I would say I'm a fairly experienced hiker, and would love to begin climbing some more challenging mountains, i.e. mountains that require actual climbing, rather than just hiking. I have next to no climbing experience at the moment; apart from the occasional birthday party at the climbing wall when I was child.

It's winter at the moment, so if I were to begin to learn to climb any time soon, I'd imagine my only option would be indoors. If I were to wait until spring, are there any benefits to learning how to climb outdoors, when the end goal is outdoor climbing?

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    It makes me feel old, that "indoor climbing" is seen as an end in itself, rather than as strength training when it's really impossible to get on a crag... Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 18:07
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    Depending on your location, there might be actual climbing you can do outdoors (in big boots and jacket, and in the easiest grades). That gives you plenty of mountain sense and an opportunity to develop your situational awareness when you're not being taxed by the technical difficulty. If your location is too cold for easy routes in warm clothing, then get someone to take you snow & ice climbing - much more fun than shivering on the rock! Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 18:11

5 Answers 5


In your specific situation where it is either start climbing now indoors or in spring outdoors, that alone is reason enough to prefer indoors.

Then there are the following already mentioned benefits indoors: Big pool of climbing partners, lots of courses, easy access, independent from weather and probably more. The last point makes it very suitable to learn the basics of or improve strength for climbing.

However if all of the above is not a problem and your goal is to climb outdoors and for mountaineering, learning to climb outdoors has its distinct advantages:

  • Route finding/knowing rock:
    Indoors the route is given with colourful plastic things. Well, you don't have that outdoors. The sooner you learn to recognize usable holds and fit placements the better. And while bolts will lead your way, you still get a feeling for lines which is one of the most important factors on alpine climbs.

  • Climbing style
    Indoor climbing focuses a lot on holds and strength. Outdoor climbing is much more about feet and friction, also for holds. This is really a huge factor. Lots of indoor climbers climb harder routes after a short time of intense training than I do, but outside I still surpass them.

  • "Habits"
    Checking whether the hold is loose before putting your weight on it, recognizing potential dangers like ledges and many other small factors will become a habit the sooner you stay doing them.

So start climbing now indoors, learn rope handling, build endurance and strength and whatever else, but as soon as it is possible, go climb outside. In addition to the factors above, it is also much more fun ;)

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    And there we have it.. induction starts next week!
    – Cthulhu
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 22:53

For a total beginner? Not a lot.

A beginner is better off in the warm and dry with consistent safe holds, solid top rope fixings, and close to the pub for the end of the session. There are basic proficiencies that you're much better off learning indoors in a controlled environment like belaying and basic movement. You'll also get a lot more climbing in for your time unless you live virtually under your chosen climbing routes.

Further down the line there are different approaches and techniques, and it becomes a very different experience indoors and out.

  • I get the pub thing is kind of a joke, but it is pretty much the opposite of what you want to be doing when you're training into a sport.
    – djechlin
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 0:20
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    @djechlin, there's a pub down the road from my local climbing centre, to that pub go the following groups, the people from the climbing centre, the canoe club, the sailing club, the hockey club, the softball club and numerous others. Going to the pub after the session is part of the social event that is sport, don't underestimate its importance.
    – Separatrix
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 8:19
  • @djechlin: Play hard, party hard! I rode 200 miles on a skateboard in 22 hours in Amsterdam this summer. The first beer with other competitors after the race was simply delicious. Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 12:44
  • @djechlin: going to the pub after training is just fine for the 99.999% of people that aren't professional competitors and are just in it for fun and challenge. Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 22:16
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    cleans up old comments I'm actually serious about the "pub" thing not belonging in this answer. It can be your social ritual all you want. As for me, it left a great impression on me when a climbing buddy I looked up to informed me we would not be getting drinks after the climb. Between that, clif bars and sports drinks, I cleaned up a lot of useless calories that were dragging down the wonderful athletic and health-positive aspects of climbing for me.
    – djechlin
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 6:44

I would say I'm a fairly experienced hiker, and would love to begin climbing some more challenging mountains i.e. mountains that require actual climbing, rather than just hiking. [...] are there any benefits to learning how to climb outdoors, when the end goal is outdoor climbing?

The answer to your question depends somewhat on what type of outdoor climbing you have in mind: sport? trad? alpine? Since you describe climbing as an extension of hiking, then you are most likely to be interested in trad or alpine. In this answer, I'll focus on trad climbing.

If your goal is trad climing, then there is basically almost no overlap whatsoever between the skills you learn in gym climbing and the skills you need for trad climbing. They're almost unrelated sports.

Trad climbing involves learning belaying, routefinding, knots, placing gear, evaluating rock quality, rope handling, building anchors, and possibly multipitch climbing. Gym climbing involves none of these, except for belaying plus an extremely limited amount of knots and rope handling.

Gym climbing can help with building certain types of strength, endurance, and technique. However, as a beginning trad climber you would never get on a route that would require this kind of physical ability. Also, these physical abilities gained from indoor climbing are basically 100% about face climbing. Outdoor climbing involves slab, crack, and face, with crack being by far the predominant type.

Anyway, indoor climbing is fun, so who cares whether it prepares you for outdoor climbing?


Speaking anecdotally as someone who started climbing outdoors, I can say that there are a few things I gained from starting my rock climbing journey outdoors that have been a huge benefit for me personally, and i've noticed have been severely lacking in people who started rock climbing indoors.

By background is a lot of mountain biking, hiking, scrambling, skiing, a bit of alpine climbing, and then finally... rock climbing, ice climbing, and then more serious alpine climbing.

A few things I believe have been huge for me due to starting outdoors.

  • All conditions climbing. Indoors, it is easy to get used to very controlled situations that do very little to prepare people for the many different situations they can experience outdoors. This goes 10x for alpine and multipitch. When you start climbing outdoors, falling rock, loose rock, changing weather conditions, changing temperatures and humidity, and changing rock conditions become just another important part of the experience. These kinds of things can't be taught or learned indoors. It sounds like you have a lot of experience due to your scrambling background... but for someone without that... outdoor is the place to start.

  • Systems management - Alpine climbing of any kind is 90% systems and 10% actual rock climbing ability. Indoor climbing does almost nothing to prepare one for anything beyond small outdoor crags. Indoor climbing is no substitute for experience on longer outdoor routes or very easy multipitches, even of the bolted variety.

  • Route finding (both macro and micro) - Once again, colored or taped holds do nothing to help someone read a route. This again goes triple for alpine or multipitch. People who start indoors have to re-learn everything when it comes to outdoor climbing. I've seen far too many people start indoors, and then fail to really make any progress outdoors because they routes of the same grade feel impossible.

  • Headspace / mental control - Indoors, bolts are a fixed distance apart, and it's hard to find incentive to lead climb when the routes always have ropes up. Climbing outdoors is an immediate intro to lead climbing, and it's easy to build a strong base on lead climbing, and all the fear management that comes with it. Sure, it can be scary to lead indoors... but this is nothing compared to the mental control and fear management that is required to competently lead trad, alpine, or even the spacier bolts on outdoor sport routes.

  • Footwork - people who start out climbing indoors often have terrible footwork that makes outdoor climbing into a frustrating experience. Indoor climbs, particularly at lower grades, have extremely good feet that are not at all like outdoor climbs where foot placements are often terrible, or seemingly non-existent. I learned to climb outdoors on 5.6/5.7 limestone slabby climbs. This gave me an incredible foundation of good footwork and trusting bad footholds which has carried me well into the 5.12's and on many alpine climbs.

Overall, there's certainly nothing wrong with indoor climbing whatsoever... particularly for those of us who live in a part of the world with long winters. I climb indoors up to 4-5 times per week.

But as someone with a lot of alpine climbing experience to someone looking to do "harder" alpine routes... indoor rock climbing is not a substitute for experience with outdoor systems and routes, and will do little to prepare you for alpine climbing of any kind.


[I] would love to begin climbing some more challenging mountains, i.e. mountains that require actual climbing

It comes down to this: your long term goals!

Gaining experience on actual rock will help you greatly (since you want to climb mountains with rocks). Managing hazards and risks, placing gear, leading a run-out, and route finding (no colored plastic holds outside!) are all things that you can only really learn by doing the actual climbing (outside, on rocks).

However! Strength is something every climber needs. Strong fingers, strong core and strong mind are all attributes that you can develop while climbing indoors (the latter being a little more difficult to develop). These are things that will help you literally climb the rock with your hands and feet.

I learned outdoors - but I'm in the gross minority nowadays. Nothing wrong with starting indoors and then climbing outdoors at every possible opportunity (for the tan, of course).

I think climbing outdoors teaches you more about yourself (even spiritually) and is more rewarding. When you get off work at 5 and it's dark and raining out though, the climbing gym is just about your only option...

Like I say, it all comes down to your long term goals and since you say that you want to climb mountains - climbing outside will serve your experience level while climbing indoors (and outdoors) will up your strength (making you more confident on those long run outs!)

Most of all, have fun (indoors or outdoors)!

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