Climbing 101: Types of Climbing

Over the last few weeks I’ve been asked a few times what ‘trad’ is or what gear you need for sport. So I thought I’d do a quick rundown of the main climbing types


Bouldering is a style of climbing that requires no ropes, the climbs are called problems and they tend to be short., the max indoor height is 4.5 metres. Outdoors is similar however you get ‘highball’ boulder problems generally up to around 6.5m. All you need to boulder indoors is a pair of shoes and you may wish to take some chalk too. Outdoors I’d recommend at least one boulder pad, but even this doesn’t have to be expensive. I bought a Grivel one for under £70 (Using gooutdoors price match) and it’s been excellent.

The Climbing Works, home of the CWIF and best bouldering wall in the world!

Bouldering is the super popular climbing style at the moment and numbers are soaring in the UK, mostly due to ease of access and fitness benefits.


Sport is a fairly overlooked style of climbing in the UK. You will recognise the style from indoor climbing walls though. Sport is a fairly safe style of climbing you clip your rope into quickdraws that are placed through bolts which are fixed into the indoor walls or rock. They are NOT bombproof. Bolts wear out, you generally don’t know who placed them and accidents still happen.

Sport is again fairly accessible however you do need a harness, rope (probably 30m), ideally climbing shoes and you will need a belay device to climb indoors. Outdoors you will likely need a longer rope (remember to check climb lengths), a set of quickdraws, at least one sling (as you progress you may want more sport specific pieces like a daisy chain but a sling works fine) and a locking Carabiner.

Though there is a fair bit of bolted rock in the UK it is nowhere near at the popularity of the continent. Sport climbing is held back by trad climbers refusing to allow rock to be bolted (too right) Spain is a really popular destination for Sport Climbers with excellent climbing hostels like the Orange House and huge easily accessible crags.

Beautiful images from DMM!

Now things get complicated


Trad climbing is super  popular in the UK although it is seen as a little old fashioned (see Alex Honnold’s view here) and many sport climbers view trad climbers as insane.

Trad climbing involves placing gear into the rock, this is generally the placement of  cams, nuts and hexes into cracks in the rock and occasionally slings through the rock. This gear is only as good as its placement and sometimes there just isn’t anywhere to place gear.

To trad climb you need a rack of gear, so everything for sport climbing plus whatever you feel comfortable with. The generally accepted rack basics, including a selection of cams (usually 4 to 6) a HMS, 2 locking carabiners, 2 slings and a set of nuts. However most take the same view as me that the more gear you haul the more likely you are going to find a piece that fits.

Trad climbing is expensive to get into, its where most accidents happen; when gear doesn’t prevent a fall or where people fall before placing gear but don’t have the protection of a boulder mat. Trad takes a lot of getting used to and is best accessed through climbing with a more experienced trad climber. Building anchors on trad gear needs to be taught, DONT EXPERIMENT!!!


Quick mentions


When people talk about soloing, they are referring to any climb done without gear.This can range from 6m trad climbs done without gear to Alex Honnold doing the Dawn Wall (Go check it) Soling is generally a mind game people climb what they feel comfortable with and for some its the only way to enjoy the exposure of height and the thrill of adrenaline.

Aid Climbing

I’ve never aid climbed but the best way of viewing it is as a step up from trad where people place gear in the rock but it is to help them climb otherwise  inaccessible rock. Aid gear includes small flexible ladders!!!


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