If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, Rolling Stone may receive an affiliate commission.
If you’re thinking of buying a workout machine for your home gym (as most of us are right now), it’s time to consider a vertical climbing machine. Most shoppers instinctively turn to ellipticals, treadmills or exercise bikes when setting up a home gym, but the best climbing machines might actually be better for training at home.
What is a Climbing Machine?
Climbing machines (also known as climber machines) are vertical contraptions designed to mimic the motions of rock climbing. This means pulling handles downwards, pushing and pulling with your legs while your feet are in pedals, and keeping your core engaged at all times (most machines also allow lower-body isolation by holding stationary handles). It looks simple, but when combined, these exercises translate to an amazing low-impact workout that incorporates your whole body. And when we say whole body, we mean it: quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, abs, back and arms are all fully engaged while your chest and shoulders also get a workout.
Calorie burn is very impressive as well. In a 30-minute climbing session, you can burn as much as 800 calories, or 300 if you go slow (which is still very significant). If you need proof of climbing’s effectiveness, just look up pictures of professional rock climbers.
The best climber machines let you take advantage of the strengthening, cardio improving benefits of rock climbing right in your living room or home gym. And due to their vertical design, climbing machines take up very little floor space. Plus, they’re designed to accommodate all levels of expertise from newbies to professional climbers, so there’s no need to feel intimidated.
As with most of the best fitness equipment, the newest climber machines are now integrating virtual training and data-analysis to enhance your workout. They’re not as common as, say, connected exercise bikes, but we’ve been able to find a couple connected climbing machines with live training and on-demand classes.
What Are the Best Climber Machines?
If you’re new to climbing machines, the contraptions can seem more complicated than they actually are. Below are some key features to look out for when picking the best climbing machine for your needs.
Build Quality: All fitness equipment should be sturdy and well-made, but it’s especially important with climbing machines because there’s so much movement involved. You want to be able to go as hard as you can without the machine rattling or holding you back. Plus, a solid, well-built machine will just look better, which is always important with a big piece of home gym gear.
Adjustability: Being able to adjust a climbing machine to suit your stature and workout level is essential. Look for machines with an adjustable height for the best workout. Also look for machines with variable resistance, as this will allow for strengthening and higher-level cardio as you progress.
Technology: As mentioned, the best climbing machines now feature integrated technology to upgrade your workout. This might take the form of a built-in screen with virtual training and on-demand classes, smartphone connectivity to follow workouts and monitor heart rate, or all of the above. Obviously, the more tech the better, especially if you’re new to climbing machines and need some guidance.
Size: One of the benefits of climbing machines is their vertical design, which takes up very little floorspace in apartments or small houses. Still, it’s good to measure the machine’s intended area to make sure you’ve got room. Also be aware that you might need as much as eight feet of vertical space to fit the machine.
1. MaxiClimber XL-2000
MaxiClimber is probably the best-known vertical climber brand. Their original climber machine is great, but this XL-2000 is the upgraded version. The primary difference is the XL-2000’s adjustable resistance (12 levels, to be exact) which allows for a customizable workout and more of a challenge for pros.
The XL-2000 is also more accommodating than other units, with a maximum user height of six-foot-six and a maximum weight of 300 pounds. The height is fully adjustable, so there shouldn’t be any problem getting the right fit. The frame itself is also high-quality with an aluminum frame and quiet roller mechanisms. This means you can workout while others are asleep, watching TV or working.
The whole thing takes up very little space with a footprint of about 26 by 42 inches, while roller wheels allow for easy storage or repositioning around the house. We also like its slim, minimalist construction because it won’t be too much of an eyesore in your living space.
The MaxiClimber doesn’t have an integrated screen, but a smartphone holder and MaxiClimber app provide virtual training routines and stats to track progress. The app also includes other helpful information for getting in shape, such as a 21-day meal plan with over 80 recipes.
2. Sole CC81 Cardio Climber
Another high-end climbing machine is the Sole CC81. The machine delivers a great full-body workout and boasts plenty of features for pushing yourself. The CC81 is especially good for beginners, as it might feel more familiar for those that haven’t used a climbing machine. This is because the CC81 is essentially an elliptical that’s been upgraded with climbing machine handles, as the foot pedals are large and have some horizontal movement. Plus, resistance is adjustable, so you can go as easy or as hard as you want.
As far as infotainment, you’ve got two options with the CC81. The first is an onboard display showing key metrics such as heart rate, time and calories burned, as well as six built-in programs for a guided workout. But you’ve also got a large tablet mount, meaning you can easily control music, watch videos, or stream your own climbing machine workouts.
In terms of build quality, the CC81 does very well. The sturdy frame is made of welded steel, allowing the machine to support up to 400 pounds. The footprint is fairly small (although a bit larger than the MaxiClimber) with a base of 31 by 59 inches. But this larger base does have its benefits as the machine should feel more grounded during high-intensity workouts.
3. Bowflex TreadClimber TC200
This Bowflex TreadClimber is a bit different than other climbing machines (and other fitness machines, for that matter). It’s designed to elevate the most popular, most natural form of exercise in the world – walking – and make it easier to do at home. The Treadclimber is essentially a treadmill that’s been split down the middle. Each side raises to meet your foot and lowers as you push down. This allows for a surprisingly intense yet low-impact walking cardio workout that combines the motions of a treadmill, a stepper, and an elliptical – and burns more calories than any of them.
The TreadClimber TC200 is our choice (compared to the lower-end TC100) because it boasts five workout programs and Bluetooth connectivity to a companion app (as well as My Fitness Pal, Apple Health Kit and Google Fit). This means you can program a goal, let the machine track your progress and get your fitness data compiled on the TreadClimber app.
Although it’s not a vertical machine, the TreadClimber’s footprint is still quite economical at 55 by 32 inches. And, as with any high-end Bowflex products, the build quality is excellent as well.
4. CLMBR Connected
CLMBR is the Peloton of climbing machines. It’s a sleek, well-made product that’s loaded with technology to further your fitness goals. Right off the bat, you’ll notice that the CLMBR’s design is quite different from most climbing machines. Instead of a single central mainframe, the CLMBR features a solid outer frame that offers more space to move while working out. The machine is very well-built as well with a cast and extruded aluminum construction.
The CLMBR is also very space-conscious, as it only requires 34 by 33 inches of floor space and eight feet of vertical. If you need to move the machine while not in use, built-in castor wheels let you do so with ease.
Finding that perfect height and grip is easy thanks to quick-adjust handles that provide neutral, over or underhand grip positions. Resistance levels are also fully adjustable with 11 settings that range from light to tough for strengthening.
Once you’re locked in, boot up the on-board 21.5-inch touchscreen display. This will show live, instructor-led group classes, on-demand training sessions and stats for tracking your progress. Training covers non-climbing fitness too, with classes for yoga, strength training and pilates. The machine can also connect to your smartphone where you can view stats, browse classes and share your progress. One drawback: CLMBR is currently taking orders but won’t deliver till July 2021. If you want to get climbing right away, we recommend one of the other options on the list.