Can heavier individuals be good climbers? How much do the professionals weigh? How much weight can a climbing rope hold? What size do harnesses come in? All your rock climbing and weight-related questions answered in this post.
Most elite male rock climbers weight between 150 and 170 pounds, and are very lean with a high strength-to-weight ratio. Regular rock climbers come in all shapes and sizes, from thin to heavy. Practically anyone can learn to climb well, no matter their weight.
For the elite rock climbers, most tend to be extremely lean without much bulk, but the size of other climbers might surprise you. Further ahead I’ll go through actual weights of professional and elite rock climbers, to give you a good idea of the best body types for success on the hardest of climbs.
Remember, don’t worry about comparing yourself and your weight to other climbers. Despite having heavier weight, you can still crush at the crag and at the gym.
Keep reading for the details. This post will discuss how much professional climbers weigh, the best weight for rock climbers, any weight limits for rock climbing, tips for overweight climbers, diet tips for rock climbers, and the best height for climbers.
Plus, check out my free meal plan here: The Best Diet for Rock Climbers – with FREE Meal Plan
How Much Do Professional Rock Climbers Weigh?
Practically all professional climbers look much like you’d expect- like athletes- lean but strong. Many of them seem to be feather-light in order to excel at the sport (why I consider climbing a sport). But does the weight actually create a better climber? Which comes first- are they professional rock climbers because they are skinny and fit, or are they skinny and fit because they are rock climbers?
That being said, the best climbers are in shape and weigh a lot lighter than most people their same height. Check the size of these professionals for reference:
Alex Honnold– He is 5’11” and about 160 pounds (73 kg) which is a BMI of 22. After his free solo climb of El Capitan, he is certainly one of the most famous rock climbers in the world. He’s definitely a little bit twiggy and thin, which likely helps him on long climbs, but he also works extremely hard by training.
Chris Sharma– He is considered one of the strongest climbers, but he’s still rather slim at 6’0 and 165 pounds (75 kg) for a BMI of 22. He has made some of the toughest climbing in the world look like kid stuff. He is world famous for his pioneering effort in Deep Water Soloing (Psicobloc), so it’s hard to find a picture of him with a shirt on.
Tommy Caldwell- He is 5’11 and weighs about 165 lbs (75 kg) for a BMI of 23. He was the first person to free climb the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite. He was also kidnapped on a climbing trip in Kazakhstan, pushed his captor off a cliff, and he only has 9 fingers. His story is totally fascinating, I highly recommend his movie The Dawn Wall, and his book The Push.
Kevin Jorgeson- He is 5’9” and weighs 145 lbs (66 kg) BMI of 21.4. He and Tommy Caldwell completed the Dawn Wall, one of the hardest climbs in the world, in Yosemite National Park.
Adam Ondra– Adam is a Czech professional climber. He is considered the strongest climber in the world by some. His strength to weight ratio is a benefit to him. He is 26 years old right now, 6’1” and weighs a twiggy 150 pounds (68 kg) (BMI of 19.8). He’s the only climber to have won the World Championships in both lead climbing and bouldering, and is expected to do well in the 2020 Olympics.
Margo Hayes– 5’3” She is known as the first female to climb a 5.15a (9a+) and she was 19 years old. She’s definitely a skinnier climber (but totally tough), probably less than 100 pounds (or 45 kg).
Beth Rodden– Also has a slim build. Not sure her current size, but she apparently was a 5’1′ 85 pound (39 kg) 18-year-old (BMI of <16.5)when she was starting to climb to the top of competition. (She also mentions struggles with food and restricting calories to keep herself thin, characteristic of some climber’s eating disorders to keep their bodies small.)
Ashima Shiraishi– She is 5’1” and 18 years old, and she is one to watch for sure. I wanted to add her to the list because of her height- she is a talented climber barely above 5 feet tall.
Jake Harmer– he is 5’11 and weights 165 pounds (75 kg). Well okay, he’s not a professional climber but he sure thinks he is (and I act like he is), he’s my climbing partner and my husband. I think he’s pretty tough and he’s my favorite rock climber to watch (and the best belayer).
See Also: The Complete History of Rock Climbing
What is the Perfect Build and Weight for a Rock Climber?
Perfect build for a climber would appear to be slim and not too muscular and bulky, but strong enough for the overhangs and tough routes. I’ve heard the ideal body composition for a rock climber is about 10% body fat for men and 20% body fat for women. Many athletic individuals meet this requirement; average body fat percentage is around 10-20% for males and 20-30% for females.
The good and really good climbers all tend to be on the thinner side, but they are also athletes and train their body all day. As a result they are slimmer, toned, and have a low amount of body fat.
Don’t excessively stress about your body fat percentage to improve your rock climbing skills. Rock climbers are some of the athletes that are more likely to develop an eating disorders. Sure, you may climb better for a while being excessively thin, but it will cause severe problems in the long run that will negatively effect your athletic abilities.
Try to have realistic expectations and make sure you are appropriately fueling your body for physical activity. See below for healthy tips on losing weight for rock climbing. If you are worried about developing an eating disorder, please find a trusted friend or family member to talk to and get the help you need.
What about the best height for rock climbing? I’ll go into this more below, but it mostly depends on the climb. You don’t want to be too short or too tall, just a happy medium.
Is There a Weight Limit to Rock Climb?
There is no weight limit to rock climb, outdoors or indoors. Climbing with extra weight is more difficult, but the structure of climbing walls and rock walls is strong enough to support the heaviest of people who are mobile.
From a structural standpoint, there is no weight limit to rock climb. The climbing walls, ropes, holds, bolts, and harnesses can hold hundreds (actually thousands) of pounds and will definitely hold your weight as long as you are using them correctly (check for signs of damage and wear, wear and tie into your harness correctly).
However, if you are a bigger-sized climber, what you need to worry about is having a correct belayer that can handle your weight.
If you are an overweight climber and are feeling anxious about it, keep reading for more tips and the weight ratings for gear, rope, and harnesses.
Do Indoor Rock Climbing Gyms Have a Weight Limit?
I don’t know of any climbing gyms that have weight limits, but I’m sure some do. Check with your gym if you are worried about an appropriate weight. Climbing gyms may have weight limits for their auto-belays set at an upper limit of 310 pounds, but almost anyone can top-rope climb and boulder (be sure to double-check with your gym).
Are you a bigger guy and new to climbing? If you are planning to go climb at a rock climbing gym with friends and family, but aren’t sure what to expect, you don’t need to be worried about your size. It makes sense to be anxious about your weight dangling from a thin rope.
I’ve seen some big people climbing at the gym and it’s totally awesome that they get out there and do it. You may not fly up the routes as easily, but you can definitely still give them a shot.
If you don’t feel comfortable climbing you can always be the designated belayer instead. Just go and have a good time.
Since climbing deals with gravity, there is a disadvantage for heavy climbers carrying more weight. Climbers fight gravity and so it would make sense that the lighter climbers would seem to excel more.
It does help to be fit and light as a feather to excel but rock climbing is more about technique, foot work, and body position rather than body size. Body composition matters more than overall weight.
Don’t get too preoccupied by your weight.
If you are a fairly serious rock climber, it is true that dropping some pounds can be beneficial to help you increase your climbing grade. Your climbing most likely will accelerate if you lose weight.
Make a reasonable (and healthy) plan and focus on losing 5 pounds to start, then compare. Having less weight to pull around will make it easier to send some routes that you’ve had difficulty with before.
Do I Weigh Too Much to Rock Climb?
Don’t ever go to the climbing gym when the pre-teen climbing class meets. Those little kids will be flying up some of the most difficult routes you can only dream of doing. Due to their weight to strength ratio, once they have some basic technique and skills down these climbs aren’t too difficult for them. Seems totally unfair, right? Actually, many climbers you see at the gym probably still look like a small teenager because climbers tend to be on the super skinny side.
Well, don’t be intimidated by the skinny twig climbers at the gym or the crag, just because you don’t look like them doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t climb like them.
If you are a bigger climber you’ll definitely climb a little differently than the scrawny climbers. But more important than overall weight of a climber is body composition.
Body composition of a climber matters more than weight, sure the skinny climbers have less weight to pull up a climb, but they also have less muscle. You’ll at least have more muscle to pull your bigger weight up the wall.
But don’t rely just on your strength to get you through the hard moves- technique is still extremely important for bigger climbers. You can learn some skills and moves to let you climb like the rest, but there are a few things that might be a little harder for you.
If you are a bigger person, it can be difficult if you have excess fat in your abdomen area, your center of gravity will be further away from the wall. You might also have problems with the overhangs and roof climbs because of any excess weight, especially if your core is not strong. Your full body weight will hang off the tiniest sliver of rock and you need to be prepared with the right technique and some strength.
But don’t be discouraged, there are some older generation climbers who were bigger and climbed harder stuff than most of us ever will. They could hold their own and conquer the climbs, beer gut and all.
Focus on climbing routes with great hand holds and foot holds, and avoid anything overhung.
If you’re still concerned that you won’t be good at climbing because of you’re bigger build, you can check out actor Jason Momoa (best known as Aquaman). He’s 6’4” and 234 pounds. The jacked Hollywood star has immense upper-body strength and makes climbing a favorite past time. He’s pretty good at it too.
If you want to excel at climbing, here’s some important tips to follow.
Tips for Overweight Climbers:
Listen to your body– you are just as prone to injury and probably need to be more careful about your joints because heavier people have some higher risk for injuries. Your tendons and ligaments will need to get used to the strain, so take it easy and build up endurance.
Pace yourself– go at a level that you feel good about. Start out small and slowly increase the grade and amount of time you climb. Take it slow and build up strength as you try increasing grades.
Be safe– only climb routes that you are comfortable climbing, don’t pressure yourself to do anything unsafe. You won’t be able to climb the same grade you could climb years ago in college at your smallest weight.
Don’t listen to haters– if people tell you that you can’t/shouldn’t rock climb at your weight, prove them wrong. Anyone can rock climb.
Choose an experienced belayer close to your own weight if possible -your belayer might have to work a little harder and could be pulled off the ground when catching your fall on top-rope. Just warn your belayer, it will be easy for them to belay you appropriately if they know to be cautious and aware of your weight.
Some gyms require belayers to use a daisy chain floor mount which will make it easier to belay a bigger climber. If you are outside tie down to a ground anchor and use a sling from the ground through the belay device to (I learned this the hard way belaying a 6’2” 220 pound friend outside and I shot up into the air a little more than anticipated on a fall).
Wear an appropriate sized harness– Climbing harnesses come in size XXXL and are rated to hold at least 3,000 pounds (that means they are strong enough to hold you dangling from a rope). Finding a properly fitted harness can be tough (here’s a favorite option for bigger climbers). Make sure you wear properly fitting shoes (how much are climbing shoes?) as well and choose your gear carefully.
Practice- Who best to know your limits than yourself? With some simple adjustments you may be able to send some of the same routes your skinny friends are doing, you just have to look at it in a different way.
Gear Ratings for Weight:
Holds, harnesses, and ropes… What about gear, how tough is it and how much weight can it hold?
How Much Weight Can a Climbing Hold Take?
Climbing holds in a gym are mostly made of polyurethane and rated at 200,000 psi (pound-force per square inch) and have good tensile strength. They are definitely strong enough for any climber, even a bigger climber hanging off a hold on an overhang.
Holds can (and do) randomly break in climbing gyms, anyone can break a hold in dynamic movements no matter their weight. The material and the bolts are strong, sometimes they just break due to overuse or incorrect placement, poor performance, or other factors. It shouldn’t be too dangerous to you if a climbing hold breaks as long as your belayer is prepared for a fall.
How Much Weight Can a Climbing Harness Hold?
Weight limits for harnesses are rated at least 10-15kN which is up to 2,240-3,372 lbs (~1,018- 1,532 kg). Your harness will definitely hold your weight without breaking.
Make sure you have a properly-fitted harness. Most harnesses are a one-size-fits-all, but you should still make sure you know the size options. Some harnesses come in size XXXL, or up to 60 inches (152 cm).
Tie in through the correct loops and always double-check! The best harness for bigger climbers is Misty Mountain (or even a full-body harness). It’s recommended to put the harness under the belly for comfort and safety.
How Much Weight Can a Climbing Rope Hold?
All climbing ropes must pass rigorous safety tests and be certified by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA). Most climbing ropes are rated to withstand a fall of 20-30kN of force. A climbing rope can hold hundreds of pounds due to the many many tightly nylon fibers wound together which make it strong and durable.
A break in a climbing rope due to a fall is unlikely. Rope failure usually occurs with a rope being cut or damaged from abrasion and sharp rocky edges. Avoid situations where a climber is resting their weight on the rope while moving across a sharp edge. This makes the rope vulnerable.
Check out my post What is Climbing Rope Made Out of for more details on how climbing ropes are made, strength tests, how to check your rope, when to retire a worn-out rope, and more.
Check out these other posts related to weight:
Can Rock Climbing Help You Lose Weight?
Rock climbing is such a great workout to help you burn some calories, and potentially shed some excess fat and lose weight. When your goal is to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. You can reach this goal through a combination of exercise and healthy eating- by eating a little bit less and exercising a little bit more.
Any type of exercise can help you lose weight as long as you are burning more calories than you are consuming. If you are going hard and not taking long rests between climbs, you could burn anywhere from 400-900 calories per hour. And then if you also eat about 200-500 calories less per day, you could reasonably lose about 1-2 pounds per week while rock climbing.
Rock climbing is an awesome workout to complement any weight loss plan, it combines cardio and strength for a great way to burn calories. If you are a beginning climber you likely won’t burn as many calories while rock climbing, but any type of exercise will still be beneficial to your weight loss goals. Overall, the best type of exercise for weight loss is the type that you enjoy and will commit to doing regularly.
Any type of exercise is beneficial as part of a weight loss program, include climbing into your regimen because it is probably a lot more fun than running.
Diet Tips for Rock Climbers Who Want to Lose Weight:
I’m a rock climber and also a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. As a Dietitian I help people with their nutrition goals- I’m especially interested in athletes and sports nutrition. If you are interested in meal plans, be sure to check out my post How Much Protein Does a Climber Need? -With FREE Meal Plan
Here are some of my tips for rock climbers hoping to lose some weight to improve their climbing:
- Try to cut out beer if possible or at least limit your intake. I have to say this one first, come on climbers you don’t want to be drinking all your calories. Don’t let your beer gut get in the way of your climbing.
- Follow a meal plan with an appropriate amount of calories and physical activity.
- Eat about 500 calories less per day to lose 1-2 pounds per week. Plan your meals around vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- Include regular exercise besides just rock climbing- you need some regular cardio and strength training.
- In order to feel full and satisfied (and decrease cravings) add extra fiber to your diet. Choose fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains.
I go through some more specifics of rock climbing meal plans in this post- HERE.
What About Scrawny Climbers?
It does help to be super skinny and light as a feather to excel, but rock climbing is more about technique, foot work, and body position rather than relying on brute strength and overall body size. However, even without the muscles scrawny people can be just as good or better than stronger individuals.
That being said, climbers are one of the top group of athletes that are most likely to have eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Please don’t get preoccupied by your weight and obsessed with everything you eat. If you start weighing out every single thing you eat then it’s probably time to stop being that stringent.
Pay attention to what you eat, but don’t obsess. Enjoy your food. The best thing you can do is learn appropriate portion sizes and how to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues- that way you can pretty much eat whatever you want while staying within an appropriate calorie range.
And if you or a fellow climber has some of the warning signs of an eating disorder (obsessed with food and weight, distorted body image, secretive behavior about food, extremely sensitive, perfectionist attitude, avoidance behavior etc.) please get some help!
It might help your climbing for a short time if you are insanely thin, but in the long run it will negatively affect your performance as well as your health.
Are Taller People Better at Rock Climbing?
So besides weight, what about height? Taller people sure seem to have an advantage for rock climbing because they have that extra reach to grasp any hand hold they need without doing the insanely difficult maneuvers.
There is actually little evidence that height affects climbing grade. In general, the outliers- extremely short and extremely tall climbers had some disadvantages, but with enough training anyone can excel at climbing.
The average male climber is about 5’10” tall. The sweet spot seems to be about 5’8 to about 5’10 for the perfect climbing height for a male, but remember that successful climbers come from every height. For females- the best climbers are usually around 5’4” to 5’6”.
It really depends on the climb, it can be helpful to be shorter on some climbs and taller on others depending on the moves. There are certain moves that are easier for taller people, and moves that make them look extra scrunched and awkward. But if you need to blame your inability to finish a climb on your height, sure, go ahead. We all know the truth.
In conclusion, a 5.12 is still a 5.12 and those that put in the effort and training are the ones who will excel on the wall.
The main message to remember is- don’t give up on rock climbing if you are overweight or not as strong as you’d like. There’s different climbs and different types of climbing that any size of person can enjoy.
There’s no excuses for not being able to send it- not your weight or your height. But if you want to be better at climbing, you can probably limit your beer consumption in order to shed a pound or two.
What about you? I’m interested to hear from the community. What is your weight and height and what rating do you climb?