A Beginner’s Guide To Bouldering

bouldering guide

Rock climbing may not be a new sport to you, but when you’re with other climbers have you ever heard them talk about rock climbing bouldering? If not, don’t worry, you’re probably not alone.

Bouldering is a relatively new form of rock climbing that doesn’t include a wall of rocks to climb or the need to familiarize yourself with a variety of different types of knots.

Today, we want to give you an introductory look at what is bouldering, the different grades for bouldering, and discuss the differences between bouldering and rock climbing.

We have a lot to cover, so let’s get started!

What Is Bouldering?

bouldering guide

Bouldering is a sport where you’re climbing large boulders and instead of using ropes for safety, climbers rely on pads to keep them safe.

Don’t worry, climbing a boulder doesn’t mean you’re climbing a mountain-sized rock. Most “problems” you’ll face while bouldering isn’t more than 15 feet tall. When outdoors, the problems are more common on larger boulders, but some problems will exist on a low cliff.

Do keep in mind that this explanation of what bouldering is can be argued depending on who you talk to. Some climbers will climb boulders that are larger than 15 feet, but since the climber doesn’t go too far up the boulder, they can still rely on the pad for protection.

Then other instances, you’ll come across a tall boulder that is fixed with bolts and are considered sport climbs. Extremely tall boulders are called highball boulders that anywhere from 25 to 35 feet high.

Highball bouldering often blurs the line between bouldering and climbing a tall wall without rope (also called free soloing) because ropes still aren’t used, but a fall from that height can result in serious injury.

With all that said, most boulder problems are short sequences that relies more on power and technique rather than prolonged endurance. Even though the sequences are short, that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. Just like other sports, bouldering has varying levels of difficulty, or grades.

Bouldering Grades Explained

If you’re thinking about trying your bouldering climb, you will want to choose an easy problem. You don’t want to do a hard climb because it could be complex and dangerous, but also require more energy and strength than you currently have.

In bouldering, problems are given a grade so climbers know how challenging the climb will be. In bouldering, we use a v-scale that ranges from V0- (easy) to V15+, which is the hardest.

Bouldering Vs Rock Climbing: How Are They Different?

We mentioned briefly that bouldering is a form of rock climbing that uses pads instead of ropes to protect the climber, but that isn’t the only thing that makes bouldering different from rock climbing. Other ways the two sports differ include:

outside bouldering
  • Endurance: When you are rock climbing, your heart rate is going to increase and over time, it’ll improve your cardio-respiratory fitness, stamina, and muscular endurance. These benefits will intensify with harder problems. With bouldering, the problems you’ll tackle are shorter and closer to the ground. This means you’re going to push your body to its max limits.
  • Adrenaline Rush: Rock climbing is exciting, especially when you conquer fears along the way. With bouldering, the adrenalin rush is there, but it’s not as intense.
  • Problems: Rock climbing can present you with numerous challenges along the way, thus making you carefully plan your next move. Bouldering presents more complex challenges that are harder to solve, therefore you’ll need greater technical skill and problem-solving capabilities.
  • Strength: Rock climbers have a lean, muscular body from their fingers to their toes. Climbing engages the muscles in their arms, back and shoulders. Experienced climbers will rely more on their legs to pull them up, rather than their arms. Bouldering engages the same muscle groups, but it requires climber to focus on making dynamic moves that requires a lot of power and strength in the upper body.
  • Injuries: Rock climbers rely on ropes and spotters to help soften a fall, but a climber can still experience sprained and/or strained muscles from landing poorly, or overuse of their hands, wrists and shoulders. Since bouldering doesn’t use ropes, climbers rely more on safety equipment to reduce injuries. Along with similar sprains and strains rock climbers experience, bouldering can result in cuts and bruises.

Bouldering Equipment

bouldering equipment

When you’re gearing up to go on a bouldering climb, you’ll need to make sure you have the following equipment with you:

  • Chalk Bag: A chalk bag is going to let you get a better grip on the boulder. The powder inside the bag will absorb any oils and sweat accumulating in the palm of your hand, thus increasing friction and preventing your hand from slipping.
  • Proper Clothing: When you’re climbing, you should make sure the clothing you wear fits well and doesn’t restrict your movement.
  • Climbing Shoes: Rock climbing bouldering shoes are essential because they are going to fit much more snuggly than sneakers. Snug-fitting shoes are a must because if your shoes are loose, your foot is going to move around in the shoe, which reduces how much control you have while climbing.
  • Crash Pad: A crash pad is an important piece of equipment because it’s the only thing protecting you if you fall. Pads come in a variety of sizes and prices, but we recommend going with a size that is comfortable for you to work with.

Final Thoughts On Rock Climbing Bouldering

If you love rock climbing and you’re looking for new ways to challenge yourself, bouldering may be a good option for you. It’ll test your skill, your endurance, and strength, while still providing you with that rush that rock climbing gives you.

If you’re interested in going on your first bouldering climb, we recommend finding a local indoor bouldering facility where you can learn how to climb safely.

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