Tommy Caldwell climbing

Tommy Caldwell’s sustainability tips for climbers

It’s hard to ignore the effects of climate change as a climber. My hometown of Estes Park in Colorado, and my favourite climbing spot Yosemite, are turning from lush forests into deserts. I spend far too much time these days avoiding smoky skies. The bigger, more frozen mountains I like to climb on in Patagonia and the Alps are melting out and falling apart. Glaciers are receding rapidly.

So what’s a climber to do about it all? I started by opening my eyes and listening – being an Ambassador for Patagonia, or even a consumer of their stories, can be an amazing education. The aha moment for me was all about my ability to effect change. I joined the Access Fund to lobby about climate change. I started working with outdoor brands to be more sustainable. I’m also spreading the word to the climbing community about how their choices can have an impact. I feel like my knowledge is still pretty small and I’m just getting started, but the goal of doing my part to save the world sure does feel like the right way to live.

Climbing makes for the best stories, so climbers become great storytellers. If we create a culture of care for the planet within our sport, maybe we can spread that story and message to a wider audience.

How to look after your favourite climbing spots

As climbing areas get more popular, there becomes a need for stewards and caretakers of these crags. If this is done well, then these crags stay open. If it’s done poorly and climbers trash these places, they get closed. There are local climbing organizations in most regions doing great work. Track them down, donate your time and money.

At the crag, there are dozens of practices I could list to lower your impact. But I think the main way to look at it is like this: if you think of going to the crags as if you are visiting someone else’s home, the right practices will become obvious.

Note: Looking for specific pointers? Check out this article on crag etiquette: the do’s and don’ts of climbing outside.

Close up of Tommy Caldwell clipping rope into a quickdraw while climbing

Think about your gear choices

Choosing products that were designed with the environment in mind sends a message to companies, which in turn can spread to other companies and lawmakers to help change the way gear is made. A couple of brands doing incredible work in the sustainability space are Patagonia and Edelrid.

Patagonia is a gold standard in terms of using business to look for environmental solutions. They’re changing the systems and supply chains that affect all clothing and textile manufacturing. A few examples: testing regenerative organic cotton farming, running one of the largest apparel repair centres in North America, finding ways to source recycled materials, and vowing to be carbon neutral by 2025.

Edelrid is pioneering ways to make climbing equipment and hardware more sustainable, which is especially tricky when making equipment that your life depends on. Their track record with things like water and chemical reduction within their supply chain far surpasses any of their competitors. To make sure they’re truly walking the walk, they use third-party auditors like Bluesign, which holds textile manufacturers to the highest environmental standards. (Note: check out the Edelrid #ClimbGreen collection to learn more.)

To help apparel last longer, I wash my clothes less and line dry. One exception is DWR waterproof-breathables – to make them last, dry them in the dryer occasionally to refresh the waterproofing.

Edelrid Neo 3R rope process, showing the transformation from pre-consumer ropes being broken down into yarn, then becoming new rope

The multi-stage process to make the Edelrid Neo 3R – a rope made from recycled ropes.

My top three more sustainable gear picks

Edelrid Neo 3R Rope (coming soon to MEC): I use this for all my sport and single pitch climbs. It’s the world’s first rope to be made from 50% pre-consumer recycled ropes, and I’m excited about this innovation. Using recycled raw material drastically reduces the need for extraction from the ground, and cuts the carbon footprint of these products by an average of about 80 percent.

Edelrid HMS Bulletproof FG Eco Carabiner: Often the most elegant sustainable solution is just to cut out the unnecessary. You know how carabiners are shiny and colourful? That requires a process called anodization using toxic chemicals. Wastewater from anodization needs to be carefully and properly disposed of to prevent harming people and the environment. Edelrid’s solution was to consider if anodization was truly necessary. Turns out, it almost never is. Plus non-anodized carabiners have a cool vintage look.

Edelrid Swift Eco Dry 8.9mm Rope: The gold standard rope for high-end climbs in the mountains where every gram counts. The Eco Dry treatment is the only 100% PFC-free rope dry treatment in the industry, and PFC-free means an alternative to harmful chemicals typically used to make ropes waterproof. Eco Dry is also available on the Skimmer Eco Dry 7.1, and the new Tommy Caldwell Eco Dry CT 9.3.

I have to admit, I’m not always the best at treating my gear well. So I focus on buying the most durable gear I can to make sure it lasts a long time.

How to learn more and take action

Over the past decade, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with the question of what the outdoor community can do to contribute to the salvation of our planet. There are many groups I’ve learned from along the way – you can too. Some resources:

  • Protect Our Winters Canada: Not just for winter sports – it’s for all outdoor enthusiasts who are interested in becoming climate advocates.
  • Leave No Trace Canada: Tips and advice on how to reduce your impact.
  • Patagonia Action Works: An incredible online tool where you can learn about and connect with local organizations, environmental groups and events.
Tommy Caldwell
Tommy Caldwell

Pro climber who’s free-climbed 13 routes on El Capitan and is on a journey to protect our planet. Pronouns: he/him.