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A Guide to How to Start Indoor Climbing

New to indoor climbing? Well there’s a lot to learn, experience and achieve, but starting isn’t as daunting as you might think.

First of all, don’t think that indoor climbing is all about hanging off your fingertips and taking big falls. Indoor climbing is one of the safest forms of climbing you can do and anyone at any age can do it.

And no matter what your climbing ambitions are, starting indoors is a great choice.

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The first thing to do is to find a climbing gym nearest to you. A simple Google search will often do the trick.

Your first visit to a climbing gym can be exciting, intimidating and scary. But don’t be overwhelmed, every climber had to start at some point.

If you’re under 18, different rules might apply so call the gym first. Many climbing gyms offer courses and competitions for young climbers, but you might need parental permission or supervision.

Types of Indoor Climbing: There are three types of indoor climbing, two of which you can try on your first visit.

Bouldering: Bouldering walls are often short and low to the ground with big mats below them. Most gyms will have bouldering areas that are not difficult for new climbers.

Top Roping: Top roping means that you’ll be climbing up a wall too big to fall off safely without a rope. The rope is attached to a belayer, re-directed through an anchor above you and tied into your harness. All of the equipment, when used correctly, is many times stronger than it needs to be. Toping allows you to learn about rope systems and to trust the gear.

Leading: Leading means to climb with a rope tied to you and connected to a belayer. But the rope is not re-directed through an anchor above you. You must clip the rope through quickdraws in the wall as you climb. This is an advanced technique. Many climbers require a few months or a year before they start leading.

Top roping at Allez Up in Montreal

Clothing: You want to wear clothes that offer comfort and can stretch as you move. You don’t want to wear anything too baggy because it can catch on climbing holds.

Many brands, such as MEC, Black Diamond, Patagonia, Outdoor Research and others make climbing-specific clothing. Yoga-specific clothing work well.

There’s currently a trend to wear fashionable clothing when climbing. Just be sure to wear something you don’t mind getting chalk and sweat on.

Wear comfortable clothes that breathe and move well

Gear: There are a few pieces of equipment you’ll need before getting started. If you’re bouldering then you’ll need shoes and chalk. If you’re going to top rope, you’ll need a harness.

Harness: This is a must for climbing walls in a climbing gym. It’s also a versatile piece of gear for indoor and outdoor climbing.

Locking carabiner: Required to attach your belay device to your harness. Many gyms have belay devices and locking carabiners in place, but most require you to own your own.

Belay device: There are many belay devices on the market. Ask an expert to find what’s best for you.

Chalk bag and chalk: Chalk is used to keep your hands dry to prevent slipping. While new plastic climbing holds are often grippy, it helps to use chalk.

Climbing shoes: Climbing-specific shoes are flexible and help you stand on small holds. They should fit snug, but never too tight or hurt your feet.

Climbing ropes: For liability reasons, many climbing gyms provide ropes. Some require you to bring one for leading.

Getting Started: If you decide to top rope, you’ll need to learn a few basic skills before you’re allowed to climb without supervision.

You’ll need to learn how to put on a harness and how to tie a figure-eight knot, which is the point of connection between you and the top rope.

If you’ll be belaying, you’ll need to learn and demonstrate belaying skills. These include how to belay a climber up and how to lower them.

You can take a course to learn both the knot and how to belay. Instructors will often teach you the different kinds of climbing holds and their names.

Before visiting the climbing gym, call ahead to find out what is offered and how much the courses cost.

After you’ve learned how to tie a figure-eight knot and belay, you’ll be able to visit other climbing gyms and pass their belay tests.

The Climbing: After you’ve demonstrated that you can tie the knot and belay, you’ll be able to climb without supervision.

If you don’t have someone to climb with, there are often “meet a partner” groups and Facebook pages you can join to meet others.

There are many reasons why people climb at gyms, but the end goal for most is to improve technique, endurance and to get stronger.

Be patient and be honest about your ability. Don’t push yourself too hard, many climbers get injured by trying things too difficult for them.

Ask around and start on the easiest routes. Do lap after lap after lap until you’re comfortable on the easiest climb. This might take one visit or many, but start easy and work on progressing to more difficult climbs.

Climbing Gym Grades: The Yosemite decimal rating system is used in most gyms in North America. It uses a 5.0 to 5.15 scale.

Generally, handholds and footholds are biggest from 5.0 to 5.5. Most new climbers begin in this range, but it depends on your ability to climb and comfort level.

As the grades increase, the holds become smaller and/or more difficult to hold and the technique to required to move upward more advanced.

For bouldering ratings, North American gyms follow the V Scale, which then progresses from V0 through V16. Your gym might use colours or a different grading system for their boulders.

What’s Next? For many, indoor climbing will lead to outdoor climbing.

If that’s the case then seek a group of experienced outdoor climbers or a professional instructor, because many things are different than in a gym.

As more climbing gyms open, there’s a growing number of indoor-only climbers. And that’s why we’ve started Indoors Weekly, a column about indoor climbing-specific climbers, news, tips and information.

For indoor motivation, competition highlights and more, visit GrippedMagazineComps on Instagram below and click to play.