Welcome to our website! Here you can find out all you need to know about climbing, what our NICAS® schemes are all about, and how you can get involved.
What's climbing?Climbing: the sport or activity of climbing mountains, hills, cliffs or artificial climbing structures.

Every week thousands of people climb both indoors and outdoors. For many, indoor gyms are their first introduction to the wonderful world of climbing. These early experiences may lead them to a career in the outdoors, to become a coach at a climbing wall, or provide the foundations of a healthy and rewarding "habit" for many years to come as a leisure climber. There are many types of climbing from indoor to outdoor, from artificial surfaces, to rock and ice. Have a look at our guide to types of climbing (below) to get an overview of the options.

Climbing benefits the body and mind. It is:

  • a Mental Challenge: working out the best route to climb
  • an Achievement: when you get there!
  • a Workout: an all-over body workout, accessible yet challenging

Artificial climbing facilities such as dedicated indoor climbing walls provide a safe, controlled, supervised environment where beginner to professional climbers of all ages can climb together. Trained staff teach the necessary safety techniques, and climbing gear is available for rent or purchase. This is where our schemes, NICAS® (for climbing) and NICAS Bouldering® (for bouldering) are run. There are many different activities described as climbing. The main types we refer to are:

Types of indoor (roped) climbing

Lead climbing (credit Patricia Novelli)Climbing with ropes can be done indoors and usually involves two people, but it can also be done in a group. The person climbing the "route" is tied to a rope controlled by another person. Controlling the rope is called belaying and the person controlling the rope is the belayer.

Within this, there are two main ways of climbing indoors with ropes: top roping and lead climbing.

Top roping is where the climbing rope is already in place. The rope is threaded through an anchor at the top of the climbing wall. The person climbing "ties in" to one end of the rope, and the belayer manages the other end of the rope, taking in the slack as the climber ascends the climbing wall. True top-roping involves the belaying being at the top of the climbing wall. In reality, most belayers are at ground level so this is also referred to as bottom-roping. We use top-roping as our phrase throughout NICAS as it's the one most commonly recognised.

Lead climbing is a more advanced technique where the climber manages the rope themselves as they climb, clipping it as they move up the route (so it is not already threaded through an anchor before they start climbing). They may clip into quickdraws, which are special snap-gate clips attached to the wall, many times on one single ascent. The belayer also needs to work in a more advanced way, ensuring the climber has enough rope to reach and clip safely but also not too much rope in case the climber falls. For the belayer, learning the right amount of rope to pay out, take in, or keep in tension, is an advanced skill so that the climber can work effectively.

Speed climbing is just what it says - climbing a route as fast as possible. This is a competitive type of climbing which can be done individually or as a team. It is not currently part of our NICAS syllabus. Speed climbing, lead climbing and bouldering will form the three disciplines of competition climbing at the 2020 Olympics.

Indoor dry-tooling traditionally involves climbing rock with ice axes and either crampons or rock shoes. It can also be performed indoors, for example with the use of a special ice axe that has rubber loops on the ends instead of a sharp pick. The rubber loop can be hooked over the existing holds of an indoor wall without damage to the wall or danger to the climber.

Types of outdoor (roped) climbing

Outdoor climbing credit Patricia NovelliOur schemes are about climbing on artifical climbing surfaces, such as indoor climbing walls. The schemes provide the skills to move to climbing outdoors on real rock as well.

Sport climbing is where fixed protection points such as bolts are already placed in the rock for climbers to clip quickdraws into as they work their way up the climbing route. This is effectively Lead Climbing, outside, and is a natural progression when people move from indoor to outdoor climbing.

Trad (traditional) climbing is where the first climber, the 'lead', places their own temporary/removable protection as they climb,rather than the fixed protection points (e.g bolts) used in sport climbing. Their partner, the 'second', removes the protection while they are 'seconding' the route. In this way, the rock face is left in its natural state after the climb is completed.

Ice climbing, dry-tooling, mountaineering, solo climbing, hill walking and scrambling are also all under the umbrella of "climbing" - these are outlined in the BMC's "types of climbing" article.

Bouldering (indoor and outdoor)

Bouldering indoors (credit Patricia Novelli)Bouldering is a form of climbing usually practised on small rocks and boulders, on artificial outdoor climbing structures, or at indoor walls. As the climber doesn't go very high (hence, no need for ropes) it can be possible to jump back down, though it is recommended where possible to "downclimb" in order to descend as safely as possible. There are limits on how high artificial boulders can be, depending on whether the boulderer has to downclimb, or whether they can exit by climbing over the top of the boulder.
Outdoor boulder (credit David Edmond-Jones)
Boulderers use padded mats to reduce the impact on their bodies when landing or falling. When indoors, thick padded mats are usually in place underneath the bouldering walls. These might be portable and are put in place for bouldering if they need to be stored elsewhere until use. bouldering outside boy Iain MckenzieWhen outside, you will often see boulderers carrying their own mats which they use for their own protection, and also to protect the ground from erosion.

Bouldering routes are called boulder problems, or blocs. When a boulder problem/bloc involves going sideways along a climbing surface, it is called a traverse.
Is climbing right for me (or the right activity for my child?)Happy bouldering girl reduced size (c) Andy DayWe believe that climbing is a great activity for anyone and everyone whether young, retired, a "sporty" type or someone who doens't enjoy traditional sport. There is something about climbing that appeals to everyone. Climbing walls are friendly spaces where you can find your own pace, or get involved in lessons and training with a coach. Most walls offer a decent cafe too!

Climbing aids in mental and physical development, and has been shown to improve creativity, memory, and critical thinking abilities.

If you're thinking about becoming a climber (or your child is), have a look at our Climbers pages and our Parents/Carers pages. If you're from a climbing centre, school or other organisation who has a climbing wall and who would like to deliver our syllabus, have a look at our Climbing Centre page and our Schools, Clubs & Groups page. If you're a freelance coach, have a look at our page dedicated to Coaches.

We understand that climbing is an unknown activity for a lot of people. However, we were all there once and feel it is well worth getting yourself involved! Check out these “myth busters” from the British Mountaineering Council.

Of course, if you have questions then you can always contact us.
Why do the NICAS schemes? Our schemes, which are the National Indoor Climbing Award Schemes (NICAS®) are an introduction to climbing and provide a gateway to learning more and developing a love for the sport.

The key aim is to provide a safe introduction to climbing for anyone aged 7 years and up on artificial climbing structures (e.g indoor climbing walls). Those who progress through to the higher levels also start to look wider and learn more about the history, ethics and styles of both indoor and outdoor climbing.

The nationally-recognised scheme helps to standardise the teaching and coaching of climbing in a structured manner, whilst providing lots of fun too.

All involved - whether climber, parent, coach - can easily monitor and record skill development and progression through use of our structured scheme. We have a climbing scheme (climbing with ropes) as well as a bouldering scheme, NICAS Bouldering®, which involves climbing at a lower height, without the need for ropes. Check out our "types of climbing" page for more detail on the differences.

There are approx. 240 centres that run our schemes. Between them they have introduced over 120,000 young people to climbing. With logbooks to work through and certificates for achievement, the schemes give candidates a great start to their climbing journeys.

Are the NICAS schemes recognised? The UK, like most of the world but unlike a few western European countries, does not have laws of protected status or regulation for awards and qualifications. The two NICAS schemes are "recognised" by a range of national bodies. NICAS®, NICAS Bouldering® and ABCTT® are all trademarked.

  • The NICAS schemes are recognised by the Mountaineering Councils (the British Mountaineering Council, Mountaineering Scotland and Mountaineering Ireland) as important youth participation pathways for young climbers. They support us in our work, promote the schemes (with reciprocal use of logos on youth materials), attend our board meetings (as observers) and we develop collaborative pathway projects (e.g. our involvement in the "Climb Scotland" programme – to read more, see our History page).
  • The national Mountain Training organisations (Mountain Training UK, England, Cymru, Scotland and Ireland) recognise and support NICAS as an ‘approved scheme’. They too, are invited to the board meetings as observers. NICAS is not a qualification but MTE says "we do support the scheme". Another example is that MTC financially support our production of bilingual Welsh log-books.
  • The Mountain Training Association (MTA) as well as AMI recognise certain NICAS inductions and workshops as CPD for qualified professionals in the industry.
  • Sport England recognises NICAS as a successful partner in the 2013-17 funding bid. We continue to work with them and the BMC as they state they value the schemes' impact on the national Sport Strategy.
  • The Youth Sport Trust recognises NICAS as a source of expertise - we have worked collaboratively to produce resources for teachers to promote climbing as a way to develop physical literacy in young people.
  • All three English GCSE and A-level exam boards (AQA, Edexcel and OCR) recognise NICAS as a means to teach climbing, hence candidates who have passed Level 3 meet the GCSE requirements (though the exam syllabi do not map exactly, NICAS Level 3 is a great indication of a climber's ability to gain high marks). For more see here.
  • The UIAA Youth Commission have recognised NICAS internationally as a recognised method and framework of developing climbers.
  • The Association of British Climbing Walls established the ABC Training Trust, the parent company of NICAS, to deliver the schemes, and therefore recognise the importance of having an independent charity to drive participation in climbing walls by turning a taste of climbing into a habit.

What do the NICAS schemes cover? Read all about what our our schemes cover here. Where do I go next?
  • If you are thinking of taking part in our schemes yourself, have a look here.
  • If you're a teacher or group leader then have a look at these pages.
  • If you're a parent or carer, try here instead.
  • If you're a climbing wall owner, or thinking of opening a climbing or bouldering wall, visit this section.

Find out about our schemes and the differences between NICAS Climbing and NICAS Bouldering, about who we are , our history and read some of our fact and figures.
The structure of our schemes is all about motivating a prolonged involvement and progression – building both competence and confidence – whilst developing a resilient climbing "habit".

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