Some folks start climbing as campers, students, or as guests of climber friends – but what do you need to start climbing? Fear not – Philly’s own Tufas Boulder Lounge is here to tackle that question in this week’s OnSight and give you the rundown on how to get started at a climbing gym!
If we want to start climbing, let’s go over something that makes climbing unique. Climbing is a sport that thrives on “psyche”. Psyche, with an e, is excitement for climbing, a positive attitude. It is also the fuel that forces us to stand up and try again after falling a hundred times! This advice goes for whether it’s your first time in a climbing gym, or your millionth time – stay excited and passionate, and help others cultivate that psyche! Remember: climbing is supposed to be fun!
In pretty much every climbing gym, and even some outdoor climbing areas, you will have to fill out a liability waiver before you can start climbing. This is for two reasons: (1) climbing is inherently dangerous, and (2) folks are quite litigious (I said it – sue me). It’s important for you to understand that everything, from ropes to floor padding, in a climbing gym is designed to mitigate risk and is never an absolute guarantee of safety.
As a matter of fact – go ahead and forget the word ‘safe’ in a climbing gym. Instead – try to cultivate awareness of your surroundings. Is there a line for a climb? Are you standing in a fall-zone? Can you hear your partner or is the gym blasting their music too loudly? Building and exercising awareness goes a long way to ensure a more pleasant (and less risky) experience.
Arguably the worst thing you can do after cultivating excitement for rock climbing and filling out a waiver at a rock gym is not give yourself enough time to climb! Be sure to plan enough time to get first-time tasks out of the way – filling out a waiver, trying on rental shoes, and a first-timer bouldering orientation and facility tour are some examples of tasks that eat into your workout time. So – plan ahead! Typically, 90 minutes is enough for a first-timer climbing session at a new gym. Beware: psyche is contagious! Your dedicated 90 minutes to start climbing might turn into a lifelong passion – as it often does.
Rock climbing is unlike any other sport on the planet. Nothing combines so much novel and varying movement with the raw stamina, strength, and flexibility required. However, that doesn’t mean you need a set of climbing-specific clothes! Any sportswear designed to wick moisture and give you free rein of motion will do the trick if you want to start climbing. However, try not to go all ‘90’s baggy tracksuit – baggier clothes can get stuck on holds on the wall, obstruct crucial footholds on climbs, or cause you to trip over yourself during especially delicate moves where precision is key.
Snacks and a Water Bottle!
Some people think that water bottles are only for collecting stickers from your favorite gyms.
This is true.
In addition to that, they’re also pretty handy at keeping you hydrated! Having an adequate amount of water is essential for performance on the climbing wall – and for, you know, staying alive. It also doesn’t hurt to bring a light snack! Pro-tip: I have a $5 bill tucked away into my chalk-bag in case I forget a snack – keeps me from getting hangry!
Rock climbing shoes keep routes and pads free of outside grime and have a sticky rubber sole to provide necessary friction between the shoes and the textured holds on the wall. They’re a must-have if you want to start climbing. Nowadays climbing shoes are designed with the climber in mind: many shoes concentrate the weight of the climber on the big toe for the smallest of foot jibs or have extra-thin rubber to give climbers a sensitive feel of the wall. Climbing gyms will often have rental shoes available for first-timers.
Not your first time or need help picking climbing shoes? Check out our guide!
Chalk is simultaneously the most overrated and the most underrated accessory to climbing because it’s so misunderstood. For starters, climbing evolved for a hundred years before chalk was ever introduced. Since John Gilman, a gymnast, and mathematician, brought chalk to climbing in the 1980’s, chalk has been instrumental in pushing climbing boundaries by fighting sweaty hands and slippery situations. However, from a material science perspective, chalk actually reduces the coefficient of friction between rock and skin. In other words, chalk actually acts as a lubricant between the climber and the route.
Chalk is often available for sale and for rent in large chalk pots. At Tufas, we provide you with both options as well as three different types of chalk: Friction Labs loose chalks, a Chalk Sphere, or Secret Stuff liquid chalk! The key to chalking up effectively is finding a balance between chalk as a drying agent for your hands and as a physical barrier between them and the rock. Less is more!
Climbing Gym Membership or Day Pass, or an Event!
The price of a day’s worth of indoor climbing varies from one climbing gym to another climbing gym – however, based on my experience, anywhere from $15-$20 for a day pass, and $5-$10 on equipment rentals is more than sufficient. Tufas Boulder Lounge offers discounts to first responders, students, veterans, people under 18, and over 65 – check to see your gym has similar offers. Furthermore, Tufas is home to several climbing groups such as PHLASH, Philadelphia’s queer climbing collective, Womxn Who Rock, as well as POC Climbing Club, and numerous collegiate climbing clubs, all of which enjoy special privileges and discounts. Coming in to climb as a part of these groups not only means a discount on our regular rates but also a set of friendly faces to make climbing less nerve-wracking.
Gear: Harness, Carabiner, Belay Device
If you’ve decided to try Tufas Boulder Lounge for your first time climbing then a shoe rental is all you need to start climbing. At gyms equipped with roped areas, additional costs are expected – plan an additional $10 for climbing harness, locking carabiner, and belay device rentals. Beware: some climbing gyms equipped with roped areas might have a dedicated belay service, which incurs additional fees or may require you to take a belay clinic before taking on the challenges of the top-rope.
Optional: A Friend!
Your first time in a climbing gym can be pretty intimidating! Having a friend who climbs can take away some of the anxiety around trying something new. Plus if your friend has a climbing gym membership, then they might also have a promotional Day Pass for you to use! Having friends in a climbing gym can take the edge off and save you some green – who doesn’t love that!
BONUS: 5 Things that Climbers Always Ask the Staff For
Ever wonder what climbing gym staff members are always asked for? Here is a bonus list for all the last-minute things to grab before heading to the climbing gym!
- Hair Tie – We’ve had so many requests for hair ties that we now have a dedicated 100 count bag available for patrons!
- Charger – Can you imagine trying to snap a video of your climb just to get that dreaded dead battery message? Tufas has plenty of outlets – bring a charger!
- Change for Lockers, Locks – It’s a good idea to have some change in case a climbing gym offers coin-operated lockers! Or better yet – bring a lock!
- Tape – Flappers, cuts, general psychosomatics – white tape is a useful and oft-requested item at climbing gym!
- Nail Clippers – Long nails can make climbing difficult if not impossible for some folks as long nails prevent the most comfortable grip on climbing holds. It’s a good idea to keep your nails in check to make climbing easier!
With climbing gyms seeing over a thousand new participants across the country every day – “what do I need to start climbing?” is a question begging for an answer. Here is our very own Tufas Boulder Lounge run-down of the things you need to start today!
- Positive attitude! Climbing thrives on enthusiastic participation!
- Waiver! Climbing is inherently dangerous!
- Free time! Climbing for the first time? Plan about 90 minutes!
- Comfy Clothes! Climbing requires freedom of movement!
- Water and Snacks! Rock climbing is hard work – stay hydrated and energized!
- Climbing Shoes! Climbing is a lot easier in specialized climbing shoes than in sneakers!
- Chalk! Dry up your hands – but be careful to not use too much!
- Day Pass! Trying climbing doesn’t mean buying a whole membership – try a day pass!
Optional: A friend! Climbing is a lot more fun with a friend!
Z. Kudratov wrote this, among other things. They’re an imported Philadelphian with a soft spot for public transportation, public radio, and the PMA.