You already have to get over a fear of heights when you first start rock climbing, it can be intimidating. You don’t need to have the extra stress of worrying about what to wear.
The best clothes for indoor climbing are any type of fitness clothes that are comfortable and easy to move around in. This includes t-shirts, tank tops, shorts, flexible pants, etc. The key is to have a full range of motion while still protecting your body from the abrasive wall.
Fit in at the climbing gym and look like a seasoned pro instead of a clueless gumby (beginner). Build your climbing wardrobe following these tips below to blend in with the best when you climb indoors.
What to Wear Indoor Rock Climbing
I remember my first time rock climbing, it was with a friend in college. I said it sounded fun, but I really didn’t know the first thing about rock climbing. So I turned to the best source of all information, I called my mom and asked her what in the world I should wear (even though my mom doesn’t climb). I settled on shorts and a T-shirt and did just fine outdoor climbing.
With indoor rock climbing attire, you really don’t need to over-think it. You most likely have appropriate clothes in your closet right now. Indoor rock climbing doesn’t require specialized clothing, keep it simple and you’ll have a comfortable and enjoyable time climbing.
Choose any type of exercise clothes that: aren’t too restrictive, will let you move around freely, and are comfortable. “Yoga attire” is a good way to describe what indoor rock climbers typically wear, anything fitted and comfortable to move around in.
Requirements for Climbing Clothing:
You don’t want to look like a gumby in your high school gym shorts and 5k race t-shirt when you show up to the climbing gym for the first time, although those would probably work.
The most important thing to consider when dressing for indoor climbing is comfort. Wear clothes that are comfortable to move in, non-restrictive, lightweight, and not too baggy.
Regular fitness clothes work great, just remember you don’t want anything that is too revealing (i.e. thin leggings or loose shorts) when viewed from below- remember someone will be directly below belaying the whole time and staring your way!
Here are a few tips and recommendations for each aspect of your clothes when indoor rock climbing:
You’ll want to avoid baggy clothes or anything that could get caught in the rope or your harness. Slim-fitting, stretchy clothes are best such as yoga pants, shorts, tank tops, etc. Just choose something that is still comfortable and easy to move around in to give you the most freedom of movement.
When choosing climbing attire remember that a harness will go over the top of your clothes, so pick something that will also easily fit under a tight climbing harness. Tuck in your shirt before putting your harness on so it doesn’t ride up while you’re climbing or get caught in the belay device.
Shirts and Tops for Indoor Rock Climbing-
Any athletic shirt or tank top is fine for indoor rock climbing, even regular T-shirts. If you tend to get really sweaty you may want to choose a non-cotton shirt for something that will breathe a little more.
A regular T-shirt is totally fine. Extra points from climbers if you’re wearing a Patagonia, The North Face, Black Diamond, or Columbia shirt. Clothing from outdoor companies definitely costs more, but makes you look cool. Or like a total poser. You don’t really need anything specialized, but wear it if you already have it.
Rethink Your Shorts-
Shorts are fine to wear indoor rock climbing, you just need to double-check the type of shorts before you go. The harness will pull up your shorts as you are climbing and people will be watching you from below and could see up your shorts.
If you are going to wear shorts, consider longer shorts or wear a pair of snug-fitting spandex shorts underneath. Depending on the fit and how baggy they are, a tighter layer underneath is recommended.
Shorts can be fine for bouldering since there’s no need for a harness, but you might scrape your legs against the wall. Many climbers prefer to wear capris or pants in order to decrease cuts and scrapes from the wall and not have to worry about shorts.
Leggings and yoga pants are common for rock climbers because they are longer, comfortable, and easy to move in. Many other types of pants are appropriate as well, although I wouldn’t recommend anything too stiff, low-rise (the harness tends to pull down your pants and pull up your shorts), flared, or baggy.
Can You Wear Leggings Rock Climbing?
Most “yoga attire”, including leggings, makes great climbing clothes. I personally love to climb in leggings because they are comfortable, stretchy, inexpensive, and form-fitting enough that they don’t get in the way of your climbing.
Most of us own many pairs of leggings already, so they can easily be converted into your climbing clothes. Just be sure you test them so they aren’t see-through when you stretch your legs as far as possible. You can get a great pair for $10 -$30 I was pleased to see many affordable options on Amazon.
Can You Climb in Jeans?
Most people do not climb in jeans; however it can be done. If you really want to climb in jeans, a pair of stretchy and comfortable jeans might work. If it is comfortable for you, go for it. Jean shorts should be fine. If jeans are your thing- look for stretchy slim-fitting jeans that are appropriate.
I personally don’t enjoy climbing in jeans (tried it for the first time last weekend- didn’t realize we were going to climb!), but I haven’t tried my stretchiest jeans yet. prAna actually makes some climbing jeans that have spandex in them so they are stretchy enough for climbing -if that sounds like something you’d like you can check out the details on Amazon.
What About Climbing Pants?
A new climbing trend is some pretty cool pants made just for climbers. They are made mostly with outdoor climbers in mind, but also could be a good option for indoor climbing. Climbing pants are usually made out of cotton/polyester blend. They are quick-drying, durable, lightweight, breathable, and flexible/easy to move in.
They also resist water, abrasion, stains, and wrinkles. They even have cargo pockets and overall kind of make you look like a boy scout out for a hike (but in a cool way). You’ll also find a gusseted crotch, which means extra durability at the seams and a full range of motion while climbing.
Check out our post Are Climbing Pants Worth It? for all the details on types of climbing pants, prices, best recommendations, and what you are missing without them. If you are getting more serious about climbing they will give you that “street-cred” you need to make you look pretty serious and invested. They do cost a lot more than regular pants, so you need to know what your needs are.
Overall, specialized rock climbing attire isn’t necessary for gym climbing. There are a lot of expensive options for specific “climbing clothes”, but if you are indoor rock climbing you can comfortably climb in regular fitness clothes. Gym clothes you already own are perfect.
Other Recommendations For Climbing Clothes
Gyms are climate controlled, but it can still get a little sweaty when you’ve been climbing all day. Wear shorts (or lightweight pants) and a T-shirt, but bring a light jacket to wear if you need one. Hats aren’t recommended since the brim can limit your peripheral vision. If you wear a beanie, you’ll fit right in.
Also, don’t wear your favorite clothes. Wear something that you won’t mind getting chalk on it and that can withstand some abrasion from the surfaces and holds.
My climbing gym in the Midwest had a rule against too-short shorts. The gym I climb at now requires a shirt, just climbing in a sports bra or shirtless aren’t allowed. You could check with the gym first, but it’s always a safe bet to wear a T-shirt or tank top with shorts or leggings.
Climbing Clothes Recommendations for Women:
Ladies remember that “yoga attire” is how most female rock climbers dress. Many women look like they are going to yoga when they arrive at the climbing gym (actually many climbing gyms hold yoga sessions there as well, so they may be doing both). When planning your climbing wardrobe, you can look for athletic clothes or yoga clothes for indoor rock climbing.
On top you’ll want to wear a sports bra with a T-shirt, tank top, or fitted sports shirt. It’s most comfortable to wear a shirt that covers your stomach, since your climbing harness sits on your hips. The harness can rub against your skin if there’s nothing protecting it.
On bottom, yoga pants and leggings are popular, comfortable, and quite protective for rock climbing. 3/4 length leggings are awesome if you don’t want to wear pants because they still protect your knees from scrapes (but not the bruises!).
Shorts are not the best because they ride up and you may want to be worried about an unwanted view from below. Wear stretchy pants that are comfortable and won’t cause you to worry about what the people below can see while you’re climbing.
If you have long hair you’ll want to tie it up so it doesn’t get caught in the rope (yes I know this from personal experience).
Climbing Clothes Recommendations for Men:
Guys can easily climb in almost any type of shorts and a t-shirt.
For tops, if you get sweaty perhaps a sports t-shirt for moisture-wicking abilities (cotton polyester blend) would be best or any athletic style shirt. Even a regular T-shirt is fine.
For pants/shorts, you can climb in basketball shorts, denim shorts, cargo shorts, etc. choose whatever is comfortable and easy to move around in. You may want to wear a tighter pair of spandex or compression shorts under loose shorts because the harness will cause your shorts to ride up a bit, causing an unwanted view for your belayer.
Guys, if you have long hair you’ll want to tie it up as well so it doesn’t get caught and pulled.
Shoes and Gear
When you go to the climbing gym you’ll need a harness and climbing shoes. You may also want a chalk bag, slip on shoes, and some other items.
All gyms rent climbing shoes. Climbing shoes are designed to be worn without socks. Do not wear socks with your climbing shoes unless you are renting them, they you might consider it for hygiene purposes. You may also choose to wear socks so the shoes fit more snug, but overall not many people wear socks.
Climbing shoes are supposed to be tight so all your weight can be focused at your toe. Advanced climbers prefer astonishingly tight shoes with their toes bent in the toe box, which is good for more aggressive climbing.
If you are more of a beginner, you don’t need to stress too much about having the tightest shoes you can cram your foot into. This becomes more important on harder climbs. Especially if you are a beginner, you can find a pair that is snug but isn’t as uncomfortable so you don’t have to take them off between climbs. A more comfortable shoe is suitable for beginners, less challenging climbs, and indoor climbing.
If you are wanting to buy a pair of climbing shoes, choose a pair that is a little snug. You’ll have to decide on the type of material for the shoe and for the sole. Leather shoes will stretch a little bit over time and synthetics won’t stretch out much. A hard sole will hold its shape and last longer than a softer sole.
A stiff shoe is better if you are wearing your shoes for longer periods of time, but you won’t be able to feel the rock as much under your feet. Lace up shoes are nice to customize the fit, and Velcro shoes are easier to get on and off.
We have lots more details for choosing the appropriate climbing shoe in your budget in our post How Much Are Rock Climbing Shoes?
Bring a pair of casual slip-on shoes such as flip-flops or your Birkenstocks for use in between climbs. Most climbing shoes are not comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time, so climbers wear them only when climbing and take them off to belay.
Climbing gyms often have a “no barefeet” policy on their gym mats for hygiene reasons. Bring a pair of shoes that are easy to slip on and off in between climbs as you switch shoes.
You’ll need a harness if you plan on climbing or belaying, you don’t need one if you are going bouldering indoors. Harnesses come in a wide range of sizes and varieties, but any type should work. You can rent them from the climbing gym, or buy your own if you plan on climbing more- it’s a worthy investment.
Looking for a good one? Here’s our page where you can check out some of our favorite harnesses. Harnesses vary in cost from around $40-$150, depending on the brand and features. As long as it has the appropriate safety ratings, you are fine buying a cheaper harness. Make sure it is the appropriate size.
Our favorites are Singing Rock Midi and Edelweiss (view on Amazon). I like the auto-locking buckles, meaning you don’t have to double the straps back through. They are easy to put on and easy to adjust.
They have plenty of gear loops for your carabiners, belay glasses, chalk bag, and quick draws. I like Singing Rock Midi for the thick padding in the legs and waist straps- it’s my favorite one and quite comfortable.
Chalk can be helpful when your hands get sweaty and you need some extra grip on the crimpy holds. Climbers put chalk on their hands to help them combat sweat and moisture before a climb because dry hands makes gripping the smallest holds a whole lot easier.
It also turns into a mind-game, you will rely on chalk to get past any crux because it makes you feel stronger and motivated. Chalk bags are very inexpensive –check them out. Remember your chalk ball too.
Beginner climbers don’t usually need chalk, but once you get more serious you’ll probably want to invest in a chalk bag. Just remember chalk is messy, so choose clothes you don’t mind getting a fine layer of chalk on.
Gyms typically have shelves or cubbies where you can store your personal items during a climbing session. You’ll need your hands free, so bring a bag or backpack to store your belongings. Leave your wallet, phone, and keys out of your pockets so they don’t fall out while you’re climbing.
You’ll also want a water bottle at the gym, especially if you sweat a lot.
Add on a few extra quick draws and carabiners to your harness plus add on a pair of Rockulus belay glasses for looks. Now all you need is that “lead-climb certified” tag on your harness and you fit right in with the best.
(We love belay glasses so much that we started selling them a few years ago. When belay glasses were first a thing, they were $80 a pair, now they are much more affordable and totally worth it so you don’t have to kink your neck belaying your partner all day. If you are a beginner, make sure you have lots of practice belaying first. You can also email us if you’re interested: rockulus.support(at)unsinkable2.com)
As long as you’re wearing gym clothes and have the correct gear including a harness and shoes, you’re all set to conquer the gym and fit in among the best of the gym rats. I’ve found that climbers are typically easy-going and very friendly.
Jump in and meet some new people and don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. Climbers are some of the nicest people and are always willing to help each other out.
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