Ballpark Estimate: $175 to $635 (includes purchase of gear)
WARNING! Learning to climb in an indoor gym does not adequately prepare you for outdoor rock climbing. Different gear and a very different and more complicated set of skills are required to climb outdoors. Do not attempt to climb outdoors on your own, even top-roping routes, without proper instruction! See What It Costs To Learn To Rock Climb Outdoors.
The safest way to learn rock climbing is at an indoor climbing gym. These indoor gyms are popping up all over. They’re in all 50 states and on every continent in the world. Yes, there’s even an indoor climbing wall at the Casey Australian Station in Antarctica.
While rock climbing is an inherently dangerous sport, indoor rock climbing gyms offer a controlled and safety-conscious environment in which to learn.
Select a Reputable Rock Climbing Gym
If you’re just starting out, look for a dedicated rock climbing gym. That is, search for a true rock climbing facility, rather than a minor wall that’s attached to a health club. Those smaller walls are best suited for the casual work-out, and you’re less likely to get a true rock climbing experience or the necessary instruction to climb safely and well. A rock climbing gym can have weight machines or teach yoga classes, but real rock climbing should be its main and obvious purpose.
Ideally, your gym will be spacious, well-lit, have a decent ventilation system, a beginner’s wall, clearly-marked routes for a variety of grade levels, overhangs, roof climbing, lead walls, and an interesting and well-padded bouldering cave. The floor should be padded throughout, preferably with a high-grade, carpeted, multi-layer flooring system. The bouldering cave should have extra-thick pads, since that’s where unroped rock climbing and, therefore, unroped falls occur.
Before you can rent equipment or climb, you’ll be asked to sign a waiver and liability form. If you’re under 18, have a parent or responsible adult accompany you on your first visit.
Before allowing you to climb at a rock gym, most gyms will require a belay lesson and/or test to ensure that you know what you’re doing and will be able to climb safely. Rock climbing is a partnership; every climber needs an alert belayer. At gyms, a rope is looped over a metal pipe (or run through carabiners) at the top of each climb. One end of the rope is tied into the climber’s harness. As the climber ascends, the belayer takes in rope at the other end, pulling the rope through a special belay device attached to the belayer’s harness. If the climber outweighs the belayer, the belayer is anchored to the floor. This belaying technique prevents the climber from falling to the ground, and allows the belayer to lower the climber at the end of the climb.
A trained rock climbing instructor will take anywhere from ten minutes to two hours to teach you correct belay techniques. The time variation reflects the philosophy of the gym. Some gyms feel it’s necessary to walk clients through the process with constant supervision over the course of hours. Most gyms, however, feel comfortable with a short but thorough lesson, followed by a test, followed by observation and correction from staff members over the course of your visit. A few of the essentials that you will learn are:
- How to check and double check your harness for fit and security
- How to lock and unlock a locking carabiner
- How to safely use a ”grigri” (self-braking belay device)
- How to correctly tie in to the rock climbing rope, being sure to thread the rope through the proper parts of your harness
- How to tie a double figure eight knot (to tie yourself into the belay system before rock climbing) and how to double check the knot for safety
- How to anchor yourself to the floor of the gym when belaying
- The correct commands for preparing to climb and belaying
- How to take in rope as your climber ascends the wall
- How to let rope out if your climber decides to retreat from a move
- How to arrest a fall
- How to safely lower your climber to the ground
Cost: $20 to $40
- Even though you may have climbed previously with a friend, and think you know how to belay, most gyms will require that you take their belay class and test. It’s a matter of safety, so try not to take it personally if you’re asked to relearn what you believe you already know.
- Some gyms make auto-belay systems available to climbers who are rock climbing alone. As a beginner, avoid these systems. Learning to belay is essential, and for your purposes, an auto-belay system isn’t practical. Be skeptical if you’re offered this as a beginner.
Clothing and Equipment
Wear comfortable, stretchy clothes that you don’t mind beating up a bit. Yoga clothes are great. If you don’t own your own gear, you can rent rock climbing shoes, a harness (with locking carabiner), and chalk bag. A few gyms require that you wear a helmet (included in rental package), while others offer helmets as an option (for free), or don’t require a helmet at all. If you’re unsure how to put on your harness, or how tight your shoes should be, staff members are happy to help you out.
Full package rental:
- includes shoes, harness, locking biner, & chalk bag for one day: $6 to $12
- Rock climbing shoes: $40 to $150
- Rock climbing harness: $35 to $90
- Locking carabiner: $10 to $20
- Chalk bag, belt, and chalk: $25
You can pay the single day rate at any rock gym for as long as you like, however, if you decide that you love rock climbing, you can save money by purchasing a longer membership. There are usually discounts for students, families, and children.
- One-day pass to climb at the gym: $10 to $20
- 1-Month Membership: $50 to $100
- 3-Month Membership: $120 to $160 (single)
- Annual Membership: $370 to $675 (single)
If you want to improve quickly, the best course of action is to take some lessons from a qualified instructor. The vast majority of rock gyms will offer instruction ranging from beginner lessons to learning to lead classes. Some gyms will offer multi-day lesson packages for intermediate (and above) classes.
Taught by a qualified instructor, this private or small group lesson will usually take between one and two hours. You will learn essentials such as:
- Equipment use
- Belay technique
- Knots and tying in
- Safety checks and communication
- Basic rock climbing skills
- Injury prevention
Cost: $60 to $80 (includes rental gear and day pass)
Intermediate Lessons: $60 to $200 (single-day through multi-day)
Personal Coaching: $30 to $45/hour
Lead classes: $35 to $50
These classes will teach you the skills needed to safely lead climb in an indoor gym. Lead rock climbing means that you are ascending the wall, clipping bolts as you go, rather than top-roping the route.