August 26, 2021

Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing: What Are the Differences?

by Jullie

Bouldering and rock climbing are often confused or interchanged with one another, but they are entirely different in terms of being a sport and discipline.

They may look the same, but they have different training methods, different sets of techniques, and different sets of climbing equipment.

Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing: What Are the Differences?

The distinctive difference between bouldering vs. rock climbing is the height of the rocks you will climb and the climbing gear used during rock climbing and bouldering.

  • In bouldering, the height of the climb is only from 12 to 15 feet, and it doesn’t require any rope and harness to catch you if you fall. Since there is no need for a rope and harness for bouldering, crash pads are being placed on the ground to soften the impact of falls.
  • Rock climbing requires a rope and harness because the height of the climb is from 20 to 30 meters off the ground. No crash pads are being placed on the ground as the rope and harness take their place at the point of a fall.

While the difference between bouldering vs. rock climbing is a “rope-free” versus a “rope and harness dependent” discipline, let’s find out more details between the two, to help you choose what is best, or you could either cross-train between the two.


Table of Contents
Bouldering vs Rock Climbing
Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing: What Are the Differences?

What Is Bouldering?

Bouldering is a type of rock climbing that doesn’t have any ropes or harnesses.

It’s a raw discipline that challenges climbers to make use of techniques and short movements to solve complex, short, and tricky routes.

The climber moves over boulders or small rocks, and the climbs would usually have shorter routes.

It lets the climber concentrate on the techniques because the complexity of the wall is the problem-solving aspect of the climb.

It is known as the safest sport-climbing as routes are usually not higher than 15 feet.

That’s why it has a minimum safety gear requirement than most types of climbing.

What Is Rock Climbing?

Rock climbing is a physically demanding sport-climbing activity that requires a great deal of strength, endurance, and agility to reach the summit of a rock formation or the endpoint of the artificial wall.

It dates back to 400BC, and if you are a curious creature, you can learn more about who invented rock climbing.

The climber moves over rocks or artificial walls with higher routes and uses special equipment for safety purposes.

Since the climber will be moving across a longer route, a harness, a rope, and a climbing helmet are required to complete the routes safely.

There is a wide variety of rock formations, and rock climbing has been classified into many different styles, including “bouldering.”

Other types of disciplines of rock climbing include top-roping, lead climbing, traditional climbing, and big wall climbing.

The Difference between Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing Style and Techniques

There are differences in the climbing techniques, training methods, and muscle usage when you compare Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing.

You have to use different gear for bouldering and rock climbing.

We have compiled a comprehensive guide to help you choose the right sports.

You can use accurate techniques and styles to become the best in one of these fields.

You cannot become the best if you master only one set of climbing techniques.

Wall climbing needs a good memory and mental strength in addition to physical strength because you have to climb long walls with a peculiar wall structure.

It does not mean you do not need problem-solving and mental skills to climb the boulders.

Most people think you need to think fast when bouldering.

You can remember some sequences as these will repeat in the bouldering.

You can get more physical strength to hold yourself onto the rock.

It is more crucial to position your body perfectly when you have a wall with small boulders or rocks.

The Difference between Bouldering and Rock Climbing Strength and Endurance

The easiest way to understand the difference between rock climbing and bouldering is by comparing it with another sport.

Rock Climbing is similar to a marathon.

Bouldering is more like a sprint.

When a person wants to run a marathon, he has to practice endurance running because he cannot succeed with the energy sprint.

Bouldering needs blasts of force to climb the boulders.

Most boulder walls are small as the climber needs to focus all the strength in climbing for a short time.

Most indoor high walls have a height of eight to forty meters.

Boulder walls are only four to five meters high.

The climber has to use more force from his fingers to hold onto the boulders.

It is unlike climbing long walls as you find many spaces to put your finger on and hold the place for a long time.

The Difference in Type of Muscles Used

There are two types of muscles in the human body.

Some specialize in fast movements.

These muscles are known as the fast-twitch muscles.

If you need to hold something for long, you need slow-twitch muscles.

High-wall climbers do not need the speed as they will use the strength for a long time.

They can train the slow-twitch muscles to climb the longer walls.

When competing to climb the boulder walls faster, it is better to use your fast-twitch muscles.

Bouldering requires explosive force to win the competition.

You will build more muscle strength in bouldering because you have to use all the physical strength in a short time.

The Differences in Training between Climbing vs. Bouldering 

There are a lot of differences between training for bouldering and rock climbing.

There are different techniques for training as you need to train a different set of muscles.

High-wall climbers do not only need to train their slow muscles, but they have to strengthen their fast muscles also.

Boulder climbers should also do some training for endurance climbing.

The time they give to the specific type of training is different.

Rock climbers give more time to strength training.

They will climb walls with shorter breaks.

Bouldering requires more time to increase muscle speed.

Bouldering professionals try to take no breaks when they are climbing boulders.

Rock climbing requires more training in using climbing equipment.

High-wall climbers have to use many gears for their protection.

Bouldering professionals focus on climbing speed as they do not focus on climbing gears.

The Difference between Rock Climbing and Bouldering Terminology

Many rock climbers prefer climbing with partners from the same field because they use the same terminologies.

You will find many differences in the terminology when you compare bouldering vs. rock climbing.

It is better to learn both terms to understand both fields better.

We will give you a list of terms for rock climbing and bouldering.

These terms will help you identify the specialization of a professional.

You can get an idea by talking with the person.

Rock Climbing Terminology

  • To Clip – It is a process of attaching the protective rope to the mount on the wall. You can fix the bolts in the wall before you can clip the rope into the protective gear.
  • To Belay – You can protect yourself from falling using a belay device. You can come down the slope without fear when you know how to belay.
  • To Take – You can allow the belay to have the slack of the rope to help you rest while climbing down the slope. This act will support your entire body weight.
  • Anchors – Some chains can clip your rope to prevent falling. You can set this system at the top of the climbing route.
  • Bolts – It is a metal part of your belay system. You can put some bolts in the wall you want to climb to adjust your rope.
  • Top Roping – In the top roping setup, you can place the anchor at the top of the climbing setup. The rope will catch the climber when he accidentally misses a step.
  • Lead Climbing – It is a different setup for the protection of climbers. You can continue your climb and fix the anchors at the bolts at different heights. The rope will catch you at the last attachment of the rope with the bolt.

Bouldering Terminology

  • Dab – A dab is a type of accidental action. When the foot or any other part of the climber accidentally touches the ground, we call it a dab. A dab also means brushing a body part with the ground.
  • Mantle – It is the action of getting on something with the force of all muscles from your body. It may appear you are getting out of a pool without the ladder.
  • To Spot – It is different devices and objects to prevent injury to the climber in the case of falling. Some call it the guide preparation to stop falls in bouldering.
  • Top Out – You can say a climber top out when he climbed on a boulder. We mostly say he tops out when the climber used all his force to climb a hard boulder.

The Difference between Rock Bouldering vs. Bouldering Grades

There are different difficulty gradings for different types of walls.

Most experts use a separate grading system when comparing Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing.

If you want to go into rock climbing, you can follow the French climbing grading system.

The easiest to climb walls have a grade two in the French Climbing Grading.

9c is the hardest climb.

Yosemite wall has a 9c grading because only a few people have climbed it till now.

The United States has a different grading system for wall climbing difficulty.

They grade different routes based on difficulty points ranging from 5 to 5.15.

The Australian rock wall grading system has the most grading scores starting with three and going to thirty-nine.

There is a different difficulty grading system for bouldering in the French grading system.

The easiest boulder wall has a rating of four on this scale.

The hardest walls have a grade of 8c+.

You cannot use the same grading for bouldering and rock climbing when using the French system.

If you have a rock wall with a grading of 7c, it is easier to climb it for people with less strength.

The same person cannot climb boulders with a difficulty rating of 7c.

You can also use the international grading system for the boulder climbing difficulty.

It is known as the V-system.

V0 is the easy boulder climb.

V17 is the hardest grade of boulder climbing as only a few have climbed a wall with V17 difficulty grading.

Different Injury Risks when Rock Climbing and Bouldering

There is no difference in the risk of injury when you compare Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing.

If you follow all the safety guidelines, these sports are not dangerous.

You can face different types of injuries in rock climbing and bouldering.

Muscle overuse, finger injury, and shoulder injuries are frequent for climbers.

Accidental injuries are uncommon when you use all the safety precautions.

You may not see finger and tendon injuries in rock climbing.

Most injuries are endurance-related.

You may see bruises and skin injuries in the case of wall climbing.

There is also a risk of falling and suffering from serious injury when you do not follow all safety guidelines.

Most bouldering activities are related to falls and sudden muscle movements.

You can get a crash pad to avoid injuries.

What Equipment Do You Need for Bouldering?

Since no ropes and harnesses are used in the climb, crash pads for bouldering or safety mats are placed on the ground for a softer landing.

Also, it makes use of the climbing shoes and a bag of chalk to help your grip during the climb.

We know that many beginner boulder climbers are asking if you need climbing shoes for bouldering, so we answered the question.

If you are a beginner in bouldering, grab a pair of our selected best bouldering shoes for beginners.

Climbing helmets are used for safety but, most climbers don’t wear them during bouldering as they are used to protect climbers from the things that might fall on top of their heads.

Boulders normally have shorter routes and don’t have rocks over them, so the climbers don’t need a helmet during the climb.

If a climber falls during bouldering, the back of the head would most likely take the hit, and it’s a place that is not well protected by climbing helmets.

But sometimes “boulders” wear helmets because they feel safer and more confident in making bigger moves, and it never hurts to wear a helmet for safety, especially if you are going for a highball bouldering adventure.

What Equipment Do You Need for Rock Climbing?

Climbers will be moving up for a longer time, and it needs a rope and a harness to catch the climber in the event of a fall.

It also makes use of chalk and climbing shoes to help the climber move over the routes safely and efficiently.

Rock climbing normally requires a helmet for safety purposes.

A climbing helmet not only protects the wearer from falling rocks during a high climb but also protects them from bumps during an indoor climb, where sometimes a route has two or more climbers moving up together across the route.

Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing FAQ

We have arranged a list of answers to the most common questions about the differences between rock climbing and bouldering.

You will get more information about your most common questions from this section.

Is bouldering harder than rock climbing?

It is hard to compare bouldering and rock climbing difficulty.

None of these sports have more difficulty.

If you do not train for endurance, it is harder to get to the top of the long walls of rock climbing.

Bouldering needs more technical skills and physical strength.

You need a blast of force to compete in bouldering competitions.

There are different difficulty grading for bouldering and rock climbing.

Is rock climbing or bouldering better?

Both of these sports are excellent.

It is a matter of personal preference to choose one of them.

Rock climbing is more sustainable as you can climb any wall with some climbing gear.

You have to build a climbing wall for bouldering.

You can bold all the boulders to the wall before climbing it.

You can choose wall climbing if you want a sustainable option.

Bouldering can be your choice if you want to compete with others in sports.

Is bouldering considered rock climbing?

You cannot consider bouldering and rock climbing the same because there are differences in the skills required for these sports.

Rock climbing is more like a marathon as you have to climb a long wall for hours or days.

Bouldering requires you to climb the boulder walls faster than everyone else.

Bouldering is more like a sprint as you need to use all your strength for a short time to perform better than all the other competitors.

You need more technical skills to climb the boulder walls.

If you do not have the skills to complete the task faster, you will lose in the competition.

Which One You Should Choose: Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing?

Well, do both! Both rock climbing and bouldering are fun and exciting.

It’s a good alternative to a gym workout because it targets the whole body and uses different sets of muscles in different disciplines.

Although these climbing disciplines look the same as we have read on, they are very different from each other in terms of technique, safety gears, and muscle groups that are being worked on.

Suppose one wants to discover strengths and overcome weaknesses.

In that case, it is better to train from both disciplines so that the body will develop explosiveness and agility with stamina na endurance that will benefit every muscle group.

Train and experience both! In that way, it is easier to overcome the challenges, whether you’ll be facing a short but complex route or a longer and more exhausting climb.

To Summarize Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing

  • Each has its focused muscle group, but as a whole, bouldering and rock climbing is a great full-body workout that targets the upper body, the core, and the lower body.
  • Rock climbing is the “marathon” of climbing that uses stamina and endurance for longer/higher climbs. At the same time, bouldering is the “sprint” of climbing because it focuses on explosiveness and agility on a complex but short-distance climb.
  • Both disciplines require a different set of safety equipment to ensure that the climbing experience is safe and efficient. Also, the set of equipment alters the muscle group being worked on plus the techniques being used.
  • Bouldering and rock climbing techniques include balance and footwork to move across the rocks and obstacles. Although they have different sets of techniques and rules, common knowledge of climbing is required to move properly across the routes.

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About the author 

Jullie

Jullie is a professional indoor climber. She loves speed climbing competitions. This style makes her feel like she's flying. Maybe because her other passion is flying airplanes. Obviously, high speeds are her thing.

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