Why are rock climbing gyms so expensive?

Why are rock climbing gyms so expensive?

Rock climbing is an exhilarating sport! I’ve been climbing for over two decades, and it has been an enriching experience so far. But the indoor climbing costs can often delay the adrenaline rush and force you to think about the money required to get that rush.

Rock climbing gyms are somewhat expensive, with an average monthly membership fee between $50-100 and a daily pass up to $30, depending on your city. The climbing gear itself costs $10-15 per day for rental and can go as high as $500 for your own gear.

This guide will explain why rock climbing gyms seem expensive and how you can choose one for yourself. For starters, they aren’t non-profits. Rock climbing gyms, like any other fitness establishment, are in the business of making money and need to turn a profit to stay afloat.

In fact, climbing gyms tend to make less profit than traditional gyms and yoga places with similar membership fees because of wildly different upkeep and maintenance costs.

Why are climbing gyms so expensive?

I. The Gym Building is Different

The sheer size difference in gym buildings is ironically the most overlooked factor among climbers when considering the fees. Unlike regular fitness gyms, rock climbing gyms have to build climbing walls.

These gyms generally rent/buy warehouses or ‘spaces’ that are three stories tall and half-a-block wide. On the other hand, fitness gyms and yoga centers can be established on single-story plain floors.

Since it’s pretty hard to find such big and open spaces, some climbing gym owners have to pay for the demolition of the existing buildings and create the gym from scratch with strong supports and other construction requirements.

Even if one can find a good open space with no need for demolition, just the remodeling can cost between $150,000-200,000. If you think this is a lot, wait till you hear about the insurance.

II. Liability Insurance

A place where you have to sign a waiver form just to take part in the sport has to have some insurance of its own, right?

While it isn’t a legal necessity, most climbing gyms pay for liability insurance to cover customer accidents that may occur in the gym during climbing activities. It also protects the gym against any lawsuits from these accidents.

Climbing gyms also have high insurance fees due to the higher probability of potential accidents. For the same insurance amount of $1 million, fitness gyms pay $350-500 every year on average, while rock climbing gyms pay $400-1,100 per annum in the United States.

III. Staff & Equipment

Like any other gym, a rock climbing gym needs well-trained staff and facilities such as restrooms, changing rooms, water, and electricity. Good climbing gyms often include a small workout place that you can use, and the equipment isn’t cheap.

For a standard facility of about 10,000 sq. feet, electricity and heating/cooling costs can be $1K-2K every month, which can go as high as $4K depending on your locality.

Based on a recent job listings survey on ZipRecruiter, a single gym staff salary can be $32,657 per annum, which can go as high as $47,500 for professional rock climbing instructors and safety personnel.

If your rock climbing place provides you with a small workout gym, you should probably be thankful for the $50-100 membership fee because the equipment can cost more than $50K for the most basic commercial gym.

IV. Upkeep & Maintenance

The equipment in a rock climbing gym, such as lead routes, wall structures, holds, crash-pads, etc., is not only expensive but requires timely upkeep as well. Think about how many potential accidents could happen in a day if a single hold is worn out or faulty.

The soft gears such as top rope and even climbing shoes get worn out and need to be replaced regularly. Maintaining quality equipment is one of the most significant ongoing expenses of running a rock climbing gym.

V. Route Refresh

When I joined my first rock climbing gym, it took me about a month and a half to get used to the climbing routes. I used to go 3-4 days a week to climb and complete the lead routes. But it all became a bit redundant after two months.

That’s when I realized that “route refresh” is a significant factor when deciding your rock climbing gyms.

Once you start climbing regularly, you don’t want to keep playing with the same routes every time; rock climbing gyms remodel their lead routes every couple of months to maintain the feeling of “working on fresh terrain.”

Refreshing the routes not only has substantial equipment costs, but gym owners also have to hire experienced professionals to design the new lead routes.

Is rock climbing an expensive hobby?

Apparently, rock climbing expenses are almost similar to playing golf, and we all know which one has more of an adrenaline rush. Rock climbing often comes in the moderate category in terms of sports expenses – it’s neither cheap nor expensive.

Here are some of the indoor rock climbing expenses that you need to be aware of.

I. Membership Fee – When to take memberships?

As I mentioned earlier, different gyms in different cities have different membership fees. On average, rock climbing gyms have daily fees of about $15-25, and after you pay this token amount, you get unlimited climbing access for the entire day.

Daily fees can go as high as $40 in Brooklyn, New York. If it’s more than that, you should probably look for another gym.

Gyms also offer a much cheaper option – a membership. You can either pay the fee in monthly installments or in one go for the entire year.

Membership fees for climbing gyms in the U.S. are usually between $80-100/month if you choose the monthly plan and $50-75/month if you choose the annual plan.

You can also opt for a weekly pass (7-day) or a 10-day pass depending on your requirements.

II. Climbing Gear – Rental vs. Purchase

This is where it gets especially tricky for the beginners – to buy or not to buy!

In my opinion, either option is fine as long as you accurately measure your needs. If you’ll only climb on weekends as a novice, you should rent the gear for a couple of weeks to see if you like the experience or not.

 If you like the experience and want to increase your climbing frequency, it makes more sense for you to buy your own gear. Rock climbing gear can be pretty expensive if you don’t know what you’re doing.

I see beginners buying $300 climbing shoes almost all the time – you don’t need to do that. Start with a comfortable and reasonable pair of shoes.

Here’s a list of potential costs to refer to:

Harness $5-10$50-70
Cabineer/Belay Devices$3-7$50-90
Top Rope$15-20$100-300
Chalk & Bag$1-2$10-20
Climbing Equipment Rental vs. Purchases Costs

III. The Three Rock Climbing Types

Before you start climbing, you’ll need to first decide what kind of rock climbing you’ll be doing at your gym. There are primarily three types of indoor (gym) climbing:

  1. Bouldering: It doesn’t require a harness or top rope. During bouldering, you’re so close to the ground that even if you fell down on the crash-pad, you’d still be safe. Bouldering is quite fun and good for novice climbers.
  2. Top-Rope Climbing: This is where things get interesting and you’re introduced to a top rope and a harness. This is the basic form of rock/wall climbing in which your rope is attached to an overhead anchor from one end and with you from another end.
  3. Lead Climbing: Lead climbing is the advanced form of top-roping in which you tie into one end of the rope and the other attaches to a series of quickdraws as you go up. Don’t try lead climbing unless you have a fair amount of experience in top-roping.

How to choose a rock climbing gym?

Now that you understand the ongoing expenses and investment behind these rock climbing gyms, the fees might not look as expensive as it did earlier. Although, this doesn’t mean you should go and join your nearest gym right away.

A lot can go wrong when choosing the perfect climbing gym. I joined the wrong gyms several times and either ended up paying more than necessary or settling for fewer facilities. Don’t worry; it won’t happen to you.

Here are my three golden rules of choosing a rock climbing gym that I learned the hard way.

I. Extra Benefits & Facilities

Every rock climbing gym you visit will have basic facilities such as restrooms, the option to rent climbing gear, climbing walls, etc. The difference, however, will be the number of extra benefits your gym offers.

Many good climbing gyms give members complimentary chalk bags and rental gear. In some cases, this gear may even be given to everyone for free.

While it’s common to have a workout/warmup space in climbing gyms, many owners go as far as buying commercial gym equipment to make a mini commercial gym for their members.

Before deciding on any gym, I recommend you visit each one and discuss the facilities and extra benefits and then choose the one that suits you best.

II. Membership Deals

Just because you know the underlying cost doesn’t mean you necessarily have to pay a $90 monthly fee. You can easily take advantage of the ongoing membership deals and offers at various gyms.

Many gyms offer a straight $10 discount for students and members of affiliate organizations such as the American Alpine Club.

Suppose you’re only a beginner and not sure whether you’ll visit the gym constantly or not. In that case, various gyms offer a 10-day pass that’ll undoubtedly come in handy during those random urges.

And of course, it goes without saying that almost every gym has quite a few money-saving deals if you decide to join as a pair (spouse/partner/friend/etc.).

III. Route Refresh

Yes – this is the second time I’ve mentioned route refresh. But having a “fresh terrain” to explore is very important. So before joining any gym, you should figure out:

  • How often does the gym perform a route refresh?
  • What professionals does the gym hire for this procedure?

Once you have answers to these questions and you’ve considered everything else in the guide, you’ll be ready to join the gym that suits you best!

Jonathan Spaeth

I got into extreme sports about 20 years ago and am a die-hard adrenaline junkie. Just like in business, I choose my outdoor adventures based on how much they scare me. My goal is to share the lessons I've learned over the past couple of decades braving the unknown to encourage you to do the same.