Home / Climbing / Single Male Seeks Same … Y’know, For Belaying and Stuff: What to Look For in a Good Climbing Partner

Single Male Seeks Same … Y’know, For Belaying and Stuff: What to Look For in a Good Climbing Partner

Finding a good climbing partner can be like finding a gem in a coal mine, a needle in a haystack, or more accurately, a decent, level-headed climber in a world fraught with douchebags. I’d had my fair share of different partners, some good, some great, and some absolutely terrible. Finding who works best with you is definitely a trial and error process — you’re gonna have to try out a couple duds before you know what you’re looking for. Sounds a lot like dating, amirite? (rimshot)

Anywho, everyone needs something different from their partner — some people prefer the silent type, while others need someone who can scream them up the wall. I know some people who are extremely competitive, and need to climb with someone at their range so they have someone to compete against. I know others who are too competitive and only climb with people who they are better than, as some kind of ego-trip thing. So it takes all types to belay your ass up the wall. Considering that not everyone is looking for the same type of partner as me, I’ve compiled a list of some broader qualities to look for in a potential new climbing partner.

They Gotta Bring the Stoke

I think most everyone could benefit from a motivated partner. Some days you’ll be the motivated one, other times it’ll be your partner screaming “IT’S CRAGGIN’ TIME, SON! WHOOOOOO!” in your face at 6 a.m. as the sun is slowly rising over your crag of choice for the day. A good partner will sense when your motivation is low, and rally for you. They’ll offer to string your project for you, or belay you on that confidence-boosting route that you love running laps on. Because if you’re  not having a good climbing day, then neither are they. I know there’s such a thing as an off-day, but there’s no excuse for a partner who’d rather lay at the bottom of the wall all day, chugging beer and spewing stories about all the hard stuff he used to send.

AIS owner and founder Kevin Riley climbing with Tracy Martin at Farley Ledges. For the record, they are both excellent climbing partners. After two days with her, I trusted Tracy enough to climb my first pink point on her gear, as memorialized in this post's top photo.
AIS owner and founder Kevin Riley climbing with Tracy Martin at Farley Ledges. For the record, they are both excellent climbing partners. After two days with her, I trusted Tracy enough to climb my first pink point on her gear, as memorialized in this post’s top photo. And yes, I was scared because I am a sissy sport climber.

They Have Something to Teach You

It doesn’t pay to climb with your doppelgänger. A good partner will have a slightly different style from you, and don’t mind helping you broaden your climbing techniques. In my case it’s different because I kinda am climbing with my doppelgänger, but I like climbing with my twin sister because we actually have pretty distinct climbing styles. She’s vert girl, and loves doing delicate vert and slab routes, and has pretty great technique, tip-toeing around tiny edges with her pink Anasazi lace-ups. I, on the other hand, love me some overhang. I’m the more bouldery one, who prefers climbing on overhang with heel hooks and feet cutting, stabbing at holds in my aggressively down-turned Quantums. Especially since she is the same height as me, (I can learn next to nothing from a 6-foot partner), I can watch her on a climb, and she inspires me to try things in a way I never thought of before. Her style challenges me, and I try to emulate it when I feel that my burly thrutching is proving ineffective.

The Competition Between the Two of You Is Healthy

This is a tough one, because  many people climb with people who are at about their range. Unless you’re climbing with your significant other who you introduced to climbing, in which case you are flexing, and grunting, and showing off as much as possible on 5.10s, because your new girlfriend doesn’t know any better. I am, by nature, a very competitive person, and sometimes find myself competing with my partner, seeing if I can do better on a route than them, and sometimes getting discouraged if they beat me. This is so useless! A good partner is supportive of you no matter what, wholeheartedly psyched when you send your project, and ok with having an off-day while you’re killin’ it. I think a little bit of competition is good to keep the two of you motivated, but make sure it doesn’t go overboard into cutthroat territory. Unless that’s both of your things, then by all means, go for the jugular.

They Know What They’re Doing

Trust is so huge in climbing. I cannot even express how important it is to trust your climbing partner. When you’re on the wall, all your attention should be focused on the wall in front of you, not on creeping thoughts of whether or not your partner will catch you at the cruxy runout section. I have spent time climbing with newbies (no offense to newbs, everybody’s gotta start somewhere!) and even seasoned climbers with just poor belay technique, and the anxiety that gives me is very distracting. I’m focusing more on the fall, or whether or not they have a decent amount of rope out rather than the climb. I’m thinking so much about falling, so I find myself more apt to — yep, you guessed it — fall. Some people can be pretty sensitive, or touchy about their belay technique. So unless your partner is open and receptive and willing to work on their bad belay habits, I’d stick to someone who you know always has your catch.

Know What You Like and How to Express It

Also great advice for sex. Actually, probably all of this advice could apply to sex. If you don’t like being encouraged while on the wall, then tell your partner instead of keeping silent and then bitching about it later. If you do want aggro man-screams as you grunt and thrutch your way through the crux, then you’re starring in a climbing video and those people at the bottom screaming “ALLEZ! ALLEZ! ALLEZ!” are your groupies. The secret to every good relationship, errr, climbing partnership, is communication. Let them know if their boombox is obnoxious, their dog a pain in the ass, or their tuna lunch so stinky that you can’t even. But also remember to check yourself before you wreck yourself, and not be too much of a prima donna princess.

You Can Hold a Conversation With Them For More Than Five Minutes

As any climber can attest to, climbing days aren’t just nonstop climbing. Even on shorter day trips, you’re going to have some downtime between climbs. A good partner is someone who you have enough in common with to keep you entertained in the event a sudden rainstorm barricades the two of you in a cave for several hours. I’m not saying they need to be your new best friend, but if your go-to conversation is “Some weather we’re having, eh?” as a torrential rainstorm brings down heaven and hell outside the cave you’ve sheltered in, then maybe it’s time to keep searching. Or become more interesting. Maybe you’re the boring one.




About Caillin Murray

Caillin Murray is a recent college grad who has rekindled her abusive relationship with climbing after a four-year break.

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