In an era where screens and distractions threaten to rob our children of their wonder and innocence at every turn, the simple pleasures offered by outdoor play are perhaps more necessary now than ever before. Regular outdoor activity has been proven, time and time again, to not only help children live healthier, more active lifestyles, but to help them achieve better in school, develop more meaningful social connections and teach them that their imaginations and adventurous spirits should always be encouraged.
A climbing frame is the very essence of outdoor adventure for young children; offering the freedom of discovery, without the inherent dangers that come with allowing them to wander off unaccompanied. They are also incredibly safe, affordable and can last for decades if properly maintained. So, it’s no wonder that, if you have young children, you might be in the market for a new climbing frame to allow your kids to climb, swing and slide their way through the happiest days of their lives.
However, one important decision you need to make before proceeding is the building material of your climbing frame. Plastic options are available for those on a budget, but plastic is flimsy by nature, and won’t offer the quality and durability of premium wood or metal frames. Here, we’ll underline the strengths and drawbacks of both wooden climbing frames and metal climbing frames so you can make an informed decision that will benefit you and your children for years to come.
Wooden Climbing Frames
When you picture a climbing frame in your mind’s eye, you’re probably picturing a wooden one. Wooden climbing frames are often seen as the more traditional and ‘elegant’ choice, but there are both benefits and drawbacks to going the ‘classic’ route.
Whilst the price of any wooden climbing frame will depend on the quality of the wood, the size of the frame itself and the number of extra features (slides/swings/monkey bars/playhouses etc.) it includes, it will always, generally be more expensive than a metal climbing frame. That being said, you’re paying for a longer-lasting and arguably more aesthetically pleasing product.
The functionality (with an emphasis on the “fun”) of any climbing frame will always be more important than how it looks. However, such a large structure will inevitably end up being a focal point in your garden, so appearances do matter. Logic dictates that wood has a more natural look than metal and will blend into a garden with a greater degree of subtlety. With weathering, the initially bold tones and textures of the factory finish will also settle, resulting in a more organic look.
Wooden climbing frames tend to be stronger and last longer than metal alternatives, as metal can rust, and wood won’t. Wood will, however, naturally expand and contract with the change in seasons and temperatures; so wooden climbing frames will need to be treated in order to prevent these cracks from having any substantial impact on the structural integrity of the frame. Most modern wooden climbing frames will have been pressure-treated, which should keep the rot and the bugs at bay, but the weather will still have an impact unless extra care and attention is paid. If you do look after the wood, however, and made sure the fittings are kept tight and rust-free, your wooden climbing frame could potentially last for decades.
Wood can crack and splinter over time and these splinters can be nasty, particularly for younger children. You will regularly need to check your wooden climbing frame for splinters, but they can easily be taken care of with a little bit of sandpaper.
Metal Climbing Frames
Perceived by many to be the ‘second-best’ option to the default, ‘classic’ option of a wooden climbing frame, metal frames are generally seen as less desirable than their wooden counterparts. They are, however, significantly more durable, stable and attractive than cheap, plastic alternatives and they boast their own unique qualities too.
Not only are metal climbing frame commonly less expensive than wooden frames, but they also have fewer maintenance issues, so will cost less to manage and maintain in the long-run.
Whilst it has been said time and time again that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” there can be few parents who would generally prefer the look of a metal climbing frame over a wooden one. However, metal frames have one major benefit in terms of their appearance – consistency. Whilst their colour might change subtly over time with ageing and weathering, the knots, splits and cracks associated with wood are not something you’ll need to worry about with a metal frame.
If not properly looked after, a metal climbing frame will rust over time. There’s a reason that most wooden climbing frames come with at least a 10-year warranty, whereas metal frames often come with half that. The type of metal will also have an impact. If you can, steer well clear of steel, which is not only incredibly heavy but will corrode faster. Aluminium, meanwhile, will last significantly longer and is a lot lighter.
Your kids won’t get a splinter from a metal climbing frame, but they could get a nasty burn! Metal will, of course, heat up in the sun and will be hot to the touch, but it will rarely get hot enough to leave a mark. During the winter months, however, you’ll want to make sure your children are wearing gloves if they want to play. Unless they want to get their fingers frozen to the bars!
Which is Better? A Metal Climbing Frame or a Wooden Climbing Frame?
There is no “better” here, only “more or less suitable” for your individual needs and your individual budgets.
Whilst wood is arguably a more desirable building material for a sustainable climbing frame, metal is a more affordable option that would be ideal if you are only interested in getting a few years of function out of the product.
As they require less investment, they are also perfect for “testing the waters” and seeing if your children take to it. If they love it and you want to upgrade to a larger wooden frame in a few years, the option is there.
Conversely, if they hate it (though trust us, this is wildly unlikely) then you haven’t thrown away a small fortune! Metal frames are also far easier to take down and transport, so if you are planning a house move in the near future, this could be another factor to consider.
Whichever way you turn, there are plentiful options and there is no bad choice (as long as you don’t go plastic). The general consensus is that metal is the economy option for parents on a budget, or perhaps those that wish to test the waters. Wood, meanwhile, is the premium product that could ignite a lifelong love affair with outdoor play in your children.