Beginner’s Guide to Indoor Climbing
If you have never been climbing, the range of styles, equipment and jargon can all seem off-putting. But we love climbing and are passionate about climbing safely, and in particular about the benefits of using auto belay for indoor climbing, which is why we’ve pulled together a fully comprehensive overview for beginners about how to get started climbing. We’ll give you some links to great resources and you’ll learn about:
The multiple benefits of climbing
How to start your climbing journey
What happens when you arrive at a climbing wall
What types of climbing styles there are
What you need to wear
How you can progress in climbing through courses and competitions
Why get into climbing?
If you want to keep fit, meet people, build mental agility and team-building skills - then climbing is the best activity for you. Another benefit of indoor climbing is that you won’t have to buy as much equipment or protective clothing as you will be protected from the elements.
What’s more - climbing offers a full “all body workout”, which engages all the body's muscles and is “more challenging and fatiguing” than other repetitive movement activities.
And what about for kids? Well, for children, climbing can really boost their agility, concentration and motor skills. Not to mention building self-esteem and academic performance. Learn about more of the benefits in our blog post about the benefits of getting children climbing.
Also check out Cool of the Wild’s “20 Inspiring Benefits of Climbing that Will Rock Your World,” where reaching things from the top of a cupboard is an often-overlooked side benefit!
How to get into climbing?
You’ll need to do the following things before you start climbing.
1. Pick a climbing style
Decide what type of climbing you would like to try. We would suggest watching some YouTube videos of indoor climbing to see what you might like. Continue reading below for the different types of climbing - bouldering, rope climbing, lead climbing, and auto belay climbing.
2. Find a climbing wall
Find a climbing gym or climbing facility. Check out some of the best climbing walls in the UK here. Or visit the British Mountaineering Council’s (BMC) website here to find a wall near you. If you are brand new to climbing, it can be helpful to find a facility where they are using an auto belay for indoor climbing.
What does a climbing wall look like?
Climbing walls are typically made with steel frames covered with plywood, fibreglass or GRP (glass fibre reinforced plastic). The wall is either coloured or given a textured finish out of concrete, paint or polyurethane and sand to mimic a rock face. They are then covered with plastic handholds. There are some incredible artificial climbing walls around the world. They have evolved from the early brick climbing walls into exciting, challenging and dynamic artificial walls for bouldering, lead climbing or auto belay climbing.
What happens when you arrive at a climbing wall for the first time?
When you arrive, you will have to fill some sort of registration form in. This is to ensure you are aware of some of the risks involved in climbing and find out about your level of climbing skill. They will want to know if you are a complete beginner or know some of the basics. There’s a lot of terminology in climbing, but don’t be put off. It’s quick to learn once you get started. Most centres and climbing gyms will give you an introductory course and cover the basics of climbing and health and safety.
What type of climbing will you do?
There are two basic types of climbing, booth involving moving across or up a wall using climbing holds: Roped Climbing, where you climb attached to a rope managed by another climber or an auto belay; and Bouldering, which is climbing within harnesses or rope at a low height.
Bouldering will involve climbing on low artificial walls where you have the challenge of moving from one end to the other using the holds. Boulding is all about solving short climbing problems. Problems like, where should you put your foot, which is the best handhold? For bouldering, there will be a safety mat (also known as crash mats or landing pads) in case you fall.
Roped climbing involves climbing up a route. You are tied on to a rope which is controlled and managed by another person. This role is called belaying. It is possible to use a device called an auto belay for indoor climbing instead of needing a second person to belay the climber, which is great if you want to climb alone or repeat sections of a wall multiple times.
Some Common Questions
What is top-roping?
Top roping (also known as bottom roping) involves climbing up a rope which is attached to the top of a wall by an anchor. A climber will tie in to one end of this rope. The other end is managed by a belayer. He will take up the slack of the rope as you climb to the top. The belayer will also manage the rope on the way down and stop the rope if the climber needs to rest or falls.
What is lead climbing?
Lead Climbing is for more experienced climbers as they manage the ropes themselves. As they climb, they clip the rope into different anchors as they progress up the wall. Its called lead climbing, because it involves leading the rope up the wall and attaching to bolts or quickdraws. A quickdraw, also known as an extender, allows a climber to quickly attach their rope to a bolt. It is made up of two carabiners connected with some form of textile sling.
What is auto belay climbing?
For climbing walls with an auto belay installed you may be able to climb with a minimal introduction. Why? An auto belay automatically belays your rope for you, so there is no need for an additional person to belay. An auto belay for indoor climbing is great if you want to run laps on a wall, train on your own or get into climbing for fitness.
When you climb up the climbing wall, the auto belay will take up the rope slack (something that is done by another climber on normal lead belaying). When you start to come down (or if you fall), the auto belay will slow your descent and help you safely to the ground.
What is speed climbing?
This is climbing as quickly as possible up a standardised route on an artificial wall. At the base of the climbing route there will be a timer plate. They will start with their foot on this plate. The winner is whoever passes the light sensor at the top. The fastest - wins. The route needs to be certified by the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) for competition. Speed climbing used to be done by using two belayers it has now switched to using auto belay to keep up with the climbers.
What do you need to wear?
Comfortable climbing that will enable you to move freely and have a bit of stretch. Make sure the clothing isn’t too baggy as you don’t want to catch it on any climbing holds or your equipment. Each gym will provide different equipment for hire and use so check out what’s available at your nearest facility.
Typically the basic climbing equipment will be:
- Harness - to secure you to the ropes
- Chalk bag and chalk - to stop your hands from slipping on the holds
- Locking carabiners - to attach the belay rope to your harness
- Rock climbing shoes - these are usually shoes with some grip and flexibility
- Climbing ropes - most centres provide rope for you, but always check
What climbing terms should you know about?
Here are a few basic terms to get you started:
- Anchor - fixed bolt
- Auto Belay - an automatic belay device that takes up slack and slows your descent or fall.
- Belay - a device that controls the rope held by the belayer.
- Belayer - a person who holds the climbing rope of the climber.
- Bouldering - low-level climbing without ropes.
- Carabiner - a metal loop that joins climbing equipment. Can also be known as a crab.
- Crimp - small hold.
- Dyno - dynamic move jumping from one hold to the next.
- Guppy - a hold that can be squeezed by the hand.
- Holds - coloured plastic shapes that you can hold or stand on while climbing.
- No hands rest - balancing on your feet and not holding on.
- Overhang - where a climbing wall leans towards you.
- Quickdraw - two carabiners linked together by some textile.
- Soloing - climbing without a rope. Think Alex Honold.
- Trad climbing - also known as traditional climbing with a lead climber putting in protection equipment during an ascent.
- Wad - a great climber!
Can you take courses in climbing?
You can take part in a standardised training programme known as the National Indoor Climbing Award Scheme (NICAS) or the NIBAS scheme for Bouldering.
These provide structured introductions to climbing from aged 7 and uses logbooks to record progress. 240 centres across the UK run the NICAS.You can also go on to become a coach and take a Climbing Wall Award (CWA) qualification. Check out NICAS’ “Where Can Climbing Lead Me?” post.
What competitions are there?
If you want to take your climbing to the next level then there are lots of competitions you can take part in.
Competitions are run by the BMC / GB Climbing. The govern competition climbing. They run the British Lead and Speed Climbing Championships (BLCC and BSCC).
There is also a Youth Climbing Series. From there you can enter national competitions and perhaps be selected for the GB National Development Squad and the GB Paraclimbing Team. There are lots of different paths to get onto the Squad, so make sure you check out the BMC website.
To get to the Olympics, you’d need to compete in international competitions like the European and World Championships. These are all run by the IFSC. They also set the requirements for qualifying for an Olympic place.
Can you have a career in climbing?
You can either go into the retail side of climbing and manage a climbing facility or gym. Or you could go into the “at height” industries and industrial rope access work. Jobs in this field can involve anything from a Wind Turbine engineer to a painter on large ships, to performing rock stabilisation on the Rock of Gibraltar. They cover jobs in offshore oil and gas, power and petrochemical, natural and built environment. The industry is regulated by the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) and has some incredible images of rope access technicians at work.
We hope that you got a good overview of climbing from our beginner’s guide to climbing. If you are a climbing gym owner and are looking to provide an overview of climbing, you can download this blog post as a pdf here.
We love climbing and are passionate about safety. We can help you find the right climbing wall for your facility and provide auto belay for indoor climbing (and all other climbing equipment) through www.safeclimb.co.uk. For more information about the Safedown Auto Belay, contact Liza or Scott on +44 (0)333 200 2602 to find out how our SafeClimb can become your climbing partner.