Rock Climbing Indoors, Step by Step


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Many climbers today get their start at indoor climbing gyms. Available almost everywhere across the country, gyms let you explore the sport of climbing in a comfortable and easy-to-access environment.

If you’ve been wondering what this climbing business is all about—and whether it could be for you—here are some tips to get you started.

Learn more: Gym to Crag

Step 1: Try bouldering.

Many gyms offer two different kinds of climbing: bouldering, where you climb unroped on short walls with big pads underneath to protect you if you fall; and toproping, where you tie into a rope in order to safely climb a higher wall.

Bouldering is a great way to get started climbing because you can focus completely on your movement. Just show up, buy a day pass, rent some shoes from the gym and give it a try. Routes will be rated starting at VB (standing for “V Basic”) or V0 on up, in increasing order of difficulty.

If you love bouldering, there’s no reason to switch over to toproping if you don’t want to. Bouldering is a genuine and respected sport in its own right.

Gear needed: Climbing shoes.
Nice to have: Chalk and chalk bag.

Step 2: Take a belay class and try toproping.

Indoor Climbing

Toproping is a partner game, where one of you climbs and the other provides the “belay” to keep you safe. Most gyms will offer a belay class so that you can learn how to belay safely as well as how to climb while tied into the rope. If you want to transition from bouldering to toproping, take one of these classes as your first step. Then you can hit the walls with a partner and try your hand at longer routes. Most gyms have routes rated with numbers along a spectrum from roughly 5.6 (easiest) to 5.12 (hardest).

Gear needed: Climbing shoes, harness, belay device, one locking carabiner.
Nice to have: Chalk and chalk bag.

Step 3: If you decide to climb indoors regularly, commit to buying your own gear.

If you’ve tried climbing and decide you want to work out at the gym regularly, you’ll probably want to buy your own gear rather than spend money to rent it each time.

Indoor Climbing

Your first purchase should be climbing shoes, since well-fitted shoes can make a big difference in your climbing performance; you’ll need rock shoes whether you’re bouldering or toproping. Next, buy a chalk bag and chalk—it’s cheap, and when your palms get sweaty while pulling that crux move, you’ll be thankful for it. That’s all you need for bouldering.

If you want to continue toproping, you’ll need to spring for a harness, belay device and a locking carabiner to go with the device. Then you’re all set.

Next in our series will be a step-by-step guide to climbing outdoors, so check back again soon.

Getting Started Rock Climbing

This does not constitute formal instruction in climbing. Climbing is a dangerous activity and you undertake it at your own risk.

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