The first thing a new rock climber learns in a climbing gym is how to top-rope, so it makes sense that the first activity a gym to crag climber would want to learn is how to top rope outside. After all, how do you set up a top rope when no one has done it for you, like in a climbing gym? This isn’t the most intuitive topic, so it makes sense to turn to the internet for tips on how to rig top rope rock climbs.
We won’t be going over HOW to set up top-ropes in this article. Instead, we’ll point you towards the gear you might need to start doing some top-roping outdoors, assuming you have the knowledge. Generally, beginner outdoor climbs are accessed by walking to the top of a short cliff.
How To Learn How to Toprope Outdoors
If you need to learn how to set up topropes, we recommend YouTube, and the book “Climbing Anchors” by John Long. The John Long anchor book is probably overly-detailed for a beginning climber, as it deals with lots of trad climbing concepts. Despite this, there’s lots of good diagrams showing knots, and info on slinging trees and boulders, techniques you will use a lot as beginner outdoor climbers.
What Gear Do You Need to Top Rope Rock Climb Outside?
- A high-diameter climbing rope (±10.0 mm is ideal if you plan to do a lot of top-roping).
- Cordelette or static rope for rigging anchors off of trees and boulders
- Minimum two extra locking carabiners, for your “master point”.
- A helmet doesn’t hurt
The above is kind of the “bare minimum,” which will allow you to deal with most situations. We’ll deal with each individual item, in detail, below.
Best Climbing Rope For Beginners
The best climbing rope for beginners is a thick, cheap one. Why? Because a beginner climber isn’t going to know how to protect a rope from damage. That first climbing rope will be beat up, abraded unnecessarily, and probably used as a rope for top-roping lots of beginner climbs. All of that is rough on ropes — and especially rough on thin specialty ropes.
If you start researching the “best climbing rope”, you might get a lot of articles suggesting super-thin, light, dry-treated bipattern ropes. Those ropes are great — BUT THEY’RE NOT FOR BEGINNERS. A beginner doesn’t need twin ropes, thin ropes, or anything fancy.
Imagine putting a new driver in a Formula 1 race car. It might be, objectively, the best car in the world — but they’re definitely going to crash it. They are better suited for a Honda Accord, or a Fiat 500. The same goes for climbing ropes.
- A 70-meter single rope with a diameter in the range from 9.8mm-10.5mm.
- It should be a dynamic rope, NOT a static rope. This is for a bit of future-proofing: if you ever decide you want to progress to lead climbing outside, you will need a dynamic rope. And a dynamic rope still works fine for top-roping — the only difference is the rope stretches a little bit when it is weighted (e.g. a climber will ‘fall’ a few inches if they weight the rope on TR).
- Don’t bother with dry-treating unless you live in a very rainy climate. This featrure is more for ice climbers and alpinists.
- A mid-mark is essential (Almost all climbing ropes have these).
- Brand is a matter of preference — don’t get hung up on it.
- Ropes often go on sale, if you have the patience to wait.
- Something like this 10.5mm Sterling Rope is perfect ($175 on Amazon).
Gear For Rigging Top Ropes
Cordelette and slings
Top-rope climbing involves two kinds of “anchor”. One is an anchor built off of bolts at the top of a cliff. This is a pretty simple setup, and often needs nothing more than a small cordelette, or even just a pair of quickdraws (this is what sport climbers do).
A few useful products:
- 7mm Cordelette
- Locking Quickdraws
- Nylon slings (240 and 120cm are the most useful sizes for anchors. 60cm is considered a “standard-length runner” for trad climbing purposes)
The other type of top-rope anchor involves building a masterpoint by using trees and boulders near the top of the cliff. Since these features can often be set back several meters from the cliff edge (and you’ll want to capture multiple trees for redundancy), a beginner top-rope climber often appreciates having a dedicated bit of STATIC ROPE for building anchors.
STATIC ROPE can’t be used for lead climbing, but it can be used for top-roping, and it’s perfect for building anchors. It can be bought by-the-foot at some specialty gear shops, or bought in preset lengths online. 30 meters will usually be sufficient for most top-rope anchors.
These ropes will often be branded as “canyoneering” ropes.
Locking Carabiners for Top Roping
Most beginner climbers like to use locking carabiners at all points in their anchor systems, out of a sense of making things as safe as possible. This is a good habit to develop — overbuilding systems and making them super safe.
The best locking carabiners for setting top-rope anchors are steel locking carabiners. These are heavier and more expensive than the standard aluminium carabiners, but steel carabiners will last much, much longer.
We recommend the Edelrid Bulletproof carabiners, which have an aluminium body but feature a steel insert on the rope-bearing surface. This combines the lightness of an aluminium carabiner with the durability of a steel biner. These are perfect for top-rope, as well as making really long-lasting belay carabiners. They come in a variety of configurations.
Usually four locking carabiners will be sufficient for any type of anchor you would like to build For a bolted anchor, simply use locking carabiners for every point for maximum safety.
How to Get Started Top-Roping Outdoors?
- Get the knowledge
- Get the gear
- Get practicing in a controlled environment
Obviously, it’s best if you have someone experienced to show you the ropes, but since you’ve arrived at this article, it’s likely you don’t have access to that person. Realistically, how to top rope from natural anchors IS a skill you can learn from books and videos. Just remember to keep your systems redundant, and think long and hard before trusting your life to your systems.
There are no gym employees to check your knots outside, let alone your anchors. By venturing outside to climb you need to take responsibility for your own safety — please remember that and don’t get complacent.
If you are sharing the area with other climbers, be graceful and accept any criticism they might offer — they will likely only speak up if they see a major safety concern. Listen to what they have to say, but use your head too. Lots of people SOUND like they know what they’re talking about, but are often dangerously ignorant.
The simple solution, and one that will serve you well through all your years of climbing?
Understand what you’re doing, and why.
And don’t forget to have fun!