What to Expect at the Climbing Wall | Advice For First Timers - Outdoors Magic

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What to Expect at the Climbing Wall | Advice For First Timers

Want to start climbing for the first time but a little nervous about what's involved? We've teamed up with La Sportiva to bring you some tips to put your mind at ease...

Providing a fun, sociable way to keep fit and develop new skills, indoor climbing walls are popping up in practically every city in the UK. A far cry from the image you might have when you think of rock climbing; of complicated climbing gear, meters of tangled rope and intimidating metalwork, indoor climbing is surprisingly fuss free and a fantastic way to get established in the sport. If you’ve never been to an indoor climbing wall, this article will help you on your way to understanding what you can expect once you get there.

Related: How to Get Into Climbing

As the number of indoor climbers in the UK grows each year, climbing gyms place a focus on accommodating newcomers to the sport. The climbing community takes pride in its supportive attitude and many indoor walls go above and beyond to make their facilities a welcoming environment. Climbers are a friendly bunch – you’ll likely find that your local climbing wall is welcoming and encouraging and you certainly won’t be the only one getting to grips with the sport.

What You’ll Need to Bring

While indoor roped climbing might require some extra bits of gear, indoor bouldering is remarkably fuss free when it comes to equipment.

Hannah (right) at her local wall.

If you’re heading down to your local bouldering gym, you’ll need just a pair of climbing shoes. Generally, you can hire climbing shoes for a couple of quid on arrival. You might also want to purchase some climbing chalk, a roll of tape and perhaps a bouldering brush, though these will all likely be available for you to buy at the wall.

Kit List

Climbing Shoes
Your climbing shoes are your most important bit of kit and the only real essential for indoor bouldering. Climbing shoes are different to your average street shoe because they’re designed with maximum friction in mind. A thick rubber sole ensures you can stand on holds and textured wall with ease. You can find advice on how to pick a pair of shoes in our ‘How to Choose A Pair of Climbing Shoes’ article.

The La Sportiva Tarantula, a versatile shoe that’s great for beginner climbers.

Climbing chalk comes in a variety of different forms; loose, chalk blocks, chalk balls and liquid chalk. It really comes down to personal preference which type you opt for, as each will help to keep your hands dry and grippy when holding onto climbing holds. You can use a chalk bag or bouldering bucket to store your chalk in.

Climbing Tape
Climbing tape is a fantastic addition to any climber’s kit bag, especially in your first few months of climbing. Climbing holds can be tough on the skin and a thin tape can be used as a protective measure to ensure you don’t end up with small nicks or cuts.

A Bouldering Brush
Climbers often use brushes to remove the build up of chalk and shoe rubber from holds. This improves grip and makes them easier to stand on. Climbing walls typically provide longer brush sticks for customers, but a personal brush to pop in your chalk bag is a convenient way to keep holds free from detritus as you climb!

If you’re diving into roped climbing first, you’ll need to add a dynamic rope and belay device to the list, and find a partner to climb with. Due to the slightly enhanced risk attached to indoor roped climbing, indoor walls typically prefer to sign off experienced climbers to partake, or require a safety induction to be completed before climbing. It’s best to check with your wall’s specific process before showing up to climb.

What To Expect When You Arrive

Every new gym you visit will require a waiver to be signed before you can climb in the facility. In most cases, you’ll be able to fill these in ahead of your first visit by following links on the climbing wall’s website. Completing the waiver online means you’ll have less hanging around to do before you can climb. If you’re hoping to sport climb, you might be asked to complete a brief safety quiz and demonstrate your belay proficiency.

You’ll then be checked in and charged around £10 for an open-ended session. A member of staff may then show you around the wall and direct you to changing facilities, toilets, the shop and arguably the most important area, the cafe. After that, you’ll be free to climb, so it’s time to acquaint yourself with the gym’s grading system.

Climbing Grades

Climbing difficulty is determined by grading systems. In the UK, most bouldering gyms use the V-grade system, which ranks indoor and outdoor boulder difficulty from VB all the way to V17, and the French system, which spans 4 to 9a. Sport routes are typically graded using the French Sport system, ranging from 1 to 9b+. Commercial indoor walls will rarely set routes at elite level difficulty, as only a handful of climbers in the world can climb them!

Understanding the Grades at Your Indoor Wall

Quite confusingly, the categorisation of climbing grades changes from gym to gym, with many gyms assigning grades to a circuit of coloured holds, and many more choosing to tag individual routes with a grade. Generally, commercial gyms will set a span of routes at every grade, and will clearly label their grade system somewhere in the gym.

It’s worth remembering that grades are just an estimate of a climb’s difficulty, assigned by the person who created the route or problem to be climbed on. As much as route-setters are very experienced with identifying how difficult a problem is, grades are ultimately subjective and perceived difficulty will change from person to person. As such, grades should be taken only as a guide. When you’re just starting out, try not to get too wrapped up in grades and enjoy learning new movements and skills on the wall.

Some Extra Tips

As a newer climber in an indoor gym setting, there are some important things to bear in mind regarding gym etiquette to ensure you’re climbing safely and considerately. Staying conscious of your landing zones and your proximity to other climbers on nearby walls, as well as not walking under others as they climb and reporting any spinning holds ensures everybody stays safe in the gym. Brushing holds after you’ve used them, not hogging climbs and letting other climbers figure out their own methods when climbing are also important courtesy considerations.

When looking to improve performance as a newer climber, remember that climbing is a uniquely individual experience. What works for one climber’s body mechanics may not work for another and everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses. If you’re looking for areas to improve in, a wealth of beginner tips can be found online in YouTube videos, blog posts and on Instagram. Dedicated climbing coaches can also help you to learn the new skills on and off the wall, with many indoor walls offering coaching and group sessions on site

There really is something for everyone at the local indoor climbing wall. Whilst there are many different walls to choose from, any will help you on your way to enjoying all of the different styles of climbing. Book yourself in at a local wall and begin taking advantage of the wonderful world of indoor climbing!

OM x La Sportiva
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