Indoor Climbing Trends. From Brick Walls to Augmented Reality.
We’ve come a long way from the indoor brick climbing walls used in 1970s universities. The next generation of climbing trends is scaling the peaks in terms of inventiveness and bringing new challenges to new audiences. And these vertical pursuits promise to be even more challenging and exciting in the future.
Indoor climbing is one of the biggest growth sports in the UK and set to become even bigger after the 2020 Olympics when bouldering, lead and speed climbing will for the first time feature on the world stage.
But, it’s no longer just about the climb. Technology is changing the nature of climbing, adding gaming elements with interactive climbing walls. New concepts and designs for climbing walls are also attracting more customers.
In a thought provoking article, one of Britain’s leading alpinists Ian Parnell tries to imagine what climbing trends will be by the year 2050.
Parnell sees climbing breaking free of its Victorian privileged roots and instead evolving to incorporate more fitness and play. The adventure and adrenaline side of outdoor climbing which become less of a focus. It will be less about reaching the top and more about reaching personal goals. Nature alone will no longer offer the challenges and fun, and with the recent news around congestion on Everest, maybe this will be a good thing.
“Indoor climbing will move further and further away from a style mimicking outdoor crags and develop its own unique genre…The future will no longer mimic the outdoor experience but create their own unique vertical worlds with linked jumps, obstacle challenges and moving structures”
So what are the next generation of indoor climbing trends and how will it affect the industry?
Augmented Climbing Walls
Technology is increasing the accessibility and attraction of climbing walls by making them more ‘playful’. Augmented Reality (AR) walls have the potential to coax computer gamers out of their rooms to partake in the latest gaming climbing walls and combine their gaming skills with physical activity.
Valo Motion has created an AR climbing wall experience that combines motion tracking, moving images and gaming software to turn a climbing wall into a giant interactive game. Games like ‘Whack-a-Bat’ encourage strength and agility, whereas two-player games like Climball (think giant Pong) bring a social element.
The first AR walls were originally designed in Aalto University in Finland, but can now be found across the globe in activity parks, entertainment centres, shopping centres fitness gyms and climbing centres.
AR wall designers claim that they provide an additional ‘motivation’ to do some exercise as well as helping serious climbers to develop their skills and climbing technique by projecting other climbers’ patterns on the wall. These AR walls are also a way to help increase strength and agility ready for going outdoors.
“I think that climbing is about competing against yourself and finding creative ways to solve problems, whether they’re augmented or traditional.”
CEO of Valo Motion, Raine Kajastila
Virtual Reality Walls
VR is being used across the sports world to help enhance training, and Grip is attempting to do the same with a virtual climbing coach. IFSC Bouldering World Cup winner, Shauna Coxsey and her coach Mark Glennie have created a virtual training package that dissects your moves and provides elite coaching tips on your performance. Using wristbands, the tech can analyse your movements and provide specific feedback.
It has the potential to change the path of training elite climbers and increase new joiners – if it is made widely accessible.
There are also just straightforward VR climbing games for the HTC Vive or Rift CV1, but these are about experiencing free solo climbing (The Climb), entering bizarre fantasy worlds (Freeze Climbing, Lucid Trips), or just completing challenges (CloudBound). Yet they come with motion sickness and severe discomfort warnings – especially for those not used to the moves needed for climbing. VR is affecting all industries so we think its definitely a climbing trend that is set to stick around for a while.
Creating more ‘exciting’ experiences is another key climbing trend. This is where climbing walls take on multiple dimensions and the sky’s the limit in terms of design and location. The Diga di Luzzone in Switzerland is a climbing wall on the side of the Luzzone dam. Also known as the ‘Everest in Wall climbing” it covers 165 metres.
In Japan, designers have pushed the boundaries of traditional holds, by designing a storybook framework adorned with picture frame climbing holds. In Amsterdam, some abandoned sewage silos have also been turned into climbing towers.
Leisure centres have let their imaginations go when it comes to their walls in the hope of attracting younger crowds. So themed walls can be anything from Tetris-inspired, Ninja, jungles, firemen rescue or famous buildings. Its more like a climbing theme park, but with the installation of Auto Belays, visitors can be harnessed and climbing within as little of 30 minutes safety briefing.
While the other climbing trends were about pushing boundaries of design or technology – this next trend is more about making climbing accessible in the smallest of spaces.
Climbing treadmills are all about providing climbing experiences in more confined spaces. They offer moving, tilting walls with changing difficulty levels and the ability to analyse data to monitor your performance. They give the ability to climb indefinitely with no equipment. The technology is still in its infancy and costly, but it opens up a wealth of possibilities for climbing retailers – adding an interactive element to retail or providing another type of exercise machine for a leisure facility, especially those with limited space.
Artificial Caving systems are indoor spaces which create a replica cave, complete with stalagmites, tunnels, chambers, drops and maybe even the occasional bat. You can even get mobile caves for events, parties and functions.
Grand “climbing wall” designs
Type “climbing walls” into Pinterest and you will be bombarded with images of self-built climbing walls inside people’s homes. Some basic ones for kids, and some complimenting the architecture. Some designers have gone even further with what they call a range of “active furniture” – climbing panels that have illuminated holds that can be changed via an app.
Mobile walls are also now a common feature at festivals and fairs – with auto belays enabling anyone to start climbing and descend safely. It also enables climbing to be brought to people without access to climbing gyms.
Climbing walls are now being hailed as a great alternative to gyms as they offer a full body workout, a cardiovascular workout (akin to spinning) and a mental workout. One couple designed their entire house around a climbing wall.
“No climbing surface or route is quite like another, so the work you ask your muscles to perform during a climb changes each time you exercise. This ensures you’re training a greater number of muscles.”
They also provide the opportunity to learn new skills and a social element. Walls are even being used for fitness classes – and even yoga.
The future of indoor climbing?
Its hard to predict what the next trend will be. More monster walls with stratospheric reach – like the one set to open in Abu Dhabi next year?
Full immersive VR experiences with life-like recreations of the worlds most challenging climbs? What about evolving walls, activated by technology? Digital routesetting – moving holds every hour to change the climb? A hyper-personalised wall to challenge each individual climber?
Yet at the Climbing Wall Association conference last year – many American managers were concerned with the emotional and experiential atmosphere that they wanted to create for their climbers. It was about more than just the technology – and a concern of how to make indoor climbing spaces a community and a place for people to want to be in.
The latest climbing trends offer a promising vertical future
Climbing walls offer the potential to add experiences, fitness and fun to abandoned buildings, or regenerate flagging retail spaces or small towns. Perhaps the high street may not be dead after all – if it looks at adding ‘climbing spaces.’ In the US, climbing gyms have been opened in very small towns with great success.
“The opening of facilities in smaller markets alongside select city developments signals the staying power of the climbing industry and should be interpreted as a plus for all. It indicates climbing’s ability to thrive and adapt in virtually any sized market.”
With such a wide range of indoor climbing wall experiences now available, leisure centres, retail spaces, schools and business have a real opportunity to integrate fitness into everyday life and make climbing more accessible.
We love climbing and are passionate about safety. We can help you find the right climbing wall for your facility and provide auto belays and all other climbing equipment through SafeClimb. For more information about the Safedown Auto Belay, contact Liza or Scott on +44 (0)333 200 2602 to find out how our SafeClimb can become your climbing partner.