I've learned several points in rock climbing where one must perform checks, but none that come with a checklist. And there is a serious difference.

I passed an indoor belay test roughly as follows: when asked to check everything, I said something like: "check that the rope has 2 sets of 5... tighten the knot to make sure... no more than 6" of loose rope... [several others]"

And these are all intelligent things to check. The problem is: how do I know I didn't miss any? On live climbs I remember one time I definitely forgot to check my partner, for instance.

The answer is not "make your own checklist." A checklist needs to be standard and perfect to assuage the temptation to play with it and mess it all up. But so far I haven't learned a standard one used for belaying. Is there one I should know, or has anyone in the community taken care to develop a personal one that works well?

  • Related, possible dupe: outdoors.stackexchange.com/q/6452/4038
    – djechlin
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 7:28
  • I don't think this is a dupe of that question.
    – user2766
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 10:35
  • I'm sure this will be covered in either/both Rock Climbing: Essential Skills & Techniques and/or Freedom of the Hills. unless someone beats me to it I'll dig out an answer when I get home.
    – user2766
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 10:38
  • 2
    A checklist needs to be standard and perfect But I don't think that's possible, because there are many different types of climbs and belays. If I'm belaying someone on top-rope in the gym, I'm going to check their knot, but if they're following me on a multipitch climb, I can't do that. For a sport climb, I may want to tie a knot in the end of the rope, but the climber may choose not to wear a helmet. For a trad climb, I'm tied in to my end of the rope, so that's not something to check, but we should certainly be wearing helmets.
    – user2169
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 19:02
  • @BenCrowell it's possible, to have many different checklists as well. I'm trying to learn any way to keep the information organized to myself... without messing up.
    – djechlin
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 7:54

2 Answers 2


There are definitely some "checklist" mnemonics for new climbers, but no standard set. Even among the ACMG & AMGA, every guide and instructor might use something slightly different, or not use any at all.

Here is the one I teach new climbers personally. It's rather simple, but it seems to stick.

  • Anchor
  • Belayer
  • Climber

Anchor may simply be a check to make sure you are tying in to the correct side of the rope. Belayer is a check to make sure the belay device is rigged correctly (this includes a gate-check for the carabiner), and Climber is a check to make sure the tie-in is done correctly.

In our last guide training day, one of the instructors, a long standing-rock guide, used A.B.C.D.

  • Anchor
  • Brain-Bucket (helmet)
  • Climber
  • Device

I've also seen people ad the E to this mnemonic.

  • Ends (meaning rope end, which is typically tied with a stopper knot)

The knot prevents the rope from feeding through the device while lowering in the case that you mis-judged the distance of the route.

Another one I've heard in the past is B.A.R.K.

  • Buckles (or sometimes brain-bucket)
  • Anchor
  • Rappel / Belay Device
  • Knots

I've also seen A.B.C.D.H. used as Anchor, Buckles, Carabiner, Device, Helmet, so I'm sure many adaptations exist!

It's important to note that most of these checklists are also very situational so It's somewhat hard to standardize them. I include an additional check for falling ice in winter for example by adding a "D" for dangers, I've also used the "D" for daisy chains in the context of aid climbing. You really do have to pick one that you will remember, and roll with it.

The process of climbing may seem like a lot to remember initially, and does seem to warrant some type of standard checklist, but it sinks in very quick actually because of how much repetition is involved. Additionally, I've found that new climbers are usually very safe and very cautious > the trick is to not get complacent down the line. I've personally caught myself having tied in to only one tie-in point on my harness on more than one occasion.

  • Re. last point, a good checklist isn't comprehensive, but includes the points a trained person may skip. e.g. mess up "hard to hard and soft to soft" (while remembering to tie/clip to the harness!) or a belayer may forget to check the partner because it "feels" like everything is done at that point.
    – djechlin
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 3:03
  • It's impossible to include all the steps a new climber might forget because of variation (e.g. does your harness have 1 or 2 tie-in points, and does it need to be doubled back or is it auto-closing?). Those mnemonics are a good start though.
    – Raz Peel
    Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 17:35

I think a climbing checklist is very important, but it's a fairly personal process. Of course in climbing you are part of a partnership and the person on the other end of the rope needs to be safe as well, but you can role-model and set a good standard.

There are two ways that I teach pre-climb checking off, each of which can and should be customized to fit your needs and specific situation (single pitch, multipitch, etc...):

1) Head to Toe method:

  • Start at your head, check that your helmet is buckled and fitted correctly (not showing more than two finger widths of your forehead above the brow).
  • Check your attitude and goals for the climb, check your partners (this can be silly, but it's good to know when your partner is freaking out)
  • Move down to your harness. Check that your knot (figure 8) is tied properly, has the correct amount of tail, and is properly dressed.
  • Check that the rope is running through both hard-points
  • Check that your buckles are doubled back (or speed buckles are done correctly)
  • Check your partners carabiner. Make sure it's connected to the belay loop, belay device, and rope is running through.
  • Check their harness.
  • Check that you have the pro/gear needed for the climb.
  • Check your feet, shoes ties, no stuff that is going to get in the way.

Then go! Here's another method.

2) C.R.A.S.H. Method

  • Carabiner: Check that the belayers carabiner is locked, belay device loaded correctly.
  • Rope: Check that the belayer set up the device right with the rope running through the carabiner. Or if it's a brake assist device that it's not loaded backwards. Check your figure 8 knot, that it's dressed, and that you have enough tail.
  • Attitude: Check your and your partners level of comfort in the climb/belay.
  • Stuff: Make sure your don't have hair/shoe laces/ gear that is going to get in your way.
  • Helmet/Harness: Check that your harness buckles are set up correctly, there are no twists, and it is sitting above your waist. Check your partner. Check that your helmet is buckled and fitting appropriately. Check your partner.

The best way to know you didn't miss anything is to be consistent about doing thorough checks. And to make sure your partner does them as well. Things get missed and having two people looking is a big help. I like to choose a system and stick to it. Often times if I miss something (even if it's not a problem) I will have an uneasy feeling before I leave the ground which is a reminder to run through my checklist again.

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