Rock Climbing With a Cold


There’s a lot of debate out there as to whether or not you should exercise when you’re sick. This same debate comes across in rock climbing. While you can do a lot of it by yourself, you risk spreading germs to your friends and other climbers.

Due to the risk of spreading germs, you should not go rock climbing with a cold- especially indoors. If you are climbing outdoors in an uncrowded area, it may be appropriate if your partner is okay with it.

It depends on the severity of the cold and the type of weather you will be climbing in. A cold doesn’t have to sideline you, especially if you’ve had a climbing trip planned for weeks or months and you’d hate to miss it. A detailed explanation follows:

I’m not a doctor, but sometimes a little cold mountain air will do you some good when you have a cold. Keep reading for some tips for rock climbing when you are sick and when to call it quits and stay at home in bed, as well as some tips for climbing in cold weather.

Can You Exercise With a Cold?

Exercise is usually okay with a cold as long as you don’t have a fever. Exercise might even help you to feel better because it can help clear your stuffy nose and help you breathe easier.

I believe in a little exercise when you are feeling a cold coming on. I used to go running when I had a cold because my Dad always said exercise was good for you while sick because it clears your sinuses.

Listen to your body and only exercise when you are feeling up to it, don’t force yourself to exercise. If you choose to exercise while sick, reduce the intensity and length of your workout.

If you feel miserable then it is time to take a break. You won’t ruin your athletic abilities or training plan by taking one or two days off. It will help you in the long run if you rest instead of possibly making your cold worse by pushing too hard during exercise.

Should You Rock Climb When Sick? 

What’s the common rhyme? If your symptoms are above the neck climb like heck, and if it is in your chest then you need some rest. Seems right.

As silly as it sounds, I believe this is good advice for anyone wanting to engage in light exercise while sick. If your symptoms are above the neck (sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat) then light exercise is okay, If it is in your chest (chest congestion, upset stomach, hacking cough) then you need some rest.

There’s not one right answer if you’re wondering if climbing is okay when you are sick. It’s based on your individual situation- for some of us exercise makes us feel worse, and for others it is a good distraction and helps us forget our illness and feel better faster.

The question is- are you feeling able to rock climb? If you just have a stuffy and congested nose and a little sore throat- can you tough it out and forget your symptoms? Then it is likely okay to rock climb as long as you go easy, rest up a lot before, and be prepared with all the cold remedies to help you feel better. (Also make sure your belayer and other climbing friends know that you are sick so they won’t push you too hard- and also so they will take necessary precautions to not get sick.)

Any exercise that is too vigorous might end up making you feel more sick afterwards. It’s most likely fine to rock climb if you have a cold, but take it easy- probably don’t lead climb anything too tough.

Climbing Indoors When Sick

And if you are thinking about climbing indoors when you have a cold- forget it. Stay home and get some rest instead of sharing your germs with everyone and breathing in chalk dust (probably not good for your lungs at this point).

This became especially visible during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021, as climbing gyms around the world were shut down. Many areas allowed them to eventually reopen with new safety protocols and masks.

Tips for Rock Climbing While Sick

Imagine that you have had your climbing trip planned with your buddies for months and you catch a cold the day before. What do you do? If you are super sick with a fever or the flu, the best idea is to call it off and rest, but if you have a little cold you can likely still climb and have a good time. Make sure you do your best to sleep it off the night before, come prepared with extra warm clothes, supplies, medicine, and other cold remedy items, and take it easy.

Here are some tips for rock climbing while sick:

Try to sleep it off at night– One of the best things you can do to recover is to rest, rest, and rest some more. Sleep a lot before and after you go climbing. You might be feeling better in the morning if you get a good night’s sleep right before a day of climbing.

Proper nutrition– The nutrients that support your immune system are vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, zinc, and vitamin A- try to get them from food instead of supplements. Pack plenty of snacks and eat regularly throughout the day so your body has enough nutrients to fuel you athletically as well as fuel your body’s immune system. Pick high-energy foods that sound good to you when you are sick to make sure you’ll eat them. I like protein bars, crackers, juice, and dried fruit.

Drink lots of fluid– Hydrate and re-hydrate throughout the day. Bring some hot fluids for your throat whether that is tea, hot chocolate, juice (my husband swears by V8 juice), etc. Bring a thermos or your Jetboil to the crag. Don’t drink coffee- caffeine isn’t recommended to help you recover.

Take it easy– Don’t push yourself on the approach before you even begin climbing, go slowly and rest often. Know your climbing limits and don’t push yourself too hard when you are sick. Take extra breaks and rest before and after climbs. Also consider not going climbing early in the morning, you usually feel your best once you’ve been awake for a few hours.

Tone it down– You’ll need to reduce the intensity and the length of your climbing plans. If you planned to climb all day, just do a half day. If you normally climb 10 routes, just do 6. Take extra breaks in between. Don’t be afraid to call it quits early when you aren’t feeling up to it.

Dress in layers- Dress warmer than you normally would climbing. Cold weather plus being sick means you need to prepare and plan your clothes carefully. Wear layers to keep your core warm, but don’t get sweaty. Bring gloves, hat, socks, a puffy jacket, etc.

Warn your climbing partners– Please don’t get anyone else sick. If you do choose to climb, keep your germs to yourself. Bring plenty of tissues and always cover your sneeze or cough. Wash your hands often (or at least use hand sanitizer). Stay home if your climbing partner is worried about getting sick.

Bring enough medicine– Bring enough of your favorite cold medicine for the daytime sniffles such as Dayquil, Alka-seltzer, Sudafed, Emergen-C, cough drops, etc. The right medicine can help dampen the symptoms of a cold so you forget your illness for a couple of hours. Take the correct amount of medicine and bring a couple of doses for throughout the day.

Consider other remedies- There’s lots of other home remedies for a cold besides medicine. Honey, salt gargles, ginger, garlic etc. Don’t try anything too crazy (there’s some pretty fantastic healing claims for home remedies out there)- just do the ones that actually help you to feel better. Please don’t try alcoholic remedies either- that’s not a remedy!

Throw in the towel- Remember If you have a cold, it might be okay to rock climb, but stay home if you have a fever or the flu.

Cold Weather Climbing- Tips to Stay Warm

Cold and flu season happens each winter. You can continue to climb outdoors in the colder weather (minus snow, unless you are ice climbing) as long as you adequately prepare.

But whatever the season, when the air is cold and the rock gets cold it is difficult to climb.There are some great ways to stay warm while rock climbing in colder weather to continue to enjoy your favorite sport. Here are my tips.

Dress in lots of layers. Layers will help you in any weather because you can shed some clothing as it warms up, but you’ll always want to keep your core warm. Be smart about the layers you wear- dress for warmth with high-quality clothes that aren’t too bulky and heavy. Bring gloves, scarves, hats, jackets/coats, wool socks, and wear 2 pairs of pants- long johns or leggings underneath your regular pants. Avoid sweating because you don’t want to be wet the rest of the day, that will make you cold.

Use handwarmers– Stow a few in pockets, in your gloves, hey- even in your chalk bag. If you’re really feeling fancy, check out Black Diamond’s heated chalk bag.

Take turns belaying in chunks of time– Stay warm by climbing a few routes at a time and then switching with the belayer, this way you will stay warm for longer and be able to climb better. Next it is your turn to belay- so get creative on how to not freeze while you’re the designated belayer.

Follow the sun– Climb the routes in the sun first, it will make a big difference, or choose climbs that have been in the sun for most of the day. The rock soaks up heat in the sunshine.

Ditch the crag, climb at the gym– Stay indoors during the coldest, snowy months. If you don’t have a climbing gym, train hard so that you will be in shape when climbing season comes again. Buy a hangboard and put it up in your garage or basement to practice. You could also build your own climbing wall with our instructions in this article.

In Summary: 

Light to moderate exercise, like rock climbing, is okay when you have a cold. Rest more often, stay hydrated, and go lighter on the intensity and amount of climbs.

Remember, the best remedy to not catch a cold is prevention- wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and make sure your sick climbing buddies cough into a tissue and not in your face.

Have you ever had a cold and still gone rock climbing? What are your best tips? Share them below in the comment section- I’m curious to hear what works for you.

Check out some of our other rock climbing posts:

Is Rock Climbing a Sport?

The Best Diet for Rock Climbers- with FREE Meal Plan

Can I Go Canyoneering or Rock Climbing While Pregnant?

Is Indoor Rock Climbing Dangerous?

Can Rock Climbing Shoes Get Wet?

Katherine Harmer

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a weekend warrior who loves rock climbing, canyoneering, camping, mountain biking, and anything to get outside. Also a cool mom.

Recent Posts