Easiest way to install a home climbing gym?
March 19, 2021 11:50 AM   Subscribe

I have a large basement, partially with concrete walls covered with fake wood paneling, partially finished with drywall. I would like to install a home climbing wall for exercise and fun. What is the easiest and cheapest way for me to do this? Details below.

- I'm an adult woman, no kids, partner is not interested. We own our home and so can modify it as necessary.
- I have plenty of indoors top roping experience, but between COVID in the last year and an unreliable climbing partner the few years before that, I didn't go to the gym very often. A few years back I was going twice a week but never got beyond maybe 5.8/V2 according to my gym's standards (which seem to vary a lot by gym, so I don't know how meaningful that is!)
- I don't care about crack climbing, overhangs, or even anything particularly difficult or super-configurable! I figure once I get vaccinated I can go back to the gym if I want challenging climbs, high walls/top roping, or different routes. For my house, I am fine with a straight up and down low bouldering wall with easy holds, and just traversing back and forth or going up to the low ceiling and back. It's more about the enjoyment and having an outlet for general strength building via the use of my own body weight--even easy climbing is fun to me and feels like it builds functional strength in a way that weight lifting or resistance bands do not.
- I want something with handholds and footholds that I can CLIMB on--not a hangboard. Those are great for training and for more advanced climbers. I'm not a very advanced climber, I don't find those fun at all, and I just want to be able to climb around inside my house a bit.

What is the easiest, cheapest way to safely get a climbing wall up in my basement? I've seen some wooden boards with holds that seem to be more for small children's playgrounds, and some really complicated-looking builds where you have to frame out a whole wooden structure. I'm OK with paying someone to do the work but I think a big custom solution would be more than what I need. Is there a super simple kit I can buy? Should I just screw handholds right into the concrete and put down a crash pad underneath, or is that asking for trouble?

Thanks for any advice you can offer!
posted by music for skeletons to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I made a wall for my kids' bedroom. I bought a lot of climbing holds and attached them to 2 sheets of plywood. When I was staining the plywood I used an additive to make it rougher/grippier. To secure these to my wall I first attached some 2x4s into the studs and then screwed my plywood sheets into the 2x4s. It wasn't all that difficult to do. There are likely better and more elegant solutions but this was pretty straightforward and bomb-proof. Here's some pictures of what I did.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:27 PM on March 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Most home climbing walls are basically kid-rated stuff with bright colored "rocks" that you screw onto boards with T-nuts. They rarely go over 7 feet but may have a hand-walking section.

The wood-framing underneath are necessary because the structure is supposed to be free-standing, thus no damage to existing structure, supports its own weight, but also the climber AND momentary forces (swinging), that are transitory, not permanent, but must be withstood nonetheless.

The main question here is... do you own the home or are you renting? And further, it's not simple to screw into concrete.

REI has a blog entry that explains the designs that goes into a DIY climbing wall.
posted by kschang at 1:02 PM on March 19, 2021

The Climbing Business Journal has a running feature where they interview home wall owners.
Might be a good source for getting a sense of the spectrum that is possible and the costs/time involved.
posted by stobor at 1:14 PM on March 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

A ton of people built these during lockdown last spring and shared the results on the subreddits r/climbing and r/bouldering, if you want some inspiration from other people's builds.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:21 PM on March 19, 2021

I know you say you don't care about overhangs, but I'd advise against dead vertical. It gets real boring real fast. Event a 10 degree overhang makes a huge difference. Even just 5 might be enough.

That said, if you want you can just bolt holds directly to concrete. There's info on how to do this from Atomik Climbing Holds (long and detailed page there!).

Another option is to attach 2x4s to the concrete wall/drywall and then plywood panels to the 2x4s. Then you can buy screw-on climbing holds and you're all set!

The kind of wall you're talking about is pretty simple and for a handy person might take a weekend to put together. Lumber prices are super high right now, though, so it won't be as cheap as you might want.

Metolius, the climbing equipment manufacturer, has a pretty solid guide with more detail, but some of it might not be relevant to your situation. PDF here.
posted by that's candlepin at 1:32 PM on March 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

I saw a lot of people in my local climbing groups on FB showing off their home walls, so that might be another source of inspiration (and provide leads on sourcing materials and equipment locally) ... and bonus! The gyms would advertise there when they were selling off old holds.
posted by invokeuse at 2:12 PM on March 19, 2021

A friend of mine (female, tiny) has a Moonboard in her garage and she is obsessed with it! And, a few years down the line, absolutely ripped. As I understand it, it's set up in a specific format, so everyone round the world with a Moonboard has the same sets of problems to work on and can compare efforts, solutions, etc. So you get a community as well as a climbing wall.

There's some info about how to build it here (including kit pieces if you want to do that but they look spendy) - it's probably also worth checking out some of the online Moonboarding communities, I'm sure there'll be chat about the best way to do it cheaply/safely, maybe whether you could do it progresively, starting with some of the holds and adding them over time as finances allow.

It does involve a 25 degree angle, but my pal started her climbing journey from scratch on it, with no other climbing facilities to practice on, and seemed to manage OK. She lives in a place with limited socialising opportunities and her garage became the place for lots of local women and girls to hang out together and spend time encouraging each other on the wall.
posted by penguin pie at 2:19 PM on March 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

[Ah OK having read a bit more it appears the Moonboard has all kind of LED stuff going on which presumably precludes it from being 'Easiest to install' - don't know if that's compulsory or if you could do it without...]
posted by penguin pie at 2:44 PM on March 19, 2021

The moonboard is pretty tall - might be too tall for a basement. Not sure how integral the LED's are, I know there are lots of routes and a community which could be great.

The first bouldering gym I was ever in, the main 'cave' is mostly over-head, about six feet above the mats. I would suggest that, an upside-down 'U'. Easy to build - the walls support the roof, all 2X6 (or equivalent) and you can do routes that go up, across and down.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:55 PM on March 19, 2021

I've built several climbing walls for one of my kids, indoors and outdoors, including some that are way overkill for what you need - substantial overhang, multiple planes, etc. The absolute simplest approach would be to 1) attach plywood to your wall, 2) get screw on holds and screw them on. I would not bolt holds directly to the concrete, it's just going to put holes in your wall every time you want to move them around and putting things in concrete is a pain.

There are a few downsides to this type of wall. As mentioned above by that's candlepin, a bit of an angle helps. Even a few degrees will be interesting. Also, lots of good holes are bolt on, so you'll have to skip those. It's for sure possible though. If you want to hire a handyperson to do it feel free to mefi mail me the dimensions of your space and I can give you a few more detailed options / plans for them to build it.
posted by true at 4:10 PM on March 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

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