I’ve been there. I’ve been tired of my 9 to 5 and started daydreaming of how to make money rock climbing. I did some research and found a path that worked for me. But with the rise of Instagram and YouTube, being a professional climber looks different than what it did in years past.
But the good news, is that you can become a professional climber with a lower barrier to entry than ever before in history! If you can figure out how to cultivate an online following while rock climbing, then voila! You have become a professional climber.
This avenue hasn’t worked for me yet. But I did find a lot of value personally becoming a climbing guide and instructor. I enjoy getting to work with people, in the outdoors, and teaching something I love. And while I still haven’t been able to quit my day job yet, I am thankful that I get to earn some money while teaching rock climbing classes.
Become a Rock Climber Influencer
The influencer route is the easiest way to make money from rock climbing. Even professional climbers like Magnus Mitdbo and the Wide Boyz have realized how much opportunity there is in being a rock climbing influencer vs. a pro climber who sends hard routes. While this is the easiest route, it’s also going to have the most competition. There are so many YouTube channels, instagrams, and tik tokkers out there constantly showing epic climbing shots. How will you be able to stand out?
That’s going to be your crux. There are plenty of influencers in the climbing world who can’t send hard routes, but are able to add value to users in other ways. Brands love this and will sponsor rock climbers on this alone. Take a look through the La Sportiva Ambassadors not everyone is sending 5.15a.
So just because you haven’t sent the hardest route in the world like Adam Ondra, doesn’t mean that you can’t be a climbing influencer. You’ll need to get crafty and game social media algorithms to succeed in this world.
Work at a Climbing Gym
Gyms will always hire climbers to help out at the gym, belay birthday parties, and help out around the gym. Some of the best rock climbers first jobs were working at the climbing gym. It’s a great way to meet new partners, make some money, and keep your training equipment close by. Gyms will be looking for consistent employees, so expect to be working close to full time hours. This can be a reliable income for the offseason.
Become a Route Setter
With climbing’s recent popularity explosion, routesetters are in more demand than ever! Routesetters were getting hired for the Olympic games and international competitions all over the world need climbs to be set.
But more popularity means more competition. Back in the day, it would have been easy to get some part time work as a routesetter for your gym. But now, there are actual routesetting clinics and certifications that you might need to set yourself apart. It will be tough to break into this field in a metropolitan area. But if you can befriend your gym owner or head routesetter, you might be able to convince them to let you start helping out as you pave your career.
Teach Rock Climbing
Those who can’t do, teach! We’re living in a gold mine of online teaching opportunities. Even Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell made a masterclass course on rock climbing. Don’t let a Tommy Caldwell masterclass deter you. Their course looks like it’s a high level overview of climbing. There’s still room for your course.
Take a look at the book Andy Kirkpatrick wrote Down. He was able to create an entire textbook about different ways to descend from a climb. From that textbook, hours of content could be created going over these techniques. Aside from that, there’s slab technique, crack climbing, and efficient climbing tips that can all be taught to new climbers in person or online.
Becoming a professional climbing guide or instructor is an incredibly rewarding job that will let you work in the outdoors, teach beginners how to climb, and you’ll make an income while doing it. Being a climbing instructor or guide seems perfect from the outside, but like everything in life there are pros and cons. The pros is that your office will be at the crags. You’ll get to take beginners on life changing adventures. And you’ll be able to instill good practice into newer climbers. Your job is to provide an elite rock climbing experience for anyone who wants it.
The best way to become a professional climbing guide in the United States is to get certified through the American Mountain Guides Association. The AMGA offers guide tracks through rock, ski, ice, and alpine. I have completed the Single Pitch Instructor course and exam. This exam covers top roping, trad climbing, and sport climbing. It is a fantastic way to break into the professional climbing industry, but it will require some up front cost on your end. But once you’ve completed the course, exam, and satisfy first aid requirements, you’ll be ready to start making money from rock climbing.
Whether or not guiding can be your full time income will come down to the cost of living in your area. Expect to be paid minimum wage and tips when you’re first starting out. You will also be responsible for providing some of the climbing equipment. Another cost required for making this profession work.
Work as Climbing Blogger
The blogosphere is still raging and there is money to be made from rock climbing blogging. I think if you go the blogging route, you’re best suited to combine this with the influencer track. Who wouldn’t want to get paid to do their TikTok dances in front of El Cap in Yosemite National Park?
But there are plenty of reputable publications like Climbing Magazine, Rock and Ice, and The Alpinist that need good authors. You can even start your own publication like the Climbing Zine.
Sponsorships for Professional Climbers
Getting a sponsorship from a climbing brand is probably the typical job we imagine for a professional rock climber. And if you can score your own climbing shoes with a major brand then you have truly made it. I bet if you send The Dawn Wall you can score a sponsorship.
But this is also one of the most competitive avenues for professional rock climbers. You’ll be competing against the best rock climbers on the planet to score a sponsorship. Brands don’t have unlimited budgets for these sponsorships and they can sever ties at a moments notice. If you do score a sponsorship, you’re probably still going to have to rely on other income sources. Public speaking events are a great option because you’ll be able to showcase epic climbs you’ve done on your sponsorships dime.
Become a Coach for Competition Climbing
Competition climbing has absolutely blown up in popularity. And with the Tokyo Olympics and the 2024 Olympics it doesn’t seem like there’s an end in sight. Up and comers are stepping into the gyms and trying their hand at competitive climbing. This creates an entire new coaching economy.
To be a trustworthy coach, you’ll need to demonstrate expertise. You can show expertise by having done comps yourself or by having coached before. But if you haven’t done either of these, you can blog and create content about competitive climbing. Not only will you be improving your craft since you’ll be studying everything about competition climbing. But you’ll be publicly displaying your expertise. Use the content you create to get a job as a youth coach. And from there, leverage the power of the internet to start coaching climbers online. There’s no reason a geographical distance can separate you from your customers in the internet age.
Rope Access and Industrial Climber and Rigging
Rope access will be very similar to the technical side of climbing. Building anchors, pulley and ascender systems that are safe and efficient for industrial work. The Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) offers three levels of certification: level I, II and III. With all of the hours you spent building top rope anchors at the crag, you’ll have a leg up on in this field. Rope access work can get you close to six figure incomes in a high cost of living area.
Work at a Gear Shop
Working at REI or your local gear shop is another way rock climbers make money. Climbers always obsess over gear and you’ll be able to put your knowledge to good use helping customers make the best purchasing decision they can. In my own experience, I’ve been the wide eyed gumby staring at the climbing shoe rack in REI. Thankfully, an experienced employee gave me the beta spray on how to size a climbing shoe. This isn’t as glamorous job as being an influencer, but gear shop employees have always had a bigger impact on my life than the influencer of the week.
Start a Window Washing Company
If you’ve spent any time near cities, you’ve seen the window washers roped up and rappelling down cleaning windows along the way. This job may fall in line with industrial rigging and rope access, but you can also start your own business as a window washer. When you’re the business owner, you’ll have a lot more work but get paid more than just an employee. And you’ll get big wall training while washing windows on skyscrapers!
Frequently asked questions
It will be hard work but you can earn money rock climbing through guiding, teaching, and coaching
Get a job at the rock climbing gym, and decide if you want to go down the routesetter path or the outdoor climbing guidepath.
Climbers have a variety of job, but the best job for climbing is a remote job that allows you to earn a good living and live near an epic climbing area