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Clothing For Climbing In The Gym – What Should You Wear?

Clothing For Climbing In The Gym – What Should You Wear?

Maybe you’ve seen Free Solo and you’re inspired to go climbing for the first time or you are going on a rock climbing date with someone special and you are doing some research to be prepared. You may ask: what do you wear for indoor rock climbing? 

The nice thing about rock climbing is that most indoor gyms have rental gear so you don’t have to buy any special gear. Generally, if you go into an indoor climbing gym, you will find an array of people wearing different outfits and styles so don’t worry about looking out of place. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that what you wear is easy to move around in and not baggy. Your rock climbing outfit may differ depending on the type of climbing.

There are two types of climbing, climbing with rope and climbing without a rope. Top-rope climbing is climbing with a rope that runs from the top of the climbing route on an anchor to the ground. Climbing without a rope is called bouldering and indoor gyms usually have soft mats that cover the area around the climbing routes.

Depending on the type of climbing that you do, you may wear something different. For example, since bouldering doesn’t require a harness or rope, your pants or shorts don’t have the same restrictions as pants for climbing with a harness. For the purpose of this recommendation, we will focus on what to wear for indoor rock climbing with a rope.

Indoor Rock Climbing Outfit

For both men and women, keep in mind that rock climbing is a physical activity so it is a good idea to wear athletic apparel. Due to the extensive movement that climbing requires, skinny jeans and cute jackets are likely to prevent you from enjoying climbing. In addition, climbing can be rough on your clothing, so if you are worried about an outfit getting a hole in your knee or elbow, then wear something else. Other than that, there are subtle differences between men and women in regard to what you should wear for indoor rock climbing. 

woman indoor climbing top rope

Indoor Rock Climbing Outfits For Women

Wear athletic apparel that is easy to move in such as leggings and a tank top. Leggings are great because they are flexible, form-fitting and you don’t have to worry about them getting caught on anything. In addition, the leggings will likely make it easy for a harness to fit comfortably (as comfortable as rental harnesses get).

Tank tops are great because it gives your shoulders the freedom to move in any direction easily. It is fine if you wear shirts with sleeves, just test the shirt before getting to the gym to make sure you can move your shoulders and arms in any direction without restrictions.

In addition, most women wear longer tops that can be tucked into the harness so that the harness doesn’t rub against bare skin.

Indoor Rock Climbing Outfit For Men

Unless you are comfortable wearing leggings, indoor rock climbing outfits are a little different for men. Most climbing pants that are built for men have smaller crotch areas than your average gym shorts or sweats because the harness wraps around your legs right where your pockets would be.

We understand that you may not want to purchase climbing pants, especially if you are just starting so there are many alternatives. Most men wear flexible khakis or soccer sweats without an issue.

Something a little different about climbing than most sports is that there is usually more sweat “downstairs ” and down the buttcrack, than you may be used to. With that being the case, people that sweat a lot will frequently wear compression shorts under their clothes as an extra barrier.

In addition, men frequently wear compression shorts if they wear gym shorts because the harness will force your shorts to bunch and ride up, exposing your underwear or pale skin.

As for shirt tops, we recommend wearing a t-shirt or tank top that will give you full movement in your shoulders. Some gyms have a shirt policy, so if you really want to go shirtless, check with the gym beforehand to make sure it is ok.

Also, the harness rides above your waist, so if you don’t like the harness rubbing against your skin, make sure your top is long enough to tuck under the harness.

Rock Climbing Rope and Belay Devices

Indoor climbing gyms provide rope and rent basic belay devices so you don’t have to bring them with you. However, if you want a belay device with additional safety features such as assisted braking, then you will need to bring your own. This is my favorite belay device with assisted braking.

Many indoor climbing gyms will require you to prove that you are a skilled belayer by testing you when it is your first time climbing at their gym. If you know how to belay already, then great – you should be fine. If it is your first time belaying, I recommend either learning from a friend or taking a belay class. Belaying is the most important part of indoor climbing and is the main key to safety so you need to know what you are doing.

Rock Climbing Shoes

Rock climbing shoes are worth the cost of renting. It is one of the most helpful tools for climbers and many climbing footholds are too small for tennis shoes. There is a barefoot climbing trend right now, but that is not applicable for climbing gyms.

Most gyms require you to wear shoes because of the bacteria that may be on your feet will transfer to the wall, and consequently to your hands and everyone else’s hands and feet at the gym. In addition, climbing barefoot is extremely difficult because it depends on the strength of your individual toes to hold your weight, whereas climbing shoes have additional support and distribute the weight to the entire foot.

Some people wonder if you should wear socks with climbing shoes. Generally, if you are renting shoes, you would wear a thin pair of socks, but gyms sanitize their shoes so it is up to you.

Rock Climbing Chalk Bags

Climbing chalk isn’t necessary so if you don’t already have a chalk bag, don’t worry about purchasing one. If you enjoy climbing and plan to climb more, chalk will be an important step in your climbing progress so it is likely something you want to invest in. 

What To Do With Your Hair For Indoor Rock Climbing

If you have long hair, put it in a bun, if possible. Ponytails or braids are usually fine too, but since there is a possibility of getting your hair stuck between the rope and rock, or caught in an anchor, it is best to minimize any loose hair (hence a bun).

Can You Wear Shorts Indoor Rock Climbing

Generally, in climbing, pants are preferred because they protect your legs and especially your knees from getting scratched. With that said, indoor climbing walls are much smoother than outdoor climbing walls and the lack of wildlife or loose rock makes getting scraped less likely. Many people opt to wear khaki-like shorts or flexible/light hiking shorts and seem to enjoy that. Since I’ve scraped my knees at indoor rock climbing gyms, I only wear shorts if I’m behind on laundry and don’t have much of a choice.

Do You Wear Helmets Indoor Rock Climbing

A rock-climbing helmet’s main purpose is to protect your head from any falling rocks. Since indoor rock climbing doesn’t have falling rocks, most indoor climbing gyms don’t provide helmets to rent and you are usually fine without one. 


Whether you are a beginner trying indoor rock climbing for the first time or you want to know what to wear for a rock climbing date, there are a lot of options that won’t interfere with your personal style. Generally, avoid baggy clothes or clothing that restricts your movement and rent climbing shoes so that you can enjoy the full experience. Most climbers wear pants, but if you are rock climbing indoors, shorts will be fine too. If you have been climbing before, what has been your indoor rock climbing outfit? Do you have any suggestions – share them in the comments below.