DIY Indoor Climbing Wall
I loved rock climbing in college. While the school’s indoor climbing wall was small, it still delivered a challenge and workout that made for perfect study breaks. When I moved away for my first “real” job I searched for a new climbing gym at the same time I hunted for apartments. That’s when I realized that gone were my days of easy access, affordable, and not crowded indoor climbing gyms. Add in 3 kids over 6 years and as you can imagine, rock climbing wasn’t the only hobby that got the boot, even when local and more affordable gyms popped up.
Yet during those 6 years I also came to realize that kids can make for great excuses:
“How did you leave the house without looking in a mirror first??”>>I have a kid.
“Who ransacked your house (and why isn’t it clean yet??)?” >>I have 2 kids.
“Why do you drive a
super cool mini-van?” >>I now have 3 kids.
And you can use these excuses to your advantage:
“Honey, I put a whole new kitchen set on your credit card” >>that kid can destroy….
“Sorry, I just had to buy a whole new wardrobe…and shoes..” >>I mean after two pregnancies…
“Is that an indoor climbing wall going down your hallway??” >>Why, yes…have your met our 3 children yet?
So naturally, we justified building a climbing wall in our small house when I was 40 weeks pregnant with our third, by saying it was for the children. It is true, that this climbing wall was monumentally helpful in occupying the 2 older kids while I tended to the all-consuming needs of a newborn. It is also true that the wall remains wonderful at helping them get their energy out during the day, especially in winter, and especially right before bedtime. However, if I’m being honest, WE were the ones who wanted this indoor rocking climbing wall most of all.
We built it for us. I mean, we built it for the children, sure.
How We Built Our Indoor Rock Climbing Wall
We did a lot of research before starting. Much to my relief, there are a lot of sound tutorials on how to build an indoor climbing wall.
Specifically we used this free tutorial/”book” from Atomik Climbing Holds.
So look at that link for the details, and below you’ll find answers to all the questions we had even with instructions, such as: Products. Realistic cost. Time. How it’s kid friendly. Pictures!
- Drill with drill bits
- Rattail file aka round file
- Stud finder
- Allen key (for bolt-on holds)
- Paint roller and/or paint brush
The wood & glue: (FYI: We’ve found HomeDepot to have better quality wood then Lowes so that’s where we got all of it from).
- 2X4’s (and a couple 2X6s we had lying around) for the framing and drilled them right to the studs behind our sheetrock walls.
- 3/4 plywood for the walls, we used three 4’X8′ sheets
- Wood glue
- White primer (we used 2 coats of Kilz2 Latex)
- Porch and Floor Interior/Exterior paint, 2 coats. (we purchased from Sherman Williams)
- Shark Grip Slip Resistant Additive mixed into the paint. This helps the holds to “stick” to the walls and prevent slipping. We bought it at a local Sherman Williams Paint store, but here is what it looks like on Amazon.
- Bolts (came with the holds we purchased)
- T-Nuts: We got the pack of “250 T-nuts for climbing holds from Amazon sold by Escape Climbing”.
- Atomik Climbing Holds: We got their “100 Pack of Bolt-Ons” for 3/4″ plywood, with indoor bolts only, no t-nuts. We also got a few holds in their “free sample pack” and 10 more from their “foot hold friday” promotion. As much as I would have loved their “Kids/Novelty Shapes” the cost would have been too much for how many we needed. You can also find some of their packs on Amazon.
- Escape Climbing Holds: We got their “Starter Pack with bolts”. You can also find a few of their products on Amazon.
- Rocky Mountain Climbing Holds from Amazon. We got their pack of 50 Bolt Ons with hardware.
Our thoughts on holds:
*When we first built the wall our kids were 4 1/2 and almost 3years old.
If you want good quality holds, get Atomik or Escape climbing holds. The low price of the Rocky Mountain holds is tempting, we fell for it too, but the quality just isn’t the same. Rocky Mountain holds will slip/spin on the wall even when tightened down against textured paint, and so they scuff up the wall considerably more. We’ve been finding places to use the Rocky Mountain’s holds up, like for the kids bunk bed ladder, but I would not buy them again, nor recommend them over Atomik or Escape.
I don’t know that I could pick between Atomik or Escape. Customer service, delivery, and quality are great on both. The 100 pack from Atomik had plenty of shapes to pick from and plenty that are easy to grab for small kids. You can turn them sideways/upsidedown to make the grip more challenging on the easy ones, but there are challenging ones in the mix as well. The texture of the Atomik’s are slightly smoother than the Escape, but I wouldn’t consider the Escapes’ texture rough or abrasive to the hand, more so “grippier” and more like real rock. Escape’s starter pack had some nice flat topped holds great for kids feet (but that you could turn for a more challenge) but overall I would rate their holds as more challenging than Atomiks. We initially put Escape holds at the top of the wall to prevent the kids from climbing too high until they got more comfortable. Therefore the adults happily used the Escapes more at first, but now I have them pretty well mixed in through all heights of the wall. We love them both. Overall though, if you’re building a wall just for experienced/older climbers than Escapes are a good bet. Beginner or young climbers, then Atomiks are great.
Realistic Cost in March 2017
Atomik Holds: About $426 for approx 115 holds (includes $55.80 in shipping). We have a few left over.
Escape Climbing holds: $213 for 51 holds (shipping included). We have a few left over.
Rocky Mountain Climbing holds: $40.00 for 50 holds **We ended up NOT using these on the wall we built (we instead used them on the kids bunk bed ladder and still have most of them unused) but because we bought them FOR this project, we consider it part of the cost.
250 T-nuts: About $26 (We did not use all of these, but bought them all for this project, so we include it has part of the whole cost)
Wood: About $175
Primer: About $17
Paint and Shark grip additive: About $56
Total cost: About $953.
Our wall is 12X8ft with nearly a hold every 8inches. Our youngest climber was not even 3 years old at time of build so we were intentionally excessive in the number and closeness of holds. We easily used about 4X the number of holds you would actually need for this size wall. We have about 15 extras plus the 50 from Rocky Mountain Climbing holds that were not used.
Time to build
Due to weather and dry time, we took a week to prime and paint the walls. While waiting for paint to dry, we framed out the back of the wall with the 2X4s. Once the paint dried, it took only one day to drill all the holes and install t-nuts. My husband put up the walls and installed a couple holds while I wandered around the house in active labor. The rest of the holds when up when we were back home with baby #3. So total time was a leisurely 2 weeks.
How it’s kid friendly
*When we first built this our kids were about 3 and 4 1/2 years old.
Hold Choice: The Atomik 100 pack of bolt-ons had a great mix of easy grab, non-abrasive holds, great for kids big and small.
Spacing: We spaced the holds every 8inches. This made it easy for our youngest (almost 3yrs old) to reach from hold to hold with her short leg and arm span.
Number of holds: We went overkill on the number of holds and even have extra. Nearly every one of our 8inch spaced holes has a hold on it. This works well for our young kids, but also reduces the momentary ‘panic look’ of older kids who have never climbed before and aren’t sure where to step or grab next.
Height: sadly our max ceiling height was 8ft, so that’s as high as we could go.
Location: We chose to go down the hallway, this way anyone could climb at any time (as opposed to if it was in a bedroom). Since the hallway leads to our kids room, they love to climb instead of walk when trying to procrastinate bedtime. Plus, it makes for the ultimate “lava-game” 😀
No angle: Sure this made it more kid friendly, but if we had the space we absolutely would of had an angle in at least one spot. Unfortunately our hallway was too narrow to accommodate it (see pics below).
Do they get hurt? Honestly no. We worried at first that we would need padding underneath but it has never been an issue. We’ve had it up for over a year with never a fall other than maybe a foot slip when they were only about a foot high. Once in a blue moon they might get a minor scrape from a hold. We have 3 rules for the kids that really help reduce accidents: 1) Never climb while carrying something. 2) Never climb when someone is under you and never walk under someone climbing. 3) Only climb as high as you can comfortably get back down. Number 3 was the biggest one at first and one we have to tell new guests, who typically like to climb as high as they can without any thought to their strength running out before they get back down. You might think with such a small wall that running out of strength would not be an issue, but very few of their 3-5 year old friends can make it more than a couple feet up on their first go before getting the shakes. Even 8-10 year olds have struggled to stay on the wall for more than a couple minutes. It only take one time of the “I can’t get back down” panic and they’re more careful every time after.
Pictures of the build
What would we change and what’s next?
We definitely didn’t need as many holds as we got and with holds being the most expensive part, having a lot can really drive up the overall cost. However you better believe when we move in the future, we’re taking all these holds with us and building a bigger/more diverse wall. We would have been fine with 50 instead of 100 Atomiks. I’d say just the pack of 100 Atomiks and no Escapes….but the grownups really love the Escapes.
Monkey-bars across the top of course! Yes, there will be a post when we add those!
Hi there! I’m Kaley, prevailing parent and wife, but also just me; stubborn lover of DIY everything, outdoors, and chocolate. Read more about myself and my family under the “Parenting” > “About My Family” tabs.