Lighting for indoor rock climbing is looking up


Joseph Patrick, BFA, LC, IESNA, Lighting Designer and Paul Boken, BFA, LC, Vice President, Mulvey & Banani Lighting Inc.

Hub Climbing wanted to create “the best lit” climbing gym in the world for their new Mississauga location, now the largest in North America. 

Hub sited glare and shadows, lack of uniformity on the giant vertical surfaces as the norm in the industry, particularity at the top of the walls, the most critical point for climbers. Hub challenged MBL to the task of re-thinking how best to light a rock climbing gym… and MBL enthusiastically accepted!

The MBL Team researched precedents from all over the world and compiled a shopping list of factors to consider: ilumination was needed right to the top of the walls; the ceiling is exposed, so there is no where to conceal anything; blinding from the lighting is a serious risk- belayers and climbers are always looking up and in some cases, directly at the light source; climbing walls are not even or smooth surfaces – their unique forms and shapes are often plagued with shadows.

A light source was required that would light wash the walls from top to bottom. Direct source lighting would not get enough light on the top of the walls; indirect source lighting would not get enough light to the bottom of the wall. Lights in the floor would blind people looking down from the wall, and disturb people on the floor prepping to climb.  A complex Revit Model of the gym provided by HUB, imported into Dialux and AGI32 assisted with some intense light level calculations.

Diffuse, directionless, illumination.

A light source with predominantly sidelight distribution, with additional (secondary) distribution of uplight and downlight, was the solution. Directing the light predominantly sideways throughout the facility would allow light to hit the walls first, and the floor, second. The additional uplight ensured that the wall portion above the height of the fixtures would still receive adequate light.

Our weapon of choice was an industrial fixture designed by Eaton lighting for highbay warehousing that has a large diffuse wrap around lens covering the internal light sources. The output of these fixtures is boosted to 22,000 lumens per 8’ fixture –  while this is a significant quantity of light, because it is spread over a large diffuse 8’ lens one is able to look directly at the source.

Finding the right fixture was only half the story; we then had to determine how best to configure the fixtures in the big gym space, especially to combat the shadowing. Modelling confirmed that long continuous 20-30’ rows would create a diffuse, directionless, illumination of the walls, as opposed to a single source hitting the walls. Such continuous rows are used in offices to ensure low contrast/shadow environments.

It’s not the first time the MBL Team was challenged with masterminding the “best-ever” lighting for a niche environment. Ripleys Aquarium of Canada, for example, called for a complete re-thinking of illumination for aquarium tanks, with great success. Intriguing, multi-dimensional lighting challenges like these are welcome opportunities to throw away the rule book and explore a new approach. Since opening in early 2019, Hub owner have been overwhelmed with accolades such as “the best-lit gym ever experienced!” Challenge accepted, victory achieved! The MBL Team celebrated with a climb – check out the action: