Ten sessions at ten climbing gyms: first impressions
I've recently been trying out indoor bouldering and since it's a public holiday today, it seems like a good time to take stock.
This does not quite fit into my usual "something useful for search engines to index" goal for blog posts, in the sense that I doubt this is going to be generally useful to people. I was going to write and share this privately and realised that there aren't any strong reasons to do this in private, other than the usual ones against learning/thinking in public. (Also, I was going to post this as a Facebook note, but I realised that I don't have most of my new coworkers that I've been climbing with on Facebook. And I don't want to write an essay on Instagram stories. So here we are...)
I've visited ten climbing gyms, most of which were bouldering-focused (except T-Hall). These are my first ten climbing sessions, so the opinions won't be very refined.
Some thoughts after each climb session, in chronological order.
First climb session! It's a small space in a mall basement, so the walls aren't too tall. That was probably helpful given that we went after office happy hour. One of my first few falls/jumps off the wall somehow ended up with me on my back and my spectacles actually flying off, but once I realised that wasn't too bad, it was pretty fun.
Something unusual about this gym is that they don't label the problems with a grade. Or at least the grading labels aren't on the wall, they might have available on the iPad (or some mobile app?). As a first-timer it's not immediately obvious what's more tacklable than others. If you're climbing with folks who can eyeball that and suggest problems, that will help.
They have an arch thingy, which is apparently not too common.
The space isn't too large, so it's nice that they limit to 30 climbers for the weekday lunchtime (12:00-14:00) and evening (18:00-22:00) climb sessions.
They have t-shirts (and towels?) available, and seem to have nice showers and a fancy hairdryer, which seem like pretty good amenities for the lunchtime climbs that they're running promos for.
They are available on ClassPass, though the session timings there seem to be a bit different.
boulder+ (The Chevrons)
boulder+ has two locations, this is the newer one that opened in Dec 2021.
This place is huge. It must be way more than 5 times the size of Origin. It's at the top of The Chevrons, or the place that I think of as the west eMart. It's really bright and airy, huge crash pads and there's still walkways in between them. The photos on boulder+'s website are currently only of the Aperia Mall location, check out the Chevrons website or the story highlights on their Instagram profile to get a sense of the sheer amount of space.
One of the long side walls seem to be dedicated to competition-style problems. Despite that, there's enough wall space that despite not-too-dense setting, still have lots of problems to work on. I think I counted at least 8 problems at the yellow (second-lowest) level, feels like a lot.
Someone described the crash pads here as a bit firmer, but I think they're pretty nice, no concerns.
The cafe inside, base coffee, served up a pretty good pourover ($7-$8). There are some seats available near the cafe, but even that area has all the tables really spaced out. I don't know if it's a covid measure but it really fits with the whole "there's so much space and light" vibe.
The bathrooms are quite dated and not great. Some army camp feels.
They are in a pretty large but weirdly shaped space, in a HDB retail space. There's a whole "fun zone", shop, and weights area before you get to a little counter for equipment rental and then the actual climbing space.
It's really a top-rope and lead climbing focused space, with quite a decent number of auto-belay lanes. There is one bouldering wall, and some training / endurance wall type of area, but it's not very large. The bouldering wall problems seemed to be rather difficult, I was having a lot of trouble figuring out even how to start some of the simplest graded problems on the bouldering wall.
Visited on a Sunday in June to use the Pinkfest 2022 promo rate.
This space isn't too small, but almost half the area is set aside for their rather comprehensive-looking training area. So the climbing space is probably close to the size of Origin, but then the training space has two kilter boards, a tension board, a coordination wall... I had no idea what those things were so I didn't really look then.
I guess it was a Sunday, with a promo rate, and during the school holidays, so I feel like half of my memories of this session are being terrified by 2 kids who were alternating between running all over the place with not that much awareness of people on the wall, and climbing their favourite parts of the wall...
Eat 3 Bowls "Station" is about a minute away.
Boulder Movement (Bugis)
Boulder Movement has gone up to five locations now, this is the the latest one that just opened 10 June 2022.
The space is not too small, up on level 4 of Bugis+, but one entire wall is taken up by some auto-belay lanes for some taller problems, and one or two walls are again taken up by comp-style problems. The whole space just feels really cramped, other than the side with the auto-belay lanes and the spray wall. On the inner side of the "island", you barely have space to stand around and not be in a fall zone. I guess that's why people congregate on the side nearer the spray wall that faces the overhang wall, and the benches in between a vertical wall and the auto-belay lanes.
There are a lot of wall corners (aretes?), and quite a few problems are set across these corners. Apparently this is a feature. What happens in practice is that it's not obvious to climbers who are about to start on a problem, whether there's someone already on the wall working on a problem that will conflict with their problem. The sheer number of potential and actual traffic issues seen in this session was just quite surprising, compared to all the other climb sessions I've had before and after this. It might be easy to brush it off as "oh Boulder Movement is in the CBD and attracts a lot more beginner climbers" but immediately after this session I was thinking that it's a structural issue, and it bears out in the later visit to the Downtown location.
The capacity limit for this location is currently 45, which is... a lot given the space constraints, and probably doesn't help the above problems. It's a bit saner at the start and tail end of the session when there are maybe 30+ climbers, but still.
There is a moon board next to the corridor, for all the shopper gawkers, and the spray wall.
They have showers, but towels are complimentary only for folks on the monthly membership.
They are on ClassPass but apparently either release very few or zero slots for the peak weekday evening slots.
boulder+ (The Aperia Mall)
Visited on a Monday afternoon, thanks to the monthly company holiday.
Size-wise certainly pales in comparison to the Chevrons location, but it's really pretty large relative to some of the other mall locations. I'd describe it as probably double the size of Origin, and seems to be larger than Lighthouse. It's fairly open and has a decent amount of natural light.
Several problems on the middle "island" are top-out problems. I only ended up sending one problem that was a top-out and towards the it was really rather terrifying to be that high up (no short mall basement walls here) and to only have those one or two holds to work with to finish and get off the wall.
There is a rather large arch through the island, which has some interesting high-level problems on and around it, but the main thing to highlight is really... maybe consider not walking through that arch at all? You can't really see whether there's someone hanging on for dear life and about to jump or drop off from the wall above the arch on the other side. This is especially a concern when there are little kids running around. Sure, we always should try to look and check before jumping off the wall, but sometimes climbers will just drop off when missing a dynamic move...
They have a small area "upstairs" (behind/above one of the walls) that has an endurance wall, some hangboards, and a training area.
Given that it was a weekday afternoon, though on the first day of Term 3, there were some little kids (some of whom were pretty damn good) being supervised by parents and later some secondary school / junior college students, probably on the off-peak student pricing. That was pretty cool.
Boulder Movement (Downtown)
I'm told that this is one of Boulder Movement's older locations (maybe the oldest?). It's also literally the one climbing gym that's closest to the office, with Origin coming in second, so I guess it really wins in terms of location for the CBD crowd.
What's nice for beginner climbers is that most of the walls here are vertical-ish or with a small overhang angle, with only one small section towards the end with a serious overhang. Being again in a mall basement, the walls are on the shorter side.
What's not so nice is that despite being capacity limited to 40 climbers (and I'm not sure if they actually reached the max, maybe 30+), it just feels pretty damn crowded as far as climber contention for the walls go, on a weekday evening. Part of it might be due to how the higher level problems (Flux 1+) tend to sprawl sideways quite a bit, maybe due to the limited height, so each climber working on that problem ends up taking a lock on a fair chunk of the wall. Then as a result people just keep popping up like clockwork to jump on the wall whenever someone finishes, which I find really stressful to keep track of and then jump on, especially when it's one particular group so the switching goes real fast.
Ran across some interesting (I think folks were describing them as more technical?) problems here in the 14ish range, but I guess the main selling point of the location is really that, well, location wins. But I think it is mostly worth heading out a bit further from the CBD to other gyms.
Fit Bloc (Depot Heights)
This is their second location, located at Depot Heights Shopping Centre (S.C. in the HDB sense). It's down the road from DTT/DSTA, so not the most accessible spot, but then again neither is their Kent Ridge location.
It's a really rectangular space, so two lanes of vertical/slab/slight overhang walls, and a specific corner with big overhang and a training board (I don't know them well enough to identify which type).
They have quite a few rather large air purifiers around the space, which is nice. They also use engraved metal tags to mark routes and grades, with a different tag for both-hand starting holds vs L/R starting holds, which looks really cool compared to the more common tape or plastic markers, but it makes me hope that they have enough combos in stock given that they're so specific...
They have some showers which look nice enough, and weirdly enough a dedicated foot-washing area (???), but seemingly no changing rooms. The shower room works in a pinch as a changing room as long as nobody uses it. The toilets are the public HDB ones outside, so think hawker centre or kopitiam toilets level... hold your breath.
I really enjoyed visiting this gym even though I went solo. Part of it might be that it was really rather quiet on a Sunday afternoon, especially before around 3-4pm when more people started streaming in. But also there were some interesting (to me!) problems at the 2 bar level that made me go WTF on first look but I eventually managed to figure them out. (The grading indicator is battery bars from 0 to 8.)
People keep describing this place to me as "Japanese style" or "Japanese inspired", but unfortunately I don't know enough about bouldering in Japan to really understand that.
First thing that I found unusual is that their grading system counts downwards from 10Q to 1Q, I guess to follow the kyu rank style with room for future expansion into dan.
Second thing that I was surprised by is really how slick the walls are, I guess to emulate wooden walls. I feel like smearing is nearly impossible on these walls even on the slab walls. Maybe the footwork also needs to be more precise on the holds and not accidentally rely a little on the wall.
Also, I found the footholds really damn tiny especially on the slab walls. I slipped and fell off a foothold that I was trying to stand up on with two extremely annoying side pull handholds that I couldn't hang off on. That was a little scary. It's been half a week since and my hands still start sweating when I think about that.
Something to note about visiting is that while their routesetting days are Mondays and Thursdays like most other gyms, they strip the wall at 7pm the day before on Sundays and Wednesdays. This means that perhaps 20% of the gym capacity is down for much of the evening on those days! While they delayed it to 7.30pm on the Wednesday of this visit, it's still quite disconcerting to see them finish stripping the wall and then just leave it empty for the rest of the evening. Strongly consider not climbing there on Sunday and Wednesday evenings!
Unfortunately this particular day they stripped off half the "beginner" section, so I mostly went around being stumped by the remaining problems.
Something that I did wonder about is whether they have fully maximised their space. Yes, it's a trade-off with being open and airy, but it feels like there might be a bit much sitting around space now.
If you thought the mall gyms were small, think again, this one fits in a shophouse in the Jalan Besar area. Basically the bouldering walls line the long walls for maybe half the depth of the shophouse. If there are people sitting in the middle watching someone climb on one wall, you probably don't want to climb on the other side, or you'll have to fall really precisely.
I felt like I had quite a bit of difficulty trying to identify problems here, in the sense of which holds are for which problem. I thought it was something to do with some of the holds being encrusted with chalk, but I think it's actually due to density and having similar-coloured (maroon vs dark purple, bright yellow covered in chalk vs a paler yellow that's not so covered in chalk) holds being deployed pretty close.
At least at the lower end, the grading runs V1, V1/V2, V2, V2/V3, V3, so some half levels. The main thing to note for more beginner climbers like me is that there doesn't seem to be much of a tilt towards having more problems at the lower end, compared to say Boulder Movement at least, and I haven't paid close enough attention to the higher grade problems at the other gyms to tell otherwise. At Kinetics it feels more obvious because I think there's maybe 3-ish problems at each of those lower levels. So if you're at a lower level, you might only be able to project a couple problems, not so much shopping around to work on other problems and then come back. This is not necessarily bad but I guess folks climbing at a lower level will feel "done" a bit earlier than elsewhere.
They have a really elaborate looking endurance wall that's covered in really dense tape markings for the routes.
I have to say that the crash pad coverage here feels a bit iffy. It seems OK in the middle of the room, so if you jump off you're fine, but if you drop down near the edges, like when you're working on some tricky footholds near the floor where there's no time/space to try and push off to land further, there seem to be gaps or something near the edges. At the edge of the crash pads near the counter/shop area, there's a section there's an upper layer but no lower layer, so some caution is needed when walking around to avoid tripping or stumbling. There are some spots at the wall edges where the tile below the crash pads is peeking through, but mostly at the steep overhang area, hopefully it doesn't matter so much there.
There is a small top-rope wall, but it seems more for teaching purposes.
They have a tiny shop that has a lot of stuff squeezed into a small space, it feels a little like an army camp gift shop. But at least for the shoes, they seem to be priced at a level that definitely needs a sale discount to be sensible? Maybe watch out for the sales, though shoes seem to have an ongoing 15% discount at the moment.
I guess the toilet is technically also the shower? Don't expect too much given the really limited space.
I don't really have much gear yet, just a chalk bag and some chalk.
Decathlon has quite a bit of climbing gear, even ropes and carabiners and stuff. However, you might want to go to the mega sized stores like Jurong West or Kallang, as the medium-sized (not the small click-n-collect ones) like CentrePoint or City Square Mall may still not be very well stocked in the climbing section. Check the app for store-level stock levels; the website currently seems to only show delivery/click-n-collect availability without detailed store info.
I tried the $80 climbing shoes but even at my sneaker size it was really painfully uncomfortable, and they are currently out of stock for any larger sizes. (The $50 ones are completely out of stock at the moment, apart from some really tiny sizes.) There seem to be people out there who can wear these just fine, so these might be good value beginner shoes.
The chalk bags look quite serviceable, just no fancy pockets or brush loops or whatever. I got the $13 one because it seemed to have a larger and more rigid opening, compared to the soft rims for the $8-$10 ones. There is a chalk bucket going at $20 but I couldn't get the drawcord to close the opening enough and it doesn't fold/roll up like most other chalk buckets, so I passed on that.
The chalk ball is $5 for 35g, non-refillable design, and I don't think it's great. Despite the "high flow" label, I think I spend too much time and energy trying to squeeze enough chalk out of it for my sweaty palms, to the point that the inside of the bag warms up from my hands hanging out inside for too long. They also have chalk in chunky form and in a solid block as well, but that's even more trouble to crumble.
I ended up picking up a packet of Spacerock chalk at Boruda, on other folks' recommendation, because the Decathlon chalk ball was just too frustrating. I don't know how to compare the quality of chalk, but it seems nice enough. It is priced around $60/kg which seems to be where most of the loose/powdered chalk offerings here are priced, though of course there are more expensive ones. I think they have some refill station at some gym where you can get more chalk in the refillable canisters to avoid the single-use bags.
The cheapest I've seen so far is Kinetics Climbing's loose chalk which at $12.70/300g works out to $42.33/kg. I saw someone with a bag of it recently but I haven't had a chance to use it.
Uniqlo's "ultra stretch active jogger pants" are really nice. They're a light material, compared to the heavy sweatpants, and stretchy enough that I don't have to think about their stretchiness when climbing.
Something that I've been thinking about as I keep visiting more gyms is how to describe or measure them, some late night thinking out loud follows:
There are a whole bunch of blog posts and also websites like climbodachi.com that make lists of gyms, but they don't necessarily convey some of the info I'm looking for.
How do we get a sense of size? Everyone says this gym is big, that gym is small, but can we quantify this? Floor space is confounded by places that have big unused spaces. Climbing surface area is confounded by height of the walls. Linear metres of wall width might be better at describing the amount of bouldering walls, given that they generally max out at 4.5m height, with perhaps a marker of the wall height if anyone prefers lower walls.
Space by itself is not too useful, or at least not directly what we might care about. How do we get a sense of density? The density of problems per wall width seems to vary between gyms, like Boulder Movement seems to set more densely.
Another related element might be the frequency or amount of overlap between problems. If all the problems just go straight up like routes on auto-belay lanes, each problem being climbed would "take up" less wall space (to factor in the safety buffer) compared to problems that have more left-right traversals. A gym could have lots of problems due to high density, but due to the overlaps only a very small number can be climbed at any point in time.
That's problem density, there's also the number of climbers (a "typical" crowd, or the capacity limit) in relation to the problems (perhaps adjusted for the overlaps factor). Maybe you have 8 problems, but on average only 3 can be worked on at a time, then there probably are 15 climbers camping around this wall... then that's effectively 1:5 ratio not 1:2. I think I've gone the long way round to say that I am trying to describe how much contention is expected when trying to jump on the wall to work a problem.
Another useful thing is the absolute number of problems and the distribution over the grading levels, that would be useful to know if perhaps some gyms go heavier on the intermediate- and advanced-level problems (for certain values of intermediate/advanced) and hence perhaps not so suitable for folks climbing at a lower level.
Someone has described Oyeyo as being particularly "crimpy" in their problems, which sounds like something that ought to be factored into the grading levels, but it does bring up a point about style of problems, both in hold type and the type of movements (are these independent?). Climbers might want to focus on their preferred style or their weaker style when deciding which gym to visit.
All these might be moot if people actually just want to find the first place that they are reasonably comfortable with and commit to a membership, but I think having this info available could be something useful for beginners exploring the scene, and I also suspect it's generally good to have people gym-hopping to experience different styles so anything to help that could be useful too.
That's ten climbing gyms visited. There seem to be nearly 30 other climbing gyms in Singapore at the moment, and maybe one or two more slated to open within this year. I don't know if I will actually manage to visit them all, but there are certainly more that I'd like to check out.
I have two more passes left (of the beginner 3-pack) for Fit Bloc so I definitely intend to check out their Kent Ridge location, it seems to have lots of other stuff like weights and a pool and dunno what else.
I also have one more pass left (also of the beginner 3-pack) for Boulder Movement, perhaps I'll see about visiting the Rochor location that seems a little larger than the other two (Tai Seng, Suntec) locations.
Boulder World and Boulder Planet also seem fairly large so might be worth a visit.