Indoor vs outdoor climbing, do you really need to pick a side?

Climbing is without doubt associated with the great outdoors, beautiful landscapes, and high  rocky walls. But, what about when there are no mountains around you or when you simply have limited time? In that case your choice is limited to indoor climbing. It might not sound as amazing as exploring the impressive outdoor walls but there definitely is a different kind of beauty to indoor climbing. Don’t worry, there is no need to pick a side, it’s better to enjoy the best of both worlds. We have lined up the pros of both sides for you.

Outdoor climbing experience in portugal
indoor climbing hannes

Indoor climbing: technical challenges

1. Infinite possibilities

Every climbing hall has its specialised crew of builders. Boys and girls, who have mastered the art of setting routes. They don’t just randomly screw a set of similar coloured grips on the wall and then rate it. A good route setter thinks carefully about a new route. It will give it a purpose (e.g. strength, endurance) and it will add some creativity to it. This creates an infinite amount of possibilities of routes with nice flows and different grades. Also, it creates the possibilities to practice stuff that will be hard to find outdoors.

2. So much variety in a small space

Climbing halls are relatively small, especially compared to the mountains. However, they are built in such a way, that there is enough fun for every level climber. Also, the walls are set up in different degrees, so if you want to climb slab, vertical, or overhang, it is all there. Outside, most often you won’t find so much variety in one single space. 

3. Always the same conditions

In the indoor halls the variables are pretty much always the same. The holds are mostly made of the same or at least similar materials and there isn’t much variation in the indoor climate. No wind, no rain and no rocks that can break of. This creates great conditions to focus on technique and progression. Here you can learn the things you can later apply outside!

4. It’s safer

Climbing inside is much safer than climbing outside. There are no rocks that can fall on your head, no sharp edges you can cut yourself on and when you fall out for the route it is in a more controlled setting. This means you can take more risks and you have fewer worries to hurt yourself.

5. Get social

Although, when you go outdoors you also meet people, but the indoor world is a great way to socialize with other climbers. If it is small talk about that party coming up in the weekend or a more technical chat about using that heel grip (or not), indoor climbers tend to be a very social species.

6. No more boring gym sessions

If you want to get in shape and work on that killer body, for many people the gym is the place to be. However, for most of us normal gyms are boring and not very inspirational places. Go indoor climbing! In the same amount of time you can achieve the same results, but in a playful way. Every climb is a game and you need to crack the code.

Indoor climbing amsterdam
Indoor lead climbing in Amsterdam.
lead climbing amsterdam

Outdoor climbing: meeting the wilderness

1. For more experienced climbers

Outdoor climbing is generally for more experienced climbers. It involves lead climbing and also a good knowledge of safety issues. When indoors you just really need to make sure you are belaying you partner safely, but when outdoors there is a lot more you need to pay attention too. Routes can be multiple rope lengths and this requires a complete different skillset.

2. Be creative

There are no colours that will guide you through the route. At most you will see some chalk left on the rocks, a subtitle hint indicating that there might be a useful grip. It is a battle between you and the wall. No route setter has created a logic on these walls. This makes it a bigger challenge to climb natural walls and it asks more of your creativity in order to get to the top.

3. For the thrill

You might face yourself lead climbing over a set of rocks and you know, that when you fall you will fall hard. There are no pillows or mats to break your fall. This gives a true sensation of adventure. You could find yourself in situation where mistakes are not allowed and will have serious consequences. Standing two meters above your last clip can be scary and thrilling at the same time. It is not a sport for the faint hearted.

4. Enjoy the unexpected

With outdoor climbing you have to be aware of unpredictable conditions. You grab an unstable rock, you poke with your finger in a spider hole or you get face to face with a snake. It could happen. Easy routes become challenges when slippery after heavy rainfall or an the sun might be burning in your neck. The conditions outside are always different and you can never expect the same.

5. Feel one with nature

When you are climbing outside you are mostly far away from everything surrounded by mountains, trees, animals and other natural elements. Away from the busy city you can enjoy fresh air, silence and beautiful vistas on top of you last conquered route. Free the animal that’s locked up inside you and become part of your natural surroundings.

outdoor climbing portugal
outdoor climbing above water
outdoor climbing in portugal above water
Outdoor climbing abover water near Lagos, Portugal.

One sport and two quite different ways to enjoy it. Whatever you prefer, it’s a matter of preference. No discussion possible. However, I do think we all agree that the challenge to defeat gravity is what we are all doing it for.

Hannes Willems
Hannes Willems

I'd like to be active as much as I can. Climbing, snowboarding, iceskiting and whatever other sports cross my path. I like it all!