Bouldering Basics: Climbing Gym Etiquette

Climbing Gym Etiquette is pretty much the same as table manners: try to keep things as clean as possible and be considerate of the people climbing around you. In this edition of On Sight we’re going to talk about one of the most contentious questions in climbing (aside from grading) and that is Climbing Gym Etiquette. We’ve organized this article from least to most contentious – so scroll to the bottom if you’re looking for a reason to write in.

Mind your business – most of the time.

Bouldering is known for the community that builds on the pads around a problem or a section in the gym. This can be a hotbed for psyche and excitement as we watch fellow climbers tackle projects, scamper, fall, and (hopefully) send. However – nobody enjoys being stared at. We’re challenged to balance the well-meaning word of encouragement from a leery set of unwelcome eyes. Everyone’s comfort level is individual – so beware that your mileage may vary – but generally, you’ve got to commit to keeping to yourself or trying to make new friends. Weird half-stares won’t do – this isn’t a nightclub or a bar where you can batter your lashes coyly. Unless you’re looking for beta (the how-to of a climb), friendship, or First Aid – mind your business.

Pro Tip: Ask somebody how they prefer to be encouraged! Some folks may prefer total silence during the climb!

Wear Climbing Shoes, not Sneakers

Bowling shoes keep the alley clean of dirt and mud tracked from the outside and provide the right amount of friction for the athlete on the approach. Climbing shoes do the same for our vertical athletes. When in a climbing gym, resist the urge to hop on a fun route with your tennis shoes and instead opt for the specialized climbing shoe. This keeps the routes free of outdoor debris, provides an excellent amount of friction for your feet. As an added bonus, climbing shoes let your concentrate the weight of your feet on your toes. Having a pair of your own climbing shoes can greatly increase your confidence on the wall as well as make the routes more pleasant those climbing after you! Are you in the market for a new climbing shoe? Check out our guide on how to pick a climbing shoe!

If You’re Bleeding, Let Us Know!

Blood happens. You get a flapper, or skin your knee, or have a cuticle gone rogue that gets on a hold or a volume and decides to rip. Blood is supposed to stay inside of your body, but climbing is quite good at coaxing it out! Luckily, climbing gym employees are trained to handle, clean, and disinfect bloodied surfaces. They are NOT trained, however, to read your mind. If you bleed on a hold or the pads, don’t leave your biohazard for another person to touch! Inform the staff immediately so that your flapper doesn’t turn into an outbreak. Besides, we have bandages for you, too.

Don’t walk on the pads.

If there is a padded area in a bouldering gym, then you can bet your bottom dollar that that area is a fall zone. Sitting in a fall zone is ill-advised for a couple of reasons: somebody might fall on you, or somebody might not be able to climb something they want to because they’re afraid of falling on you. (And yeah, they could ask you to move, but not everybody is comfortable with confrontation) Besides, Tufas has an ample amount of sitting near the action so there’s rarely a shortage!

Have Eyes on Your Kids

While these youngins’ are having a blast they are under the supervision of our Youth Session staff

Bouldering is inherently dangerous. Sharing that danger might be a bonding experience for some parents but is often a terrifying variable for climbers. Because there are no ropes or harnesses, unattended children in a fall zone could be seriously injured by a falling climber. Climbing gyms are a mixed age and ability environment and in that spirit, parents ought to model the kind of consideration we expect from the best in the sport.

Wait Your turn!

Typically, if a boulder problem is very popular then an informal queue begins to form

Just like at the post office, the bathroom at a sporting event, and my tolerance to poor manners: there’s a line. Typically, if a boulder problem is very popular then an informal queue begins to form. A careful eye will find the rhythm and hop in when appropriate. A more straightforward approach is to just ask if you could hop on a route. Caution! Beware not to hog the wall, though, leave some texture for the rest of us.

Say “Nay” to the Spray.

You know what’s worse than backseat driving? Backseat climbing. Unless somebody explicitly asks you for beta, tips, or advice, keep your advice like your car: parked outside. Yes – even if I’m doing something totally wonky, and it’s making you cringe, and even if you think your special, perfect beta, yes yours and yours alone, will rescue me from my own ineptitude – keep it to yourself. Not only is your beta probably wrong for me anyway, but it’s just annoying. A part of what makes climbing exciting is the chance to work out a problem for yourself. A part of what makes climbing annoying is having the peanut gallery work a climb out for you. Pick the right side of history and quit spraying beta!

Chalk? Less is more!

News flash: You’re not Lebron James – you’re not even the Philly Phanatic. Use enough chalk to dry your hands and close the bag and take it off the pads. Nope. That’s it. Walk away.

Maybe try a table?

On this side of the Mississippi, you won’t find a soul more in love with procrasti-snacking at the gym or at the crag than me. Whether it’s a baked good, a ham and cheese, or a parfait, I love it all. However, getting chalk on my food and food on the holds is only the start of the issue – ever fall off of a project onto a coffee-drenched pad only to find crumbs in your hair and your elbow in a bowl of hummus? So – take it from a veteran snackateer: keep the food off the pads, and please wash your hands.

Wear shoes.

Hey, fungus toes – why don’t you do us a favor and put some shoes on? Before you start telling me how long it takes to take shoes off and put them back on, ask yourself “Am I setting a speed record or making everyone around me uncomfortable with my odor, disrespect, and slippery foot sweat?” You’re not even listening – oh my god – did you just walk into the bathroom?!

Put a Shirt On!

Typically, our barefoot companions are only outdone by our wannabe Adonis. This aspiring Mr. Olympia is just really, really hot in this climate-controlled warehouse we turned into a climbing gym. First, it was the weight of the sleeves that led our Number 10 to a cut-off spaghetti strap tank top lifestyle. In time, however, even the back and front of the shirt were simply too heavy to bear and so our Herculean hopeful decided that for the V2 send attempt in this *climate-controlled* facility that the shirt just had to come off. Give me a break. In addition to the highly undesirable display of nips that absolutely nobody gave consent to, bouldering shirtless is a great way to leave your sweat soaking into our pads, lose friends, and alienate people.


If you found any of the above disagreeable then you should read it again. If you still feel like your Very Unique Opinion (just like your Very Special Beta) deserves to be shouted from rooftops then email us at, call in, or just go ahead and keep it to yourself.

Want to learn more about this topic? Our chalk buddies at Friction Labs have written a similar piece on this underrated topic. Check it out here >>

On the other hand, if you have a valuable contribution to the list of Climbing Gym Etiquette then email us at or use the Contact Us link on our website.


In addition to Bouldering Basics, Czech out our Send Global blog series! Send Global focuses on international and marginalized perspectives on climbing and is currently accepting guest blog submissions! Reach out to us if you fancy yourself a chalk-bag totin’ globetrotter! In our most recent edition, Ryan Syracuse looks at how climbing changed her relationship with her mind and body.


Z. Kudratov wrote this, among other things. They’re an imported Philadelphian with a soft spot for public transportation, public radio, and the PMA.