Rock climbing is accessible to virtually anyone, and it can be done anywhere in the world. It requires a minimal investment to get started, but it’s a fun way to get active either by yourself or with friends and family.
If you’re ready to take your first steps into this world, this guide to indoor rock climbing is for you.
While outdoor rock climbing might seem like the most exciting version of this engaging sport, there’s much more to it than meets the eye. Aside from being physically and mentally demanding, it also involves a few limitations, such as location, weather, and the availability of a climbing partner. This is why it’s recommended that beginners start on an indoor wall. In this setting, you can independently work on your technique and learn about the risks involved without having to travel too far.
Most climbing gyms offer introductory courses for people of all ages and provide you with a certificate of completion once you master all the basics. At certain walls, they take experience very seriously and only allow entry to people who have taken the course or who can prove a certain degree of expertise.
Thus, indoor rock climbing is as practical as it is convenient. Given its recent rise in popularity, indoor walls are now in most cities, and many offer different walls and the gear to practice the most common styles of climbing: bouldering, top-rope, and lead.
There are three main styles of climbing that can be done both indoors and outdoors, and they differ in gear and skill requirements.
Although just as demanding as the other disciplines, this is the most accessible form of rock climbing and the most popular with novice climbers. Bouldering involves low walls with intricate routes that call for good technique, a solid grip, and plenty of strength, as you navigate from the first hold to the last. Thick crash pads are located on the floor along the wall as protection in case of a fall. In some gyms, they require that you have a spotter, which is a person there to prevent you from falling headfirst.
Like every other style of climbing, the routes are graded according to their level of difficulty. Every new grade requires an increasing amount of core and finger strength, as well as flexibility, rendering this discipline much more challenging than it might seem at first.
Bouldering only requires footwear and a bit of chalk to prevent sweaty hands from slipping from the holds. It’s a great training option for those who are afraid of heights or those who want to build upper body strength and skills.
This style is a port of entry into the world of gear-dependent rock climbing. It involves the use of a harness and a rope, as well as some assistance to get you to the top. The rope is secured to the loop of an anchor system located at the top of the wall, with one end tied to your harness and the other to the belayer (the person who’s there to manage it if you fall).
Certification is required to belay another climber. Most gyms offer top-rope courses, as well as specific belay courses, which provide you with the necessary certificate to practice the sport. If you’d rather try it out first before enrolling in a class, you might be able to use an auto-belay system (a type of rope mechanism that lets you practice top roping without a belayer). However, this system is only available in certain gyms.
The next level up from top roping is lead climbing. Aided by a belayer, you climb a designated route while clipping your rope onto a series of bolts you find on the wall. The biggest (and scariest) challenge of lead climbing is that, if you misstep, you fall to the last bolt you clipped onto, which is a greater fall than those you might experience top roping. This makes lead climbing, particularly taxing on the mind. It also requires a good level of confidence and skill before being able to get into it.
Just like top-rope climbing, to practice this discipline, you have to be certified. Most courses consist of several classes in which you learn the necessary climbing techniques and related style of belaying.
Once you master lead climbing, you’re ready to transfer your skills to real rock and climb outdoor walls anywhere in the world.
First and foremost, it’s good to contact your local climbing gym to check the gear they offer. While most provide everything you might need to practice on any of their walls for a fee, some gyms might require you to bring your own rope or harness. However, basic gear is not expensive, and having your own will save you some money in the long run. Here is what you’ll need.
If you’re committing to this sport, your first purchase should be a pair of climbing shoes. You should feel comfortable wearing them, but they should also improve your performance on the wall. A snug fit is essential as that’s what gives you better control of your feet on footholds of all sizes. These shoes are flexible and tend to stretch rather easily. This is why you should stick to your normal shoe size or go down half a size to prevent having to buy a new pair every couple of months.
Beginner shoes have a slight arch when compared to the more advanced type, which makes it easier to adapt to the fit and walk around. There’s a wide variety of shoe brands on the market, and they all focus on different aspects, so no matter the shape or size of your feet, you should be able to find your perfect shoe. If you’re not sure where to start, rent the shoes offered at your gym and try them out for a day or two. If they fit snugly and don’t hurt your feet, buy your own pair; otherwise, keep trying different brands until you find the right fit.
Climbing gear shops usually have sales specialists who can help you choose the best option for you. This is particularly helpful in the beginning when you don’t yet know exactly what your requirements and preferences are.
Check out these Climb X and La Sportiva shoes. Both are excellent options for beginners.
Similar to shoes, the type of harness you need is determined by the kind of climbing you practice. As a beginner, you’re mostly going to use it for indoor top roping and maybe some lead climbing once you reach that level of expertise. Gym harnesses are generally lightweight, easy to get on and off, and have minimal features due to the limited amount of gear required to work with them. Due to differences in waist size and leg-to-waist ratios, there are women-specific harnesses that provide a better, more comfortable fit than the standard version available at most gyms.
In addition to comfort, feeling safe is key when choosing the right harness. Try on different brands and pick the one that will make you feel safe and confident while climbing that 40-foot wall you want to tackle.
Two good options for a beginner would be the Petzl or this Black Diamond women’s harness. Both provide you with the flexibility and security you need to get moving.
Chalk and Chalk Bag
While a beginner might not need chalk to practice climbing, it eventually becomes a staple accessory for every climber. Chalk is generally sold as pure magnesium carbonate or with an added drying agent mixed in, and it’s used to keep your hands dry, so you have a better grip.
There are different types of chalk, and they’re all equally functional but differ in price. You can buy chalk in block or loose form. These are mostly the same, except you can crush the block form to the consistency you prefer. If your gym doesn’t allow traditional chalk, you can purchase eco chalk, which consists of a colorless drying agent that leaves no trace on the wall or the rock you’re climbing.
Finally, a less messy alternative is liquid chalk. This chalk-and-alcohol blend is applied to your hands and dries very quickly, leaving your skin covered in chalk residue. FrictionLabs, a well-known company amongst chalk-loving climbers, offers a variety of options.
Unless you use the liquid kind, you’re going to need a container to carry your chalk with you on your climbs. That’s what chalk balls and bags are for. Chalk bags come in different shapes and sizes and with different features. A chalk ball is a small bag made of a porous material and filled with loose chalk. It’s an easy way to keep chalk from flying everywhere and wasting it, and it’s even required in some gyms. Chalk balls are inexpensive and can be refillable, like this one by Haili.
Climbing gyms generally let you use their ropes for free as they are the appropriate measure for their walls. If you decide to buy your own, check with your local gym first and make sure you choose the right length. However, a climbing rope is not a necessity for a novice. It usually only becomes a priority once you transition to the outdoors.
The most common type of rope for top roping is the single rope. It comes in different diameters and lengths that affect its weight and durability. Have a look at this Sterling climbing rope: it comes in different colors and lengths and adapts to different kinds of climbing.
Fit and elastic activewear is preferable when it comes to climbing. Your hands and feet need to be always visible and free to move. Your clothing should not be so loose that it will get caught on the rocks or your gear.
Yoga wear, for instance, can provide you with the comfort and freedom of movement you need while climbing. Also, keep in mind the surface of the wall, and the holds can damage your clothing, so if you’re going climb a lot, choose clothes made out of more resistant material than regular sweatpants. These Ucraft pants are ideal for all weather conditions and allow the mobility you need to perform at your best.
When it comes to indoor rock climbing, fun and safety are the biggest priorities. While you might be focused on the excitement and challenge of the sport, it’s essential to know the risks involved. You also need the appropriate gear to boost your performance and keep you safe.