Rock climbing looks really cool from the ground up, and a lot of people would like to someday give it a try. Several things get in the way though, from fear to finances. Because of all the gear required, some people think that rock climbing is very expensive to get started.
Climbing does not need to be expensive. You can try rock climbing out for as little as the cost of a day pass at your local climbing gym ($15) and rental shoes and a harness ($5). Should you continue, you can get your own gear for indoor climbing for less than $100, and gear for outdoor sport climbing for another $300.
There are lots of different styles of rock climbing, including bouldering, sport climbing, trad climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, aid climbing, and even free soloing. Each style of climbing uses different sets of gear (with some overlap), and some are much more expensive than others.
How Expensive Is Rock Climbing?
How expensive something is really varies based on an individual’s perception. Spending $300 to gear up for outdoor sport climbing may seem like a lot compared to hiking gear, but that wouldn’t even get you an entry-level mountain bike. Here’s a table that shows how expensive a day of climbing is versus other activities.
|Rock Climbing||$20||$100 (indoor top rope)|
|Mountain Biking||$50+||$600+ (entry-level hardtail)|
The closest thing to rock climbing in terms of price is golfing, and that’s lame. Rock climbing can get expensive as you get more involved in it, but gear can last a long time and there’s no ongoing fee to climb outside.
A climbing gym pass costs a little bit more than a good fitness gym pass, but it’ll be something you look forward to doing instead of dread. It’s also a great way to meet people and make friends.
Rock climbing has a little bit of a reputation for being expensive, but a lot of the reason for that is the climbing culture of ‘dirtbag’ climbers who live in their cars and climb year-round. When you don’t have a job, shelling out $150 for a rope every few years gets expensive!
You can probably quickly save up enough money to build your climbing gear rack by packing a lunch instead of buying one every day, or watching something online instead of going to a theater. It’s worth the sacrifice!
The very first thing that you need to do if you want to start rock climbing is to find a climbing gym near you that you can try out. While climbing indoors doesn’t quite have the same feeling or excitement as climbing outdoors, it’s a lot safer and much more regulated. The staff at the gym can show you the ropes and you can rent good equipment at a low price.
Prices For Indoor Rock Climbing (First Visit)
- Day Pass- $15-20
- Harness Rental- $5
- Shoe Rental- $5
You only need a harness if the gym has roped walls. Some gyms are bouldering only, which is where you climb relatively low to the ground and fall onto big thick pads. You can also look online or call ahead to the climbing gym to see if they have any deals on day passes like 2-for-1 or special climbing times for certain groups of people.
Though not absolutely necessary, you really should rent shoes. Climbing shoes are engineered to keep you from slipping off the small holds and to help you climb a lot better, even as a beginner.
You will likely end up with bruised and scraped up legs if you just climb in tennis shoes. For more detail on why you should rent shoes, read my article here.
Prices For Indoor Rock Climbing (Monthly Pass)
- Monthly Pass- ~$90/month
- Annual Pass- ~$75/month
- Student- $70/month
- Shoes (purchase)- $40+
- Harness (purchase)- $40+
The cost of a monthly pass varies a lot based on the location of the gym, but a monthly pass is usually between $60 and $100 when paid month-to-month. There is also a $40-$50 registration fee for your first month that has to be paid again if you let your membership lapse, though you can pay a small fee to ‘freeze’ the account if you are travelling or something.
There are usually other deals available for climbing gyms like passes for students, children, and even family discounts. As mentioned above, you usually get a 20-25% discount for paying the year in full in advance. Sometimes gyms offer deals where they waive the registration fee (usually around the start of a college semester).
In addition to unlimited climbing, there are always other perks, some of which include: a number of free guest passes, free yoga classes, free climbing clinics, etc. A monthly membership is usually worth it if you plan on climbing at least once a week.
The nice thing about a climbing gym pass is that it can replace your regular gym pass (that costs you around $40 per month and brings you no joy), and can even replace other social activities that cost a lot of money.
Start hitting the climbing gym a couple of times a week and you’ll make friends, stay fit, and your pass will pay for itself. For some tips on finding a climbing partner, read my article Can I go Climbing Without a Partner?
How Much Does it Cost to Go Rock Climbing Outside?
As I mentioned, there are a lot of different types of climbing outside. A lot of the gear can be used across multiple types of climbing, but some of it is specialized.
A lot of it can be shared between partners, but some of it is needed for each person. Most climbers do sport climbing and bouldering, and never get into the more expensive forms of climbing like trad and even mountaineering.
Is Sport Climbing Expensive?
There are three categories of gear for sport climbing- personal gear that each person needs, gear that can be shared between climbing partners, and gear that’s nice to have, but not absolutely necessary.
- Harness- $40+
- Shoes- $40+
- Helmet- $40+
- Belay Device- $30+
- Locking Carabiners- $15ea (1-3 needed)
- Quick Draws- $12ea (10-12 needed)
- 60m Dynamic Rope- $200
- Sling/PAS- $20
- Anchor Materials- $20
- Chalk & Chalk Bag- $15
- Belay Glasses- $30
- Stick Clip- $30
When starting out, you can use the same harness and shoes that you use for indoor climbing. There are some shoes that are designed specifically for indoor climbing, but for the most part shoes are just shoes.
You will need your own helmet, unless you think your brain isn’t worth $50. Check out this article for why you should think about wearing a helmet.
A lot of sport climbing gear can be shared. You only need one rope, one set of draws, and one anchor. You can share a belay device and carabiners as well.
It’s nice to trade off with your partner whose gear you use, which makes it easier for you to save up for new stuff. I’ve always got something on my shopping list, and it all slowly accumulates over time.
There’s a lot of debate as to whether you should start out with an assisted-braking device like a Petzl GriGri (why is it called a GRIGRI?), or something more rudimentary like a traditional ATC. There are definitely benefits to both, so the right choice depends on your preference. Someday you’ll have one of each!
The optional stuff can be nice, and you’ll almost never see a climber without a chalk bag (whether it’s for the physical benefits or mental crutch). There’s no end to the gadgets and gizmos that come out each year for climbers, so start saving your pennies!
Is Trad Climbing Expensive?
Trad climbing is where you cross the threshold from rock climbing being relatively inexpensive to where your rack of gear is worth more than your car. I know a lot of climbers who would be more distraught by their gear being stolen than the car they left it in!
- Active Pro (Cams)- $500
- Passive Pro (Nuts)- $100
This is all on top of the gear that you already needed for sport climbing. Trad adds up fast. The nice thing about trad is that it’s common practice to accumulate gear slowly and to combine racks with your partner when you go out climbing. You’ll need a few other things like a nut tool and longer slings and draws, but the bulk of the expense comes from the nuts and cams.
How to Learn the Skills for Rock Climbing
Climbing has gotten to be mainstream enough that pretty much everyone knows someone who climbs. The best way to learn to climb is to go along for a day of climbing with a friend, and ask them to teach you the basics.
Climbing pretty much always has to be done with a partner, and it’s usually even more fun with a small group. Luckily, this means that most climbers are always looking to expand their climbing group, because that means they’re more likely to climb more often.
Cost of Learning to Climb at a Gym
If you don’t know anyone who climbs, the gym is your best bet for starting out. Call your local climbing gym and ask if they have a day set aside for introductory classes or a day when individual climbers come and meetup for partners.
Some gyms will show you the basics for free, but most offer an introductory class for first-timers for a low fee (about 2x the cost of a day pass). Before you go meetup with a random climber at the gym, check out our guide to top rope climbing and learn the basics. It’ll help you to have a solid foundation to build on.
The nice thing about learning from a gym is that you can be sure they will teach you everything correctly. You don’t need to worry about learning dangerous technique from a friend who has come up with a ‘better’ way of doing things.
The basics for indoor climbing are pretty simple. You need to learn how to properly fit your harness, how to tie in to the rope, and how to belay safely. The most difficult thing for beginners is usually learning to fall or trust the rope. We wrote a post with a lot of great tips for beginners that you should check out before you go.
Cost of Learning to Climb Outdoors
As with climbing in the gym, your best bet for picking up some basic rock climbing skills is to learn with a friend. You’ll learn a lot better over several sessions of climbing than you will after one class.
Again, climbers are usually looking to increase the number of partners they have because it makes it more likely that they’ll always be able to go when they want to.
It can be a great idea to hire a certified guide to teach you the essential skills that you need for climbing outside. The American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) certifies instructors, who have to go through a rigorous multi-day course and test. It’ll cost you a lot more than learning from a friend, but this way you can be sure that you are learning correct techniques.
A guide near me in Arizona, Arizona Mountain Guides, charges around $300 for a 1-on-1 intro to climbing. If you go with a few friends, the individual price comes down.
The classes aren’t scripted, so the instructors will teach at your level and will start with whatever foundation you’ve got. You can find a guide near you on the AMGA website.
So How Expensive is Rock Climbing?
Rock climbing can fit any budget, which gives everyone the opportunity to try it. It isn’t as cheap as running or playing soccer at your local park, but is a lot cheaper than other popular outdoors activities like mountain biking or skiing.
After you build up your initial climbing gear rack for a few hundred dollars, your cost to climb is limited to fuel costs for getting to the crag and a gym membership (if you want).
Gear does wear out over time, and should be inspected prior to each use. If you’re climbing less than weekly though, most of it can last a couple of years. Don’t let cost get in the way of getting into climbing!
Are Expensive Climbing Shoes Worth It? Expensive climbing shoes really only make a difference for the top tier of climbers. For most beginning to intermediate climbers, their limits are caused by physical strength and techniques, rather than gear. Expensive climbing shoes are necessary for expert climbers, but won’t make much of a difference for everyone else.
Why Are Climbing Gyms So Expensive? Climbing gyms have to carry insurance protecting them in the event of an injury. While climbing is very safe when practiced with proper technique, especially indoors, accidents still happen when people make mistakes. Gyms can be liable for accidents that occur on the premises, even if not caused directly by their gear.