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What is the difference between a bouldering gym and a full-service climbing gym?

Updated: Apr 26

Before diving into the differences between a bouldering and a full-service gym, let’s set the record straight: All climbing gyms are great! Small and large gyms alike offer the opportunity for an epic session and experience. While small gyms might bring out the best aspects of the climbing community, a large gym will have ample problems and routes to choose from. But you may also encounter a bouldering-only gym with the best set you’ve ever climbed, or a full-service gym may have the most rad climbers you’ve met! There are also some extensive bouldering-only gyms and some small full-service gyms. With so many possibilities, there are endless opportunities to experience rock climbing. This article will clarify what you’ll have access to and can expect at bouldering-only gyms versus a full-service gym to help you determine which type of gym might best suit you!

young man bouldering dynamic movement

What does a bouldering-only gym mean?

A bouldering gym is precisely what the name implies! Out of the three main climbing disciplines, bouldering, sport, and speed, a bouldering gym has bouldering walls (short walls with no ropes) and cushioned landing pads. There may also be a small fitness area with a few dumbbells, a cardio machine, hang boards, pullup bars, or a training board (Kilter, Moonboard, Tension), but not necessarily.

What does a full-service climbing gym mean?

On the other hand, a full-service gym will have a more expansive offering with some combination of bouldering, sport, and speed. Many full-service gyms also have a small but fully equipped fitness area, training boards, and a fitness class/yoga room. With the extra amenities and choices, full-service gyms may also offer summer camps, fitness classes, birthday parties, and employee belays.

Is one type of gym better than the other?

Not necessarily. It all depends on your preference. Someone who only climbs on ropes may not find a bouldering gym up to par, and vice versa. All gyms offer the opportunity to climb and rent gear. Depending on individual preferences, a smaller gym of either kind may appeal to some climbers compared to a larger, potentially overwhelming facility.

Why are there different types of climbing gyms?

If both are great options, you may wonder why both types of climbing gyms exist. Usually, it is a combination of factors, including available space, funds, and overall accessibility. The more offerings a climbing gym has, the more they may charge for day passes, rentals, lessons, and memberships to cover associated costs. Typically, the distribution of gyms follows population concentrations. Urban and suburban areas are more likely to sport full-service gyms as there is a larger pool of people to use the gym and the necessity of a large facility to accommodate as many climbers as possible.

top rope climbers at full service climbing gym

Rural areas are more likely to have a bouldering-only gym or smaller full-service facility due to a smaller pool of climbers and potentially fewer financial resources to sustain a full-service gym. Additionally, a rural area may lack pre-existing locations to convert to a climbing gym, and the available spaces may not have tall enough ceilings to construct rope climbing walls.

It is hard to determine which type of gym is more common as new climbing facilities are opening globally or old facilities are expanding to support the sport's growth. We'd recommend checking out both types of rock climbing gyms if you have the opportunity, and if you do, let us know what you think of each in the comments below! Your opinion and experiences are valuable to the climbing community and anyone looking to hear first-hand reviews of both gyms.

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