I've recently started sport climbing outdoors and was looking for some definitive safety information published by some reputable organization (i.e. American Mountain Guides Assocation, AMGA), but I couldn't find anything. Does a best practices guide for climbing safely exist online? If there's an organization that certifies mountain guides, they must have some written curriculum they follow.

Unless you buy a textbook on rock climbing, it seems most people get their safety information orally from someone who's more experienced, which results in lots of arguments (mainly online) and wide ranging perceptions of what's safe or reasonable risk. Being able to point to an authoritative reference would settle a lot of these disputes.

An example safety best practices question might be whether it is better to lower off anchors vs. rappelling.

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    A lot of people use Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, although its focus isn't specifically on sport climbing. There is a book by Libby Peter, Rock Climbing: Essential Skills and Techniques, which bills itself as "the official handbook of..." some organizations. An example safety best practices question might be whether it is better to lower off anchors vs. rappelling. One isn't better than the other in all cases. Actually this seems like it would be a nice outdoors.SE question: when to do one and when to do the other.
    – user2169
    Aug 14, 2014 at 23:17
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    Thanks for the tip. On that line of thinking (suggested reading materials for climbing courses), I found that AMGA put out a textbook very recently for their single pitch course: Rock Climbing: The AMGA Single Pitch Manual by Bob Gaines and Jason Martin.
    – shimizu
    Aug 15, 2014 at 2:20
  • I removed my earlier comment suggesting climbingtechniques.org. While it has the type of information you are looking for, it's aggregated by two climbers who are also learning as they go and not all of the practices there would fall in the "best practice" category. However, given time and improvement it might evolve into a suitable resource.
    – requiem
    Aug 15, 2014 at 20:55
  • It might be worth adding a geographic tag to this such as united-states?
    – user2766
    Aug 20, 2014 at 14:52

2 Answers 2


Here are some resources I found:

The main reason people usually share best practices orally and in person is because the experienced climber can correct the mistakes the student will make. No matter how good you are at reading, translating potentially life or death skills from a page to the rock wall is no sure thing. Some things can be learned by reading, but it will only take the smallest mistake to kill you or someone you're climbing with. Use resources like the above with a big grain of salt.


Does a best practices guide for climbing safely exist online?

To learn safety you need a practical introduction by someone you're sure knows what they're talking about. Techniques can vary considerably between country and country and climbing techniques, e.g. it's common to use two half ropes in the UK. This is less common in other parts of the world. This leads to conflict (especially online) as what one country deems safe acceptable behaviour another country views as dangerous and sometimes bizarre. Sometimes this is for very good reason. Terrain and weather varies considerably, what is perfectly fine on a long straight bolted pitch in California may well be problematic on a meandering, wet, cold day, trad leading in the highlands of Scotland.

The nearest thing to a (international) standard on this kind of thing is the UIAA. A countries climbing federation (for example the BMC). Are accredited (or not) by the UIAA. This is an attempt to standardise the information internationally, see the mission statement:

The UIAA promotes the growth and protection of mountaineering and climbing worldwide by:

  • preserving their spirit and traditions
  • advancing safe and ethical mountain practices
  • promoting responsible access, culture and environmental protection
  • supporting youth participation and the Olympic movement

So your best bet is to get in touch with your nearest UIAA accredited mountaineering federation and ask about safety courses. This will teach you the actual (not bad habits) proper safe way to do things.

Another option is a climbing club. Climbing clubs will be full of knowledgeable people who can teach you lots (not just safety). You're also going to have a better idea they know what they are doing. Just because someone says something forcefully does not make it correct. I've been told all sorts of odd things over the years, some of which are correct but a scary amount were plain wrong.

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