Rock climbing can take many forms.
Some daredevils attempt solo free climbs on dangerous cliffs, there are outdoor climbers who love exploring new challenging routes, and then there are those who prefer a more controlled environment for climbing.
For the last group (and for outdoor climbers to train in inclement weather), there’s indoor rock climbing.
What is Indoor Rock Climbing?
Indoor rock climbing takes place in a climbing gym, or sometimes a small section of a regular gym.
Climbing gyms vary in size and scope, but most have a few things in common: a combination of taller climbing walls meant to be climbed with ropes (called top-roping) and shorter walls that can be climbed with no equipment (called bouldering).
When you visit a climbing gym, you choose which kind of activity you want, get trained if you need it, and then enjoy climbing at your own skill level.
A History of Indoor Rock Climbing
In the 1960s, several different climbers in England began constructing climbing walls to provide better winter training for outdoor climbers. Many outdoor climbers dismissed the idea of climbing in a gym until they started to see the gains indoor climbers were making.
In 1987, the first climbing gym in the U.S. opened in Seattle. Since then, climbing gyms have skyrocketed in popularity, so much so that indoor climbing will be included as an Olympic sport in the 2020 games.
What Do I Need to Enjoy Indoor Rock Climbing?
It depends whether you want to try bouldering or roped climbing. For both activities, you’ll need climbing shoes (which can be rented at most climbing gyms). Also, a bag of chalk to keep your hands dry and grippy is a good idea, but not absolutely required (you can often rent these, too).
Do wear comfortable athletic clothing, but avoid anything too loose-fitting–the last thing you want when climbing is to have your shirt fall over your eyes or get caught on a hold.
For roped climbing, you’ll also need an appropriately-sized harness and a locking carabiner. Once again, you should be able to rent these at your indoor climbing gym.
How Can I Get Started?
Most cities have at least one climbing gym, and in areas with lots of avid outdoor climbers, even small towns will have a gym for those climbers to train over the winter.
Search for your closest local gym or one in the city you’re visiting, and get in touch with them to find out how to climb there. Different gyms will have different membership options and requirements, and most will have a guest pass option for visitors.
You’ll need to sign some documents before climbing, and some gyms require a basic climbing class for beginners.
Indoor Climbing Across America
Some of the best climbing gyms in the U.S. include:
Brooklyn Boulders: With locations in Brooklyn, Queens, Boston, and Chicago, this gym is known as one that made climbing “cool”.
SenderOne: The two California locations of this iconic gym are famous for their quality routes.
Vertical World: America’s first climbing gym, in Seattle, is still going strong.
The Front: This Salt Lake City gym has a reputation for attracting some of the area’s best climbers while still retaining a welcoming feel for climbers at all levels.
There are too many great gyms to include here, but this list from Climbing Magazine is a good start if you’re looking for a gym.
Like any sport, indoor climbing has some risk involved. Falling is obviously a concern, but it can be prevented with the right gear and training.
Now, injuries due to a lack of fitness or preparation are more common. You can do your best to avoid injury by stretching before climbing, warming up with easier routes, and knowing your own limits.
Climbing is exhilarating, and it’s easy to want to keep going when you’re really too tired. Take a break, hydrate, and then see if you feel up to another climb.