March 1, 2022

All Types of Rock Climbing Explained

by Brad

The adventure of climbing rocks started way back in 1700 A.D, during which most climbers used to train for mountaineering and larger alpine climbing.

In the latter years, the training adventure would turn into a sport, with many climbers focusing on climbing while employing any means possible, including using tools improvised to aid climbing. 

As the sport advanced, climbers switched to only utilizing their hands, feet, and the help of the natural rock feature to ascend to the top.

Further advance has seen the emergence of a couple of climbing rock types, including sport climbing, free soloing, bouldering, and traditional climbing, which this article centers on.

The new advanced types of climbing differ depending on the particular forms of protection from falling they use. Generally, rock climbing is categorized in two bold categories: aid and free climbing.


Table of Contents

A Detailed Perspective on the Various Types of Rock Climbing

The most common types of climbing are listed below.

  1. Roped and Unroped Climbing
  2. Traditional Climbing
  3. Aid Climbing
  4. Alpine Climbing
  5. Adaptive Climbing
  6. Sport Climbing
  7. Top Rope Climbing
  8. Bouldering
  9. Buildering
  10. Ice Climbing
  11. Big Wall Climbing
  12. Artificial Wall Climbing
  13. Mountaineering and Mountain Climbing
  14. Free Soloing
  15. Free Climbing
  16. Deep Water Soloing (aka Psicobloc)
  17. Rope Soloing
  18. Highballing
  19. Via Ferrata
  20. Speed Climbing
  21. Single-Pitch Climbing
  22. Multi-Pitch Climbing
  23. Mixed Climbing and Dry Tooling

1. Roped and Unroped Climbing

Roped climbing refers to types of climbing where climbers use a rope that offers protection from falling. There are various categories of roped climbing that include sport climbing, traditional climbing, and top-rope climbing. 

On the other hand, unroped climbing refers to a type of climbing where climbers do not use any ropes to protect them from falling. Its main categories are free soloing and bouldering. 

2. Traditional Climbing

What is Traditional Climbing

Another common name for traditional climbing is “trad climbing” and is prototype climbing. This type of climbing requires such gear as cams, hexes, and nuts, among others, that the climber usually places into cracks to protect against the occurrence of a fall. 

It is environmentally amicable since climbers rarely leave any climbing gear on the sites, unlike most other climbs. However, this is common today since the initial traditional climbers used to leave behind a myriad of fixed protective gear. 

Traditional climbing is often termed default climbing since climbers rely solely on their capacities on any given route than on any anchors placed by predecessors. They also do not rely on any protective gear.

Related Article: Name Something You Can Climb

3. Aid Climbing

Aid Climbing

During aid climbing, the climber utilized various equipment and tools to help them rise to the top of the rock, particularly in ascending the wall of the rock.

This type of climbing involves easing the climber’s climbing task since they use the climbing equipment. In addition, the gear serves to enhance the safety of the climber.

Notably, this type of climbing is more technically demanding than rock climbing and requires more skills and climbing gear. 

4. Alpine Climbing

What is the alpine-style climbing

Alpine climbing is a type of climbing that refers to climbing that occurs in areas that are remote and highly elevated regions. Many people think that alpine climbing is the same as mountaineering, however, there are differences.

Various approaches are employed in this type of climbing which requires a heightened level of commitment. 

Unlike mountaineering, this kind of climb employs a relatively fast and light style, with the climbers not using a lot of external tools for support.

In some instances, the climbs may involve extended travel periods, while other regions require one to employ both rock and snow climbing tactics (mixed climbing). 

5. Adaptive Climbing

What is Adaptive Climbing

Adaptive climbing is a type of rock climbing designed for people who have various disabilities.

Multiple devices and equipment have been developed to help adaptive climbers achieve multiple climbing styles and experience the joy that rises from climbing.

For instance, amputees can learn the appropriate use of prosthetics that help them to climb.

6. Sport Climbing

How to Choose Quickdraws for Climbing

Sport climbing is a type of rock climbing in a contrast to traditional climbing. It focuses on the physicality of the exercise rather than on self-sufficiency.

Typically, the sport climber starts at the foot of the route possessing limited climbing gear (harness, rope, and quickdraws). 

Sport climbers typically clip into fixed protection (bolts) as they ascend the wall. The bolts are usually placed in a precise position that helps safeguard the climber while they climb the route.

These days, many climbers prefer to use nuts, which are considered passive climbing protection devices, and they don’t damage the rock.

This is more popular than traditional climbing because it does not require much gear. As such, the general public has more accessible access to sports climbing. 

The essential items for sports climbers are quickdraws. As such, a sports climber can prefer having a pack of them to possessing other climbing gear or equipment.

Another unique aspect of sports climbing is that it does not occur on natural rocks. Quite a myriad of climbing rocks occurs indoors, particularly in climbing gyms. Here, professionals and newbies can improve their skills from time to time. 

Note that, whether sport climbing occurs indoors or outdoors, a core requirement is significant strength and flexibility, and more so, when pursuing significantly challenging grades.

7. Top Rope Climbing

Helpful Top Rope Climbing Tips

Top rope climbing is a type of rock climbing that involves using ropes and is popular with most newbies.

It consists of attaching the rope to a fastener fixed on the top of the climb. The purpose of the rope is to safeguard the climber from falling when they slip while climbing.

It varies from lead climbing, in which case the climber begins with the rope at the foot of the route and clips it into protection as they ascend the rock.

In comparison, it is safer than lead climbing as falls are likely to be insignificant, as with lead climbing. Unlike lead climbing, rope climbing is significant in helping climbers practice moves for challenging climbs. 

8. Bouldering

Spotting for Bouldering

Bouldering is a type of rock climbing that occurs on boulders, contrary to climbs present on cliffs or crags. Numerous climbers believe that bouldering is the purest type of climb since anyone with footwear can jump onto a boulder problem without employing other protective gear or belayers.

It is a type of climb that requires little experience and gear and, therefore, a great starting place for most beginners. 

It is a type of climb that does not use ropes, and all the climbers have to hit the ground at some point in their climb. Climbers are, however, protected by crash pads (mattress-like cushions) when they fall.

Further measures that ensure climbers do not get injuries include ensuring that the climbing problems do not exceed 8 meters. Currently, the best boulderer in the world is Daniel Woods.

9. Buildering

Buildering in the Urban Environment

The term “buildering” is derived from the words “bouldering” and “buildings.” Buildering, edificeering, urban climbing, sky walking, or whatever you may call it, is simply climbing on the exterior side of buildings.

It can still be done on artificial structures. It is risky if performed without ropes. On legal grounds, the buildering is against the law, so it is performed during the night.

10. Ice Climbing

When Can You Practice Ice Climbing

Ice climbing is a type of climbing that involves using equipment customized for climbing snowy surfaces.

The customized gear is predominant in enhancing the protection of the climbers from losing their grip on the surface and rising up without slipping extensively.

Some of the standard equipment employed in this type include but are not limited to crampons and ice axes. Ice climbing involves climbing on such locations as frozen waterfalls and cliffs, often during the winter. 

It is also a type of climb that numerous climbers view as essential for maintaining their form during the colder months, while it is a go-for activity for others.

One of the most notable ice climbing sites is Rjukan, highly appreciated for its easy accessibility and high-quality ice lines. 

Typically, ice climbing is further categorized into two sub-categories.

  • Alpine ice climbing: This is often found in mountainous environments. Climbers must employ advanced techniques to reach these locations, during which the primary purpose is summiting the mountain. There is one element of the longer route, and its technicality is not as involved. 
  • Water ice climbing: This is found occurring on cliffs or outcroppings beneath water flows. Water ice climbing is pretty technical as compared to alpine ice climbing. For this reason, climbers who prefer this type of ice climbing do so for its challenging nature. 

11. Big Wall Climbing

Big Wall Climbing

The most diversified fact that sets big wall climbing from other types of climbing is that the climbers engage in a pursuit that involves ascending cliffs that are a couple of hundreds of meters in height.

The adventure may last anywhere from days to weeks before it’s complete. In contrast, most other climbs last half a day or a day at most. 

It is worth noting that big wall climbs are multi-pitch climbs, which signifies that they are longer than the length of a single rope.

This type of climb has dozens of pitches that require numerous days of utter commitment and determination before a climber can complete the pursuit. 

The most common big wall climbs in the world exist in Yosemite National Park. Climbers from all over the globe often visit these locations to evaluate their climbing skills on Half Dome and El Cap.

At the moment, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell hold the records for big wall climbing, having climbed the Yosemite test piece in 1:58:07, during which they covered approx. 3000 ft. 

This is one unique type of climbing where climbers have to bring along all their essential climbing gear. They also have to bring along their sleeping, eating, and general living necessities when they go for the climb.

It is, therefore, quite an involving climb that requires the climbers to train for numerous months before embarking on the pursuit. 

12. Artificial Wall Climbing

Artificial Wall Climbing

Artificial wall climbing is a type of climbing that involves climbing a constructed wall.

The wall contains grips where climbers can hold and step to push and pull their bodies while climbing up the wall.

It is often an indoor climbing activity but may occasionally be found outdoors. 

13. Mountaineering and Mountain Climbing

Mountain Climbing vs Mountaineering Similarities

Often termed Alpinism in Europe, the commonly used global terminology for mountaineering is “mountain climbing.”

However, there are some differences between mountaineering and mountain climbing and between mountaineering and rock climbing.

This type of climbing compares to hiking in many ways. However, it is more demanding than hiking since the routes require techniques more advanced than hiking. 

Most pursuers of mountaineering form groups with whom they climb together. A successive group climb involves teamwork and support and may last from a few hours to a couple of weeks, or months. For instance, climbing Mt. Everest requires an average of two months

Climbing mountains present varying challenges since they have uneven terrains and conditions, unlike most straight-up climbing routes. As such, the exploration requires different types of equipment and techniques.

It is critical to note that mountaineering can endanger a climber’s life, particularly when trying various challenges without sufficient expertise.

The risk arises from the diverse terrain that can surprise, including avalanches, glaciers, crevasses, and rockfalls. Furthermore, conditions tend to be more unfavorable as someone rises the mountain. 

14. Free Solo Climbing

Free Solo Moments

Like bouldering, ropes are not a requirement in free solo climbing. It is the riskiest of all types of climbing; statistics indicate free soloing holds the record for most deaths. Read the difference between free soloing and free climbing, and what is french free climbing.

Bouldering also becomes free soloing when the climber surpasses heights of 40 ft without ropes. These climbs follow unique routes and techniques, which further add to the risk involved. 

Alex Honnold is one of the world’s acknowledged free-soloist. He holds the record for climbing the Bear’s Reach route of Lover’s Leap in four minutes and fifteen seconds. Typically, the route has a height of four hundred feet. 

15. Free Climbing

Free Climbing

Free climbing is often referred to using “free from direct aid climbing.” It connotes types of climbing where the climbing equipment is not used to ease the progression of climbers up the route.

Even so, free climbing allows some equipment that provides protection. As such, free climbing is the typical extreme of aid climbing and includes:

  • Sport climbing
  • Bouldering
  • Free-solo climbing
  • Highballing
  • Traditional climbing

16. Deep-Water Soloing (aka Psicobloc)

Why is Deep-Water Soloing Called Psicobloc Climbing

Deep-water soloing is a kind of climbing where the climber uses the water below them as a cushion against injuries when they fall. It compares to bouldering, free soloing, and highballing in a couple of ways but is safer than them. 

A crucial element when going for deep-water soloing is ensuring that the water does not have any rocks that are not visible and are deep enough. This is imperative for ascertaining safety in the eventuality of falling when climbing. 

The world has several deep-water soloing sites, with the sport being practiced in Spain, France, Texas, Greece, and the U.K., among others. Deep-water soloing sometimes may include activities such as waterfall rappelling.

17. Rope Soloing

Rope Solo Climbing

Rope soloing is a type of climbing also known as “Roped Solo Climbing” and involves climbing without the aid of a partner while using a rope as a safety remedy.

In addition, if the climber deems it essential, they may use other climbing equipment. It compares to free soloing in one way but is not as riskier as free soloing. Even so, it has more risks involved than roped climbing. 

This type of climbing has heightened annoyance levels in comparison to other types.

This results from the fact that a part of the route requires climbing twice to add a belay anchor while removing the former. As such, climbers end up climbing the same route three times, at the least. 

18. Highball Bouldering

What is a Highball Boulder 

Highball bouldering is climbing that almost compares to bouldering perfectly. It is, however, riskier than bouldering, something that rises from the height of the wall that it involves (typically between 15 ft and 40 ft) without using any rope.

There are artificial highballing climbing walls set above a large mat or net in some instances. Highball climbing is not very common. Furthermore, mats are generally not used since their use diminishes with significant heights. 

19. Via Ferrata

Via Ferrata Origin and History

Via Ferrata is a kind of climb where not experienced climbers enjoy long, safely exposed high mountain routes. These routes have metal rungs drilled into rocks that are supposed to act as ladders.

Climbers usually get fixed to steel cables that run along the route through a harness and an expert Via Ferrata attachment system. Via Ferrata routes also include walkways and bridges. 

20. Speed Climbing

Speed Climbing

Speed climbing occurs in the climbing competitions, during which the most critical element is climbing a route at the ultimate speed.

It involves climbers racing upon an artificial wall to emerge victorious over the other competitors. 

The IFSC is responsible for regulating this type of climbing and overseeing the event. It is not widely practiced climbing even though it is an indoor event. 

In speed climbing, the competitors are climbing with full-body harnesses attached to a top rope from the top back of their harness.

21. Single-Pitch Climbing

how does rock climbing affect your body

A single-pitch climbing route is one that you climb with no intermediate stances.

It’s described in guidebooks and allows to lower climbers to the ground at any time, in non-serious and non-tidal locations with little objective hazard, with no hardships on retreat or approach.

This climbing route could be as long as half the rope length (roughly 30 meters) and includes a climbing anchor at the finish. The belayer helps lower the climber down once they get to the anchor.

22. Multi-Pitch Climbing

Multi Pitch Climbing

Multi-pitch climbing refers to any climbing where the climber stops at various belay statins while ascending the climbing route. Its name is because the belay station where climbers stop is termed a pitch

Leaders of the team usually attach themselves to the belay station when they reach the pitch and load essential climbing equipment so that their team can use the belays when they get to the station.

Multi-pitch climbing serves to help the climbers gather the essential gear when climbing once they reach the pitch, as they rise towards the climber leading the team. 

23. Mixed Climbing and Dry Tooling

The History of Dry Tooling Climbing

Mixed climbing and dry tooling have often been termed the step-siblings of ice climbing. They two often utilize the same climbing equipment, also used in ice climbing.

However, a significant difference is that climbers who engage in mixed climbing climb both ice and rocks. It is therefore referred to as a hybrid type of climbing. 

The climber is often clad in gear used for ice climbing but climbs routes that fall between an ice climb and a rock climb.

These types of climbs seem to follow the elements employed in gymnastic climbing, mainly sport and bouldering climbs.

Climbers engage in this climbing for varying reasons, with some engaging to enhance their limits while others engage in the climb to enhance physical capacities. One of the most famous mixed climbers was Marc-Andre Lecler.

What are the 3 Basic Forms of Climbing?

There are dozens of different types of climbing that have been invented for various reasons because climbing is a sport that’s practiced all over the world. Most people believe that there are only two or three types of climbing: bouldering, lead climbing, and mountaineering.

How Many Types of Rock Climbing are There?

Most people believe that there are only two or three types of climbing: bouldering, lead climbing, and mountaineering. However, there are at least 20 types of climbing practiced today.

What is the Most Common Type of Rock Climbing?

Sport climbing is the most popular type of rock climbing, generally practiced outdoors but with some similarities to gym climbing. As opposed to bouldering, sport climbing has much higher routes that require safety equipment.

Final Though on the Types of Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is an exciting adventure with many benefits, such as improving health and fitness, flexibility, and strength.

However, it is vital to familiarize yourself with various types of climbing and understand the specific details of the climb that one finds interest in. 

The rankings on rappellingequipment.com are curated to save you time by aggregating the best reviewed products from the most reputable companies. We may receive a commission if you buy something using a link on this page.

About the author 

Brad

Brad is a professional climber in the discipline of traditional climbing. He often jokes that he can get a book to read during the long climbs. Of course, it always goes well with a good cup of coffee. Drinking coffee is his safer hobby.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

DOWNLOAD

eBook: Rappelling Equipment Guide

 $ 29.99  FREE

Download our Rappel Rapport eBook: a Rappelling Guide for Beginners. It's free.