Bouldering is a really fun, sociable and accessible way of getting into climbing. You can go to indoor climbing walls and most will have a bouldering area, or a specific bouldering wall. These are short climbs or ‘problems’ made up with plastic holds on wooden walls of different angles. Bouldering requires no ropes but the floor around the walls will be covered by thick crash-pad matting to reduce injury on falls, though will still not guarantee your safety. Bouldering indoors is a great option if you’re climbing alone or can’t get out to rock, and the quantity of problems on the walls will mean you get a great varied workout or training session. Most walls run beginner courses and you will usually need a safety induction before being allowed to climb alone.
In terms of equipment, really you just need a pair of climbing shoes and some chalk in a bag. Wear comfortable stretchy clothing and bring your try hard attitude. Bouldering centres can be really sociable and climbers are a friendly bunch so don’t be afraid of asking for help or advice on any aspects. Find out the grading system in use at the wall and always start with the easy climbs to warm up with.
For outdoor bouldering you’ll need a guide book of the area you’re visiting or online topos. These will list all the boulders and their problems, grades and all the helpful information you’ll need about the crag, walk-in, parking, restrictions etc. Outdoor bouldering is best practiced in groups or pairs to ensure safe spotting and landing, and more people means you can bring more pads for protection. In terms of equipment you’ll need at least one good bouldering pad, and if your landing area has any rocks or uneven ground, then definitely more pads will be needed to protect your falls, and particularly if your top-out is quite high (also called a ‘highball’ problem).
Before you begin, make sure you warm up well, a jog around or other pulse raisers are a quick and effective way of getting the best out of your session and avoiding unnecessary injury. As with indoor bouldering start with some easy warm-up climbs until you’re ready to start crushing the hard ones!
- Always respect the countryside, stick to paths and keep noise pollution to a minimum, and obviously leave no trace.
- Keep your climbing shoes clean and dry. This will give you the best grip and keep the rock clean for everyone else. Some bouldering pads have an inbuilt foot mat but an old towel or doormat works well too.
- Take a soft brush / toothbrush to remove any chalk residue from the holds once you’ve finished, and try to use chalk sparingly. A build up of chalk on the rock will only make the hold friction worse.
Depending on where you go, indoor or out, remember polite etiquette. Don’t hog problems or boulders - if there are other climbers waiting, let them have a go too. You might unlock some beta together and that makes for a much more enjoyable experience!