will likely have amazing climbs even if they are only given 1 star in a guidebook, whereas at some smaller or less frequented venues I’ll be careful to only stick with the most highly recommended routes.
2) Look closely
There is a heck of a lot of information about a route that can be gathered from the ground, which will help you decide if it’s the one for you.
Look for the length, style and rock quality. Can you spot the bolts or gear placements, resting positions, and crux sections? Does it look well climbed and has solid rock?
3) Have back up options
Sometimes we have eyed up a particular route for that day, only to find it’s busy, or just isn’t our day for it. Having done a little preparation and sussed out some alternatives in advance can really help avoid a day becoming frustrating and unproductive.
4) Deal with setbacks
Every climber has times when they start a route only to find it way harder, scarier, or less enjoyable than they anticipated. That’s every climber, of every standard. There’s times to accept this and push on with an open mind, and other times when the best option is to call it quits and bail.
5) Consider what you want to achieve
Do you ever take a moment to step back and consider what you actually want to gain from your time at the crag? Is your goal to send a certain grade, or do you want to work on a certain style or technique? Do you want to become more comfortable climbing above gear or bolts? Do you want to improve your onsighting? Do you want to come away with lots of satisfying, quick ticks, or would you be happier climbing just one harder route during the trip? Do you want or need a low-stress day, or are you mentally fresh and ready for anything? Is it most important to have a fun time with your friends or do you not mind who you climb with? Considering these questions when choosing routes will help you get the absolute most out of your climbing, and leave you feeling happy and satisfied.
6) Look at route style and length
Long routes can seem intimidating, especially for those of us used to shorter UK routes. However, bear in mind that longer routes are likely to be more endurance based and less strenuous, whereas a shorter route of the same grade may really pack a punch and actually feel more difficult. Shorter doesn’t always equal easier. It’s also important to remember that a certain grade can feel a lot harder if it’s a style you’re not as familiar with. Give yourself maximum credit for climbing routes which are your anti-style.
7) Warm ups can still feel nails!
Whereas indoor warm up climbs often feel like juggy romps with no thought required, easier outdoor climbs can often still require good route reading and movement skills, and small holds. Don’t let this put you off or hold you back from trying harder climbs, and remember that at many popular crags, the easiest climbs are often the most polished!
8) Choose routes you actually like
This sounds obvious, but sometimes we can be so grade-driven that we forget climbing is something we do for enjoyment! What line catches your eye? What is it that makes you really motivated to try a route? Look away from the guidebook and the grades for a second and scan the crag for routes that look attractive to you. It’s much easier and more satisfying to push yourself on something you feel drawn to and excited about.
9) Weather and conditions
Routes can feel widely different in different conditions. Some need longer to dry, others need the shade and colder conditions. Use this to your advantage and choose routes which work with the conditions that day rather than make things feel unreasonably hard.