It’s that time of year - that glorious season when we climbers get to emerge from winter training hibernation and hit the rock. We live for this time! It comes with its own challenges though, make no mistake. Transitioning from pulling on plastic to rock introduces new variables with technique, conditions, and skincare - just to name a few. In this article, we’ll touch on some of the main differences and give you a few tips on how to adjust to climbing on rock from plastic!
Maybe you’re an indoor climber making your first foray into the great outdoor climbing world, maybe you’re a beginner climber that’s been training at home during the pandemic, or maybe you’re a veteran climber just looking to confirm your own plastic to rock experiences. Whatever reason you’re here, this post is for you!
There are many different compositions of plastic holds, and each hold manufacturer has its own preferred compound but generally speaking, most modern indoor climbing holds in North America are made of polyurethane resin (PU). Europe is still commonly using polyester (PE) resin compounds, but are updating and moving towards PU holds. Another more modern innovation in indoor climbing holds is the addition of fibreglass. This allows holds to be hollow and lighter while also being stronger than traditional PU holds.
There are other types of indoor holds that you’ll see used, like manufactured stone, and wood holds. These are much less common though, so we’re going to stick to PU holds for today. Similar to different types of hold material, there are also a lot of types of rock that you’ll encounter while climbing outdoors. Each type of rock has its own quirks and requirements, but there are some general characteristics that you’ll find apply consistently. Keep an eye out for upcoming articles where we’ll be getting into more details on types of holds, and types of rock.
We could talk for days about this topic, but here are our top three things you’ll notice when you move outdoors:
Rocks are hard!
Indoor holds made of PU are optimized for texture by the hold maker. A lot of thought goes into all of the varying elements. One of the first things you’ll notice even if you’ve spent the winter dedicated to training in the gym is that rocks are rough! Your skin will take a beating until it gets used to real rock, so be nice to yourself, rest, and find a hand balm for after climbing. (Another great tip to build strong skin is to take a fish oil supplement).
The variables are nearly endless when you move to outdoor climbing, but one of the big ones is temperature. The ambient temperature affects the coefficient of friction between your skin or shoes, and the rock. Basically, how well will you stick to the rock? Cooler temps tend to be a climbers friend, since warm rock “sweats” and causes you to sweat, too. Water reduces your friction, and everything feels slick. This is only true to a point because freezing temperatures cause frost and as we mentioned, water is not a climbers friend!
Rocks are tricky.
If a plastic hold spins on you in the gym, it’s likely a pretty infrequent occurrence (if it isn’t, maybe mention that to your friendly local setter…). Outside, there is any number of things that can compromise a hold. Particularly at the beginning of a season, we need to be extra careful to make sure that the holds on a route or problem are safe. Plastic holds can break and wear with time, but overall they are much more reliable than rock. Make sure you’re keeping an eye out for holds near cracks or weaknesses in the rock, and give them a test pull before weighting them whenever you can if you see anything that gives you pause. Another way to test for the integrity of an outdoor hold is to knock on the rock and see if it sounds hollow. Frequently during the winter months, water seeps through the rock behind the surface and freezes. When it freezes it expands, which can cause the rock to crack in places we can’t see, but sometimes we can hear the difference. So, give a tap! It’s not foolproof, but it can give you a heads up.
Stay stoked, PortaGang! Outdoor season is upon us, and we’ll be here for you with tons of info and tips to get the most out of your season. Happy sending!