If you know anything about rock climbing you’ll be familiar with Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, world record holding sport climbers with numerous achievements under their belts.
From scaling El Capitan in under 2 hours to finishing its hardest routes with no safety harness, the two are probably some of the most accomplished climbers in the sport right now. So it’s incredibly exciting to hear they’ve released a joint MasterClass to help you learn the great art of climbing.
Being no stranger to a bouldering gym myself, I was pretty keen to hear Honnold and Caldwell’s tips on how to not end up flat on my back as much.
I was also curious to hear how the course intended to coach outdoor climbing, a dangerous sport that claims the lives of 30 climbers in the US alone every year.
Having finished it, I have a few key takeaways to share in this Alex Honnold & Tommy Caldwell MasterClass review. I’ve got a lot of praise to sing, as well as some points you’ll need to know going in to decide if it's right for you.
But if you’re in a rush, here’s the quick version:
You will learn:
- The fundamental gripping techniques, and how to apply them to different shaped holds
- Body posture and how to move efficiently on the wall
- How to plan your route before a climb more effectively
- To apply your indoor climbing skills to outdoor rock faces
- How to climb safely indoors and outdoors, and how to spot a fellow climber
- Honnold and Caldwell’s tips for perseverance
- Covers an expansive number of holds and techniques
- Teaches a wide variety of climbing styles
- Exclusive stories about Honnold and Caldwell’s toughest climbs
- Stunningly produced workbook
- Primary focus on outdoor climbing, may be of less interest to exclusively indoor climbers
- Some safety points could be more emphasised
Length of course: 1 hour and 47 minutes, comprised of 14 video lessons
Best for: Beginner to intermediate climbers who want to improve their climbing technique, indoor climbers looking to transition to outdoor climbing, plus any and all fans of Honnold and Caldwell’s previous exploits.
Overall: One of the best online rock climbing resources available right now. Covers every holding technique you could ever need in a clear informative way, and showing the applications in a real world climbing situation is a great learning tool. The stories about Honnold and Caldwell’s climbs are great for any climbing fan, and help break up the course without taking up too much run time. If you’ve got any interest in outdoor rock climbing, give it a go!
In this Alex Honnold & Tommy Caldwell MasterClass review, I’ll be covering:
- Who Honnold & Caldwell are
- About MasterClass
- Inside the course
- What I liked and what could be improved
- Who is it for?
- How much does it cost?
- What others have said
- How unique the content is
- What you’ll need
And most importantly, is it really worth it? So without further ado, let’s get stuck in.
About Alex Honnold & Tommy Caldwell
Three years ago, Honnold and Caldwell exploded into the public eye with their now infamous documentary, Free Solo.
The film documents Honnold’s journey to free soloing (climbing without harnesses or safety gear) one of the most difficult routes on El Capitan, a 3000ft high cliff face in Yosemite national park and a global hotspot for rock climbers.
The feat marked a first in climbing history, and gave us, the watching audience, a fantastically anxiety-inducing documentary about the experience.
Outside of Free Solo, the two have a whole raft of climbing achievements under their belt, including scaling El Capitan in under two hours, and completing some of the most challenging climbs in the world like the Fitz Traverse.
There’s no one more qualified to talk about outdoor climbing than these two, and definitely no two climbers with better on-camera chemistry.
MasterClass is an online learning platform that offers courses from world-class experts in a variety of subjects.
Having taken a number of MasterClass courses myself, I can report that many are fantastic and give you a great insight into their chosen subjects.
That being said, some are better than others, and it’s important to do your research beforehand to make sure the course you’re choosing is the right one for you.
Inside Alex Honnold & Tommy Caldwell’s MasterClass
Alex Honnold & Tommy Caldwell’s MasterClass consists of:
- 14 video lessons totalling at 1 hour and 47 minutes of run time (average video length is about 8-10 minutes)
- 45 page workbook covering outdoor climbing etiquette and outlining some popularly climbed routes
Honnold and Caldwell’s MasterClass can be divided into three general sections: technique teaching, indoor and outdoor applications, and stories from Honnold and Caldwell’s most famous climbs.
The first half of the course focuses primarily on fundamental technique, before showing how the techniques can be applied to some real world outdoor climbs in the latter half, with some stories scattered throughout to break it up.
For the purpose of this review I’ve divided the course into these three sections:
- Outdoor climbing
- Insights from Alex & Tommy
And I’ll go more in detail about what they teach.
Lessons 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8: Fundamental technique
In this section you’ll learn:
- How to grip the different holds
- Footwork when climbing
- Body position and balance
- How to use a climbing harness safely
- How to use ropes in lead climbing
- How to crack climb
As I said before, this first section is all about the fundamentals of climbing. From holds to footwork, to body position, this part of the course is aiming to get you from having never grabbed a hold to moving comfortably on the wall.
Honnold and Caldwell begin by laying down some basic safety information about setting up your harness as the climber and spotter, before getting into the different gripping techniques and the types of holds they apply to.
The lessons list each technique sequentially, which can seem a bit overwhelming at first with how many there are, but it's clear that this is more meant as a guide that you can refer back to and skip around depending on whatever holds you’re working on at your particular skill level.
You’ll see examples of footwork techniques like heel hooks:
And gripping techniques like crimps:
Lessons 10, 12, 13: Outdoor applications
This section of the course is dedicated to filming Honnold and Caldwell planning a route and then climbing outdoors, whilst narrating their thoughts throughout.
It gives the viewer a chance to see how the techniques mentioned in the previous sections would be applied in real time during a climb. The two also cover some important safety points when climbing or bouldering.
In this section you will learn:
- How to plan a route before starting
- How to spot a fellow climber
- How to set up for bouldering
- How to problem solve difficult holds
- Safety points to remember whilst climbing outdoors
Lessons 4, 9, 11: Lessons learnt
The remaining few lessons are dedicated to Honnold and Caldwell recounting stories from some of their most challenging climbs, and what kept them going throughout.
The two have a great chemistry that really shines through in these lessons, and they’re a nice break after some of the more technically dense lessons.
In this section you will learn:
- Why El Capitan is such an important climbing spot
- How the two broke the world record time to scale El Capitan
- The challenges faced on the fitz traverse
- What keeps Honnold and Caldwell motivated through tough climbs
What I liked about the Alex Honnold & Tommy Caldwell MasterClass
Wide technique coverage
This was one of the main things that impressed me about the course.
The number of techniques covered is frankly encyclopaedic, to a point of almost being overwhelming at first.
However, I think this is one of its biggest strengths, as it caters better to how a budding climber may actually use the course. If you’re just starting out climbing your first V0 at your local climbing gym, you’re probably not going to need to know how to finger stack your way up a crack.
But having all techniques available right from the start in an easy to navigate video with watermarks means you can focus on whatever techniques you’re working on at the time in your personal climbing journey, and that makes Honnold & Caldwell’s MasterClass an incredibly powerful learning tool.
Teaches a variety of climbing styles
Whilst not EVERY climbing style gets a mention here, the course does a good job of covering the major types of outdoor climbing.
Lead, top rope and bouldering all get mentions, and the course gives a good overview of the sport as a whole. It’s also nice that crack climbing gets a mention, as it's an aspect of outdoor climbing many non-climbers aren’t aware of.
Exclusive stories from Honnold and Caldwell
Not gonna lie, Honnold and Caldwell’s chat was one of the biggest pulls for me coming into this course. I’ve been following Honnold’s career since Free Solo’s release, and was excited to hear more tales of the two’s escapades.
This MasterClass definitely delivered, and the lessons devoted solely to Honnold and Caldwell’s stories do a good job of showing their career highlights, as well as letting the two banter.
I was also pleased that the lessons didn’t feel too intrusive, some online courses that are able to nab a celebrity coach can have a tendency to fill nearly half the curriculum with anecdotes and interviews; great if you’re a fan, but a bit of a pain if you’re just there to learn.
These lessons struck a great balance however, with Honnold and Caldwell’s stories being occasionally sprinkled throughout just to break up content, without compromising the overall flow.
This was the one that really took me by surprise. Usually the MasterClass workbooks exist to reiterate the key points provided in the lessons for future reference, they’re often handy as guides but can sometimes feel a little redundant.
This workbook instead takes a completely different route, and after reiterating the safety info provided in the course, focuses entirely on listing rock climbing hotspots national geographic style, complete with some absolutely gorgeous pictures and descriptions of spots like Mont Blanc, Indian Creek, Fitz Roy Massif and so many more.
It’s a lovely thing to flick through, and really got me enthused about outdoor climbing.
What could be improved
Less love for indoor climbers
Ok, I know I just praised the course for covering a wide variety of styles, but it's worth noting that the focus here is on outdoor climbing.
There’s still plenty of good info here for the beginning indoor climber, with all the basic types of hold being covered.
But if you’re an advancing indoor climber getting into styles like speed climbing or navigating extreme overhangs, keep in mind this may not be the course for you.
Some missing points about safety
To Honnold and Caldwell’s credit, there is a good amount of attention given to the safety aspects of climbing, with lessons dedicated to safe belaying and rope management.
However one point that the two fail to bring up is the importance of working with a climbing coach.
This is a small detail that the two may not have considered both being highly experienced climbers (and it’s not like Honnold and Caldwell are particularly known for going on safe and risk-free climbs).
In an indoor setting this is much less important, as climbing/bouldering gyms are set up to be as safe as possible and aren’t affected by changing weather conditions.
However if you’re delving into outdoor climbing it’s important to work with a qualified coach/experienced climber initially, to make sure you’re not picking up any unsafe habits.
In less dangerous sports this wouldn’t be an issue, but in a sport like climbing that claims lives every year, this is something that can’t be understated, and it's a shame the MasterClass doesn’t highlight it.
Who is this course for?
Going in, it's worth knowing that the course is primarily designed as an introduction to the sport. Beginner to intermediate climbers are definitely going to get the most out of it.
In my opinion, the Alex Honnold & Tommy Caldwell MasterClass is best suited for:
- Beginner climbers looking for an overview of the sport
- Intermediate outdoor climbers looking to sharpen their technique
- Casual climbers interested in moving out of the gym onto some outdoor routes
- Fans of Honnold and Caldwell
How much does the Alex Honnold & Tommy Caldwell MasterClass cost?
MasterClass pricing might have changed since this review was written, so for the latest pricing info please check here.
At time of writing, a MasterClass subscription costs $120 per year, or $10 a month. With the subscription, you have access to all the 200+ courses on MasterClass.
The great thing about this offering is that the more classes you take, the less the effective cost per class is. For example, if you’re able to find at least 4-6 classes you like, it means you’re effectively paying $20-$30 per course.
Bearing in mind that these classes are taught by world experts the value is second to none. What’s more, MasterClass also offers a 30 day refund if you’re unhappy with your purchase.
If you want to buy the course individually, this is also an option — however it’s a little convoluted. You can buy a single MasterClass as a gift, and essentially gift the course to yourself. The price of an individual course is $90.
However, arguably the best value is with the All-Access pass, especially considering MasterClass has a number of very complementary courses to this one.
Alternatives to the Alex Honnold & Tommy Caldwell MasterClass
If you’re looking to see what the other alternatives are, I’ve compiled a couple options to look into further. Each option has its own pros and cons, so it's important to think about what your current needs and wants are.
YouTube: As with most skills, the biggest online resource is YouTube. With literally thousands of rock climbing tutorials available all for free, it's definitely one to check out if you need advice quickly and cheaply.
The main disadvantage of using YouTube is the overwhelming volume of content. If you’re just starting to get into rock climbing it may be difficult to know what you need to research, and whether the tutorials you’re watching are any good or not.
This is really the advantage of MasterClass, in exchange for the cost you’re receiving a high production value, curated program. A good quality course will make sure to cover all bases, so you know you’re not missing out key info early on in your learning process.
If you do want to give YouTube a try though, Crux Films has a YouTube channel dedicated to compiling climbing tutorials by British sport climber Neil Gresham, which is well worth checking out.
Udemy: Udemy offers its own rock climbing course by professional climber Audrey Sniezek. The class covers a variety of climbing related topics, including; techniques and drills, gear maintenance, using anchors, safety fundamentals and falling.
Whilst I can’t speak to the quality as I haven’t taken it myself, it’s currently scored at 4.7/5 on Udemy’s site with 63 ratings, so may be worth further investigation.
As of time of writing, the course costs a one of payment of $20 for permanent access, with a 30 day money back guarantee, which may be more economical than the MasterClass route if you’re only interested in a rock climbing resource.
However the advantage of MasterClass is that the monthly cost gives you access to all 100+ courses, so if there were a few you were interested in checking out, it may well work out being the cheaper option.
What others have said about the Alex Honnold & Tommy Caldwell MasterClass
Online, the course has received fairly positive attention. I’ve seen a few critical comments on various sites like reddit, but they mainly seem to be from people who admit to having never taken the course, or people dismissing it as “a beginner’s tutorial for gumby’s” (inexperienced climbers).
Whilst the MasterClass definitely has a beginner-focus, and it is pretty funny to call people gumby’s, we all start as one, and as far as beginner tutorials go, this course has shown itself to be able to hang with the best of them.
Many who have taken it validate it as a good resource for fundamental climbing technique,
“my preliminary take is it basically seems like actually a pretty decent overview of basically all the topics you'd want to get familiar with”, writes one redditor.
I will add however that whilst I think that online courses can be a great way for many people to learn, I still think working with a climbing coach is essential if you’re a beginner looking to climb outdoors, even if only to check you’re doing everything safely.
Booking some sessions with a qualified instructor for your first climbs is really important to prevent injury due to inexperience, and Honnold and Caldwell could (and arguably should) bring more attention to that.
How unique is the course content?
Some of it is and some of it isn’t.
It has to be said that most of the more fundamental technique teaching could be found in a number of different courses, including on free sites like YouTube.
However what’s unique about this course is that it’s Honnold and Caldwell teaching it, their unique insights into technique and the stories they share are the class’s real selling point, and are something you’re guaranteed not to find anywhere else.
And for me, that made it worth it.
What you’ll need
It’s worth noting that if you’re climbing in a gym, you’re generally able to rent all of your own gear on the day, meaning you potentially won’t need any equipment. However if you’re looking to buy your own here’s what you should look out for.
- Climbing shoes
- Chalk bag and climbing chalk
- Climbing harness
- Belay and locking carabiner
As you become more experienced it may also be a good idea to look into getting a climbing pack for longer outdoor climbs.
Is it really worth it?
There’s a lot to like about this MasterClass, from the wide coverage of technique to the unique perspectives on the sport to the recounting Honnold and Caldwell’s previous escapades.
As long as you’re aware of the safety risks associated with rock climbing, there’s a lot you can learn from this course.
The technique lessons have noticeably improved my rock climbing in the gym, and the personal stories made the whole MasterClass a super enjoyable watch.
If you’re a budding climber looking to up your skills, give it a try. With a 30 day money back guarantee, what’ve you got to lose?
Frequently asked questions
A MasterClass all-access-pass costs $120 a year ($10 a month). This gives you access to 190+ other courses.
Alex Honnold & Tommy Caldwell’s MasterClass is 1 hour and 47 minutes long, broken up into 14 videos.
Unfortunately you can’t get this course for free. But MasterClass has a range of purchasing options and offers refunds if you’re not happy.
Yes, MasterClass operates a 30 day refund policy if you purchase directly through them. If you purchase through other providers, their returns policy may apply.