A Guide to Indoor Climbing

Whilst indoor climbing used to be the rarity over outdoor climbing, the popularity has soared (especially in city locations like London where there can sometimes be queues down the street to get in!). Climbing walls have been a great way to get into the sport, practise in poor weather or just for convenience for those not in proximity of the real thing.

Different types of climbing indoors

Bouldering - Bouldering is done without ropes or safety harnesses, but there are lots of soft, protective mats to fall on to. You only climb to 6meters / 20 feet so it's safe to climb to those heights if you fall properly. Bouldering is also the ideal way to perfect your climbing techniques before attempting greater heights or rope work.

bouldering indoors

Belaying - Whilst belaying isn't a type of indoor climbing, it's a key role for any climbing using ropes. Climbing with ropes usually entails two people - the climber themselves and their partner, the belayer. The belayer is incharge of ensuring the climber is safe by being highly attentive and effectively being the anchor on the other side of the rope. By using the belaying or friction device, they're able to provide or take ou slr take you slackack

Top roping – Top roping is based on teamwork and requires two people. In top roping, a climber hooks onto one end of a rope which has been doubled over an anchor point at the top of a climbing wall. The other end of the rope is attached to, and controlled by, someone on the ground.

Lead climbing – In lead climbing the security rope is not fed through an anchor at the top of the climbing wall, but is controlled by the climber. The climber is attached to the rope, and as they scale the wall, they clip the rope in to periodically spaced quickdraws - which are lengths of strengthened webbing with carabiners either end - hanging from climbing nuts in the wall. Lead climbing typically is a preogression from top roping as it takes more skills to lay the rope as you climb. Additionally, there can be a greater risk of injury as you can effectively fall twice the length of the rope that is above your last used quickdraw. It can be an adrenaline-feulled moment falling when you're some way above your last quickdraw, which adds to the excitement of lead climbing.

Speed Climbing - Speed climbing entails getting to the top of a vertical climbing wall in the fastest possible time. Highly competitive, to world championship standard, this sport is often practised with no safety equipment whatsoever and is a progression from other types of climbing.

Indoor Climbing For Beginners: Where to Start?

It's easy to get involved. Simply find your closest climbing wall.

Book in with an instructor or go with a friend who is experienced and has been before. Many walls will require yopu have a introductory session before you climb at their wall (so make sure you check this in advance). It's best to go with an experienced climber or instructor as it's a dangerous sport and without the right knowledge it can be a disaster waiting to happy. You could be not just a danger to yourself but others around you.

On your first instructor session, you'll be taught basics of climbing, how to use ropes and how to act safetly whilst in the climbing wall. They'll also help you climb up walls by pointing out where to move next and provide tips on technique. It's always useful to ask about the differences between outdoor climbing and indoor climbing so you're set up for both, although good instructors will outline best practice for both.

After your first sessions when youn start to climb by yourself, you'll often be asked to fill in safety forms and pass a test which typically checks to make sure if you're climbing with a friend for the first time at a wall, or by yourself if you're an experienced climber, that you know the etiquette and best practice.

Questions will typically make sure you:

1) Are aware of others. Don't start climbing if you're likely to get in the way of someone already climbing another route.

2) The belayer is incharge of ensuring the climber is safe by being highly attentive and being the anchor on the rope. By using the belaying or friction device, in the right way, by ensuring there is always friction on the belaying device, you can keep your partner safe.

2) Never stand directly beneath, or within close proximity of a climber on the wall who may fall or jump down.

3) If using ropes, you know how to keep in slack without risking your partner. This will involve keeping the rope at a strict angle to the belay or friction device to ensure the rope is safely secure and your partner does not risk being unprotected

4) If belaying always being attentive to your climbing partner, providing slack when its called for or 'take it in' if you're to remove slack. This will help your climbing partner focus on climbing but also keep them safe

5) If you're using ropes, you may be asked to prove you can do the necessary knotes

Dont worry, if you're climbing with an instructor for a first time, they'll show you all of this and before you know it, it'll be a peace o' cake!

Tips for Indoor Climbing for Beginners

  • You'll need some climbing shoes to help you grip the wall, you can often rent these from the wall itself
  • Chalk can help to give grip to your hands when climbing, you can often buy a small amount from the climbing wall
  • Bouldering is a great way to get started with indoor climbing. Bouldering is climbing but to heights of around 20ft, where you don't need rope due to the limited height. It enables you to practice on technique.
  • Make sure you stretch and warm up before you get on the wall. A good warm-up includes some bodyweight exercises such as press-ups, pull-ups (if you can do them) and squats. Add some stretches for your arms, shoulders, back and legs. Then try starting on basic problems to get warmed up, such as the easiest climbs or even just a few first movements. This will aim to get your fingers and joints used to it. Climbing can lead to immense stress on your fingers and joints and can make you move in ways you're not used to, so it's really important to warm up properly to avoid pulling something and to ensure you can climb as well as possible
  • When climbing try spreading your bodyweight out across the wall and always try to keep weight on as many contact points as possible to reduce load on anyone foot or hand
  • Try to keep more weight on your legs, than your arms. One way to acheive this is by always trying to keep your arms straight and focus on standing on the wall as opposed to hanging
  • Try to take your time going up the wall. By looking around you'll often find an easier solution than if you try to rush up the wall
  • If you're bouldering, remember it's often harder to get down, so practice getting down multiple times and make sure you're comfortable
  • If falling or jumping off the wall, make sure to try to land on your feet and bend at the knees to reduce the pressure

Differences between indoor climbing and outdoor climbing

Climbing indoors differs from outdoor climbing, most notably because on indoor walls the holds are coloured. This helps massively as you can easily see where to put your hand or foot for your next move. As opposed to outdoor climbing where there are no colours, just your wits and use of intuition and testing putting weight in different areas to see if your grip or hold is sufficient enough for you to hold your weight.

Also climbing outdoors can be slightly wet, have rubble or dust on holds, or have bugs and moss or greenery on the walls. Not to mention the occasional gust of wind or classic British spat of rain. All this adds to the beauty of climbing outdoors, but are reasons for why climbing indoors is a great place to start and practice.

Equipment for Indoor Climbing

  • Chalk - for grip between your hands and the rock
  • Climbing Shoes - specially designed shoes to gelp you get more grip on the wall, you can often rent these from indoor walls or your instructor will bring them to you

For rope climbing:

  • Ropes long enough for your climb. There's different types of rope for different purposes. A static rope is used more for abseiling and anchoring versus dynamic ropes that have flexibility and are perfect for absorbing energy of a falling climber.
  • A harness that fits you well, is designed to connect you to the rope, so if you fall, you're protected
  • A belay / fricton system , that helps you control the speed of the rope going through the small peice of metal / device by friction, allowing you to control your partners descent, or your own descent if abseiling, or to take your partners slack as they climb.
  • Slings and quick draws, are used to connect rope to the bolts or nuts/camming devices

Other items to bring:

  • It can be worth bringng a bottle of water as it can get to be hot work
  • Equally bring a jumper in case it can sometimes be cold in the climbing walls
  • Check on the facilities at the wall, you may need to bring a pound or a padlock for lockers
  • Bring some spare change in case you want snacks in the wall

Useful resources for rock climbing indoors

Find climbing walls near me

Search from over 150 climbing walls across the UK, using our interactive map or complete list of climbing walls, gyms and courses

Rock climbing for beginners

Learn the basics to climbing including:

  • The basic types of rock climbing - Bouldering, Trad climbing, Sport Climbing, Solo and more
  • Types of equipment needed for indoor climbing
  • The origins of the sport (useful for pub trivia if nothing else)

Want to go full 180 and explore climbing outdoors?

Find an Indoor Climbing Wall Near You

Search the map below to find your closest indoor climbing location, or see our full list of over 150 climbing walls, gyms and centers in the UK