I remember the first time I went to the bouldering gym. I showed up in basketball shorts and sneakers. I was adamant that I did not need the climbing shoes and that I’d be perfectly fine without them.
Eventually, one of the gym employees let me try a pair of climbing shoes for free and I was blown away by the difference the shoes made. But with the new shoes, I noticed that the shorts were giving me a wedgie every time I tried to climb! I was uncomfortable (and a bit embarrassed) about having all of my thighs show every time I tried to boulder. Now I realize that way back when, I had no idea what to wear indoor rock climbing.
Over the years, I’ve built out my climbing wardrobe with everything from climbing pants to skinny jeans to cheap pants from Walmart. If you’re about to head to the rock climbing gym for the first time and you aren’t sure what to wear, the important thing is to wear clothes that are comfortable and flexible.
Check out our list of the best climbing gear that we’ve curated thanks to our years experience guiding and just hanging out at the crag.
What to Wear to a Climbing Gym?
- Athletic T-Shirt or tank top
- Rock climbing pants or hiking shorts
- Thin synthetic socks
An indoor rock climbing outfit will be very similar to gym clothes you already own. Shorts, pants, and yoga pants all work for indoor climbing gyms. You don’t need any specific climbing clothing beforehand. No need to go out and buy some rock climbing pants because you’re about to head out to the gym.
The only thing I do recommend is avoiding basketball or mesh shorts in favor of something a little thicker. Avoid baggy clothes in favor of a good fit. A tight fit will restrict movement too much, but something in the slim fit range will serve you well.
You will be able to rent shoes at every gym you go to. Even when you go climbing outdoors, a guide service will provide rock climbing shoes for you too. One common debate among climbers is whether to go with socks or no socks when wearing your rock climbing shoes.
I will sometimes wear socks and I would recommend wearing socks with rental shoes. A thin ankle sock is perfect for climbing in. You’ll give your feet some protection while not compromising your ability to climb.
A common climbing outfit for me will be an old cotton t shirt, shorts made of synthetic materials (just non-mesh basketball shorts), and my shoes. I like to avoid the baggy mesh shorts because I don’t like how they ride up when I put my harness on. And when I’m bouldering I want my shorts to remain in the same place and not accidentally get caught.
The last thing I want to do is get flagged by a hold at the climbing gym!
What to wear to the climbing gym for women
- Sports bra
- Synthetic shirt/tank top
I consulted with my expert climbing fiance on this one. She said that what she will wear indoor climbing is very similar to what she’ll use for other workouts. She’ll wear a sports bra, leggings, and a synthetic shirt or tank top.
She prefers leggings over shorts to keep bare skin from rubbing against the textured walls that are in most indoor climbing gyms. She has a few different sports bras she cycles through.
She also made a note to keep your hair out of your face and away from your belay device. We’ve heard some horror stories of belay devices eating hair. It sounds painful for the belayer and dangerous for your climber.
Ultimately, she recommends wearing a rock climbing outfit that is comfortable and flexible. When she climbs outdoors, she loves the Black Diamond Alpenglow hoody. She’s a big fan of moisture wicking clothes to stay cool on hot days.
What you wear rock climbing indoors and outdoor climbing will have some overlap. Have a few extra layers for outdoors and additional protection from the sun and rain.
What to wear indoor rock climbing for men
- Pants (avoid basketball shorts)
Fellas, this is the chance to finally rock your sweet climbing t-shirt and finally get some recognition for it. You’ll get to rock your Miguel’s Pizza shirt. Flex your Waterstonia swag. Look good climb good.
Tank tops are perfect for the summer. And many gyms get sweltering hot. A tank top is easy to transition to shirtless mode. Some gyms actually do have a policy against going shirtless, so double check before you start enjoying climbing sans shirt.
I like to put on a t-shirt and hiking shorts or climbing pants. I have owned a few pairs of climbing pants, like the Prana Zions, and they are well made and excellent quality.
The main downside of them is that they can be close to $100. You can get a lot of value out of them since they are made to last a long time. But you’re paying a steep up front cost. Your call.
What climbing shoes should I wear to the climbing gym
Don’t worry if you don’t own any shoes. The indoor climbing gym you end up at will have shoes to rental. I recommend renting shoes. You can wear sneakers, but the climbing shoes are engineered for climbing. The rubber on the bottom is formulated to be extra sticky to help you stay on the wall. Shoes don’t cost too much and are worth the investment.
Once you’re ready to buy your own pair of climbing shoes, get a pair that are flat and cheap. These shoes are gonna get shredded with six months of consistent climbing. A. beginner is going to have a lot of improvements to make on their footwork. The shoes will get dragged up and down the wall tearing holes in the upper liners. Save some money and buy a cheap pair.
As you progress, most climbers end up with a specific pair of indoor and outdoor climbing shoes. This isn’t necessary. But if you’re psyched on outdoor or competition climbing, it’s nice to have a pristine pair of shoes when you need to perform. After you resole a pair of shoes, these will make a perfect pair when climbing indoors.
Do I need a helmet for indoor rock climbing
I haven’t heard of any gyms requiring helmets when indoor rock climbing. But honestly, it’s not a bad idea to wear a helmet when rock climbing indoors. when you’re lead climbing. Any time you’re at risk of taking a big impact to your cranium, it’s worth having a helmet on.
Most gyms will require you to wear a helmet any time you’re taking a beginner class. I always wear my helmet when climbing outdoors. Get used to wearing a helmet when you first start rock climbing. A lot of climbers say they don’t need to wear a helmet or don’t use one because it’s uncomfortable.
But I see it as a ton of upside to wearing one and minimal downside. The upside to wearing a helmet, is the helmet saving your life in the event of a fall or other rock fall. The downside is that it can be uncomfortable or you could be the only one wearing it… it’s a no brainer to wear one. Get one early on and make it an integral part of your climbing gear.
What to do with my hair when climbing?
Hair can pose some problems while climbing. If your hair gets caught in a belay device, it’s going to be very painful for you and potentially dangerous for your partner. Use hair ties to keep your hair up and away from the device while belaying.
While rock climbing, you should do whatever is most comfortable. Tying your hair in a ponytail or into braids is a great way to manage your hair and keep it out of your face.
Tips on buying clothes for rock climbing
- Check ebay, craigslist and climber facebook groups for used clothing
- Become a member of REI and wait for 20% off one item sales that happen a few times a year
- Join Active Junky and get cashback when buying off online stores
- Check your local climbing gym for gear swaps, exchanges, or outdoor consignment stores
Once you begin climbing, you’ll see how many brands make climbing specific clothing. These clothes are great for outdoor rock climbing, but they aren’t necessary.
Some advantages these clothes do have are a gusseted crotch and stretchy material for improved range of motion, durability to stand up to the textured rock wall, and odor resistant properties.
Clothes for Climbing
- Breathable clothing
- Protect from weather or the high friction indoor climbing walls
- Form fitting
- Wear climbing shoes that feel comfortable
Outdoor clothing fashion is booming. Patagonia, The North Face, and Arcteryx can be seen all over downtown cities and a majority of these pieces of clothing won’t even see a check in station at the indoor gyms. There’s nothing wrong with that. These clothes are high quality and comfortable. And I own plenty myself.
But just because influencers wear these doesn’t mean you have to as well. You don’t need to break the bank to get brand name clothing. In fact, why spend a ton of money on an Arcteryx Proton LT if you’re just going to tear the sleeve the first time you wear it in Red Rock Canyon (true story).
I recommend checking Ebay, thrift stores, or used outdoor gear stores to buy brand name climbing clothing. You can find great pieces at a fraction of the price.
My typical clothing ensemble will look something like: long pants, t-shirt, a sun hoody, and an outer shell if it will be windy or rainy. This gives me to add and remove layers as the temperature dictates.
Frequently asked questions
Wear athletic clothes, climbing shoes, and a chalk bag.
Climbing jeans are a recent innovation. Many companies make stretchy denim so you can wear jeans rock climbing.
Sneakers are not designed for rock climbing, get a pair of climbing shoes with sticky rubber.
Climbers wear both pants and shorts when rock climbing indoors.
Wear active clothing that fits well and isn’t too baggy.