We’ve got some industry heavy-hitters in our climbing family, including Matt Burbach! In addition to being a longtime Touchstone member, Matt is the Marketing, Content + Community Director for Mountain Hardwear, the author of Gym Climbing: Improve Technique, Movement, and Performance, and the founding editor of Urban Climber Magazine. When he’s not working hard on his creative endeavors for outdoor brands, Matt’s probably on some adventure with his life and climbing partner, Lauren Batcheck. All photos used with permission from Mountain Hardwear, Louder than 11, and the photographers Jon Glassberg and Jess Talley. Header photo by Jon Glassberg.
Give us a little background on yourself. Where are you from? What got you stoked on the outdoors?
I’m kinda from all over the place…or no place in particular. My dad was in the military, so we moved around the U.S. while I was growing up. I graduated from high school in Kentucky, but wouldn’t say I’m from there.
I was flipping through an outdoor gear catalog and saw a photo of Yuji Hirayama climbing and was like, “Damn, that’s what I wanna do.”
I got stoked on the outdoors with my family. I remember hiking in Mount Rainier National Park when I was pretty little and doing a lot of camping. It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I was exposed to climbing. Basically, I was flipping through an outdoor gear catalog and saw a photo of Yuji Hirayama climbing and was like, “Damn, that’s what I wanna do.” I found a climbing wall in an indoor soccer complex about an hour from where I lived and that was it.
How long have you been climbing or involved in outdoor sports?
Ever since graduating high school. I tried to go to college right away but wasn’t motivated enough to stick with it because I was too obsessed with climbing. Hard to believe (for me), but that was two decades ago. My climbing has ebbed and flowed quite a bit in that time. I was really into sport climbing for a while, then exclusively bouldered, and now find myself mainly sport climbing again. But in that time, I’ve climbed a few seasons of ice and bit of mountaineering…just enough to know that I really like the movement of rock climbing!
Do you consider yourself a multisport athlete, or is climbing your first love?
That really depends on the time in my life…but I’ve always identified as a climber. There were some stages when I was trail running a lot, but that’s never really been my identity. I’ve really gotten into skiing the past couple of winters, but again, I don’t consider myself a “skier.” I’m a climber.
What has been your favorite outdoor experience so far? Any proud sends?
Oh wow…that’s kinda tough to answer. Every experience is so different.
I’m lucky to have traveled internationally to climb, even though one of my favorite places is the Red River Gorge, the first place I’ve ever climbed on rock. In terms of destinations, Kalymnos in Greece really stands out quite a bit. My partner Lauren and I were there this past fall and I was blown away. The weather, the hang, the food, the route accessibility…it was all really amazing. It’s definitely on my repeat destination list.
I don’t think I’ve ever put that much effort into a climb my entire career.
As for proud sends…I’ve got a few influential ones. I had to put a lot of effort into Apollo Reed (5.13a) at the New River Gorge. Not just the climbing, but it was a six-hour drive from Washington D.C. and it was discouraging to go there on the weekends just to get four or five burns. I kept falling near the top. I don’t think I’ve ever put that much effort into a climb my entire career. A couple years later, my first V5 was Black Pearl in the Gunks. I had been sport climbing many years and had just been introduced to bouldering when living in New York City. It just felt so hard… harder than the moves of any roped climb that I had ever been on. It’s amazing what an eight-foot climb can teach you. Happy to say that it eventually became a part of my warm-up circuit.
What’s it like working at Mountain Hardwear?
It’s very rewarding. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to center my career around climbing-related work and brands. I’ve helped launch start-up brands and even worked for a huge brand. Mountain Hardwear is just right. It’s been around for 25 years, but we’re currently rethinking everything, from product to marketing.
It takes a lot of hard work and desire for self-improvement to make changes for the better.
It takes a lot of hard work and desire for self-improvement to make changes for the better. You have to question everything to create meaning, not just product. I work with a very passionate team, from product designers and developers to our athletes, ambassadors, partners, and content creators, and we all believe in our contributions.
How long have you been a Touchstone member, and which gym do you climb at?
That’s kind of a trick question. I first became a Touchstone member in 2009 when I moved to the East Bay the first time. I was living in Oakland and mainly climbed at Great Western Power Company. I left for a few years, living in China and Salt Lake City, but a year and a half ago moved back to California, splitting time between my job here in the East Bay and my partner in Santa Monica. Down south, I really like Cliffs of Id. The bouldering area is awesome and it’s pretty sweet when the big bay doors are rolled up.
With your recently republished book and founding Urban Climber Magazine in 2004, it seems you’ve taken a particular interest in how indoor rock climbing is its own sport in a lot of ways. Can you elaborate a bit more on that?
Not to age myself too much, but I was a part of the first wave of climbers to learn how to climb in a gym and belay with a GriGri, so that was my introduction to climbing. I climbed outside early on and have always had a symbiotic relationship with indoor/outdoor climbing. I got my start in the climbing industry working at Earth Treks Climbing Centers in the Mid-Atlantic, so gym climbing has just always been a part of my identity as a climber.
Not to age myself too much, but I was part of the first wave of climbers to learn how to climb in a gym and belay with a GriGri.
I was a climbing instructor and coach (before there were many climbing coaches) and spent a lot of time developing my own theories and approach to climbing biomechanics and kinesiology. That lead to teaching other coaches and instructors how to teach climbing, so it wasn’t too difficult to put that all together when Mountaineers Publishing approached me to write my gym climbing instructional book in 2003.
About the same time, I was approached by a magazine publisher with the idea of starting a magazine that addresses the lower-barrier entry aspects of climbing. He went climbing in a gym for the first time and was hooked. Then he started looking at Climbing Magazine, Rock & Ice, and the newly published Alpinist, and they didn’t connect at all to his experience.
Culturally, gyms and climbers have changed, particularly with the inclusion of climbing in the 2020 Olympics and the number of gyms in the U.S.
I always struggled with the name Urban Climber Magazine—the subtlety was that it was about urban climbers, not urban climbing.
The second edition of my book Gym Climbing: Improve Technique, Movement & Performance was just released, and the entire thing pretty much received a re-write. Culturally, gyms and climbers have changed, particularly with the inclusion of climbing in the 2020 Olympics and the number of gyms in the U.S., and I wanted the new edition to reflect that.