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Types of Climbing Walls—Different Rock Climbing Walls

Learn about the different types of rock-climbing walls and the best ways to climb them.

We rock climbers are naturally attracted to rocks. They offer us the chance to channel our inner primate and to engage in incredibly stimulating, vertical activities.

We are specifically looking for stable rock with features that make climbing possible. Our goal is to be able to step on or pull on, wrap our heels around, or jam our hands into something that is sufficiently friction-filled, so we can hold on to it.

We are climbers—not geologists who study the composition and formation of rocks; but rock type and quality matter when climbing. In terms of styles of climbing, let us look at the important ones.

Different Climbing Wall Rocks

In contrast to geologists who study how rocks formed, what the minerals are, and how they weather, mountaineers and climbers are more interested in the properties of rocks that allow them to climb. These factors are the hardness of the rock, the handholds and footholds that are formed, and the shapes the rock weathers into. Different types of rock can form different types of formations that can accommodate different climbing styles.

Igneous Rock, Sedimentary Rock, and Metamorphic Rock

It is important to understand the three main types of rock that explain how they are formed before we talk about the different rock materials that are typically climbed on.

Igneous Rock

When liquid magma cools, igneous rock is formed. It can either be intrusive or extrusive. Generally, igneous rock that invades the ground cools down rather slowly, which results in crystals forming (e.g., granite). An extrusive igneous rock is lava that has cooled down at or close to the earth's surface. As the lava cools down, it does not form crystals (such as basalt) when it's extrusive.

Sedimentary Rock

An accumulating deposit of minerals and sediment is called sedimentary rock when it is tightly compacted. Among sedimentary rocks, sandstone and limestone are the most common.

Metamorphic Rock

Metamorphic rock had originally been igneous or sedimentary, but after being heated, under pressure, or when fluids rich in minerals were used (or a combination of these processes), it was transformed into a different type of rock. Marble, quartzite, and gneiss are some types of metamorphic rocks.

Types of Outdoor Climbing Rocks and Their Angles

Slabs

This form of rock climbing typically uses a slab of rock that is at a less than a 90-degree angle to the ground. Climbers who prefer slab climbing, also known as friction climbing, use their feet rather than hand and footholds rather than vertical climbers or overhangers who use footholds and handholds.

Climbers use inside- and outside-edging techniques, smearing techniques, and other foot placement techniques to gain grip on ridges and crevices in a wall. Slab climbs are among the most difficult climbs in the world. As a result, slab climbers often need special boots with predrilled holes to help them stay on the wall.

The Vertical Bouldering Wall

Simple vertical walls are usually flat surfaces parallel to your wall that have no incline to them. This is one of the most common kinds of home climbing walls. Your existing walls are transformed into rock climbing walls for home without adding much structure or taking up much space. It is very easy to install, relatively inexpensive, and generally more accessible for entry-level climbers because of its simplicity. This would make one of the excellent climbing walls for kids, a warm-up wall, or—if you were to make it big enough—you could set up some nice, slabby routes. On the downside, it is a very one-dimensional design. In seeking out fun routes, most climbers prefer a little variety in geometry, and climbers who are training tend to incorporate steeper walls into their routine.

If you need simple rock climbing walls for home, or if the intended users include kids, entry-level climbers, or moderate to advanced climbers constrained by space or budget, then a vertical wall may be the best choice, especially as a backyard climbing wall for kids. Installing them is easy and inexpensive, and they can be placed almost anywhere.

The Spray Wall

While the gnarly creations appear similar to a system wall in size and shape, the purpose is quite different. The holds on these beasts are usually jam-packed as densely as possible, and as many as possible can be fitted on the wall versus having a symmetrical layout. The idea is to maximize the number of possible routes per square foot of surface area. As a result, they should be large enough to string together a few moves at the very least. Climbers accumulate good holds over time, mostly due to the sheer number of holds available.

Spray walls are a great choice if your space is limited, you need a little more fun to keep you motivated, and you have the money to spend on it. If you love the Seattle gum wall aesthetic, it can also make a room pop!

The Sport Climbing Wall

People do it, yes. In your home, you can experience roped-in lead climbing or top roping. Alternatively, you can do it outside your home—something more feasible for those of us who do not live in an alpine chateau. Inside the home, these can be found in foyers, stairwells, or living rooms. Outside, you can use a barn, your home, or even a tree. If you want to create it from scratch, you can build a free-standing structure. If this is your cup of tea, then you'll need some serious know-how and most likely funding to make it happen. The best builds have been built on a shoestring budget by seasoned craftsmen and climbers.

It is important to consider the need for a bomber belay system. If you're going to fall on something you built, it had better be designed to withstand the shock. An auto-belay is a great solution, but they are not cheap.

This may interest you if you want to improve your endurance, reduce your fear of falling, master the art of clipping a bolt, or train a generation of young climbers. It is imperative that you have access to experienced climbers, craftsmen, and engineers or that you are willing to pay for a professional installation.

Overhang

Overhangs are rock faces or artificial climbing walls with slopes greater than 90 degrees, (i.e., slope beyond vertical). An overhang that reaches the horizontal, or nearly does so, is referred to as a roof.

When climbing, overhangs and especially roofs pose special technical and equipment requirements, as well as demands on the climber's constitution. In steep terrain, the weight of the body is supported less and less by the feet, putting more and more strain on the arms and hands. Overhangs are rarely composed of rest points where muscles can relax, such as no-hands rests. Overhang climbing involves positioning the body's center of mass as close as possible to the rock and achieving the highest level of body tension. Techniques such as the foot hook are almost entirely used on overhangs. A long time ago, it was almost always necessary to use climbing aids to secure roofs in Alpine climbing. Modern sport climbing, in contrast, often includes overhangs and roofs, making severely overhanging terrain more common.

Types of Indoor Climbing Rocks

Granite Rock for Climbing

The most commonly climbed rock on earth is granite, a type of igneous rock. In general, how slippery or easy the holds are depends on the type of weathering the granite climb has undergone.

Depending on where it's found, granite can either be highly slippery due to wind and/or water wear or quite rough due to mountainous geography, which means it's crumbly with big, solid crystals. As a result, granite is either very grippy or very slippery. Crystals may also be crimpy and sharp, making them difficult to climb on; however, granite can be either extremely sharp or extremely slippery. Granite characteristics can vary depending on where you are. In the U.K., for example, you won't often encounter rough granite, whereas in the U.S., you'll probably find more sharp, painful granite climbs. Climbers tend to avoid granite because of how painful it can be.

Sandstone Rock for Climbing

Sandstone is a sedimentary rock that is commonly climbed around the world in places like the U.K., Czech Republic, and the U.S.

Dry conditions make sandstone easier to climb. Using traditional climbing techniques on sandstone is not recommended because of how delicate it is. Sandstone is therefore ideal for bouldering and top-roping.

Climbing on sandstone when it's wet can actually ruin the route if the holds are damaged. Holds can literally crumble. The porous nature of sandstone allows it to absorb water, which can ruin the composition of some materials, such as clay, silica, and iron that hold the rock together. Although sandstone rock appears dry on the surface, if there has been a lot of rain recently, it may have soaked up water below the surface and would still be a bad idea to climb. That's why the best time to climb sandstone is on a dry, moderately warm day. The weather is ideal, and it makes for a pleasant day out.

Basalt Rock for Climbing

A basalt is an igneous rock, and it can either provide climbs that are very suitable or climbs that are very dangerous. There is a distinction between the two based on the chemical composition of the rock or the weathering that it has undergone.

Climbing basalt columns is a great way to practice your bridging technique on grooves and cracks or to climb cracks in a crack climber’s paradise.

Due to granite having a dense crystalline structure, basalt differs from granite in composition because it is usually an extrusive igneous rock. The majority of climbers prefer basalt to granite, but there are fewer basalt climbing areas around the world than granite.

Quartzite Rock for Climbing

In this list, the only metamorphic rock is quartzite, which is the most commonly climbed metamorphic rock on earth. When sandstone is heated or pressed, sandstone becomes a basalt. This type of rock is unique for its climbing characteristics, offering some very easy to more difficult routes with holds you can only dream about on other types of rock. Climbers are often deceived by the holds that appear difficult from below despite being easy up there. Though the holds may seem easy, some of the route may require balance and caution. In countries such as Morocco, you can find quartzite, perfect for trad climbers looking for adventure.

Limestone Rock for Climbing

Limestone is a sedimentary rock formed by sediment and organisms such as mollusks and corals buried beneath sediment while under the water. The rock is more difficult than most others, which is why someone who can climb a V5 on granite might want to drop their grade a few notches when climbing limestone. Holds are less crimpy and more polished, so they are much more difficult.

Limestone climbs usually have few handholds and small footholds. Therefore, if you don't want to fall, you must pay attention to your footwork. Obviously, you can train for this by climbing on small footholds at the gym before you attempt it on limestone.

When it's hot and/or sunny, it's not advised to climb on limestone because the rock would be too warm. Sweaty hands, which can affect polished holds the most, are therefore created by this. Climbing limestone is recommended in cooler or drier weather conditions.

Conclusion

Remember that rock climbing is an inherently dangerous sport, especially if you have no experience.

A local indoor climbing gym might be a good place to start if you want to learn about climbing safety basics, gain some experience, and perhaps meet mentors who can introduce you to the outdoors.

Article by Sam Fury

Sam Fury is the creator and owner of the Survival Fitness Plan.

He has had a passion for martial arts and outdoor pursuits since he was a young boy growing up in Australia.

As a young adult he joined the military and studied outdoor leadership in college. After that, to further his skills, Sam started traveling to learn from the best in the world in various fields related to the Survival Fitness Plan including various martial arts in China, SE Asia and Brazil, Parkour in Singapore, Surf Life Saving in Australia, and others. 

These days, he still enjoys learning new things, traveling and sharing what he has learned via the Survival Fitness Plan. 

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