The Home Climbing Wall: Where do I start?
Many climbers have dreamt of having their very own home climbing wall. Private, unlimited access to a space tailor-made to be EXACTLY what you need. But where do you start? It’s not likely to be a simple project, and if you’re building it in your home you want to get it right. It needs to be safe, strong, looks good, works well, and be built in a way that lets you wring as much use out of it as you can!
You're in the right place. This article is the first of a series designed to provide insight into every step of the process, from determining the best climbing wall style for you to detailed designs and instructions for building a woodie (another name for a home climbing wall). We're gonna get into the real nitty-gritty here, so feel free to skip around to what you need. This page helps you determine what you need your wall to do, and what you have to work with. At the end of this article, you will find links to the rest of this series.
Before we dive in, it's important to understand that while we’ve done a heck of a lot to make this process easier, it's still your responsibility to make sure you've created a safe climbing wall and environment. These resources are to be used at your own risk, there's no way we can ensure your safety. Don’t cut corners, and ask the pros when you need help. Be honest with yourself about your limitations, but don’t let them stop you!
The Big Picture
This is a design project, something we're pretty passionate about here at Megalith. You're always going to have things you want to improve about your wall, but a little dedicated thought at the outset can save you a LOT of work and give you a far better experience when using your wall. Let’s explore two big questions before we decide anything: Why do we want a climbing wall, and what are our constraints.
Like any design project, the first thing you need to do is get a good bead on your end-user… probably you! Ask yourself (or whoever is stoked about this thing) these questions:
WHO will be using this?
Just one person? Several different people? A hardcore dirtbag climber? Your 3-year-old son?
WHAT is the intended purpose of your wall?
Are you building this primarily for fun, or for training? For both? For warming up? Is there something, in particular, you need it to do, a role to fill, a job to perform?
WHERE will this be installed?
Is this going to be a bare-bones monster in the basement or the first thing someone sees when they walk into your living room? Is appearance important? Will this be in the backdrop of family photos?
Think about these for a while and distill what shape hole this peg is supposed to fit. Marinate on it. Write down your thoughts and pick the important ones. This should give you a pretty well fleshed out “Why.”
Do you own the home? If you're hoping to build a climbing wall in a rental, a surprising number of landlords are fine with a simple climbing wall as long as it is a removable climbing wall. It would be a shame to move and have to leave behind your masterpiece anyway.
We recommend you keep your home bouldering wall between about 8 - 12 feet. Any lower and you have very limited vertical possibilities (lots of sit starts!). Higher than that and you start needing some serious padding at the bottom (you should ALWAYS have sufficient padding), not that this should stop you if you’re able to shell out for it. Another option, though it is a little more expensive, is to install a belay system. This is possible, and incredible if you can pull it off. However, with a setup this high, you start to deal with more complex and potentially dangerous situations and loads. We recommend you consult a professional when designing anything involving a belay system.
Usable climbing wall width
The more the better! It can be harder than you think to find a good stretch of wall free of closets, doors, windows, switches, etc. Some of these can be built over, but usually not without obvious tradeoffs.
Depth of the room
If you are building an inclined climbing wall, this may be a limiting factor. That 45-degree spray wall will need a room about as deep as it is tall.
Most modern homes in the USA have walls built using drywall over 2x4 wooden studs. These provide a relatively reliable, easy to work with a backbone that you can use to support your structure. Concrete or masonry walls can also be used, but require special hardware and pre-drilling to mount anything to them (more on this in our article "Building a Climbing Wall"). Avoid using any wall with metal studs, as these are not designed to support any load above the wall itself and very light applications. You climbing on it is not a light application, regardless of your weight.
Be aware that water damage, dry rot, termites, or simply age can compromise the integrity of your walls. We recommend consulting a professional if you have any concerns. If the walls you have to work with appear problematic a freestanding climbing wall may be a good option for you.
The garage, attic, or unfinished basement climbing wall
These have been favorites of the hardcore rock climber for generations. They work well for bigger, rougher woodies because they are out of the way (and out of sight), and can often be made a dedicated space where you can let your creativity run rampant. Oftentimes they have exposed studs and rafters providing convenient mounting points.
The bonus/playroom climbing wall
If it's for the kids, and you're lucky enough to have a bonus room, this is an excellent choice. The big open walls provide a huge canvas to work with for setting fun routes, as well as potential artwork. People commonly paint things like mountains and landscapes on their climbing wall to add to the experience, and if done tastefully can make a room. This doesn't just go for kids, a full-grown adult appreciates a good mural as well!
The bedroom climbing wall
If you're sharing a house or just happen to have a spare bedroom, this can be a great solution. Usually a bit cramped for space, but a kid's wall or training wall should work great, and with a little effort a fun wall is possible.
The entry/living room climbing wall
This is where you can often find some seriously big rock walls. Height and breadth. If you're looking to build a serious wall and telling the world that climbing flows through your abnormally prominent forearm veins is seen as a bonus, this may be your best option.
The outdoor climbing wall
You are exposed to the elements, but you can go nuts out there. You have the option to attach the climbing wall to the outside of your home or build a freestanding climbing wall. Special considerations need to be taken to ensure your wall and climbing holds withstand the elements. We will point some of these out throughout this article.
If you're a battle-hardened “do it yourselfer” with a garage full of tools and a head full of confidence, you have a lot of options. If you don't know the difference between a screw and nail those options may be more limited. Either way, there are lots of great options out there! If you find yourself on the low end when it comes to handiness but you still want to take on a challenging project, that's great! Just don’t be afraid to seek out help and resources when you need it. We will provide more resources on this topic in our article titled “Building a Climbing Wall”.
The final dreaded variable. In the design world (and others) we often refer to the fast, cheap, quality triangle. You can pick any two, but it is usually at the expense of the third. For example, you can often get something fast and cheap, but it's going to be of low quality. The same applies here, you usually can't have it all. How much do you have to spend on this? A home climbing wall can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred bucks up to tens of thousands of dollars. Entry-level climbing walls can be made using inexpensive, easy to find materials like standard 2x4s and plywood. Some even go so far as to make their holds from scrap chunks of wood. Take a gut check here to see what you're willing to spend, and keep that in mind as you weigh your options. We provide estimated costs for building different types of climbing walls in our article “Choosing the Right Home Climbing Wall”, and detailed cost breakdowns in “The Climbing Wall Design Vault”. The “Build vs Buy” article compares a few options for purchasing ready made systems.
A small rock wall can be an incredible training tool when designed right. If fun is your primary objective, let's be honest... a small climbing wall can get old pretty fast. If the wall is for little kids you may be able to get away with something less expansive, but generally speaking bigger equals more fun. More fun means more use. You don't want to go halfway on this and have your beautiful wall end up as a coat rack like the treadmill in the basement, so we recommend thinking through all these considerations carefully.
At this point, you should have a good idea of what the big picture looks like.
You should know:
- Why you want a home climbing wall
- What you have to work with when it comes to:
- Skill Level
Make some notes on what was important for your situation. Armed with that knowledge, we're ready to dive into the next articles…
Taking a step back to make sure you know what you need to know to start on the right foot.
An exploration of different types of home climbing walls and where they shine.
Detailed information on how to build a climbing wall that is rock solid. Methods, materials, and wisdom from the esoteric world of home rock wall building.
A collection of ready to go design packages for home bouldering walls/home rock climbing walls/home training walls. We include schematics, shopping lists, and detailed build instructions to make building a rock climbing wall go as smoothly as possible.
A look at some available options for purchasing home rock climbing wall products, and reasons one may be better for you than another.