Visiting an Indoor Rock Climbing Gym
Indoor rock climbing gyms have exploded in popularity over the last decade. Once a niche sport for hardcore mountaineers, indoor climbing walls now attract everyone from young kids to seniors looking for a fun way to exercise. If you've never been to an rock climbing gym before, you might have questions on what to expect and how to prepare. This guide will walk you through what to expect on your first indoor rock climb.
Getting Started at the Rock Climbing Gym
When you first walk into a rock climbing gym, you'll likely need to check in at a front desk or register as a new member. Here's a rundown of what you need to know:
What to Wear
You'll want to wear comfortable, athletic clothing that allows you to stretch and move freely. Most gyms will require climbing shoes, and most beginners will want to just rent their climbing shoes. Other gear to wear:
- Athletic pants - leggings, sweatpants, shorts
- T-shirt or tank top - avoid loose clothing
- Socks - to avoid shoe odor after renting shoes
Many first-time climbers dress ready for intense exercise but find climbing doesn't raise heart rates drastically. Don't be afraid to start with looser, more casual exercise clothes until you gauge the activity level.
Gear You Might Need to Rent
- Climbing shoes - shoes designed specifically for rock climbing
- Harnesses - ensures you stay anchored to rope
- Belay devices - used by partner to manage the rope
- Ropes - either lead ropes or pre-run top ropes
- Chalk bags - helps keep hands dry
Rental fees range $5-$15 for basic gear. You may want to rent before investing $100+ in equipment as a beginner.
Taking a Beginner Indoor Rock Climbing Lesson
As a complete newbie to the sport, taking at least one introductory lesson can prove extremely valuable for both safety and fun. Here's what you can expect:
Group vs. Private Lessons
Most gyms offer both group and private intro lessons. Here's a comparison:
- Group lessons tend to be more affordable, ranging from $25-$60 per person. You'll learn safety basics in a small group of 4-6 students.
- Private lessons give you one-on-one time with an instructor, allowing you to learn at your own pace. These range from $50-$100 per hour. Great for those nervous about the activity or social aspect.
Classes average 1-2 hours depending on format. Inquire about difficulty level so you don't end up in a class beyond your ability.
What You'll Learn
A beginner class focuses on need-to-know safety before anything else. Here are some of the key topics covered:
- Properly fitting and adjusting a harness
- Tying in to the rope using a figure-8 follow through knot
- Belay techniques for managing the rope and catching falls
- Climbing commands like "On belay?", "Climbing", "Take"
- Belay devices like the Grigri used to anchor your partner
You'll also learn basic climbing techniques - using feet effectively, shifting body weight, chalking hands. The extent depends on the teacher and class style.
Getting comfortable with essential safety makes the entire sport more enjoyable. Don't rush past the basics before getting rope time.
Using the Rock Walls and Features
Once you've gone through orientation and safety training, it's time to hit the tall, colorful walls filled with holds! Here's an overview of what you'll encounter:
Gyms contain a variety of wall setups configured for different climbing experiences:
- Vertical or slab walls - Easiest angles for beginners to practice foot work
- Overhangs - Advanced walls that angle climbers backwards, requiring more grip strength
- Bouldering walls - Shorter walls without ropes meant for climbing below 20 feet unanchored
- Lead walls - Tall walls set up for climbers to clip own safety ropes along route
- Top rope walls - Pre-run ropes from top anchors to clip into, most common for recreational climbers
Walls also vary in height from 30-45+ feet tall. Many have features like cracks, ledges and even simulated rock shapes built in.
As a newcomer, you'll likely be top roping - clipping into pre-set ropes anchored above. This offers security while allowing you to focus on technique rather than route finding.
More advanced climbers will "lead" climb - placing their own temporary gear as they scale the wall. Lead climbing requires more gear, skill and risk. Top roping is the easiest introduction.
Ascending and Descending
Climbing up is all about using strategically placed colored holds to elevate your feet and hands to ascend. Chalk helps keep sweat off holds. As you climb higher, you'll gradually lean back, using strong leg push-offs to make vertical progress.
Coming back down, your belayer will slowly lower you to the ground by managing the rope. An alternative is rappelling back down, less common for recreational climbers.
Climbing Community and Etiquette
Beyond the physical activity itself, the social community in climbing gyms creates a fun, engaging environment. Here's a glimpse at what you'll encounter:
Observation & Route Reading
With climbers on walls and people resting below, knowing how to safely observe and avoid interfering with others is key. Pay attention to route boundaries, be aware of falling debris, and don't walk under active climbers.
Reading routes before climbing is also an important skill. Look for patterns in hold colors, notice resting spots, and formulate a sequence in your mind before starting.
Resting & Social Areas
When not on the walls, most gyms have communal areas to take a breather, socialize or refuel. These include:
- Cafe seating
- Outdoor patios
- Lounge spaces
- Yoga rooms
Chat with other members to exchange beta (tips), find partners, or just make connections.
Asking for Beta
Don't be afraid to ask more experienced climbers for "beta" - advice or knowledge about certain routes that can help you send. Just be mindful not to distract someone mid-climb.
Beta can include insight like a hidden hold you might have missed or a recommended technique for tricky overhang.
Cleaning Holds & Tidying Areas
As a shared community space, climbers help keep routes tidy by brushing chalk off holds and returning rental gear after using. Bathrooms and locker rooms also rely on users helping keep clean. Do your part to maintain the welcoming atmosphere.
Additional Services & Amenities
Beyond climbing itself, many gyms offer retail shops, training areas, locker rooms and other useful amenities:
Once you get hooked, you may want to buy your own gear. On-site pro shops are hugely convenient for trying and purchasing harnesses, shoes, carabiners and climbing essentials. Staff members help ensure proper fit and function.
Exercise & Training Areas
To build climbing-specific strength, gyms incorporate hangboards, free weights, resistance bands and cardio machines. These complement time on the walls working technique.
Areas for stretch, warmups and cooldowns are also common. Using these spaces improves flexibility and prevents injury.
After working up a sweat, locker rooms provide secure day-use storage for wallets/phones along with much-needed showers and restrooms. Some also contain saunas and team meeting areas.
Upgraded memberships may include 24/7 locker access or towel service - nice to have when climbing frequently.
Youth Programs & Camps
From toddler play zones to competitive teen teams, many gyms nurture young climbers. School break camps, homeschool sessions and birthday parties also use the walls and gears for engaged learning.
Getting kids involved is a great way to build lifelong passion for the sport starting early. Instructional programs focus on safety and fun.
Climbing indoors allows you to learn techniques, build community with passionate enthusiasts, and exercise in a fun atmosphere no matter the weather. Once you try it out and get comfortable, look into outdoor excursions, competitions and leadership courses to take your practice further. The thrill of the sport paired with the inclusive environment will have you hooked!