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The Beginner’s Guide To Everything Bouldering

So many people want to give rock climbing a go, but the thought of hanging halfway up a cliff scares the hell out of them.
And for those people, I’d like to tell you this isn’t the case with all rock climbing.

You see, nowadays, it isn’t just about climbing the tallest routes on the most bold-faced crag. 

With the introduction of bouldering, people can now enjoy the technical climbing experience from just a few feet off the ground. 

Sounds pretty cool, right?

In this article, I’m going to break down bouldering so you know what to expect and how to get the most out of it.

So if you’re wondering, “what is bouldering? And how do I get started?

Don’t go anywhere!

I’m about to explain everything.

What Is Bouldering?

In the simplest terms possible, bouldering is climbing without having ropes protecting you. Instead, you use crash pads to keep yourself protected from harsh falls.

Bouldering problems, in general, don’t usually go more than 15 ft, so you don’t have the same feeling of exposure as you’re climbing, which is the scary part for most people.

But here’s the thing:
Some bouldering problems can go much higher; as climbers, we like to call these problems “Highballing.” 

In a nutshell, highballing is where a bouldering problem becomes a free solo, and it’s not for the faint-hearted. 

I’m not going to go into more detail about highballing because it’s pretty niche, and any beginner shouldn’t try it.

Bouldering is all about short problems that focus on power and technique instead of endurance. 

Regular trad climbing will have a crux (a climbing term for the most challenging move on the route), while bouldering is a series of crux moves over a short distance.

Indoor Vs. Outdoor: What Are The Differences

When it comes to where to boulder, you have two options to consider, indoor or outdoor. Of course, most climbers will do a mix of both, but you might want to start with the safety of indoor climbing if you’re a beginner.

In this section, I want to describe the main differences between bouldering indoors vs. outdoors.

The obvious difference is indoors; you’re not climbing on natural rock; instead, you have colorful holds showing you the way.

Another critical difference is bouldering outside can be a lot scarier, and the grades are more challenging. 

Let’s take a closer look at the differences you can expect:

Watch Out For Polished Holds

The holds in an indoor bouldering gym are designed for traction, saying that some holds do get polished. But indoor gyms have the chance to change the grips out when they get too worn.

You don’t get this luxury outdoors; once the holds are polished, there’s nothing you can do. This makes it a lot more likely for you to slip away on polished grips. 

To make things worse:

You also have to contend with dirt and sand laying on top of the holds, making things ten times harder.

The Grading Is Harder Outdoors

I’m not sure why bouldering indoors is so much easier. Maybe it’s because the routes are neatly laid out for you? Or perhaps it’s the lack of exposure and increased confidence?

But I guess the most likely reason is climbing gyms want to make you feel good about yourself, so you continue going back week after week.

Whatever the reason is, be sure to be humbled when you eventually make that switch from bouldering indoors to outdoors.

Be Prepared For Rocks To Break Off

Unlike indoor bouldering, holds tend to break off when you’re climbing on real rock. So not knowing what holds you can trust can genuinely add a scary aspect to the bouldering problem. 

With outdoor bouldering, you’ll experience tiny holds and edges, and it will leave you wondering, “can it hold my weight or not?’

This fear becomes even worse when your climbing sandy, salty, or acidic rocks that have been left to erode. 

How Bouldering Grades Work Across The World

Bouldering grades give the climber the chance to understand what level they are climbing. In other words, it tells you how difficult the climb is or isn’t.

This is an important aspect, and depending on where you climb will depend on what scale they use to grade the route.

Luckily most indoor bouldering gyms use the same V scale grading system, which makes life easier. But in some parts of Europe, they’ll use the Font scale.

Let’s take a look at how these two grades compare to give you an idea of what they look like:

Bouldering-difficulty-scale.png

As you can see, whichever grading system you come across, you’ll be able to recognize the grade you’re climbing at easily. The lower the number, the easier the climb. It really is that simple.

What Gear Do You Need To Get Started Bouldering: Indoors Vs. Outdoors

One of the best things about bouldering is you don’t need much equipment to get started, unlike trad climbing, where it can cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

In this section, I’m only going to cover three of the most important pieces of gear you need to get started. But if you want a complete bouldering gear checklist, you can check out the link.

Climbing Shoes

Climbing shoes are a vital part of your bouldering experience. Without the right shoes, you’re going to find yourself in trouble trying to stick to the wall.

Bouldering shoes are usually more aggressive, making them pretty uncomfortable if you don’t get the right ones. However, if you’re not ready to make the purchase, bouldering gyms have them to hire.

The thing is: 

They’re usually not the best climbing shoes and have had hundreds if not thousands of feet in them before yours.

Which, let’s face it, it’s not the nicest feeling.

If you’re ready to make the purchase, I’ll be talking a bit more about how to choose the correct climbing shoe for you in the section below. So don’t go anywhere!

Chalk Bag

Chalk is another vital part of climbing; it removes the moisture away from your fingers so you can get a better grip of the holds.

But for all that chalk, you need some wear to store, which is where chalk bags come in. 

Chalk bags are designed to hold your chalk without leaking when you transport it back and forth to the climbing wall.

Some chalk bags are designed to wrap around your waist while you climb. Although for bouldering, I wouldn’t suggest this style; the chalk falls out when you jump down. One that sits on the floor is far more efficient.

Crash Pad

Unless you’re going bouldering outside, you won’t need a crash pad. All indoor gyms have built-in crash pads, so you don’t have to worry about that.

But, when it comes to outdoor bouldering, a crash pad is vital for your safety. You see, outdoor bouldering problems have hard ground underneath, and taking a fall onto it will cause you an injury.

Not only that but they are usually surrounded by rocks and other hard/harmful materials. 

If you want to learn more about crash pads, check out this review of the Asana Sidekick Crash Pad.

Finding The Right Climbing Shoes For You

I mentioned earlier that finding the right bouldering shoe is super important. The wrong shoe can leave you in pain and with bunions sticking out your foot.

So, how do you shoes the bouldering shoe for you?

To do that, you need to ask yourself a few key questions:

  1. What’s your budget? Understanding your budget will help you know which brands to look for. Try not to go over your set budget, but at the same time, don’t compromise quality.

  2. How wide are your feet? Most climbing shoes are pretty narrow. If you have wide feet, you need to make sure the climbing shoes suit your feet. The best way to do this is by going to a shop and trying them on first. If the shoe doesn’t fit your feet, avoid the purchase at all costs.

  3. How long will you be wearing them? If you’re going to be wearing your bouldering shoes for an extended amount of time, you want to go with something more comfortable. Aggressive bouldering shoes are great, but hell, they start to make your feet go numb after a while.

  4. What will you climb most, slap or overhang? If you don’t climb overhangs and don’t plan on taking that venture anytime soon, there is no point in getting climbing shoes designed for toe hooking.

  5. Do you need them for multiple disciplines? If you want to climb multiple disciplines without needing multiple shoes, try looking for a more versatile shoe, i.e., non-aggressive.

  6. Do you prefer lace or Velcoro? Laces are a lot more adjustable, which means you can get a tighter fit. But Velcroro is easier to take on and off, making more aggressive climbing shoes a bit more bearable.

Asking yourself these questions will help you find the right shoes. But remember:  

The most important thing is actually to try the shoes on before you buy them.

Bouldering 101

Okay, so you know what bouldering is, what gear you need, and how to read the grades. But know it’s time to understand the basics of bouldering to help you learn more efficiently. 

Understanding these factors will help you become a boulderer: 

Warm-Up

Before you start climbing, make sure you warm up; this is the process of getting your muscles ready for a workout.

When warming up, you need to use dynamic stretching instead of static warm-ups; this will help you prevent injury. 

For a complete guide on how to warm up, check out this guide by climbing.com.

Use Your Feet 

A good climber will use their feet effectively to help them up the climb. Unfortunately, many beginners focus solely on the strength of their arms… this a big mistake.

Your feet are stronger than your arms; think about it, you’ve been walking on them for how many years now?

For this reason, practicing footwork techniques is vital if you want to become a better climber. 

Before you move your hands, get your feet in the correct position, this will take away the strain from your arms.

Practice Correct Safety Measures

Bouldering is dangerous enough without you putting yourself or others in danger. When you’re bouldering inside, there’s not much you have to think about. 

It’s mainly making sure you don’t climb/walk under anyone and making sure you land safely if you slip.

With outdoor bouldering, there’s a little bit more to think about, like making sure you always have a spotter, or you spot your partner.

You also need to make sure you move the crash pad to ensure it’s underneath the climber as they climb. While doing this, make sure you watch out for any loose rocks that might fall on your head.

Take Your Time

Bouldering is a demanding sport that requires strength and technique. Make sure you think about each move before you make it.

The slower you take the climb, the better you’ll do. This is because you’ll have more balance and be able to use controlled techniques.

Before you make any move, take a second to look at your foot placement and how they’re positioned.

Try, Try, And Try Again

When things aren’t going your way, i.e., you’re struggling with the climb, don’t get disheartened. It’s something many boulderers go through, and getting annoyed will only make things worse.

The trick is to keep on trying; if you feel yourself getting annoyed, take a little break and then come back to it. You’ll be amazed at how much better your climbing will feel.

Bouldering Etiquette

Before I go, there’s one last thing I want to talk about, and that’s basic climbing etiquette. In general, climbers are accommodating and friendly people, but there’s a few things that will just get under our skin.

Let’s take a look at a few of the big ones:

  • Share the wall with fellow users, don’t hog it, and more importantly, wait your turn, don’t jump in front of someone that’s been waiting patiently.

  • Be aware of what’s happening around you. If someone falls on you, it’s your fault.

  • If someone has just brushed the holds, don’t jump on there before them.

  • If someone’s climbing near you, make sure your paths won’t cross before you start.

  • If you’re bouldering outside, make sure you leave no trace.

  • Don’t play loud music.

  • If you get stuck, ask someone for help.

If you follow these simple rules, you’ll be welcomed in any climbing click with open arms.

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