How to start indoor climbing

Posted by Rob Adie on 12/12/2018
Indoor climbing walls are a great place to try climbing. Photo: Alex Messenger.

Climbing gyms (or ‘walls’ for short) are one of the easiest and most practical ways into climbing. They help you improve quickly and can also be great fun – whatever your climbing ambitions!

If you’ve never been to a climbing wall before, your first visit can be both intimidating and exciting, and there are a few basic skills you will need to learn before being allowed to climb unsupervised. 

Most indoor walls now require beginners to do a taster session, an introductory course or to be supervised by an experienced friend, so if you’re thinking of starting you should first call your local wall and find out when these are offered, how long they take, and what they involve. Such sessions are one of the best ways to learn the ropes, and help ensure that climbing walls are as safe as possible for everyone.

Your instructor will show you crucial skills such as how to correctly put on a climbing harness, how to attach yourself to the rope, how to belay another climber and how to safely lower them to the ground once they’ve reached the top. They might also cover warming up, basic climbing moves, how to use the different types of handhold and foothold, and how to use a bouldering wall. The wall will usually lend or rent you equipment for your beginner's course. 

Watch our indoor climbing skills video series:

Once you’ve shown that you can use the wall safely and that you understand the centre’s rules, you will be allowed to register to climb unsupervised. Unless you’re bouldering this means you’ll need a friend to climb with, but many walls will have sessions where you can meet other climbers. And once you’ve got used to climbing at one wall, you’ll also be able to register at hundreds of others, usually just by answering a few questions and signing a declaration that you are responsible for your own actions. 

Once you’ve done a handful of sessions, you might want to start thinking about buying your own shoes, harness and belay device. Many indoor walls also have gear shops where you can get advice. Be honest about your ability and aspirations – you’ll have plenty more opportunity to buy things if you make the leap to climbing outdoors.

If you’re under 18 and want to take up indoor climbing, different rules might apply and you should call your local wall to check. Many offer courses and competitions especially for young people but you might need parental permission or supervision. If you are a parent, or a young person, you may also find our Young People booklet helpful.

New climbers might find it helpful to watch the BMC’s excellent videos below on:-

1. How to put on a harness
2. How to tie a rope into your harness
3, How to belay

You can also order our Climbing Walls Essentials DVD.

Watch the Climbing Wall Essentials trailer on BMC TV:

WATCH: How to put a harness on BMC TV:

WATCH: How to attach the rope to your harness on BMC TV:

WATCH: How to belay a lead climber on BMC TV:


Don't want to miss out on the climbing competition action? Whether you're a competitor, spectator or volunteer, sign up to the climbing calendar mailing list to get reminders for comp registrations, and start times here.

JOIN THE BMC: Save 50% on your first year's membership

The BMC works for indoor climbers like you. Benefits include:

  • Retail discounts
  • Access to BMC Travel Insurance
  • Register for Mountain Training award schemes
  • £10m worldwide Combined Liability insurance
  • £10,000 Personal Accident insurance
  • Discounted entry to many competitions

Find out more about BMC membership benefits

WATCH: Molly Thompson-Smith: Portrait of a Champion on BMC TV

Follow the BMC's competition climbing Twitter feed: @GB_Climbing

Follow the BMC's competition climbing Instagram feed: @GB_Climbing

Find all upcoming competitions here.


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