First Time At The Bouldering Gym – What You Should Know

If you are anything like me, then you appreciate knowing what you are getting into before going to a bouldering gym for the first time. Whether you are going on a date and want to impress someone cute or you just want to know what to do when you get there, here is what you need to know.

If all else fails, just try to have fun and the experience will be worth it.

Rent Shoes

When you sign your life away in the liability waiver at the front desk, ask to rent climbing shoes. I have seen so many people decide to save the $3-5 and opt-out of renting climbing shoes and use tennis shoes instead. 

Tennis shoes are not ideal for climbing.

If you want specific reasons why you should spend the extra $3 here is a quick summary:

  1. Tennis shoes have a lot of space between the end of your toes and the outside of the shoe so you aren’t able to get on the tips of your toes as easily
  2. The toe on tennis shoes is usually too big for the small climbing holds so you will be limited in what routes you can try.
  3. Climbing shoes are made with a really grippy rubber so you can grip the wall without using a climbing hold, unlike the rubber found on tennis shoes.
  4. Climbing shoes have extra stiffness at the bottom of the shoe near the toe and balls of your foot so you don’t have to use as much muscle in your foot to hold your body up. 

Climbing shoes will not only make it easier for you to climb, but they will also open up a lot of climbing routes that you can do.

Shoe Fit

Climbing shoes are usually smaller than your street shoes. If the climbing shoes are too big, then it will be harder for you to use smaller footholds and thus, you should avoid shoes being too big. With that being said, you want to get a pair of shoes that are as small as you can get without pain. 

Discomfort is ok but pain is too small.

If you decide to go with a pair of shoes that are questionably too small, try a couple of climbs. If they are too small and hurt or distract you while climbing, then consider going back to the front desk and asking for a different size shoe.

Choosing The First Route/Climb

Once you have your climbing shoes on and have warmed your muscles up a little bit, you need to find your first climb. Look around the gym for an indication of how difficult the climbs are. 

Most climbing gyms have a little piece of paper taped beneath climbing holds near waist hight. The paper will tell you what grade the climb is. The climbing grade is the difficulty of the grade. 

Bouldering in the U.S. is based on a “V Grade” grading scale. Beginning grades are VE and VB. Then it goes from V0-V13. For your first climb, it might be worth trying VB or V0 to start and then work your way up from there, one grade at a time. If you climb a V0 then try a V1 and keep moving up in grades until you find a level that is challenging but still doable.

Starting The Climb

To start a climb, place both hands on the beginner/start hold. The start hold is the hold with the tape that indicates what the level of the climb is.

Sometimes there is a second piece of tape or paper and that indicates that one hand is supposed to be on each hold.

Once your hands are on the hold, place your feet on a hold of the same color and begin the climb. 

Doing The Climb/Route

The challenge with indoor bouldering is that you are supposed to climb a specific route. The route is indicated by color, either by the color of the handholds or by colored tape underneath the handholds. The colors create a sequence known as the route, climb, or more commonly called a “problem” in the climbing community. 

Follow this sequence up to the top of the climb.

If you are really struggling, I always find finishing the climb by “cheating” as a nice confidence booster. To cheat, all you have to do is use handholds that aren’t part of the intended route. For example, if you can’t get past one part of the climb, use a different colored handhold to get to the next part of the climb.

Cheating is cheating, however, so if you have a pattern of “needing” to cheat, then it may be best to climb easier grades and work your way up to that grade.

Finishing The Climb/Route

To properly finish a climb, you not only need to reach the top climb, but you need to make a finishing move. Depending on the gym, there are three common finish options.

  1. Put both hands on the last hold, which is marked as finish or is the last hold of that color
  2. Climb onto the top of the wall (this is only the case if you are supposed to stand up on top of the wall and walk over to a climb down area).
  3. Grab the top of the wall with both hands.

Once you reached the top of the climb, use any handhold/foothold to climb back down. You can jump down if it is well padded but jumping down increases your chances of getting injured, so avoid this if possible.

Tips For Climbing

Use Your Toes

One of the easiest ways to make climbing easier is by climbing on your toes. Beginner climbers frequently climb with the mid-sole on the climbing hold. By climbing on your toes, you are able to stand up taller, pivot and move easier.

Review The Route/Climb/Problem

Review the route before you start the climb. You can get an idea of where you need to move to get to the end of the climb by looking at all of the holds before you get on the wall. This will make it easier for you so that you don’t waste energy trying to figure out the next move.

Talk To Other Climbers

Whether you are talking to your date or talking to someone else that just finished a climb, masterfully, interacting with other climbers will help you feel more comfortable being there. 

As a beginner, you may not know that recommending moves for other climbers is a big no-no. So this is your warning; Don’t make recommendations for other climbers.


Whether you are trying to impress your date or just want to know what to expect on your first experience at the bouldering gym, the overview above should help. A good place to start is by renting shoes and then climbing some basic routes.

Most climbers are super nice to talk to so you can always talk to someone at the gym if you need help or don’t know what to do. 

Of course, once you have visited the bouldering gym, you may get the climbing bug and if you do, be sure to subscribe to this blog for more helpful tips.

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