Bouldering Advice + How To
If you're looking for a new sport to get into, you've come to the right place. Bouldering is super fun and rewarding, can give you a good workout, and can be a great intro into the world of climbing. You don't need much to get started, and I'll cover it all in this guide.
What is Bouldering
Well. It is climbing a boulder.
Well maybe climbing a boulder is closer.
Bouldering is a form of climbing where you don’t go any higher than you could safely fall. So no ropes, no harness, no quickdraws, just shoes and some chalk. The routes, or “problems,” are typically fairly short, and often move horizontally more than vertically. The problems are comprised of various holds that have to be used to reach an end position. Some might take you days, weeks or months to “solve,” and at that point, you refer to that problem as a "project," and they’re incredibly rewarding to complete. I know, I know, solving problems and doing projects sounds like homework, but trust me, it’s nothing like that, I swear. Have I ever lied to you? Bouldering can be a solo sport in a climbing gym, or a partnered sport in the outdoors, as you’ll need a spotter to help cushion falls.
Because it is a cool place to visit and we have a shop there!
Wait.... I was talking about climbing.
Bouldering takes minimal gear and not a lot of set-up time, so you can get right in there and start tackling problems. Plus the reset time between falls is short, and you can get right back to the part of the problem you're stuck on. This not only makes it a great way to work on technique and problem solving skills, but is also a fun and easy to try out and work on new moves.
Also, there are these things called "dynos." Dyno is short for "dynamic move" and it involves launching yourself from your current position to try to reach the next hold. It's like going "all in" in poker. It's a risky play, but helps you learn your limits and teaches you how to fall. But most importantly, when done safely, they are tons of fun. Go look up some YouTube videos on dynos. There's no better way to try out some dynos than while bouldering in a gym. Now go look up some YouTube videos of "ninja bears." LOL, how do they spin those sticks so fast?
Gym vs. Outdoors
Not so scenic vs so scenic.
Learn how to boulder before making the leap to the outdoors.
Most people start bouldering in a climbing gym. It's a very safe environment, with padded floors and tons of problems all at your fingertips. Because of all the padding, you typically don't need a spotter, so you can get a little solo bouldering in. Plus it's a good way to add a little versatility to your trip to the climbing gym. AND it's climate controlled, so you can climb there year round. That's a lot of conveniences.
Bouldering in the great outdoors, on the other hand, also has its own advantages. First of all, you get better views and a cooler, realer experience. This, for a lot of people, is enough. You'll also get more attuned to sharper, or just less cookie-cutter holds. If you're very tall or very short, gym problems might not be tailored to your body height, but in nature, anything goes. You will need a spotter and crash pads for outdoor bouldering, though. But the partnership usually adds to the overall experience. Like how both Turner and Hooch were great cops on their own, but as partners, they were a sight to behold.
There's no reason why you have to do just one or the other, though. Mix it up. Boulder in the gym when you're a beginner, or after work, or in the winters. Boulder outdoors when you want to go on an exciting, fun trip. Both are fun and both make you a better climber.
This is not like you dad when he "spots" birds.
Outdoors, make sure you have a boulder buddy.
Spotting in outdoor bouldering should be approached with the same mindset as belaying. Always assume that you're holding somebody's life in your hands. If not directed safely to a crash pad, a falling boulderer can sustain any number of injuries from almost any height, depending on the terrain. So both the climber and spotter need good communication to ensure both are aware of each other's actions, and have set up the proper padding, with no pad overlap or gaps. In the event of a fall, the spotter has to be ready and in a position to immediately work to maneuver the falling climber into a safe falling position, which is usually an upright position on a pad.
For gym climbing, if there is ample padding, no spotter should be necessary. In fact, more often than not, a spotter could be more dangerous than no spotter at all. A good gym will have proper padding around their bouldering area to protect against all falls. It's critical that the mat area under the problem be cleared of any and all gear and bystanders. A spotter might only be necessary if there is a wall or object somewhere near the bouldering section which a falling climber might otherwise stumble into.
You do need some gear to boulder.
Don't forget the crash pad. Ground hurts when you fall.
CLIMBING SHOES - Since bouldering problems don't normally take a very long time, you can rest your feet as often as you need. This means you can get away with wearing a more aggressively downturned climbing shoe which will put your foot in a powerful position to tackle toe hooks, small holds and overhangs. If you get a pair with Velcro, they're nice and easy to quickly remove between attempts.
CRASH PAD - The bigger the pad, the better. So your limits here are your car size and your budget. You want as much padded surface area as you can get to cushion falls, while still being able to take it everywhere you go.
CLOTHING - This will depend on the weather conditions, obviously, and whether you're outdoors or in the gym. But for the most part, you want something that won't interfere with your range of motion, but will still keep you protected. So shorts, pants or capris that are articulated or gusseted are your friend here. Plus if you're gonna be climbing outdoors, don't forget a puffy jacket to keep you warm during down time.
CHALK - Chalk is used to dry moisture off your hands so you can get a better grip on holds. You can buy it by the block, as a powder, in a ball or even as liquid chalk. This is sort of a personal preference, so a chalk ball is a good way to start off. That way you won't accidentally spray chalk around behind you like a crop duster.
CHALK BAG - You'll absolutely want a chalk bag. These things have a cinch to make sure all your chalk doesn't come flying out. The linings can be different materials, like fleece or nylon, so keep that in mind which texture you'd prefer while shopping. Most will come with a belt, so you can wear it bouldering. Plus chalk bags come in a bunch of fun patterns and colors, so you can probably find one to match your mood ring.
CLIMBING TAPE - It's always useful to have some climbing tape on hand. I don't think that was a pun, but idk, I've been wrong before. Your hands can take a bit of a beating while bouldering, so be ready to tape up hot spots or put a little support tape on sore joints.
BRUSH - Sometimes holds will get all gross and gunked up with sweat, chalk, grime, grease, etc, to the point where it's too hard or nasty to grip. Keep a brush with you so you can get some of that gunk off and get the hold/rock back to its original glory, without any build-up and only a light coating of chalk. Gyms will have brushes on hand, so you'll only need your own when you go bouldering outdoors.
Can't bring a report card home for this one.
Know your ability before picking a climb.
There isn't an exact science as to how each bouldering problem is graded. The person who sets the problem will try it a few times, get some other people to try it.... and then that's typically it. They come to a consensus, and then set the difficulty. So if your body type is different than those few people, or if you have different strengths and weaknesses, then you may have a different opinion of the difficulty. But for the most part, the rating will give you a general idea as to how hard the problem will be for you to solve.
Problem grades are posted on tape by the starting position of the route, or in guidebooks. In the US of A, you're most likely to find the "V" grading scale (also called the Hueco scale) for bouldering problems. Named after John "Vermin" Sherman, the V-scale is very easy to learn. The higher the number, the harder the problem. Period. It currently ranges from V0 to V17 (with V17 being the most difficult problems in the world), but it is open ended to account for harder future routes, like maybe just a giant piece of plate glass.
Outside of the US, you're more likely to find the Font (or Fontainebleau) Scale. The Font Scale also has increasing numbers for increasingly difficult problems, but adds in letters and pluses. B's are more difficult than A's, C's are more difficult than B's, etc. Pluses are more difficult than non-pluses. Does that all make sense? So a 6b+ is harder than a 6b, but both are easier than a 6c.