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Instructional Climbing Books: A Review

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instructional-guides-graphicWhether you’re just starting out at rock climbing, or a seasoned veteran looking to refresh your mind on a few long forgotten techniques, instructional books are a great tool that many climbers have benefited from. Along with this instructional books always prove to be one of our most popular gifts at Christmas. However, with over 70 titles to choose from amongst rock climbing techniques books alone the choice can be a bit overwhelming! With this in mind I’m going to give a quick run down of a few of our best-sellers to help you pick the right book for your needs.

The Basics

basicBasic Rope Skills for Climbers – Nigel Shepherd
This colourful and clearly laid out book is squarely aimed at those taking their first steps on rock. The book is slightly miss-named in that it actually covers all the main aspects of rock climbing; from equipment, belaying and gear placements; to abseiling and leading. The book does a good job of clearly showing basic techniques such as tying in and belaying using large and colourful photos and concise text descriptions. Due to its coverage of basic instructing techniques this could also be a good buy for more experienced climbers looking to introduce others (particularly children) to the sport.

mastering1Rock Climbing, Mastering Basic Skills – Craig Luebben
This is probably one of the most wide ranging instructional books out there, covering most aspects of rock climbing in enough detail that even the geekiest of climbers are likely to learn something new. As you’d expect from an American book, written for the American market not all of the information is that relevant to the average British climber – the entire chapter on crack climbing techniques for instance! There is also the odd difference in terminology to contend with: Rappelling/Abseiling and Munter Hitch/Italian Hitch for instance; although this is unlikely to cause a problem for the experienced climber, it could be a source of confusion to the novice. Although I’d say this book is probably a bit too in-depth for the average beginner, it is ideal for the climber with a bit of experience looking to expand their repertoire of techniques and maybe eliminate a few bad habits picked up down the line.

Trad Climbing

tradTrad Climbing+ – Adrian Berry and John Arran
This is one in a series of instructional books from publishers Rockfax. The idea behind the series is that they are not just ‘how to’ style safety books, or training manuals, but provide positive strategies on technique, preparation and mental skills in order to improve your climbing. As a lack of skill in these areas is the limiting factor for a lot of climbers there is some really valuable information here. As you’d expect from a Rockfax publication the layout is really colourful with bucketfuls of cracking action photos and some great diagrams. The text is broken down into short sections that make for easy reading and allow easy dipping in and out – in fact I often find myself going back to a chapter if there is a specific area that I have felt weak on after a climb. Overall this is a great book that if used well should help anybody improve their trad climbing performance, whether beginner or expert.

Sport Climbing

sport1Sport Climbing+ – Adrian Berry and Steve McClure
This is now the second edition of this excellent book. Not surprisingly it follows a very similar format to Trad Climbing+ and is similarly comprehensive in its scope. Again the book is mainly performance orientated, with more pages given to tactics, technique and training than safety type information (how to belay, how to thread a lower-off etc.) As with Trad Climbing+ this book is a good investment no matter what level you’re climbing at. Beginners will find it clear and easy to understand and it should help put you on the right path before bad habits develop. There will no doubt be some tips that will be new to even the most experienced climbers – who knows, it could give you the performance edge to push into the next grade. I’d particularly recommend this book to trad climbers moving in to sport climbing – many of the techniques are subtly different between the two disciplines and this book will give you a good start at getting into the sport climbing mentality.

Instructing

essential1Rock Climbing, Essential Skills and Techniques – Libby Peter
As it says on the front cover this is the official handbook of the Mountaineering Instructor, Single Pitch, Climbing Wall and Climbing Wall Leading Award schemes. As such it is an essential read for anybody participating in any of these schemes. However that doesn’t mean it should only be read by instructor types; for my money this is probably the best of the all-around rock climbing manuals. Although it isn’t quite as detailed as Rock Climbing – Mastering Basic Skills, its use of colour photos and diagrams, as well as the fact that it is written for the UK market make it a better buy for average British climber. If you’re only going to buy one instructional book then this is proably the one to go for.

Self Coaching

harderHow to Climb Harder – Mark Reeves
As the name suggests this book is aimed at anybody looking to “take their climbing to the next level”. Although it doesn’t specifically say so the book has a strong bias towards trad climbing and therefore covers much of the same ground as Trad Climbing+. Where this book differs from the Rockfax publication is in its slightly more methodical approach. How to Climb Harder is laid out as a series of exercises, both mental and physical, that can be carried out. No doubt if you are dedicated enough to follow these through then you will progress. Obviously this style of learning isn’t for everybody, and the likes of myself with a rather short attention span may struggle with the format! If you are really psyched to improve however, then there’s a wealth of valuable information here for you.

warriors1The Rock Warrior’s Way – Arno Ilgner
First published in 2003 this book is now on its second edition. Although several of the books above cover mental training techniques, it was The Rock Warriors Way that really got the ball rolling. The book blends elements of ‘warrior’ philosophy, sports psychology and practical rock climbing experience to produce a training manual to guide you on the path to greater awareness and focus. Although mind control skills are clearly essential in order to progress to the higher grades of climbing, or release your full potential, The Rock Warriors Way may not be to everybody’s taste. For the typically slightly cynical British climber I suspect a lot of the ideas in the book may seem a little new age, sometimes verging on the cranky. For those open minded enough to get past this stumbling block, this book should prove a powerful tool.

9outof1019 Out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes – Dave MacLeod
As arguably Britain’s top all-round climber Dave Macleod is pretty well placed to write a coaching book. Despite the fact that 9 out of 10 climbers covers a broad spread of topics the main premise of the book is very simple: identify and target what is really holding you back in your climbing. As for Rock Warriors Way there are no pictures to distract you from what should be fairly thought provoking reading. Don’t let this put you off – the text is actually very simple to comprehend, with no technical jargon. Again I frequently find myself re-reading chapters to re-cap on areas of weakness. This is probably how these books work best, even the most planet sized brain would struggle to take in and apply a whole manual in one sitting, whilst small sections can be taken in and applied relatively easily.

redpoint__67736_thumbRedpoint – Hague and Hunter
This book (and DVD) is probably slightly mis-named, as the subtitle says it is ‘The self-coached climber’s guide to redpoint and on-sight climbing’ – although it also dips into bouldering and trad climbing. That said most of the information will be of greatest relevance to the dedicated sport climber. As with ‘How to Climb Harder’ there are a number of excercises to be carried out if you want to get the most from the book. The sequence reading problems are particularly interested and surprisingly difficult I found! If you are prepared to take the structured approach of the book and have the patience to carry out the exercises then Redpoint is undoubtedly a great resource – as with all of the self coaching books it’s most important that the style of the book suits your character if you want to get the most out of them.

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