Climbing Indoors vs. Climbing Outdoors

Climbing Indoors vs. Climbing Outdoors

The Differences between Indoor and Outdoor Climbing

Rock climbing is certainly attracting more mainstream media attention over the last few years than in the past. Professional climbers of the moment all seem to have successful social media profiles and some climbs are even getting feature length films produced about them to cover every detail - who else is excited for Dawn Wall? Even mention 'Alex Honnold' in front of your nan and she might know who you're talking about.

With climbing's increasing media presence and with new climbing gyms cropping up all over the country more people are trying out rock climbing in indoor climbing walls, however few people progress from here to actually climbing outside on real rock. So what are the major differences between climbing inside or outside?

Black Snot

Walking into some dingy climbing gyms with all the chalk dust and rubber particles hanging in the air is reminiscent of a lot of pubs before the smoking ban. No wonder upon leaving a few hours later many climbers suffer with the dreaded 'Black Snot'. Scientists have even set up small studies to attempt to determine whether this quite disgusting build up has any negative effect on health. Personally I realised whatever the results of these studies were I would not stop visiting climbing walls, so I have not read them - what you don't know can't harm you right? Since most crags are away from built up areas and in the countryside climbing outdoors has the advantage and can only be good for you lungs.

There's no holds

This can be a problem both indoors or outdoors.

First-timers outside always complain about there being no holds as we are spoilt at climbing walls since the holds are always bright and obvious colours. Part of climbing outside is 'reading the route' and sometimes all this actually boils down to is actually finding the holds. This can be an undervalued skill even in experienced climbers who might drop an onsight attempt because they didn't stare at the climb enough while still on the ground. It's easy to enter tunnel vision when you're locked off meters above your last protection and miss a big jug or knee bar that was only slightly to one side - unless it's fluorescent green like at the climbing gym...

Indoors this problem usually only occurs when one manages to skive off work at lunch in the hope that the wall won't be busy and you'll be able to send a project in peace, only to find there's absolutely no holds anywhere and the routesetters are in.

The Weather

For many climbers the choice is clear, if it's sunny climb outside, if it's wet climb inside. It's difficult to argue with that logic but there are in my opinion a few other factors worth considering.

In the summer when it rains many climbers often flock to the local climbing to keep up their strength. Unfortunately, the hot weather, humidity and already odorous climbers can create an interesting cocktail. Air con is a must. As an alternative, some overhanging crags stay dry in the rain and climbing in these conditions can resemble the feeling of being behind a waterfall.

In the winter months, indoor walls are often much more habitable and the feeling of getting some exercise in depite the lack of sunlight is very motivating. Some might think climbing outside at this time of year is reserved for the masochists but mild sunny winter days can actually give the best climbing conditions especially if the crag faces the sun. The real lunatics are in Scotland climbing mixed routes although even the Scots thought they should make an indoor ice-climbing wall at Kinlochleven.


This list is obviously inconclusive of all the similarities and differences between climbing walls and outdoor crags, both have their advantages and as climbers we are fortunate their is something for everyone. Our next blog will be about home gyms and training for climbing so send us in any photos of home builds or any training related inspiration and we'll be sure to poke some fun at it.


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