Climbing is a sport that requires focus and concentration. Without those two things, you could be on your way down in a way that would only be comical in cartoons. Not a good thing when you’re a mortal human.
While you should wear proper climbing equipment both indoors at the climbing wall and outside on those sharp, pointy rocks, you might be wondering if you can get away with listening to your favorite tunes. After all, it seems pretty awesome to have your own soundtrack thrumming along in the background, right?
So, can you wear headphones while climbing? Yes, technically, you can wear them. The real question is SHOULD you? No, we definitely don’t recommend that.
You may even see some too-cool-for-you people wearing their headphones or those tiny wireless earbuds (did you see the guy that swallowed one for goodness sake?!?) as they climb. Some gyms have it posted in the rules forbidding the wearing of personal music devices like headphones. Even if they don’t though, you should probably avoid wearing them.
You’re not in the movies. Climbing requires you to pay attention, not get lost in singing “Iron Man” by Ozzy. It’s not just your safety that could be affected by wearing headphones. It’s the safety of those around you.
It’s one thing to shove earbuds in or slap headphone atop your ears while you run on the treadmill. It’s quite another to do it on the climbing wall where you need to hear commands from others. Without paying attention to your surroundings, you could find yourself with an injury that would have otherwise been avoided if you’d been listening to your surroundings instead of your favorite ACDC song.
Keep reading and you’ll find out why we’re wholeheartedly against using your headphones while you’re climbing.
Why you shouldn’t wear headphones while climbing
As we mentioned above, it’s not the best practice to wear your headphones while you’re climbing. There are many things that you won’t be in tune with when you’re tuning into your music. Check it out!
– Wearing headphones while climbing will distract you
Why do you wear headphones when you’re on the treadmill? To distract yourself from the monotony of this repetitive exercise, right? Climbing isn’t monotonous though. It requires you to be thinking and doing, gauging all that’s around you. It’s not a safe idea on the climbing wall when you should be focusing on others around you. It’s an even worse idea when you’re out on the crag.
Outside, you have bigger dangers like falling rocks to watch out for. And guess what? You’re not going to know it until one creams you in the head if you’ve got old rock songs blasting into your eardrums. We all get lost in song when we’re doing things like work or regular exercise. You don’t want to get lost in song when you’re way high off the ground. Keep focused and when you get down, celebrate by playing your own soundtrack when you’re out of harm’s way.
With loud music in your headphones, you also won’t be able to hear anyone trying to warn you or perhaps someone that could need your help. You won’t be able to hear if a thunderstorm is rolling up and might only notice when a nearby tree gets shredded with a bolt of lightning. You won’t notice that bear with her cubs over there either. And you surely will annoy other climbers who want to pass but can’t because you’re absorbed with yourself in your own mental musical.
– Your climbing partner’s life is in your hands
It’s not just about your safety either though. There are others counting on you to be aware. Lead climbers and belayers alike should never be wearing headphones. This is a sport that requires communication. If that communication didn’t happen, tragedy could ensure.
You might argue about those times when you’re using top rope, auto-belays, or you’re in the bouldering area. Yeah, sure, go ahead, but do remember that you’re distracting yourself. We really advise against this. You should always be fully aware of what’s happening around you when you climb. If you’re going to disregard this advice, at the very least, keep your headphones turned down low enough that you can hear everything around you.
Do a test before getting up anywhere. Make sure you can have a conversation with someone close by without having to ask them to repeat themselves. If you can do that, the volume is low enough. Again, we still think it’s best to leave your headphones in your bag.
Climbing is not the time to be fielding phone calls or texting either. Just as it’s a distraction while driving, it’s the same while climbing. Wait until you’re on solid ground to communicate via phone.
We’ve seen plenty of people ignoring this simple trick for staying safe while climbing. You’re endangering yourself and others when you have headphones or earbuds in during your climb or at the very least, being incredibly rude. When people ask you over and over to do something and you don’t respond, it creates frustration and can cause big problems for your climbing group.
The key takeaway here is this: if you really can’t climb without your tunes, stay in the bouldering areas or auto-belays at the gym. And stay out of everyone else’s way. Definitely don’t be foolish on the rock. No song is that good that it’s worth being the last thing you ever hear.
Imagine if someone is trying to tell you your rope is running over a sharp edge or you’ve accidentally clipped to the wrong rope. It’s so important to be sure you’ve got your anchor and descent strategies set and in place before you begin. Any miscommunications could be deadly. Even if you plan it before any of you goes up, if you’re humming along and moving to the rhythm, you might not hear warnings or important last-minute changes that could affect the safety of your climb.
– It might give off a “don’t talk to me” signal
Whether you’re new to climbing or not, part of the fun is making new climbing friends. You can’t do that if you’ve got headphones on. That’s a great strategy when you don’t want the person on the treadmill next to you jabbering your ear off and you just want to focus on your workout. Or you get too winded to run and hold a conversation simultaneously. We get it.
But on the climbing wall, it’s not just dangerous. It also sends off the go-away-vibe. Also, when you’re new to climbing, you can learn a lot by listening to others around you. Old-timers can give you beta and help you improve your technique so always keep an ear out.
– By being more social you’ll learn more
And as we were just saying, talking to others helps you improve your climbing ability. Even when you’ve been climbing a while, you can learn new tricks that you wouldn’t have picked up if you blocked out everyone else on the climbing wall. It really can help you in so many ways, plus you’ll net a few new climbing friends you can meet up with and expand your social circle.
The alternative to NOT wearing headphones/earbuds while climbing
While we think you shouldn’t wear headphones or earbuds while climbing, some of you are probably going to do it anyway. For those of you, we offer these tips to help keep you and other climbers safe in your presence.
For starters, make sure your volume is low enough. You should still be able to hear things that are happening around you. You may even want to try having one earphone on and the other off. This allows you to hear more of your surroundings, but you should keep the volume low still. Perhaps even lower in this instance because you may inadvertently turn up the volume too high for that one ear and cause hearing damage.
Unless you’re bouldering though, if you’re with a partner, you might want to see what they think about you wearing headphones. Always be courteous to those you’re climbing with. If it bothers your partner, leave your headphones in your gym bag.
Plus, your gym might not even allow you to wear headphones or earbuds in the climbing area.
Other reasons why climbing gym owners won’t allow you to wear headphones
When you’re a business owner, you have a responsibility for safety. That’s certainly the case in a gym. Gym owners have to have insurance in case of accidents. After all, if it’s their fault, they’re liable. Litigation is one of the greatest indoor sports, even greater than that of climbing. If you were to fall and take down a bunch of climbers as you tumble, or even just injure yourself, if the gym didn’t specify that headphones weren’t permitted and you were too busy playing the soundtrack from Rocky IV, it would be a disaster.
Some gyms won’t have a policy about it, but a growing number of them across the country are starting to implement it. Most gyms play some pretty tight tunes these days anyway, so suck it up and follow the policies they set for everyone’s safety and enjoyment of the sport.
Climbing isn’t a cheap sport to get into. There’s all the equipment to make it possible to do the climb unless you’re bouldering but even still, you need a mat and climbing shoes.
Climbing gyms can be notoriously pricey though and the reason isn’t all that you expect. Part of it is due to needing a more vertical space than what most commercial leases provide. That makes the rent astounding for your climbing gym every month. But even more costly of course is that liability insurance. Climbing is a sport that is more prone to injuries than others.
That’s why it makes good practice for climbing gym owners to adhere to strict rules to keep insurance costs lower by keeping everyone at the climbing gym safer. If you enjoy climbing there, make sure you follow the rules so you’re not a liability. The more accidents that happen, the more the insurance increases and the more likely they’ll be out of business.
That being said, a huge part of that subscription money you pay to your climbing gym goes to that liability insurance. The gym will take safety precautions to prevent as much as possible. Insurance agencies aren’t keen on taking climbing gyms on because despite the safety equipment and rules in place, injuries can and do occur.
Logically speaking, liability insurance may take up a good 10% of the total expenses for a climbing gym. Adhering to the rules keeps those accident and injury claims down which means your gym’s subscription rates will have a better chance of staying the same if you simply follow the rules and watch and listen while you’re climbing, without headphones.
Technically, you can wear headphones while climbing, but it’s not something we recommend in the slightest. You leave yourself and others around you in a dangerous position if you can’t hear or respond to commands. This is deadly outside on the rock and can be quite costly for your local climbing gym if you break the rules and cause injuries to yourself or others.
That’s why fees are so high at climbing walls… to cover the liability insurance. Even if you stick to the great outdoors to climb, you don’t want to be dipping into your own insurance for an injury you could have avoided had you simply left your headphones in your bag. There’s a time and a place to rock on to music and that time and place certainly isn’t during a climb of any kind.