I want to set. Now what?

February 21, 2024

A guide to getting some route setting knowledge on your own


For various reasons, you may find yourself extra motivated to learn the craft of route setting and start working in this field, only to realize there aren't many, if any, route setting opportunities around you. It can get frustrating, especially when you keep knocking on doors and getting the same answer, but don’t get discouraged! There are still a few things you can do to get a little experience or knowledge and get you ready for when that next opportunity arises. Here are some ideas.


1. Guest Setting


Sometimes, it can be hard to find a route setting job opportunity, especially if there are very few climbing gyms where you live. Consider sending a few emails to offer guest setting services. Even with little experience, some gyms will gladly have you on their team for the day. This can be done in your area or by traveling to another Canadian province. Not only will you gain route setting knowledge, but you’ll also experience different teams, work environments, wall angles, holds, etc. On your resume, you can then highlight what you learned from these various exposures, while  showcasing your motivation to learn this trade.


If you have no experience at all, consider offering to set without pay, since you are still learning and will be gaining something valuable from this experience. If you have some experience, you can still choose to set on a volunteer basis, but keep in mind that route setting is a profession and should come with pay. We recommend that you take some time to evaluate whether the learning you’ll get is worth working a day without pay and that when you have the skills and knowledge necessary to do the job independently, you get paid for your services as a professional route setter.


2. Learning the basics on your own


If you don’t have access to a climbing wall to learn how to set, you can still start your route setting journey with simple actions to gain more route setting knowledge. For example, there are a ton of books available on the basics of route setting. We recommend looking at Fundamentals of Route Setting by Louie Anderson or My Keys to Route Setting by Jacky Godoffe to get started.


If you’re interested in setting on rope, consider asking someone or searching online for the different knots and the set up used for this type of setting. If you have access to power tools, learn how to use a drill; get acquainted with different screws, bolts, and drill bits and find information on this subject. The same goes for holds and volumes; you can easily look up climbing holds and volumes companies and even learn the names of certain sets of holds. 


3. Getting creative on the wall


For now, you might not be able to handle a drill or put some holds on the wall, but you can always create your own moves during your climbing session at the gym. By simply playing around on the boulders, seeing what moves can be done, without necessarily using the same hold colors or following the correct path, you can already start flexing your creative muscles and learn why some movements work and others don’t. You’re craving a dyno at the gym? Invent one using the holds already there! You’re curious to understand slab moves better? Try to take out the hands on some vertical/slab climbs or try climbing while putting the least pressure possible on your hands.


4. Learn more about yourself and about climbing


Being a recreational climber and a professional route setter are very different roles. In the process of forerunning (which is when the setters try out the moves of their boulders and tweak them to make them work correctly for the customers), the route setters are not climbing for their own enjoyment. Next time you go to the climbing gym, try to ask yourself some questions. What do you enjoy about this boulder and why don’t you enjoy another one? What do you like about climbing? What feeling or movement do you enjoy on a route or problem?


Another thing that can be done in a regular climbing session is analyzing movement to better understand the ingredients needed to make them work. When facing more commonly seen climbing moves, such as a toe hook catch or a hand flip, look closely at the positioning of the holds. How is this move forced? Why can’t you bypass it or, if you can, how could you have prevented that?


Aside from understanding climbing, it’s also important to know yourself as a climber. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses allows for better feedback when forerunning; you’ll have an easier time seeing when something feels easy because it’s in your wheelhouse and when you are being limited by a weakness. On that point, a great way to make yourself more valuable as a setter, before even getting a route setting job, is by getting fit and working hard to be a well rounded climber. Everyone has weaknesses, but being a strong climber in different styles allows you to be a very valuable member of the team. In a similar way, being fit will also make it easier to take in the long setting days, where you’ll have to climb (sometimes at your maximum level), with a certain amount of fatigue from the setting portion of the day.


5. Start working in a climbing gym


Even without route setting jobs available, getting your foot in the door by working in a climbing gym is a good way to start, especially if you can work in parallel to the route setting team by washing holds or stripping the wall before a new reset. This way, you can show interest in route setting and even ask the team some questions, get acquainted with the tools and generally show your value as an employee.


Of course, the best way to learn how to be a route setter is to get some hands-on experience. Be sure to check out our website, social media or subscribe to our newsletter to get all the updates about our route setting workshop calendar. Each year we offer a handful of FREE route setting workshops across Canada. They last two and a half days and are either introductory or advanced workshops. All of our route setting workshops and outdoor climbing courses are open to anyone who identifies as a woman or person of expansive genders.