Rock climbing has become a lifestyle for a lot of people around the world, but there are still many, many more who have never tried it. While some people would never dream of trying it because of a fear of heights or something like that(see: is indoor rock climbing dangerous?), a lot of people do want to try it out. Rock climbing is a great fitness activity, and can create a strong social connection between climbers too. If you’re wanting to try out climbing for the first time, you need to know if rock climbing is expensive.
A single day pass at a climbing gym, including rental equipment, costs between $20 and $30 USD. A day pass without gear is usually $15 to $20. Depending on how frequently you go, it may be worth it to try out one of the many membership plans climbing gyms offer, as this saves on the cost of daily passes.
Rock Climbing outdoors requires an additional set of gear, although there usually aren’t daily-use fees for the areas. If you have friends who climb outdoors and have the basics, then you just need a helmet, harness, and shoes (around $150).
If you need to buy all of the gear including a rope, you probably will spend around $400 to get completely outfitted. What follows is a complete breakdown of these costs and my recommendations for getting the most for your money.
How Much do Indoor Climbing Gyms Cost?
My local gyms in Phoenix charge between $15 and $18 for a single day pass for an adult. That may seem like a lot, but you usually spend 1-3 hours climbing, so it’s well worth it. Check online for coupons too- we used to always use 2-for-1 coupons at the climbing gym where I used to live.
There are a lot of introductory rates for groups and for people wanting to try it out for the first time. It’s pretty hard not to get hooked! Some offer discounted rates at certain times or on certain days, and offer discounts for groups like seniors, scouts, or college students.
If you have a friend with a membership to a gym, they usually can bring a guest for free at least once per month- though you would still need to rent gear if you don’t have any.
If you do plan on going semi-frequently, maybe 2-3 times per month, you should take a look at punch passes. Most gyms sell a 5, 10 or 20 punch pass that reduces the cost per visit to between $11 and $15. They don’t require any fees to sign up, and it’s nice to feel you can go whenever you want because you’ve already paid for it. Some of these are transferable (between climbers) and some are specific to your name, so check into it before buying.
Indoor Climbing Gym Memberships
Climbing gym membership prices are all over the place. They sell everything from a 2-week pass to a summer pass, or from an annual pass to a lifetime pass (no joke- my gym sells a lifetime pass for $1,000,000)!
I did a spot check on 5 different gyms around the US, and they charge between $50 and $70 per month for a basic membership. Pay special attention to gimmicks like initiation/enrollment fees (barrier to exit) and fees to hold your membership, as these can often cost as much as an extra month.
If you plan on going at least weekly, it’s usually worth it to buy a gym membership. Some of the perks often include discounts on competitions, discounts on gear, free day passes for guests, free rentals, etc.
Rock climbing does not need to be expensive. Once you get the basic gear together, a gym membership doesn’t cost all that much. For most climbing gyms, a membership can replace a regular gym membership, and provides a lot of social interaction as well.
Climbing is a great full-body workout, and most gyms have a separate area designated for other kinds of workouts. Lots of climbing gyms have yoga classes, American Ninja Warrior classes, and other things like that which provide discounts to members.
As with day passes, there are usually discounts for special groups like seniors and college students. It’s definitely worth checking into!
Climbing Gym Gear Rental
You can always rent gear from a climbing gym if you go infrequently, but the costs add up pretty quickly. The gyms I go to here in Phoenix, as well as those I’ve gone to in other places, usually charge around $5 to rent a harness, belay device, and chalk bag, and another $4 or $5 for shoes.
At about $10 extra per visit, the cost adds up quickly. I think it is definitely worth it to rent gear going your first time or if you go less than maybe once a month, but if you really enjoy it you need to get your own gear.
Another option is to borrow gear from a friend. A lot of rock climbers (outdoor climbers especially) somehow end up with a ton of gear-including me! Right now my wife and I have 5 harnesses and 8 belay devices.
We tend to accrue gear over time and it doesn’t really wear out when not in use. The rubber on climbing shoes does oxidize slowly and become less pliable, but other than that, gear lasts a long time when it’s stored properly.
What Gear do I need for Indoor Climbing?
There are several different styles of indoor climbing, and not all gyms offer all styles. The type of kit that you need will depend on the type of climbing you intend to do.
If you are starting to climb with a friend or group of friends, see what kind of gear they own and regularly use. If you live in a large metropolitan area with multiple climbing gyms, check their websites to see if they offer bouldering or roped climbing, or a combination of the two.
Some gyms only offer bouldering walls. These walls are up to 30ft (10m) high, and don’t require any ropes. This is nice for the gym, as they don’t have to worry about people tying knots incorrectly and falling long distances, or worry about expensive ropes wearing out.
The downside is that they often get pretty crowded and you miss out on the vertical thrill of roped rock climbing. The walls are low enough that a fall onto the thick pads on the floor shouldn’t cause any injuries.
- Climbing Shoes- $50-$100
- Chalk Bag- $15
- Chalk- $5
Climbing Shoes- For bouldering, the only gear you really need is a good pair of climbing shoes. No, tennis shoes and other athletic shoes won’t work. Climbing shoes are made with special grippy rubber, and are designed to hug your foot completely and shift all of your weight onto your toes.
This way you can balance your whole body weight on small nubs of rock (or plastic in this case) while reaching for solid hand holds. The rubber envelopes the bottom and sides of the climbing shoes so you can wedge your toes and heels into tight spaces.
You can decide between climbing shoes with laces or velcro straps. Laced climbing shoes usually fit a little bit more snugly on your feet, but are also a bit more of a nuisance to put on and take off. For gym climbing I like velcro shoes, and lace-up shoes for outdoor climbs.
A good pair of climbing shoes will probably cost you between $50 and $150. If your starting out, I don’t think it’s worth buying a really expensive pair. The functionality is pretty similar until you really get into the sport.
See also: Caring for Rock Climbing Shoes
Chalk Bag- The only other piece of gear you may decide you want is a chalk bag. Climbing chalk, like the chalk gymnasts use, helps dry sweaty hands and provide added grip. A chalkbag with chalk costs around $15.
Indoor Roped Climbing Gear
In addition to the climbing shoes and chalk bag needed for bouldering, you need a bit more gear in order to climb the top-rope routes in an indoor climbing gym. Additionally, you’ll need a partner who can belay you and a bit more knowledge.
Gyms offer lots of classes and will make sure you know what you’re doing with a belay test prior to sending you off on your own. Staff members usually wander to floor to keep an eye on the climbers and offer tips and suggestions.
The belay device and carabiner can be shared between the climber and belayer (only the belayer needs the hardware), but each person needs a harness.
- Harness- $50
- Locking Carabiner- $15
- Belay Device- $20
Harness- A harness for rock climbing is what secures you to the rope. Adult harnesses are made up of a waist belt connected to two leg loops that go around your thighs, connected in the front. Harnesses for little kids usually come up over the shoulders in the full-body style.
Take a look at the specific harnesses that we use on our recommended gear page (harnesses).
Very simple harnesses like those rented out at gyms have a single connection point/loop in the front where the climber can tie in with a figure 8 knot. More complicated harnesses have lots of gear loops (non-load bearing) on the waist belt for quickdraws and extra gear, as well as a specific loop on the front for belaying.
For these harnesses, the figure 8 knot usually threads through the bottom and up out of the top loops for redundancy, rather than just into the belay loop. Check out the manufacturer’s recommendations to be sure. Harnesses are completely safe as long as they’re used correctly!
Locking Carabiner- The next piece of equipment you need is a carabiner. These aren’t just the silly carabiners that you have on your keychain- these are specifically tested and safety-rated for rock climbing. For gym climbing, you need at least one locking carabiner.
You can either get a screwlock carabiner or some kind of autolocking carabiner, but it needs to lock. This prevents it from coming open accidentally as it shifts around between your harness and the rope and belay device.
Take a look at the specific carabiners that we use on our recommended gear page (carabiners). A screwlock carabiner will cost you around $10, while an autolocking carabiner will cost between $20 and $30.
Your main options are a screw lock carabiner or an autolocker. Screwlocks have been around for a long time, and work well. The main failure mode is for the user to forget to spin it closed. This is why gear companies started making autolocking carabiners like the twist lock and magnet lock versions. They are a bit more expensive, but provide a lot of peace of mind.
Some carabiners come with additional internal gates to help manage ropes. The best way to stay safe is to make sure you get in the habit of confirming the carabiner is closed and locked before starting.
The best way to tell if a carabiner is safe for rock climbing is to look for a stamp somewhere on it that affirms the CE or UIAA rating. These are internationally-recognized organizations that test gear and make sure it meets quality and safety expectations.
Recent years have introduced a slew of different climbing brands. I haven’t tried the carabiners from all of them, but I trust anything verified by the CE/UIAA ratings.
Belay Device- Belay devices have gone through a lot of evolution through the years, but the basic idea is mostly the same. The combination of belay device and locking carabiner apply additional friction to the rope to slow down and stop a climber who is falling.
The most basic version requires the complete attention of the belayer, while more advanced assisted-braking devices are designed to catch a fall even if the belayer fails to act.
I wrote more about belay devices in this article about rappelling with belay devices, but here’s the basics that you should know:
- Tubular: These are better known as ATC’s, after Black Diamond’s version. They are simple devices that funnel through the slots, around the carabiner, and back through to create friction. They last a long time, and are easy to use. There are a few different variations of a tuber, offering different functionalities like a guide loop for multi-pitch stations and different sides with different friction levels. For a climbing gym, a basic ATC is fine.
- Assisted-Braking: The most popular and most widely-used assisted-braking belay device is the Petzl GriGri. These devices usually have a mechanical camming system that allows the rope to slide through at a slow, controlled pace, but locks up if the rope is jerked. It works like of like a seatbelt in a car. These are viewed as safer overall, though they do have limitations, such as rope diameter and rappelling capability.
Take a look at the specific belay devices we use on our recommended gear page (belay devices). A tubular device will cost you between $15 and $30, while an assisted-braking device will cost more in the range of $50 to $100.
Many climbing gyms are switching to using permanent Petzl GriGri assisted-braking devices on their ropes. They allow you to use them for free, but don’t allow you to use other styles of devices. This is great to save you $100, but confirm with the gym that they have them to borrow.
Indoor Climbing Gear Kit-
If you’re just getting started and need all of your own gear, it might be best to buy a pre-assembled gear package from someone like Black Diamond or Mad Rock. You can usually get discounts for ‘buying in bulk.’ One example is Mad Rock’s Mars Climbing Package. It comes with a harness, locking carabiner, tubular belay device, chalk bag, and chalk ball. The only other thing you’ll need is a pair of shoes in your size.
Does that seem like a lot of gear? Just wait until you take a look at what you need for Trad climbing!
How Much Does Climbing Outdoors Cost?
There are two common kinds of climbing outdoors, called Sport and Trad. The vast majority of climbers do sport climbing, and everyone starts with sport climbing.
Sport climbing is where the climber clips carabiners called quickdraws into fixed bolts in the wall while ascending. At the top the climber sets the anchor, usually using fixed chains and another set of quickdraws. The belayer then lowers the climber, and can decide whether to lead climb or top rope the route.
The vast majority of climbing areas (crags) are free for public use. Many have been bought by groups like the Access Fund, but others do charge a daily use fee that is also applied to hikers and campers. Fortunately, you can use all of the gear you need for indoor climbing for outdoor climbing as well. The principles are the same, but climbing outdoors requires a lot more gear:
- Indoor Climbing Gear
- Climbing Shoes
- Chalk Bag
- Locking Carabiner
- Belay Device
- Dynamic Climbing Rope
- Anchor Material
Additional Gear for Outdoor Sport Climbing
Hopefully you can start out with the gear that you already have available from indoor gym climbing. The total kit that you need for outdoor climbing costs about $400, but you can subtract the cost of the gear you already have.
If you are first starting out, you should try to find some people to go with who already have gear. You can share almost all of it once you get set up with your personal items. Make some friends at your local climbing gym, and you’re bound to find someone who climbs outdoors.
Costs of climbing gear vary based on requirements and brand names, but here are some solid estimates:
Helmet- Your brain is worth at least $50 right? A head injury in the backcountry would be just about as bad as it can get. The overall adoption of helmets for rock climbers has been mixed, but no one looks down on those who choose to wear them. I paid a lot for my college education, and like keeping my brain inside my head. I use a helmet!
While you could probably get by wearing a cheap bike helmet, you will get laughed at. Climbing helmets are designed to look cool, and to protect a lot more of the back of your head. They usually cost upwards of $50, and last a long time as long as you don’t take a nasty whipper. You can see the ones we use at recommended gear guide (helmets).
The main reason I wear one while climbing and belaying is for the risk of rockfall. A shout of ‘ROCK!!’ seems to always be echoing from somewhere at a popular crag. Holds break off and loose rocks and pebbles are inevitably brushed off as climbers ascend. I’d rather not have one knock out my belayer.
The other main risk, and reason I use a helmet is in case of falls. Most of the time you’re able to push yourself away from the wall and fall feet-first, but not always. Occasionally, especially when overhung, you fall off backwards and the first thing to hit the wall is the back of your head.
Dynamic Climbing Rope- Climbing ropes are designed to stretch ever so slightly when you fall. This way it doesn’t give you a spinal correction, but makes the catch relatively soft. There are a lot of special features you can buy in a rope, like waterproofing or a middle mark, and there are other things to consider like the diameter and length. We go into all of that detail in this article, or take a look at our recommended gear guide (ropes).
A basic 60m dynamic climbing rope will cost you at least $100, depending on the thickness you choose. They usually last a pretty long time, but keep track of the falls. Climbing ropes are rated to handle 5 lead falls before they should be retired. Be especially careful of the wear and tear on both ends of the rope, as that’s the part that takes the most beating.
See also: What are Climbing Ropes Made Out of?
Quickdraws- A quickdraw is a set of two non-locking carabiners with a stitched sling of nylon webbing called a dogbone connecting them. One carabiner clips into the bolts on the cliff, and the other into the rope. They protect you so that as you ascend the cliff, you only fall as far as the last bolt (plus rope stretch).
Quickdraws come with a variety of different features like dogbone length and width and gate type. You can usually buy a pack of quickdraws for about $10 each, and you probably want at least 12 for an average crag. You can see the quickdraws we use on this page.
See also: How Much Weight can a Quickdraw Hold?
Anchor Material- Most of the sport climbs at popular crags consist of a set of bolted anchor chains with removeable quicklinks at the bottom. The climbing ethics in each area vary, but usually dictate for you to clip your own gear onto the anchor to prevent it from wearing out.
While this is a bit tedious, it’s the best way to share outdoor climbing and keep it free to everyone. Consider donating to your local climbing organization, as they periodically replace worn anchors and bolts in climbing areas. The most common method for anchor construction is to use 2 additional quickdraws, and clip them so the carabiners are opposite and opposed.
If you need to build your own anchor by slinging a tree or a boulder at the top of a cliff, you will need a pair of quicklinks or rappel rings and some tubular climbing webbing. You can learn how to build an anchor in this article.
Webbing and quicklinks are pretty cheap, and will cost you around $5-$10 per anchor.
Other Climbing Gear- There’s a lot of other gear that is cool to have, but isn’t necessary. A couple of things that I think are really convenient are a good rope bag and gear backpack. A rope bag protects your rope from nasty things like cactus needles and abrasion from rocks, as well as harmful UV damage.
A gear pack keeps all of your gear in the same place, and makes it so you’re ready to hit the crag at a moment’s notice. You can take a look at the specific backpacks and rope bags that we recommend on this page: recommended gear (backpacks).
I also have been using belay glasses for a couple of years now, and they are amazing! Here’s a shameless plug to our Rockulus Pro belay glasses, or just shoot us an email for special pricing!
Can I Buy Climbing Gear Used? Used climbing gear is a risky decision. For example, a climbing rope may look just fine, and the seller may claim that it’s only ever been used for top rope a few times. In reality, it may have taken a couple of core shots or lead falls and be completely worthless. You can examine every inch of the rope and feel for damage, but there’s no guarantee you’ll catch it.
That being said, a lot of people get into climbing with a friend or significant other, purchase the equipment, and then never really take off. They usually clean out their garages (dorm rooms) and sell the stuff at very discounted prices. I’ve bought a handful of gear used over the years, including hardware and harnesses. The only used rope I bought I use as a handline only. You will usually be okay buying hardware like belay devices and carabiners, but inspect them very carefully for hairline cracks and friction wear. It’s not worth risking your life to save a few bucks. Buy a used chalkbag!
Will Rock Climbing Affect my Insurance? The short answer, as always, is ‘it depends.’ It depends on how often you go and how serious you get about it. If you are already covered, it wouldn’t hurt to look into any exclusions. Some life insurance policies have exclusions for specific sports deemed ‘dangerous.’
You can usually pay a bit of a premium to cover these exclusions, but for most of us it isn’t worth it. Check with your personal insurance company to see if they have any problems with you climbing. I’ve heard that State Farm is a good choice for climbers, but haven’t looked into it myself.