Climbing Sport Will Make Its Olympic Debut At Tokyo 2021 - The Climbing Boom

June 2021

From boulders to big walls, alpine to indoor gyms, climbing is gaining a foothold in the mainstream

Over the last decade climbing has gained popularity. In 2018, the Guardian stated that the sport had gone from niche pastime to “worldwide sensation”, with users of indoor climbing centres growing by as much as 20 percent each year. The growth of the sport is also confirmed by one of the world’s largest sporting trade shows ISPO. The organisation estimates climbing is practiced by at least 500,000 people in Germany alone. The addition of climbing to the Olympics roster in Tokyo will also deliver further growth to the category.

The North Face, image source

Here, Alex Ingildsen, CCO at LTP Group and designer/trend forecaster Chantell Fenton discuss the multiple types of climbing and the implications for trend and product design.

The Rise of the Climbing Gym

Alex Honnold as featured in GQ Magazine, image source

Since 2009, growth in indoor climbing centres and climbing specific gyms has seen a steady rise. The Climbing Wall Association projected double digit revenue growth for 2019 and anticipated the indoor climbing industry to break the billion-dollar mark in 2021. The Stay-at-home orders of the last year have obviously impacted this growth but the restrictions subside, experts expect enthusiasm for the sport to continue. American rock climbing legend, Alex Honnold spoke to GQ about the climbing boom stating

“A big part of the rise of gym climbing is the fact that it's a really fun, community way to stay fit. It's the same way that CrossFit has a certain tribalism to it, except that climbing is way more chill and way more fun.”

Others have compared climbing to surfing, attributing it to a change in attitude or philosophy to life.

Where climbing gyms were once the prerequisite of the outdoor goal, now there's a membership of city-dwellers who may have no intention of climbing outside. Brands are reacting by developing indoor specific ranges. The aesthetics have also seen a huge shift; the facilities and apparel have evolved their own design language, specific to the indoors. La Sportiva showcased its first apparel collection designed for gym climbers at the S/S 18 Outdoor show in Friedrichshafen.

Apparel is generally lighter and more breathable than the outdoor counterparts. Comfort and unrestricted movement is key, as is durability.

Cotton tees should feature TransDRY® technology for fast-drying and moisture-wicking more commonly associated with synthetics.

Shorts are a popular choice, use a built-in liner for additional coverage. Wrinkle resistant finishes are an added bonus particularly for versatile hybrid styles.

Boulderland, image source

Mixing Work And Play

The changing functions of the climbing gyms makes the most of work and play, offering the ideal opportunity for communities to thrive. Directional brands are looking to climbing to increasingly blur the boundaries between work and play. Four years ago, Vaude built an impressive 10m outdoor climbing wall at the companies headquarters, to enable employees to test equipment, encourage team building and keep fit. As well as being available to employees, the wall is also open to the public.

VAUDE, image source

The Desire To Get Outdoors Is Driving Renewed Interest In Rock Climbing

Evolv, image source

As consumers look to deepen their connection with nature, the multitude of outdoor climbing pursuits are on the rise, from bouldering to top rope climbing. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, approximately 7.7 million Americans went climbing in 2018. Further exemplifying popularity, during the pandemic Mountain Project and theCrag have amassed insights and reviews for thousands of routes.

This new found appreciation for the outdoors is also inspired by the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo which details Alex Honnold’s most legendary accomplishment. On June 3, 2017, he became the first person to scale El Capitan, Yosemite's vertical granite slab, without a rope or safeguards.

And then there’s the built-in like-minded community.

The growth of the category will inspire innovation, from functionality to aesthetics. Flexibility and ease of movement are key consumer concerns. Styles with deep front pockets are optimal to ensure phones, keys and valuables don’t dig into the pelvis and restrict movement.

Vaude’s apparel is loved by many experienced climbers. The robust construction and double weave fabric offers much needed abrasion and scruff-resistance.

The North Face's North Dome climbing pants also have a cult following. The style features articulated legs that support movement and mitigate circulation restriction during difficult holds. The trousers built-in gusset and knee darts also increase the range of movement.

Harness-friendly styles are also important.  Opt for high-waisted trousers to accommodate the harnesses or ensure the pants don’t ride too low whilst bouldering.

Styles should feature an inside waist drawstring to replace the need for a belt. Retain loops to the back to make clipping a chalk bag more convenient for bouldering. A boulder brush pocket to the back is also a bonus enabling wearers to stow the brush conveniently away.

Adaptability is key for all-weather climbs. UPF protection is a must for summer ranges.

Cross-category styles also resonate with consumers. Prana’s yoga pants that double up as climbing apparel are also have rave reviews. Made for movement with a hyper-stretch slim fit and ankle cinches, ideal for both yoga and bouldering.

@lasportivagram, image source

About LTP

LTP is a Danish owned garment manufacturer for +60 premium brands within active sportswear, outdoor, athleisure and sustainable fashion. LTP was established in 1991, and is probably the biggest Sport & Outdoor garment manufacturer in Europe with bluesign & GOTS setups in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Vietnam.

LTP consists of two divisions; LTP Garment and LTP Contract Furniture producing in nine fully-owned factories.

About Chantell Fenton

Chantell is an experienced performance sportswear designer and trend forecaster, with a passion for wellness, technology and function-first design. Chantell has an in-depth knowledge of how to spot and translate the must-have trends and macro shifts for the sports and outdoor industry. For more details visit