The Dos and Don'ts of Indoor Rock Climbing

The climbing gym is a magical place, and most outdoor sports don’t have an indoor equivalent. If they do, it doesn’t offer nearly the same level of enjoyment as the real thing (ahem, running and biking). When it comes to climbing, however, even though we will always prefer real rock, the rock gym never feels like less of a compromise. A few things that frequently occur here can make it a less-than-great experience, though. Having a little etiquette will ensure your sessions are fun for you and everyone around. So, what are the dos and don’ts of climbing indoors?

Courtesy: Markus
Courtesy: Markus

DO: Be supportive of other climbers!

While climbing isn’t exactly a “team sport,” it is most definitely a community activity. Just as they do in the wild, climbers indoors rely on each other for a secure belay, a good spot, and words of encouragement. Here, be sure to do that whole “treat others as you wish to be treated” thing. Cheer others on, move a crash pad underneath a fellow boulderer if they’ve misjudged where to put it, and offer up advice when someone asks for it. But…

DON’T: Start handing out unsolicited advice while they’re climbing

This is called “spraying beta,” and nobody likes it. Even if you’ve watched a climber flail on the same section of a route or boulder problem for the last 20 minutes—and you know exactly what they need to do to move past it—unless they ask for your help, keep your mouth shut.

DO: Jump on hard-for-you routes!

A regular gym is where people can try to get better at running or spinning, or make gains in the weight room. But, progress never happens if you stick to the same routine. Similarly, a rock gym is where climbers can go to fine-tune their technique and build strength for scaling harder routes. And, similarly, it will never happen if you climb the same grades each time.

So, yes, jump on that V6 you’ve been eyeing for the past week or two, even if you still sometimes struggle to send V5s or V4s. Or, try out the new 5.11 your favorite setter just put up, even if you had a hard time figuring out the 5.9 they set last month. In order to get better, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try harder things. However…

Courtesy: Aimee Custis
Courtesy: Aimee Custis

DON’T: Hog the wall while you try to figure it out

Unless no one else is there, never take over a particular route or section of the bouldering wall as you try to piece the moves together. In general, repeatedly falling off and jumping back on is a good way to build character. However, doing this without allowing other people to give it a shot earns you a bad reputation.

DO: Look around, mingle, and be social!

Maybe you’ve noticed the same person or group is always there when you are. Or, maybe a particular climber that you just can’t help but watch makes you wonder if they have springs in their bones. In either case, strike up a conversation! You can’t have too many climbing friends, and the rock gym is the perfect place to meet new ones. Just make sure you…

DON’T: Get in the way of other climbers

Nevertheless, people are still primarily at the rock gym to get in a good workout. So, avoid getting so involved in conversation that you fail to notice you’ve parked yourself right in front of a climb someone else is waiting patiently to jump on. When you’re bouldering, keep in mind that the crash pads are there to break a fall—not offer you and your friends a cushy place to sit and debate which bar you should head to when you’re done. And, if you’re walking and talking, be sure to stay aware of your surroundings. Otherwise, you’ll end up walking underneath people who are climbing.

Courtesy: Meraj Chhaya
Courtesy: Meraj Chhaya

DO: Bring your kids to the gym!

The next generation has to start somewhere, and bringing your little ones is as good a place as any. The gym allows you to show your kids the ropes (overly obvious pun intended) in a relatively controlled environment, without the distractions or potential dangers presented by climbing outdoors. Having them at the gym also keeps things entertaining for the rest of us. There’s nothing I love more than watching a 7-year-old make it farther on a new boulder problem than my husband can on their first try.

DON’T: Let them run wild while you climb

There’s nothing worse than a kid running around while you’re belaying or underneath while you’re bouldering. If you’re going to let your kids tag along, they should know proper gym etiquette, too! When you teach them how to tie in, also explain why it’s important to give other belayers some distance and not run around, behind, or in front of them. As they get more comfortable falling or jumping off a boulder problem, make sure they understand that adults also fall and jump. As such, being too close—either underneath or on another problem that crosses paths—is dangerous for both parties.

Courtesy: Aimee Custis
Courtesy: Aimee Custis

DO: Have fun!

The best part of climbing, whether indoors or out, is that it’s fun. On-sighting a new route is always exciting. As well, topping out a gym’s bouldering wall can sometimes be more satisfying than topping out an actual boulder because you know there’s a safe, easy way back down. And, climbing with friends is almost never not a good time.

DON’T: Be that guy or girl

Despite climbing’s inherent fun-ness, there are plenty of ways to ruin it. Don’t be the person who makes a trip to the gym a nightmare by doing these things:

  • Unnecessary screaming, yelling, or grunting. Making noises while you’re climbing happens. When you’re outdoors, the open space makes it more tolerable for those around you. At the gym, however, the confined space turns even the least-offensive grunt into the noise of someone who just popped a shoulder out of place or broke an ankle. Try to keep your noises to a minimum.
  • Bouldering with a harness on. There may be nothing dangerous about this, and it probably won’t affect your own enjoyment. However, it does make you look foolish, and it’s embarrassing for your friends. Take your harness off when you’re done with ropes.
  • Dressing inappropriately. Guys, most rock gyms are climate-controlled places, which means there’s almost never a need to take off your shirt. Ladies, booty shorts with a harness is neither attractive nor comfortable. Keep your rock gym wardrobe simple: a T-shirt or tank top with climbing shorts or leggings. And, unless you’re renting shoes from the gym or have a medical reason to keep them on, take off your socks!
  • Throwing a wobbler when you don’t send. This is especially common amongst boulderers, but it happens on the ropes, too. Either way, it’s not a good look on anybody. Remember that you’re there to get better at the sport, and that you have to fail occasionally in order to do it. Nobody wants to listen to you curse or watch you throw your shoes at the wall. Keep it together, take a few deep breaths, and jump on a route you know you can do to build your confidence back up before returning to your new project.
  • Chalk snafus. Some gyms require chalk balls in an effort to keep their facilities clean. But, if we could all just be a little more mindful, it wouldn’t be an issue. Pay attention when you’re walking around, so you don’t knock over someone’s chalk pot. Don’t scoop out a handful, and then sprinkle half of it on the floor as you rub it into your hands. And, don’t forget to cinch your chalk bag shut when you pack your stuff up.
  • Gym Sprawl. Unless you’re at the gym during a quiet time of day, bring only what you need onto the floor. This usually entails your shoes, chalk, and harness. I know it’s nice to check your phone or grab a sip of water in between routes without having to walk back over to the cubbies or locker room. However, if the gym is busy and everyone has their non-essential stuff at the wall, moving from climb to climb becomes an obstacle course—and not a fun one. Plus, if you leave your stuff in a cubby, your chances of leaving something behind or going home with a broken phone because someone stepped on it are a lot lower.

Did I miss anything? Share your tips for proper rock gym etiquette in the comments!

Courtesy: Aimee Custis
Courtesy: Aimee Custis