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How to Build an Indoor DIY Rock Climbing Wall

Thrill your kids with this easy-to-build, fully customizable rock climbing wall suitable for all ages. Climbing together as a family builds strength, increases flexibility, and improves coordination for everyone–from toddlers to adults. And it’s a fantastic way to stay active while having fun. Add one to your playroom, family room, attic, or home gym, and your home will be the most popular in the neighborhood.    

A young girl using a low climbing wall iStock

If you have kids, you know how they love to climb on things. Seemingly without fear, they scale the kitchen table, countertop, doorframes, and the trees in the yard. Why not create a secure space dedicated for your little ones to get the wiggles out and scramble to their heart’s content? Building an indoor rock climbing wall is a simple DIY project and your whole family will enjoy the end result.

Instill Safety Measures

Of course, we don’t want our kids to get hurt while they’re trying to get their fun on. So it’s important to minimize any potential for risks. These tips will help.

  1. Make sure to install soft flooring under your climbing wall. A carpeted room covered in crash pads is ideal because it offers the thickest padding.
  2. Place crash pads directly under the climbing area. Cover enough floor area that your child will land on the padding if they fall.
  3. Teach your child how to fall safely and practice the techniques until they feel confident falling from many different angles and heights. Here are a few tips:
  • Tuck your arms in across your chest.
  • Land on your feet with your knees flexed.
  • Roll with the fall, allowing your entire body to absorb the shock.
  • Around the area, post these rules for play: Never walk under a climber. Always have a spotter. Don’t use a hold at the same time as another climber.

Plan the Project

Choose the wall you’ll use for climbing and mark the area you want to cover. How much you want to cover depends on the size of your climbers. Toddlers would be happy with less space, for example, than teenagers. So, use your kids as a judge.

Before building, plan carefully. Take accurate measurements and calculate the exact amount of materials you’ll need. Here are a few things to consider during the process.

  • Plan to cut the plywood out from around any electrical outlets or HVAC ducts.
  • Don’t position your climbing wall near an adjacent door that could hit a climber when opened.
  • You need space behind the plywood for the bolts to poke through. For that reason, we mount it on furring strips (1 x 2-inch pieces of lumber) rather than directly to the drywall.
  • Consider creating a climbing wall up the overhead slope if you have an attic playroom with a pitched ceiling. This configuration will give older kids more climbing area and make the climb more challenging.
  • Don’t write off the basement or garage because it has a cement floor. Instead, create a raised plywood floor under the climbing area and cover it with exercise mats for a softer landing surface.

How to Build an Indoor Climbing Wall

Step 1: Prepare the wall

Use a stud finder to find the wall studs within your designated area. Use a level as a guide and make a vertical mark indicating the location of each stud. If you’re not going to cover the entire wall (corner to corner), make sure the climbing area ends with a stud at each edge.

Step 2: Attach furring strips

To build the climbing wall, you’ll first create a frame on the wall with furring strips. Now that the wall is prepared, cut the furring strips to the correct length to cover the wall from floor to ceiling. Then attach the furring strips to the wall over each stud using enough 3-inch screws to hold them in place until Step 4.

Step 3: Prep the plywood

Once the framing is secured, you’ll attach plywood you’ve prepped with holes to accept the climbing holds. Mark the plywood where it will cover each furring strip. Also, mark the location of electrical outlets or vents. You don’t want the holes you’re going to drill in the plywood to cover the strips because the bolts that secure the hand holds won’t have the space to go in all the way.

Next draw a grid that’s 8 inches by 8 inches on your plywood, starting 6 inches up from the bottom and avoiding the area you marked where the strips will be. At each intersection, drill a hole from the finished side of the plywood to the back. You’ll end up with more holes than you’ll use, making the wall more versatile. As your climbers increase their skills, you’ll have the flexibility to rearrange the climbing holds.

Use a jigsaw to make the cut-outs to expose any outlets or vents. Instead of a square, cut the openings in a free-form shape and sand the edges, so you’ll also be able to use them as extra holds.

Hammer a T-nut into each hole from the unfinished side.

Step 4: Mount to the wall

Once all the holes are drilled and the T-nuts inserted, it’s time to hang the plywood. Using 5-inch screws, attach the plywood to the furring strips.

To prevent the strips from splitting, pre-drill holes through the depth of the strips before inserting the screws. Then make sure the screws go through the plywood, drywall, furring strip, and the stud inside the wall. Anchoring the climbing wall to the studs makes the whole set-up extra secure so it will be able to handle the full weight of your kids without pulling away from the wall.

If you want to make the climbing wall a stylish focal point of the room, feel free to paint or stain it. (Kids will probably appreciate fun, bright colors.)

Step 5: Add the climbing holds

Use an Allen wrench, and the bolts that came with the holds, to attach the holds to the wall in a random pattern.

However your climbing wall turns out–large or small, simple or challenging–your entire family is sure to enjoy it. And if you want to announce to the world that you made it to the top, hang a bell near the ceiling.

What You Need for This Project