Climbing – Indoor vs Outdoor

Staff Blog (2)

Our Outdoor Programme Leader, Georgios, is showing us the ropes with a guide to indoor and outdoor climbing! Georgios’s blog compares the differences between indoor and outdoor climbing and some of the VERY IMPORTANT things you need to take into consideration when you’re first starting out… or are an old pro!

There are many differences between indoor rock climbing and outdoor rock climbing and the list is not exhaustive, in fact if you ask 10 climbers I would expect you to get 10 entirely different answers. So, here is a list of some of the differences (in my opinion!).

Accessibility – Getting There

For most people, it goes without saying that it is much more difficult to get to your climbing venue in outdoor climbing than in indoor climbing. Due to the increase in popularity, which mainly comes from the introduction of climbing to the Olympic games, climbing gyms are opening up in many cities and towns. I don’t think climbing has ever been so accessible to so many people than it is today, or in such variety.

But let’s consider the accessibility issues that you may face if you decide to venture outside.

Distances from parking to climbing locations can vary, but in the majority of cases the climbing crag will be some distance from the parking spot resulting in a long ‘walk in’. This can often eat in to the time you actually get to spend climbing and often results in starting out early (ouch), finishing late or often both (double ouch).

Even if you have found a great location, close to a crag it will feel a lot further when you have to carry all your gear. It’s not all bad though, getting to the crag and climbing is often half the adventure, and half the fun.

Control Over Weather

Come on, we live in Scotland! Prepare for all seasons in one day and you can’t go wrong.

In all seriousness though, the weather plays a crucial part in planning when we climb outdoors. We need to be aware of what the weather is doing, not only on the day of the climb, but also in the days leading up to it as this will have great impact on the ‘condition’ of the rock. Knowing what the weather has been like in the days before you climb should give you clues to what the rock will be like on arrival at the crag – wet, slippery, dry, slimy, and whether or not you will be able to climb.

A huge benefit of indoor climbing is the ability to climb any time you plan to,  without having to worry about the changing weather spoiling your plans.


An indoor climbing environment offers climbers the advantage of enjoying the sport within a controlled environment. Some of the benefits of this include the provision of safety equipment, supervision, a safe learning environment and adequate padding on the ground.

Climbing outdoors often takes place in remote environments, making rescue more difficult in the event that anything goes wrong.


While indoor rock climbing facilities will charge an entry fee or a membership fee this is often the cheapest way to start climbing.

A single-day pass at a climbing gym will vary from place to place however as a rough guide entry fees to a climbing gym for an all-day pass will be around £11. If you choose to hire equipment such as harness, safety devices and shoes this would add around £6 to that cost. So that is £17 for an all-day activity, minus coffee and cakes (which are a must!).

Outdoor climbing will require an investment in equipment at the start of your journey, or at least a good friend to borrow from, but it may prove cheaper in the long run. However, as you improve and become want to explore climbing in different places, travel costs such as fuel and camping should be considered.


This is perhaps one of the biggest differences between indoor and outdoor climbing, and certainly one of the obstacles to outdoor climbing in the early stages of taking up the sport.

First, a note on helmets. In most cases you are unlikely to use a helmet when climbing indoors – you may be required to when starting at a new climbing gym or undertaking some lessons. If you are climbing outdoors then a helmet will be your best friend, helmets are mainly designed to protect from above, although modern ones are doing more and more as technology advances. You never know when a small rock above you may loosen and fall so its ALWAYS worth wearing one.

For indoor climbing the list of equipment you will need is fairly limited.

  • Rock Shoes
  • A chalk bag
  • A harness
  • A belay device
  • A screw gate carabiner 
  • Clothing that is loose but not so loose that it becomes stuck in the belay device
  • Most indoor climbing walls will have ropes for you

Outdoor Climbing

When you are climbing outdoors, you will need to ensure you are packing appropriately for whatever nature sends your way, and as we know, in Scotland that is pretty much everything!

Additional equipment includes, but is not limited to…

  • A well-fitting climbing helmet
  • Extra clothing and shoes
  • Hiking boots- the terrain on the way to the crag could be rough going and we don’t want any injuries before we even start, or after for that matter!
  • Gear – Often referred to as ‘a rack’, this is the protective equipment that you will utilise to make your climbing route safe. This ‘rack’ can be fairly basic if we are top/bottom roping or quite hefty if we are multi-pitch climbing.
  • Ropes – Suitable for the type and height of climbing you are undertaking.
  • A nut tool- useful for removing protective gear set in place by the lead climber
  • A guidebook- a real crag won’t have those helpful coloured holds that show you the route on indoor climbing walls
  • Food and drink

Group Activity

Indoor climbing is a great opportunity for you to bring along your friends so they can enjoy and take part in the climb with you. This isn’t always the case when we climb outdoors, although there are still opportunities to socialise when climbing outdoors, there are times when you and your climbing partner will be the only people on the mountain.

Indoor climbing centres often have clubs and group meet ups that you can join, offering a great social experience and also serving as a great place to learn the fundamentals when you are first starting out.

Experience Level Requirements

As with all sports, there is a learning curve in rock climbing. Indoor climbing gyms can cater to climbers of all experience levels, however, if you are planning to head outdoors to a local crag you will be well advised to do so with an experienced climber.

If you are new to climbing and don’t know anybody who is experienced at climbing consider joining a group or association that will allow you to meet with other climbers and gain experience.

Human Impact on Environment

If you are climbing outdoors, you will need to consider the impact you are having on the environment. There are numerous factors to consider from your carbon footprint to access these places to understanding and caring for the local environment, flora and fauna, wildlife etc.

To sum up!

An indoor climbing gym is a day trip, or an evening session. The climbs themselves will be relatively short, they are generally comfortable and have good facilities, including cafes which are always well stocked with CAKE!

When we climb outdoors, we not only have to get to the area, we will have to the hike to the crag complete the climb, and get back off the hill to the car. Outdoor climbing often, but not always, involves long days out, but the effort is always worth it. The key takeaway here is that outdoor climbing should take a lot longer because you will need to ensure that you are fully prepared. You are truly at the mercy of whatever nature happens to throw your way.

Climbing is a wonderful sport with so many health and wellbeing benefits. Regardless of whether you decide to climb indoors or outdoors, just climb, enjoy and stay safe!

Georgios Paparakis, VS Outdoor Programme Leader