I first started climbing in 2013, wearing an old pair of someone else's shoes, scrabbling across damp Massachusetts rock, with a belayer who only kind of remembered how to set up her ATC (a device that maintains tension on a climbing rope). I've since learned the value of a good pair of shoes and the importance of triple-checking the safety of my gear and surroundings, but even under those shoddy circumstances I knew rock climbing was the sport for me.
Rock climbing, along with other outdoor activities, was named one of the American College of Sports Medicine's top fitness trends of 2018. Its rise to popularity is undeniable, and if you give it a try and get bit by the climbing bug like I did, the rest is history. But if you associate climbing walls more with Spider-Man than with any mere mortal, it can seem pretty daunting at first. Despite its obvious Spidey connections, climbing is pretty beginner-friendly, as long as you take the time to get prepared.
As with any other sport, there are a few rudimentary steps you'll have to take to get into climbing, like joining a gym near you and shopping for the necessary gear (although most gyms have shoes, harnesses, and chalk available to rent). But, as Gavi Weiner, an REI Outdoor School instructor based in Denver, tells us, climbing is more than just a workout. It's a brainteaser, a gateway to a whole new community, and an opportunity to develop enough hand dexterity that you can open a door while holding a coffee cup.