What to Wear Climbing Indoors


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You’ve finally decided to take the plunge, or rather to take on the vertical wall. You’ve heard what a great workout indoor climbing is and how delightfully addictive it can become.

When you go to the climbing gym, here’s what you should wear: 

  1. Your current fitness clothes: Choose pants and a shirt that are flexible, yet not too baggy (and not too revealing when viewed from below).
  2. Rock shoes: Gyms rent those, so no need to buy any yet. (You will, however, want to bring along casual slip-on shoes to wear into the bathroom.)

Madeline Kaminski, a sales specialist and avid climber in our Salt Lake City, Utah, REI store tells customers that they don’t need to buy a bunch of specialized climbing wear: “If you own gym clothes,” she said, “then you already own climbing clothes.” 

Men at the climbing gym typically wear slim-fitting tees and shorts; a lot of women wear sports bras, tank tops and yoga pants. If you decide to get some new clothes for climbing, you can look in both the climbing wear and yoga wear sections at REI. 

A few tips for choosing climbing clothing: 

  • Focus on flexibility: You need full extension of arms and legs so you can reach far-flung foot- and handholds.
  • Lightweight fabrics are adequate: Abrasion resistance is important for outdoor climbing, where rock faces are hard on material; when you’re indoors, more comfortable apparel is the rule.
  • Go for the slim fit: You don’t need to go with the skintight look unless that’s your thing, but you do need to avoid baggy clothes that can interfere with movement or get caught up in the rope. Choose shorts or pants, too, that fit easily under a climbing harness.
  • Shorts are fine: Gyms are heated, so you’re not likely to get cold. You have a gym full of people below, though, so give some thought to what you wear under your shorts. You also see plenty of people climbing in pants, so wear them if that’s your preference.

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A few tips about climbing footwear:

Almost every gym rents shoes, so plan on doing that at first. Here are a couple of additional things to consider for your feet:

  • Socks: If rented bowling shoes creep you out, then I have bad news—climbing shoes are meant to be worn without socks. Most gyms routinely disinfect, but if you still can’t stand the thought of your bare skin touching the inside of their rental shoes, feel free to wear some socks that are low and thin.
  • Casual shoes: It’s nice to have something comfortable to slip on between climbs. In addition, gyms don’t want you wearing climbing shoes into restrooms because shoe soles can spread germs onto climbing holds. And if you buy your own rock shoes later, the soles will last longer if you use them only while climbing.

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Some tips about accessories for the climbing gym: 

  • Lightweight jacket: If the gym heater or AC keeps things a little cooler than you like, it’s nice to have something light and warm to slip on. That’s especially true if you worked up a good sweat on your route and are now standing and watching or belaying other climbers.
  • Chalk bag: Gyms have or rent all the essentials, like ropes, harnesses and belay devices. If you want chalk, though, you should plan to bring your own bag and chalk.
  • No gloves or caps: Your hands need to be in direct contact with each climbing hold—don’t worry, your skin will begin to toughen up after a few climbing sessions. Hats aren’t a great idea because you don’t want something that might fall off. If you’re concerned about your long hair, secure it with a hair tie.

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