Frankly, rock climbing terrifies me. Scaling the sides of rocks hundreds of feet off the ground is a sport not meant for the faint hearted. Mountain climbing seems a little more stable, but mostly meant for those who enjoy winter climates.
If you’ve got the guts, but not the cash to spend on expensive equipment and travel all over the world, you can still be a rock or mountain climbing weekend-warrior—it’ll just take a lot more planning.
What equipment will you need?
Rock climbing and mountain climbing require a certain amount of safety equipment. There’s a cost to that safety and it’s worth it.
If you want to avoid the costly equipment, try bouldering. This is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of climbing rock walls you’re climbing boulders. If you’ve ever been to a rock climbing gym, you’ll notice some people are only climbing short, often slanted sections of the wall and aren’t using any safety equipment—that’s bouldering.
You can also buy used gear but be extremely weary. Go to local gyms or gear-specific resale sites where they’re less likely to sell faulty equipment.
Where do you go?
Since you can climb most mountains for free (unless they’re in a national park, then there’s a small fee), I’m going to focus on entire towns that are cheap and have easy access to rock climbing opportunities.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Yes, there are other things to do in Vegas besides gamble and get married.
Nevada is home to a host of rock climbing adventures. There are hundreds of hotels in the area, making it easy to find one in your budget. Outside the city there’s an expansive area of rocky mountains that intermediate climbers rave about.
There are even guided tours for those not comfortable venturing out by themselves. These tours have discounted rates for groups.
This town often goes unheard of by most, but it’s a small haven for rock climbers and is located very close to the National Outdoor Leadership School for those who make outdoor living a career, rather than a hobby.
The town itself has a fairly low cost of living, with an average rent of $717. There are also plenty of hotels in this small town with very low rates.
Ten Sleep, Wyoming
Wyoming is the place you want to be if you like small towns and rock climbing. Ten sleep is home to biker bars, real live cowboys, and some of the best sport rock climbing around.
This is definitely a place for experienced climbers, though.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Okay, I’m a little biased here because I love Acadia (and I live in Maine), but it’s a great place to hone your rock climbing skills, whether it be ice or summer climbing. It’s also home to the Rock Climbing Adventure School that offers summer programs for kids and adults as well as individual lessons.
If you find you enjoy ice climbing, most of Maine is a ghost town in the winter and lodging around the area drops significantly in price.
Can’t afford to travel? Join a Gym
If you can’t travel or just don’t want to travel, but still enjoy climbing, try joining a rock climbing gym. Many facilities double as regular gyms and offer discounted prices to use both.
You can find a gym here.
What equipment will you need?
Depending on the intensity of the mountain you climb, you may need less safety equipment than rock climbers.
If, however, you want to be one of those lucky people that climbs Mount Everest, you’ll definitely need a lot of safety equipment and a lot of money, so I wouldn’t suggest attempting that on any kind of budget.
But, if you’re looking to climb or simply hike a few of the less intense mountain in the world, you’ll need a few important items.
By backpack here I obviously don’t mean the kind you put your school supplies in. If you’re going to get into mountain climbing you’re going to need a backpack specifically designed for it.
If you opt for a different type of pack your back will hate you for it and you’ll be making your body carry a lot more weight than it needs to.
You can find bags under $100, but make sure there’s enough room in it for all you’re going to need, especially if you’re going on an overnight trip.
Depending on the terrain you’ll face when you climb, you’ll need a nice pair of boots. Your boots and backpack are two things you don’t want to skimp on.
If you get seriously into mountain climbing, the boots you’ll get will probably cost you over $200, but they’ll last a long time and often come with a warranty. You’ll also want crampons—spikes that attach to your boots for extra safety. These are very important if you climb snowy mountains.
If you’re climbing mountains that have a more desert like terrain, a really good pair of hiking boots should do you fine.
Trekking poles help you out when the going gets steep. They help to take some of the strain off your legs. For mountain climbers, they can also tell you if the terrain you’re about to step on is safe or not—making them very important.
Luckily, you can buy anything off Amazon these days—including discounted trekking poles.
A Helmet in mountain climbing is entirely up to you. Some climbers like to play it extra safe, especially when climbing particularly steep mountains.
If you’re climbing mountains where there’s a chance it’ll snow, wear goggles. It’s incredibly important to protect your eyes when climbing—both from the sun and snow.
Goggles you’d wear for skiing are what you want here, or if you’re climbing less intense mountains, a really good pair of sunglasses—although those can run you as much as goggles.
You can get a pair of climbing or skiing goggles online for around $30.
Good outdoor clothes
Like any sport you do outside, especially in the cold, you want clothes that’ll protect you. You don’t have to go out and buy $500 snow pants, but a $40 pair is worth the investment. You need to stay warm—luckily the fact that you’re being extremely active will also help with that.
You’ll also want the basics like hats, gloves, and a heavy jacket. All of this can add up—but if you avoid big-name brands, you should be able to find some decent, less expensive options.
Where do you go?
For budding mountain climbers, there’s a lot of places in the world you can get to that are relatively cheap. It’s the air-fare you’ll likely be paying the most for.
There are also plenty of places to climb within the U.S. that offer free access to the mountains.
Darby is home to just 700 people, all of them mountain lovers. With very few people, there are only a couple nearby hotels, but all of them are cheap.
The small town is situated between the Bitterroot Range and Sapphire Mountains which provide great access to skiing and climbing.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Not all mountain climbers have to climb in the winter. Rocky Mountain National Park is home to one of the most difficult climbs in the U.S. It can be summited without climbing equipment, but climbers are still advised to excise extreme caution during their climb and are often told to leave as early as three in the morning so they don’t hit afternoon thunderstorms.
St. Elias National Park, Alaska
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Alaska in the U.S. mountain climbing section. Obviously Alaska is difficult to get to on a budget, but if you take advantage of climbing and flight deals, it can be about the same as going on a ski vacation.
Related: Skiing and Snowboarding on a Budget
You can take an introductory 5-day mountain climbing course through the Alpine Guides of St. Elias for $1,775. This may not be the cheapest option, but it’s the safest and offers the best bang for your buck.
The most difficult part is actually getting to the park. Depending on where you’re coming from, your flight to Alaska and then to the park itself will probably cost you between $800-$1,000.