For those who are interested in learning how to rock climb, they often wonder whether they should start at a gym or on a real rock wall. While each has their benefits, there is no one size fits all solution for each individual rock climber. If you are wondering where you should start inside or outside, read on to understand the considerations, benefits, and cons to both options.
Location Is Everything
Before diving too deep into this topic, it is important to note that where you are located will determine whether you even have an option to start indoors or outdoors. For example, those who are interested in rock climbing in Florida only have the option to climb in gyms. On the other hand, those who live in Colorado have the best of both worlds.
Another thing to consider is how far away gyms or established climbing walls are in your area. A gym may be two hours away, while a rock wall can be just down the road. You need to consider how much time you are willing to invest into traveling to and from your climbing destination.
Mountain Project is a free resource of climbing knowledge created by the climbing community for the climbing community. You can find the closest outdoor climbs and indoor gyms near you.
Benefits of Gym Walls
When you start climbing in a gym, you immediately gain access to experienced individuals who are working for the gym. Before you can even touch the wall, you must go through a mini crash course that explains how the equipment works.
If you intend to belay your climbing partner, you must complete a short training (typically 45 minutes to one hour). After the training, you must prove you retained the skills that were taught.
Since you are in a gym, you can trust the equipment is checked regularly. You also have experienced climbers all around you, which is beneficial should you forget what to do, have an issue, or momentarily panic.
Additionally, indoor climbing gyms have color coded routes. This means you simply follow the route based on the color of the climbing holds. You don’t have to think about where to climb; you just have to have the strength and skill to reach the next hold.
Benefits of Outdoor Routes
There is truly nothing like climbing outdoors. The massive malls, fresh air, and escape from daily life creates a sense of peace. Nearly everyone climbing at the crag is there for the same reason as you are: to have a good day.
By starting your climbing journey outdoors, you are not limited to following a certain route. Every hold is on (meaning you can grab it) and you can make moves that are most natural for your body.
Additionally, you are learning from experienced climbers who are climbing the same routes as you. They can provide beta (pointers), talk you through the nerves, and teach you the terminology as you reach specific holds (pincher, sloper, jug, etc.).
Cons of Starting In A Gym
By starting in a gym, you are forced to climb the way the route setter intends. If they are taller or shorter than you, they may create routes that are too difficult for you to complete. Since you can only touch the same color holds, you cannot send (complete) a route if you use any other colored hold to aid your climb.
Additionally, a gym does not create the same environment as the crag. There is music, conversations, and shouting. You cannot focus on you and the wall, which is what you came to do in the first place.
Furthermore, gyms have specific rules and regulations they must follow for insurance purposes. This means you may learn to belay on gear that you typically wouldn’t use outdoors (a GriGri to belay a leader climber, for example).
Cons of Starting Outdoors
If you choose to start outdoors, you are putting yourself at a higher risk. Should you seriously injure yourself, it may be awhile before help arrives. Additionally, you have to trust those you are climbing with to teach you the ropes (excuse the pun).
Those who are teaching you how to climb need to have enough experience to explain how to safely tie a figure 8, clip, set up an anchor, and clean the route. Any mistake can be costly.
Additionally, if the group isn’t that experienced, you could learn incorrect or unsafe climbing methods. You wouldn’t know any better, but it could lead to issues down the road if you try to go climbing indoors. Once you have a bad habit, it’s hard to break.
At the end of the day, there is no wrong answer about where to start your rock climbing journey. The biggest determining factor will be your location. If you only have access to the mountains or the gym, the decision on where to start climbing will be made for you.
Where you start does not determine if you will be a better climber. So long as you are learning safe, proper climbing techniques, you can become an exceptional climber by starting in the gym or on an outdoor route.
Your safety is of the utmost importance. Regardless if you choose to start indoors or outside, vet those who will be teaching you the basic skills of rock climbing.
Now, get your harness and shoes, and climb on