Get into indoor climbing

There’s no better place to hang out on a wet spring evening than your local climbing wall. Here’s how to choose the right gear and learn the ropes. 

The first artificial climbing wall was built in Leeds Uni in 1964. Indoor climbing has grown massively since then – huge complexes with cafes and shops have spread across Britain. So pleasant are they that some climbers never bother to get dirty outdoors at all any more.

Many rock climbers schedule a weekly indoor session into their diaries year-round, whether to train seriously or have fun, exercise and socialise. If you’ve never climbed before, they’re excellent places to learn the ropes and get to grips with essential techniques.

Choosing your equipment

Book a ‘taster’ at your local wall and, if you like it, an intro course. You can hire equipment before buying your own.

For basic indoor top rope climbing you need; a helmet, harness, rock shoes, chalk bag,  carabiner and belay device. If you progress to sport lead climbing, where you take the rope up with you and clip it into bolts, you’ll also need quickdraws and a rope. Bouldering is more simple; you just need rock shoes and a chalk bag.

Talking up your skills compromises safety, and this is why a preference for understatement is upheld in British climbing. You don’t need the most bling gear in the shop. This is called having all the gear and no idea.

Invest in gear that suits your level. This mostly concerns rock shoes. Don’t buy an expert technical pair if you don’t need them; they may look the biz but they will hurt! Beginners should go for a snug but comfy all-round shoe so that you can experiment with different kinds of climbing.

Essential Gear – What to look for


Buckles – Standard buckles need to be ‘doubled back’ to secure them. You don’t have to do this with ziplock buckles, which makes them safer as well as easier and quicker to use.

Leg Loops – Harnesses with adjustable leg loops allow a personalised fit. Some climbers prefer the simplicity of fixed leg loops – a bit of elastic means they fit most leg shapes.

Gear Loops – Harnesses usually come with plenty of gear loops, which is handy if you plan to progress to leading. Pressure moulded loops keep their shape.

Replacing it – Check your harness regularly for signs of wear or damage. If you climb often, consider changing it after two years, or a number of heavy falls.

Rock shoes

Size – Rock shoes are usually worn without socks and should fit snugly, with as little dead air space as possible, but not too tight, especially if you are a beginner. You can get good deals online but you should go to a shop and try different brands – shapes and sizes vary.

Shape – Beginner/all-round shoes are quite symmetrical with rounded toes. On the other hand, expert technical shoes are asymmetrical, focussing on the big toes. These allow you to use much smaller footholds but are much less comfortable.

Lace up or Velcro? – Lace up shoes give a better fit along the length of the foot, and they also reduce dead space in the shoe. Velcro is quicker to use and is often preferred for climbing short, hard routes or pitches in technical shoes. Then you can easily whip the shoe off when it’s time to belay/rest.

Black Diamond ATC XP

Black Diamond ATC XP

Belay Device

The Black Diamond ATC XP is a popular straightforward model, designed to facilitate slow, smooth feeding of the rope.

A Petzl Gri Gri belay device automatically locks in a fall. This has obvious safety advantages, but it is more difficult to pay out slack.


Ready to give it a go?

Here’s online a list of climbing walls across the UK.