The first woodie I climbed on was in my friend Pete Zoller’s single-car garage in North Boulder in 1992. Inspired by reading about all the British woodies in On the Edge magazine and how they were churning out iron-fingered “cellar dwellers”—like Malcom Smith, who made the second ascent of the world’s then-hardest route, Ben Moon’s Hubble (5.14d)—Pete threw up three sheets of plywood, scrounged some dumpster mattresses, and slapped on a bunch of random holds that we then scrawled immature, slanderous names onto with a Sharpie. Some holds were little bits of lumber, some were wooden cabinet handles (these actually make for good, cheap crimper knobs), and some were a scattering of resin holds that we—a bunch of college kids—somehow had in our little collective.
The wall didn’t look like much, and there wasn’t much wiggle room on either side when your legs went flying. But it made us stronger, quickly, and it provided a great place to session amidst clouds of chalk and a boombox blaring Ministry, Joy Division, and the Pixies.
Of course any training apparatus, be it a rudimentary woodie or a high-end app wall, is only of value if you use it regularly. And it is true that a cold, dark garage with the same-old grips you slapped on months ago will have less appeal on a dark winter’s night then a warm, well-lit gym with a fresh, new set in the bouldering cave. But ask yourself, Which of these will actually get me stronger? And with that in mind, also ask yourself, Are there any small, cosmetic or logistical tweaks I could add to my home wall to make it more appealing and thus get used more?
I’ve had a home wall now for nine years that’s evolved from a three-walled “igloo” to a two-walled igloo plus Grasshopper Wall/MoonBoard. I love my wall and use it at least once a week, and friends are constantly in and out, too. Over the past year, especially during the early COVID days when gyms were shuttered, we started slowly upgrading the space to make it as welcoming, varied, and user-friendly as possible. Here are eight of those hacks, all of which we’ve been psyched on and that in turn have kept us fired up to train. (For an endless bounty of cool home walls and upgrade ideas, check out the Home Climbing Wall Forum on Facebook.)
1. Futons, with no-slip futon strips
Crashpads and gym mats are great, but they’re costly. I made the base layer for my wall with six twin-sized futons, which I think I got for only $60 each at a local furniture store because I bought so many at once; crashpads, crowd-sourced from everyone who uses the wall, go on top, so you land on stiff foam. The only downside is that futons—and really, any landing mats—slip with repeated landings. We rectified this problem by putting no-slip futon strips on the garage floor (about $25 a roll; we used two rolls) as well as no-slip mats between the futons and the crashpads. Things have been much more stable since.
Tired of standing on wobbly chairs and Home Depot buckets to brush or swap out holds, I bought a small metal stepladder ($120 or so). It’s been one of the smartest purchases for the wall, and we use it constantly for cleaning holds between burns and for wall maintenance. Bonus: You can also get on the ladder to take sick shots/IG bangers of your friends.
3. Big, soft-bristled brush
Toothbrushes are fine for small pockets and crimps, but most home-wall holds tend to be blobbier grips that stick out and accumulate chalk. A big, soft-bristled nylon brush is a must-have. I’ve been digging the Crush Brush, which costs $20, and we always have a fresh one in rotation (we burn through about two a year).
4. LED lights
I took this tip straight from Facebook’s Home Climbing Wall Forum after seeing all the sweet walls lit-up with LED lights. I put two strips of stick-on LED lights around the edge of the Grasshopper Wall (cost: $30–50 or so), and they add cool mood lighting that makes the space feel more personal, as well as light up the holds, especially at the top of the wall, which in my garage sticks up into a dark pocket.
5. 240-volt heater
If you live in a cold place like I do (Colorado), spend the money on a big, burly, industrial heater—those little Target space heaters aren’t going to do jack-shit. I bought a Cadet The Hot One 240-Volt Heater, and I don’t regret one cent of the purchase, even at $375, on top of paying an electrician to put in a special outlet. You know what else costs a lot? Rehabbing injured fingers that you tweaked in the cold like a dumbass. This heater was able to bring the two-car garage from 20 degrees to a workable 50 degrees even during an epic sub-zero cold snap. It’s a beast.
6) Portable AC unit and box fan
In the summer, garages are hot, stuffy, and miserable. I have a portable AC unit (an LG unit, on wheels) that I cram in the door between the garage and house to cool things off, plus a box fan we have blowing across the wall to create a cross-breeze. Sure, all the hot, exhausted air from the AC unit blows into the house and makes things muy caliente for anyone down in the basement, but that’s not my lookout. Maintaining sending temps is!
7. Thermometer/humidity gauge
Don’t just guess if conditions are good—make sure they’re good by buying a simple battery-powered thermometer/humidity gauge. This lets me know when to crank the heat or AC higher, or when to shut it off—and, of course, when to complain about condies as my excuse for not sending.
Finally, spend the money on volumes and crimps or other holds to go on them to add three-dimensionality to your wall. The sheer variety of kinesthetically pleasing movement this opens up—shoulder rolls, underclings, gastons, laybacks, false grips, etc.—is amazing, and it will spice up your setting, be it power problems or circuits. There are many brands out there, as well as tutorial videos for DIY volume-making on YouTube. I’ve been very happy with Atomik’s Mini Volume #1 Triangle—it’s affordable at $48.90 and a nice, discreet size for the modestly sized spray/circuit walls in the garage.