Outdoor vs. Indoor Climbing

By: Josh & Michele + Save to a List

Climbing is an awesome workout for your back, shoulders, fingers, and core, but what are the key differences between indoor and outdoor climbing?

I was first introduced to climbing at my college’s indoor climbing gym. Watching the other students climb, it looked fun, but I was terrified of heights. That’s when one of the rock wall attendants (who is now one of my best friends) introduced me to bouldering. With bouldering, I was able to enjoy climbing without facing my fear of heights. I continued bouldering for weeks but always made up some excuse when friends invited me to climb the wall. After a week or so I began to notice that my friends weren’t inviting me to climb with them anymore, and that’s when it hit me… I had become THAT GUY! I was the that guy who was too scared to climb with the rest of the climbers who had become my friends. “How did I let this happen,” I thought, “I can’t be THAT GUY!” I realized that I had to do it... I had to put my fears aside and climb that wall.


My hands were shaking as I tied the rope to my harness. There was no backing down now. Time to nut up or shut up. I threw my fears aside and focused on the movements. One handhold after the other, until I had conquered my fear of heights and made it to the top! Trusting my belayer, I let go of the safety of the wall and let the rope take my full weight as I was lowered down. The adrenaline rush was unreal! From that moment on, I was hooked on climbing.

With my first climb behind me, I continued to climb at my college’s indoor climbing gym for a while before going on my first outdoor climbing trip at Sand Rock and discovering a whole new type of climbing.

Indoor Climbing:

Before attempting your first climb outdoors, it’s a good idea to build up the muscles that you probably don’t exercise regularly. An indoor climbing gym is the best environment to get comfortable with the motions of climbing that are used for outdoor climbing too.

Spending a few hours a week in a climbing gym is a great way to build strength and endurance. When I climb in a gym, I try to spend a good amount of time focusing on strengthening my weaknesses. Personally, I spend most of my time working on holds that I’m not great at, like slopes and long reaches.

Climbing has increased in popularity over the last few years with the appearance of more and more indoor climbing gyms. This new trend has helped spread climbing by opening it up to the general population. Climbing isn’t just for “dirtbags” anymore.

Outdoor Climbing:

Climbing in an indoor gym is NOTHING like climbing outside on real rock. For some it’s easier; for some it’s harder, but one thing is for certain – It’s much easier to make mistakes, especially if you haven’t climbed outside in a while. Don’t make assumptions! Double-check that you tied your knots correctly, that you’re on belay correctly, and that your anchors are solid. Go with a buddy who you trust, preferably one who has climbed there before.

In indoor climbing gyms, cruxes are often planned in such a way as to force certain sequences, which may or may not be conducive to your body type. Outdoors, however, the movements are far more organic. Very seldom is there only one way to do a particular route

Both indoor and outdoor climbing are unique in their own way. They each have their own differences and challenges but go hand in hand with each other. At the end of the day, climbing is a very personal activity. Climb the way you want to climb, be it indoors or outdoors, but don’t close yourself off from new experiences.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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