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5 Differences Between a Rock Climbing Wall and a Rock Climbing Gym

With rock climbing's rise in popularity, many people are seeking out rock climbing gyms to try their hand at it. While you may be looking for a gym to climb at, there are significant differences between a rock climbing gym and a rock climbing wall, so make sure you check out precisely the type of rock climbing facility you're looking for.

Woman climbing in an indoor rock climbing gym


  1. Centered Around Climbing


The most significant difference is that a rock climbing gym centers around rock climbers. In contrast, a rock climbing wall may be a small part of a more extensive and differently focused facility, like exercising. You may enter a facility with a climbing wall and find it only has a small section for climbing. If you want to try climbing and aren't too committed, this is a perfect place to see if you like it.


However, a rock climbing gym will have plenty more pros. It is more than just a gym; it is a center for the climbing community to hang out. Below are the differences between a rock climbing gym and a rock climbing wall to help you choose where to climb.


  1. Rental Gear


Rock climbing gyms offer rental options for new climbers or those without their own gear. If you're trying rock climbing for the first time, it's recommended to try it with climbing shoes. (Many gyms don't allow street shoes on the walls). These shoes are created with rubber soles and are designed for stepping on small footholds.


Many gyms also have rope climbing areas where you can test your comfort with heights. You can rent a harness and try climbing to the ceiling!


The staff at a rock climbing gym will help you find the right size rental shoes and harness to maximize your enjoyment. They want you to have a good time, so you'll return! They also often have rental chalk bags (chalk is used to dry your hands when you climb).


Alternatively, a rock climbing wall can be anything from a small wall in a public park to a standalone wall inside a larger facility, like a workout gym or community center. Often, these don't have rental shoes or chalk to use.


  1. Route Setters


What you'll climb in a rock climbing gym is designed by the specific staff known as route setters. Usually, these routes will be color-coded and range in difficulty from beginners to advanced climbers. The setters design beginner-specific routes to encourage everyone to climb, so you'll have options!


A rock climbing wall in a different facility may have a natural wall that cannot be altered. A "natural" climbing wall is a fabricated wall that looks like a rock. The issue with it not being alterable is that if you continue to climb and progress, you will eventually climb all it offers.


  1. Knowledgeable Staff


The staff at the rock climbing gym will generally have a better understanding of rock climbing. Each staff member must undergo safety training to make sure they can identify unsafe climbing and how to respond if they encounter it.


Standalone climbing walls, such as those in a public park, don't have employees and are climb-at-your-own-risk. Getting injured in the park can be dangerous if no others are around. Plus, there won't be anybody to help if you have any questions.


  1. Amenities


A rock climbing gym will have amenities like restrooms, snacks, water fountains, lounging areas, and a retail shop where you can purchase items. It will also stay open after dark!


While some rock climbing walls inside another facility may have these options, a public wall likely will not. Also, a public park may not offer lighting to continue climbing after dark.


Rock climbing gyms and rock climbing walls can be drastically different. Before deciding where to plan your first rock climbing adventure, consider the type of amenities you're looking for! Remember that a rock climbing gym will offer more than a simple rock climbing wall and will include knowledgeable staff to help you learn safe climbing techniques. Have fun!


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