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What makes someone a “real” climber?

Stefanie | September 18, 2018

Climbing is becoming more and more popular. Especially at the climbing gym, you tend to see climbers who may be perceived by some as not being "real" climbers. What makes someone a real climber? This question is addressed in an article on, which, while it is certainly amusing, is likely to be the true sentiment of many climbers. What follows is a brief outline of my views on what makes someone a real climber.

When I started climbing, I thought I had entered a different world. I learned how to climb outdoors in Central Chile, together with climbers whose love for climbing, sleeping under the stars and the simplicity of it all could easily be felt.

I loved those things too, but still didn’t feel like a climber. That changed when I started going bouldering regularly and realized that I was building up more strength and body tension and that the moves were gradually becoming easier.

But I didn’t actually feel like a real climber until I spent several months in Madrid and went rock climbing with the local climbers on the weekends — tackling similar difficulty levels as they did.

"Indoor climbers aren’t real climbers."

On, Kevin Corrigan writes that gym climbing, top roping and sport climbing aren’t real forms of climbing. Even Chris Sharma is supposedly too attractive, has too much money and is more like a model posing on the side of a cliff than a real climber ;-). That’s one way of looking at things, and I'm sure there are climbers who really think that about gym climbing and top roping.

I personally don’t agree with those statements at all.

Of course it makes a difference whether you’re climbing indoors or outdoors. And of course top roping is different than leading.

But does that mean someone isn’t actually a real climber?

In my opinion, there are plenty of outdoor climbers who lead and climb stretches that would be considered an advanced difficulty level but still don’t have much in common with a real climber.

For example, climbers who climb at a high risk to themselves and others or climbers who don’t give a hoot about the environment and leave behind a garbage dump wherever they go.

Climbing in Arco "real" climbing
A new day in Arco, Italy: Top roping didn’t diminish our climbing experience in the least bit.

"A real climber is dirty and doesn’t have a (permanent) home."

It’s true that climbing in a breathtaking terrain and then afterwards just cooking some pasta over a camp stove and sleeping under the stars is a completely different feeling.

cochamo-chile mountains
What a view! The mountain panorama in Cochamó, Chile, is most spectacular when you first wake up.

But living that kind of lifestyle all the time — permanently — wouldn’t be my thing.

I don’t think it has to be an either/or decision. You can have both.

Young families are a good example of this: A while ago, it would probably have been unthinkable to go climbing or bouldering with a baby or toddler in tow. Today it’s not.

Overall, I think the lifestyles of climbers have become much more flexible.

Being a real climber doesn’t mean sacrificing everything else.

I think whether someone is a real climber is better answered by questions like:

My conclusion

To me, being a real climber means climbing regularly — regardless of which kind of climbing.

I once took a longer break from climbing and realized that I didn’t feel like a climber during that time.

The connection to climbing was still there, but I didn’t feel it. Something I consider another important characteristic of a real climber is to climb in a way that is safe for yourself and others.

What makes someone a “real” climber in your opinion?

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