What is top roping?

Top roping is a form of rock climbing where the climber is secured to a rope that is anchored above them at the top of the climb. This is different from lead climbing where the climber is protected by a rope that they trail behind them and is clipped into protection points as they ascend.

Many of my friends ask, “what is top roping?” Many climbers, including myself, start rope climbing via top roping. So I thought it’d be a good idea to write up a comprehensive article about the ins and outs of top rope climbing.

Top rope climbing is also one of the best introductions to rope climbing. Indoor climbing gyms will offer top rope climbing to new climbers. All you’ll have to do is show up and one of their employees will show you the ropes and belay you!

If it’s your first time trying out rock climbing, consider taking a basic climbing skills class. These classes are a tremendous help because you’ll be able to ask questions and get tips from a climbing instructor. The best way to learn is from an experienced climber and trying it out for yourself.

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What is top roping vs lead climbing?

Within rope climbing, there are two distinct disciplines: top roping and lead climbing. Both forms are extremely fun and have valid use within the sport.

Lead climbing involves trailing the rope behind you and clipping into protection as you climb, while top roping has the rope secured above you at a fixed anchor point.

Cutting feet on a lead climb at the New River Gorge

Lead climbing is subject to bigger falls because you will fall to your last piece of protection and then the amount of slack that was in the rope system. Add in the rope stretch and you will usually fall a little over 2x the distance between you and the last piece of protection.

If I fall from five feet over the last bolt, I’m expecting to fall five feet to the last bolt, an additional five feet due to the slack, and then a little more with any rope stretch.

Sport climbing is the most common form of lead climbing. The protection is already placed in the rock, usually bolts, and you’ll need less gear than other forms of climbing.

Traditional climbing, also known as trad climbing, is another form of lead climbing, but because of the gear required and technical knowledge needed, most climbers don’t start with trad as their first lead climbing experience.

What gear do I need for top roping?

Top rope climbing, you’re going to need your basic rack of climbing gear. This includes a climber’s harness, belay device, climbing shoes, and chalk bag. All of this gear is what you’ll need if you’re regularly gym climbing. Gyms will already have top roping set up. The only thing you’ll need to do is show up and pass a gym belay test!

If you’re interested in heading outdoor, you’ll need the previous gear mentioned. But you’re also going to need your own climbing rope and material to build a top rope anchor.

A top rope anchor utilizing natural anchor points and trad climbing gear

An anchor is a term in climbing that refers to a secure point where climbers clip the rope into and is strong enough to support the rope and climber. These anchors should be secure and redundant, it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of how to build these. Use a certified guide to get the best available training.

Anchors can be built using off of natural anchor points, like trees and boulders, or off of fixed gear like bolts. You will need a static rope for natural anchor points and quickdraws for fixed gear. Every anchor should be using a locking carabiner and need to be redundant. Use multiple locking carabiners.

Get a climbing helmet as well, bike helmets have holes in the top to provide airflow. This will not protect us from rockfall.

Trad climbing gear can also be used. Passive gear also called nuts, and camming devices can be used to build anchor points within the rock. Seek qualified instruction to learn more about using these pieces of gear.

What techniques are involved in top rope climbing?

Aside from movement skills, like flagging, crimping, and using a gaston, top roping requires us to build out our technical skillset. This includes building anchors, belaying, and assessing risk.

Our belayer is one of the most important components in our climbing system. As we climb, our belayer takes in the slack out of the system. And if there is a climber fall, the belayer is there to prevent them from falling to the ground. Belay devices are designed to let the belayer pull rope through the system, but make it easier to catch a climber fall thanks to the friction that exists in the system.

Before I start climbing, I always double-check with my belayer that I have tied my knot correctly and it is running through my two tie-in points on my harness. And I triple check that their belay device is set up correctly. This gives me peace of mind up on the wall and I can focus on my climbing route.

I have noticed that some experienced climbers begin to overlook these critical safety checks. The complacency introduced from experience can be deadly. Always double-check your climbing systems.

Following or seconding a trad climb is also considered top roping

Top Rope Climbing

Top rope climbing is an excellent introduction to roped climbing and rock climbing in general. You can practice it at your local climbing gym or with a rock climbing instructor if you want to test your skills outside. Working with climbing guides is an awesome way to pick up new skills from experienced professionals. I highly recommend it!

Readers also asked

Is top roping free climbing?

I consider top rope climbing free climbing because I am not relying on external aid to help me progress up the wall. Sometimes a taut rope while top roping can help you ascend, so I ask my belayer to keep the rope a bit looser. Free climbing is a ton of fun and an awesome full body workout.

Is top roping safe?

There is always an inherent risk in climbing, but top rope climbing has less risk than other forms of climbing. Since the rope is above us, the climber fall will fall a short length. And the fall should not be like a fall in a lead climb. A properly built top rope anchor will be strong and redundant to support the climber in the event of any anchor failures.

What is a top rope anchor?

A top rope anchor is a secure point where the top rope will run through. At the gym, these will look like big metal spools. But in the great outdoors, these anchors could be built from natural features like rocks and trees, bolts, or traditional climbing gear.

Trad gear used to build an anchor for top roping

Is top rope considered sport climbing?

Top rope climbing is not considered sport climbing. In my mind. sport climbing is lead climbing and utilizes fixed protection already placed in the wall. It may be nice to have some trad gear for sport climbs, but trad gear should not be necessary on a sport climb.

Can you top rope outside?

Yes, you can top rope outside! But some climbs may only be accessed by lead climbing to the top of the route. Some top rope climbs can be accessed from the top of the cliff, but you need to use adequate protection at the top to prevent a fall. Many guides and climbing gyms offer courses where you can learn how to work safely and efficiently near the cliff edge.

Top roping Diaganol 5.9, in the Aid Box at Great Falls Park

What do I need for top rope climbing?

A basic climbing rack like a harness, locking carabiner, belay device, and chalk bag are needed. But you will also need a dynamic rope for climbing and a static rope for the anchor. Some climbers use tubular webbing for their top rope anchors, but I prefer and recommend a static rope. With a static rope, I am able to tether to it using my grigri and secure myself if I need to cross over the cliff edge.

How much rope do you need for top roping?

A 60M climbing rope and 105 feet of static rope will be an ample amount for top roping. I personally like having extra static rope to make sure that I can tether myself at the top of climbs and so I can build anchors for two climbs that are next to each other.

How do I get better at top rope climbing?

I strongly recommended bouldering more and to start lead climbing. This will help you with your strength, power, and endurance. Bouldering originally started as a way to train for longer rope climbs.