August 30, 2021

What Is Bouldering: Beginner’s Guide to Bouldering

by Kevin

Table of Contents

Bouldering is fast mushrooming into the next big thing in the world of outdoor sports. Bouldering is one of the types of climbing disciplines that combines technical skills with physical strength that needs multiple problem-solving.

Therefore, if you are passionate about climbing but are not ready to take the plunge because the gear is costly, or it’s hard to get partners, or you are not a fan of being tethered to another person or a rope, then bouldering is the way to go.

The boulderers only wear climbing shoes and use chalk and chalk bags as gears. You can practice bouldering either outdoors or indoors, depending on your preference. So, let see what is bouldering?

What Is Bouldering?

Bouldering is the simplest and easiest form of rock climbing, whereby one climbs very short but hard “problems” as you focus more on power and technique and less on endurance.

Women doing bouldering

How to Start Bouldering?

Bouldering is a good way to start rock climbing (for more information read about the difference between bouldering and rock climbing). It’s a sport that you could do either outdoors on huge boulders or in indoor bouldering gyms.

Here, you don’t need a partner, harness, or rope to start but just the gears; a pair of climbing shoes, some chalk and chalk bag, and a crash pad for outdoor bouldering. Read our beginners guide to what is a bouldering crash pad.

Starting bouldering does not involve any equipment. However, it would be best if you learned the basics of bouldering safely. You are given an overview of bouldering gyms and their features that equip you with some basic techniques to get started.

How to Get into Bouldering?

With all the gears in place, you can get started into bouldering and:

  • Always make use of your legs rather than arms;
  • Pretend those holds are fragile;
  • Purchase the climbing shoes from a reputable brand;
  • Always ask for guidance;
  • Try our every move;
  • Be confident even when you see people falling;
  • Start with baby steps, not serious training.

A Brief History of Bouldering

Now, let’s dig a little bit into what gave bouldering its identity and where it hailed from. It isn’t easy to pin down the exact history; however, what is now known as modern-day bouldering began as training for huge mountain ascents in the 19th century.

Originally, bouldering was a way of training and mountaineering. Climbers would practice certain moves safely from the ground; this was a great way to increase your finger strength and build your stamina. Here is an example of what type of exercises bouldering training may include.

During the 20th century, this sport evolved with different disciplines and gave the problems different ratings depending on difficulty. However, in the olden times, the rating systems used are now different from the modern problems. Nowadays, it’s either the Fontainebleau scale or V-scale.

Bouldering Grades

Man doing bouldering

Boulder grades are assigned to problems based on the level of difficulty. However, grades are frequently debated among the climbing community. Therefore, various parts of the world grade the problems differently, which causes a lot of confusion among participants.

The great thing about grading the problems is to point the climbers in the right direction on the climbs that one can enjoy and help one have a sense of improvement with time. However, grades vary widely — particularly from outdoors to indoors.

The Gear You Need to Get Started Bouldering

Climbing shoes

The climbing shoes are essential gear to help you secure your footholds. For participants who are not willing to purchase their shoes or have no idea of the type of shoe to get, one can rent a pair from the local bouldering gym or read our guide for the best bouldering shoes for beginners.

Decent Chalk

Good chalk will prevent your hands from slipping. Learn how climbing chalk is made and which type of climbing chalk to choose.

Bouldering Mats

The mat will help you from injuries if you fall since the participant has no harness or a rope supporting them, which is not an exception but a norm.

Learn further about proper falling when bouldering by reading our special article on how to fall when bouldering.

Chalk Bag

The chalk bag is used to hold the chalk inside and keep it from getting wet and splitting.

For Bouldering Outside, Bouldering Crash Pad is a Must

Another critically essential gear that people intending to kickstart bouldering outdoors should invest in is a decent bouldering crash pad.

The crash pad makes the sport significantly secure and safer, such that it serves as a mattress-like landing surface to prevent injury by cushioning a fall. Today’s crash pads are easy to carry and extremely portable on the back or vehicle.

Boulderers carrying their crash pads

First Time Bouldering? No Problem. Here is What to Expect

Now that bouldering gyms are getting more and more popular than before, they are coming with different configurations; however, there are several constants that a participant can count on while at the bouldering walls.

The problems are usually coded with different colors to guide you on which holds to use depending on your experience. If you are an experienced climber, head over to our advanced bouldering tips. Once you start climbing, it’s advisable to use holds that only belong to that color.

The holds to start with are often marked obviously, with some colored box, extra tape, or a card written a grade on it. You should ensure that you begin your hands on the first holds and go to the top of your climbing wall.

Also, as you climb to the top, you will realize that some gyms mark the hold at the top or close to the top of the wall. Other gyms have places that one can “top out,” which means standing on top of the wall.

While doing outdoor bouldering, there’s a little bit of thinking involved; color coding and taping are not included. Thus, you must ensure the foot- and handholds are in place despite most handholds being covered in chalk.

Types of Boulders:

  • Overhangs: Here, you expect clean falls, big moves, and multiple new techniques to learn.
  • Slabs: They keep the body in shape very fast.
  • Roofs: these are extreme types of overhangs. The holds are bigger but with strength-intensive and gymnastic moves.
  • Vertical: Between the overhangs and slabs, vertical terrain requires strong fingers and good footwork.
  • Traverses: most gyms set up one long traverse, which is among the endurance-heavy problems in climb bouldering. There are also quality traverses outdoors.

Bouldering Etiquette & Tips for Beginners

A little boy is doing bouldering in the gym

There are several learning techniques and etiquette that a starter needs to know to go a long way. These few tips are helpful:

  • Straighten up your arms and keep the body low to help save some arm strength.
  • When alone, you can monopolize, but it’s good to get out of the way and share the climbing wall with a company.
  • It would be best if you only bent the arms while actively pulling yourself up.
  • Place the toes onto the footholds that face forward, not the side of the foot. It will help move the foot and push up the wall.
  • Stay close to the climbing wall, especially the hips, since that’s the center of balancing.
  • The legs should only be the part of the body that pushes you up, so focus less on using the arms.
  • Plan to ensure you get the hold that might be missing.

Bouldering Terms 101

When you get into the bouldering career, there are some communication terms that you should learn to make easy interactions with fellow climbers. Similar to other forms of climbing, bouldering has jargon as well.

Below is an incomplete number of terms that you are more likely to hear during bouldering:

  • Beta: It’s an insight or advice on how to execute a sequence or move.
  • Crux: It’s a term used to show a difficult sequence of motion in a bouldering problem.
  • Campus: Here is when you climb without involving your feet.
  • Dyno: It is a move that involves both hands and, at times, the feet where a participant jumps from one hold to another one.
  • Dead point: It’s a lengthy dynamic move using one hand or else finishing a move.
  • Flash: It’s climbing the wall on the first attempt and being successful after someone guides you or seeing someone do it.
  • Highball: Highball bouldering describes a boulder problem that is tall enough, and falling from there could lead to a serious injury.
  • Onsight: It’s when you attempt to climb a boulder without any information or guide about it, and you successfully make it.
  • Project: It’s the act of attempting a problem multiple times while learning.
  • Problem: Some hold from the starting to the ending point.
  • Traverse: To make lateral movements while climbing the wall. The list is endless. It takes time for beginners to follow, but as they gain more experience, everything becomes easy for them.
  • Top Out: It’s the act of climbing a wall until you get to the top and stand on the formation.

Closing Thoughts

Without much ado, this guide is enough to answer the question: What is bouldering? It will help out people ready to enroll in a bouldering career. It’s not a traditional form of climbing sport, but it’s one of the most modern.

Note that it does not involve obscure knots and tall walls and is fun when done in groups, particularly in towns where indoor climbing is common.

Amongst several climbing techniques, bouldering has a reputation for being difficult. The moves might be hard, but it’s a great time to enjoy it with friends. There are so many rewards from the awaiting rocks. It’s time to learn, train, and have fun socializing through bouldering.

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About the author 


Kevin loves bouldering. Mainly because he can practice it alone without considering other people. Although he rediscovered this hobby in the last three years, the boulders turned out to be his most visited landmarks.

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