Types of Climbing

There are a few different ways to climb, from bouldering to lead climbing. You’ll want to know the differences so you can choose the type of climbing that’s most appealing to you. 

Bouldering is a style of climbing where you don’t need a harness or a rope, as these routes are close enough to the ground that you can jump off safely. But fear not—a thick crash pad will be under you to protect you if you fall. It’s a great option for many beginner climbers because you can focus on the moves that keep you on the wall, and you don’t necessarily need a partner.

Top-rope climbing does require a harness and rope. In this type of climbing, the rope is attached to an anchor at the top of the climb. You’ll tie into one end of the rope and a belayer will be attached to the other end, to keep the rope taut in case you fall. You’ll want to make sure your belayer is a trained professional or friend with a belay certification. Some gyms also have auto belay devices, which don’t require a human at all.

Lead climbing is what can come next after you know how to top-rope well. In this type of climbing, you’ll tie into one end of the rope and have a belayer on the other end, as you do with top-roping. However, instead of the rope being attached to the top of the climb, you’ll climb upward and clip the rope into a series of quickdraws attached to a rock wall. If you slip and fall, you’ll fall a short distance to the last quickdraw you were able to clip into. That’s further than a fall you’d take while top-roping.

Indoor Climbing

If you’re looking to get started in the sport or even just uplevel your strength and skills, climbing at a gym is a great option. Different gyms have different available classes, pricing, and height and difficulty of their climbing walls. Some offer only bouldering (climbing without a rope) while others have huge walls, weight rooms, cafes, and even childcare. Check to see which options are close to you or look up climbing gyms in the cities where you are travelling in the future—it can be a great way to meet locals! 

Indoor climbing is great because:

  • It’s easily accessible and doesn’t require good weather or a specific time of year.
  • You can climb in areas without outdoor climbing options.
  • You can try out the sport and types of gear by renting before you buy your own.

Outdoor Climbing

For some people, rock climbing outside is magical. However, it also takes a little (or a lot) of preparation. Your first move should be to find a certified guide or qualified instructor or mentor with experience teaching beginning outdoor climbers. They can teach you about the gear you need, how to climb in the elements, and more advanced skills like setting and cleaning your own anchors.

You can choose to boulder, or climbing on rock faces, boulders, and other locations close to the ground. You won’t need ropes or harnesses, so it’s a nice option for beginners. You can look for introductory classes or workshops, or go with experienced climbers who can spot you as you’re climbing.

Top-roping outside is another option. Just like in the gym, you climb toward an anchor that’s at the very top of your route while someone belays you, keeping the rope taut. In the outdoors, however, you won’t have marked hand- and footholds, so you usually start at a lower difficulty rating that you might be climbing indoors. 

After you gain more skills, you can do sport lead climbing—where you carry your own quickdraws to clip your rope into bolts as you ascend. However, as mentioned above, you can fall further if you slip on a lead climb.  

Remember, there is a code of conduct when you climb in the outdoors. You’ll want to learn about local rules and the ethics of climbing (including staying on established trails, disposing of waste, and placing gear on durable surfaces) before you head into the outdoors.

Tips for Climbing for Beginners

  • Don’t worry if you don’t reach the top of a route. Your goal should be to simply enjoy the process.
  • Legs are much stronger than arms, so try pushing up from your feet instead of pulling from your arms.
  • Take time to watch experienced climbers—you can try and learn their techniques, but don’t be discouraged if it takes a little while to master them.
  • Pick a mentor, guide, or partner who makes you feel good while you’re climbing. That’s a very important decision—so choose wisely. And if it doesn’t work out the first time, try to find someone great the next time around!

We’re excited to see you out there—whether it’s at the gym or at the crag. Where will you go first? Tell us in the comments below.