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Overhead Climbers: More Than Monkey Bars

If you ask someone to name their favourite overhead climber, chances are it will be “monkey bars.” And while there’s nothing wrong with this playground classic (after all, we offer them too!), there’s much more to overhead climbers than just this one product. Many people simply aren’t aware of the hidden gems currently on the market, so our goal is to give you a few new ones to pick from.

There’s also the myth that you have to spend an arm and a leg to get a “fun” overhead – which is completely untrue! Many of the options in this article are around the same cost as a typical set of monkey bars. And when you consider the increase in play value, it’s well worth it. Even customers on a budget will find that an exciting overhead climber is within reach.

We’ll discuss a variety of options that are fun, engaging, and challenging, while still keeping the bottom line in mind. But first, you might be asking yourself – what’s so good about overhead climbers? Let’s quickly go over the different ways you can use them in your playground, and why they’ve recently received a resurgence in popularity.

Child swinging on an Orbit Climber at Hillsborough Elementary School in Hillsborough, NB.

How To Use Overhead Climbers

Link Play Events Together

Overhead climbers do a great job of using vertical space to link play events together. This is important to encourage popular games like “Grounders” and “The Floor is Lava” – where touching the ground is off limits. In addition, overhead climbers are a cost-effective way to connect play areas together and create one cohesive experience.

Whether you’re placing them off the deck of a tower, or including them in an outdoor fitness circuit, overhead climbers are a versatile component that shouldn’t be overlooked. While often characterized as a transition piece, overhead climbers stress the age-old saying that “it’s not about the destination – it’s about the journey.”

Children climbing on an Overhead Challenge Playground at Hillsborough Elementary School in Hillsborough, NB.

Below Decks and Bridges

On taller towers, overhead climbers can be placed beneath decks and bridges to rejuvenate the play area below. Especially for smaller sites, placing overhead climbers below deck is a clever way to utilize space that would otherwise be wasted. This ensures that every inch of the playground is optimized for maximum play value.

Placing overheads below deck is also a great idea for children with social or sensory disorders. It gives them a quiet place to be physically active, while still maintaining excellent sightlines for parents and caretakers. When the sights and sounds of a playground are too overwhelming, this can go a long way to make your playground more inclusive.

Child swinging on a Loop Rail underneath a Gelefish Playground Tower.

Outdoor Fitness Circuits

Outside of their obvious goal (to be fun!), overhead climbers are one of the most effective tools used in outdoor fitness circuits. By and large, overhead climbers are the ideal piece of equipment to build upper body strength, hand-eye coordination, and stamina. Best of all, these benefits not only apply to kids – but to teens, adults, and seniors too!

Most important, overhead climbers emphasize the mental phenomenon of “the chase.” When climbers successfully reach the other side, they experience a great sense of pride and accomplishment. But, even if they fall off before, the thrill of conquering overhead climbers will have them coming back again and again.

Man performing pull-ups on a Traverse Bar at Eastside Park in Hattiesburg, MS.

Now that you understand the benefits of using overheads in your playground, it’s time to dive into a handful of fun and innovative alternatives. Keep in mind that the “perfect” overhead climber depends on multiple factors, such as:

  • The intended age group of your playground;
  • The level of accessibility required;
  • The types of play equipment used; and
  • The overall goal or theme of your playground

The perfect overhead climber for you might be on this list, or it might not be – and that’s totally okay! Your local playground specialist will be able to guide you in the right direction and suggest overheads that work best for your park’s needs.

Overhead Climbers That “Wow”

1. Ring Trek

Whether used in playgrounds or outdoor fitness, one thing is certain – the Ring Trek is one of the best overheads Little Tikes Commercial has produced. Especially for playgrounds with a “parkour” or “ninja warrior” theme, the Ring Trek is a no brainer to use. Kids will love swinging from ring to ring, while also building their coordination and upper body strength.

If that’s not enough, you can also double the fun with our Double Ring Trek! This option offers the same great benefits of the original, while adding elements of social interaction and competitive play. And to make things even better, the Double Ring Trek takes up a similar amount of space. This makes it an economical choice for any playground.

Child swinging on a Ring Trek at Gateway College Preparatory School in Georgetown, TX.
Two children racing on a Double Ring Trek to see who can get to the other side first.

2. Track Ride

One common misconception of overhead climbers is that they must be stationary. The Track Ride by Little Tikes Commercial (and its Miracle Recreation equivalent, the Overhead Glider), adds the exciting thrill of motion play into the mix. Kids who are already fans of spinners and spring riders will no doubt love what the Track Ride has to offer.

The opportunities for competitive play make the Track Ride an alluring choice that much more. In our experience, customers typically double up on the Track Ride so that kids can race one another and hold friendly competitions. While gliding from deck to deck, they’ll simultaneously learn essential social skills like teamwork and good sportsmanship.

3. Inline Rail

Unlike typical rung ladders, where you climb forwards and backwards, the Inline Rail makes kids climb side-to-side instead. This improves their decision-making and adds an element of perceived risk to the fun. The Inline Rail is also extremely affordable and can be placed between decks, or in a circuit with other overhead climbers.

As a challenging alternative, you can check out the Snake Challenge Ladder. Much like the original, kids will still have to climb side-to-side. However, they’ll have to exercise extra caution as they maneuver around the curved center beam. When paired together, the Inline Rail and Snake Challenge Ladder make the perfect duo to use on 2-5 and 5-12 play areas.

Child swinging on an Inline Rail in a circuit of NRG Freestyle overhead climbers.
Child swinging on a Snake Challenge Ladder as a group of children wait their turn.

4. Fun Wheel

Similar to the Track Ride, the Fun Wheel offers the excitement of motion play with two rotating wheels. Kids will get a thrill from the Fun Wheel’s sudden movements, testing their quick thinking and upper body strength. Not only does this increase the Fun Wheel’s perceived risk (and fun!), but also helps kids build their hand-eye coordination.

The Fun Wheel is best used in intermediate or advanced level parks, alongside other challenging climbers. Transitioning from wheel to wheel can be difficult at times, which is why the Fun Wheel is mainly recommended for the 5-12 age group. For those using Miracle Recreation’s products, the Fun Wheel is also available as the Sky Wheel.

Child swinging between two Fun Wheels in a circuit of overhead climbers.

5. Chaos Climber

Overhead climbers aren’t just exclusive to post and deck structures, and the Chaos Climber is an excellent example of this. As a freestanding climber, the Chaos Climber is highly flexible and can be placed virtually anywhere in the playground. Additionally, the Chaos Climber’s massive 19-person capacity will quickly become your playground’s designated hangout spot.

Coming from Miracle Recreation’s esteemed Champions Trek line, the Chaos Climber packs tons of play value into a short span. Before swinging across the upper body climber, kids will first need to conquer the horizontal ropes and suspended foot cleats on either side. All in all, the Chaos Climber is a multi-faceted piece of equipment that rolls 3 climbers into 1.

The Bottom Line

Of course, this list isn’t final. Both Little Tikes Commercial and Miracle Recreation have a wide array of overhead climbers for every age group, skill level, and application. The Horizontal Inclined Ladder, for instance, is a subtle way to add a challenge to a classic playground staple. On the other hand, the Overhead Roundabout turns your typical monkey bars into a social hotspot.

As your experts in play, we can suggest overhead climbers that will maximize enjoyment of your playground, complement existing equipment, and include as many kids as possible. After all, every playground is different – so why should they get the same components? Get in touch with your local playground specialist to explore our full line of overhead climbers.

Horizontal Inclined Ladder positioned between an End Ladder and playground deck.
Two children sitting on top of an Overhead Roundabout at McMonagle Park in Flint, MI.