So what kind of rock climber are you?

Once fellow outdoor junkies find out you are a rock climber, they are going to want to know what type you are exactly. Before your climbing shoes are even broken in, you might be surprised by how many kinds of rock climbing there are really. If you are still new to the sport and have not quite found your niche yet, that is okay too. Of course, as you learn more about it, you may encounter various terms that sound foreign to you. We are here to help clear up any confusion surrounding the types of rock climbing.

While rock climbing is quite a vast sport, the most common types of rock climbing are bouldering, top roping, sport climbing, and trad climbing. If you are beginning your journey into the world of rock climbing, these names are the ones you will hear the majority of the time. As you learn how to rock climb, you can pick your favorite kind. 

Here are the types of rock climbing you need to know.


types of rock climbing - Bouldering

If you are a minimalist by trade and are not partial to great heights, then bouldering might be the perfect choice when considering types of rock climbing. This hardcore outdoor activity really only requires a climbing pad, climbing chalk, and true grit. Bouldering involves climbing much shorter routes, typically between 15-25 feet high. Of course, while you are not quite as high as other types of rock climbing, the scare factor is still there. Here, all you have to rely on are a few crash pads (and we recommend having a few) and a friend spotting you. 

Bouldering is nice, because you can easily jump on a route virtually anywhere. There are plenty of great spots to rock climb where you can go for a day of just bouldering. Often, bouldering trips include a large group of rock climbers, stacks of crash pads, and plenty of chalk to go around. Of course, you are not tethered in, so you need to know how to fall properly. It is too easy to roll an ankle, or worse, when bouldering. Of course, if you are not feeling comfortable on a route, it is perfectly okay to take a break too.

Top Roping

Top rope climbing is the perfect place to start if you want to join the traditional rock climbing bandwagon. This method of climbing is what you will experience if you go to an indoor gym, with tall climbing walls. The climbing rope loops through the anchors at the top of the route. Here, you wear a harness and tether yourself in with a special rock climbing knot. These types of rock climbing require a second person to act as a belayer, as the climber ascends the wall. The rope tension between the two people keeps the climber safe and secure and catches any falls. Top roping is an excellent way to gain that endurance for longer routes before tackling more complex types of rock climbing like sport or trad.

Sport Climbing

types of rock climbing - sport climbing

Sport climbing is certainly a level up from regular top roping. Rather, when you decide to climb outdoors, this method of climbing is utilized when “setting up the route.” Sport climbing is also known as lead climbing, and means the climber is literally leading the ascent. When you sport climb, you begin in a similar manner as top roping. This means you simply ensure your harness is properly fastened, and the belayer is ready. Once you get on the route, it is a completely different experience.

Sport climbing involves ascending the route while clipping the rope into bolts along the way. This is done with the use of quickdraws, which securely loop the rope and attach it to the bolts. As there is no rope above the climber, the risk factor certainly goes up with sport climbing. Once you climb higher than your last bolt, there is the potential of falling 10+ feet. With this, it is critical to be aware of such possibilities and prepare for them. It is good to practice falling, which certainly is not a fun experience. However, when you work on this, it helps you learn to fall safely, and eliminates any fears surrounding it.

While both types of climbing utilize a belayer, sport climbing belaying feels a bit different. Because the rope is not looped through top anchors, but attached to the climber, the belayer needs to be attentive to their needs. As the climber ascends the route, they clip the rope into each quickdraw at each new bolt. This requires the belayer to adjust the rope tension, or slack, as they go.

Trad Climbing

Trad climbing is an entire other category when it comes to rock climbing thrills. With sport climbing, the climber threads the rope through bolts on a pre set route, up to pre set anchors. However, trad climbing offers an entirely blank state for routers. Here, the climbers are responsible for placing all of the gear themselves. These gear piece come in different sizes, and include chocks, wedges, and cams. As the climber heads up the designated route, they place the gear pieces along the way. These pieces act as the bolts for the route, keeping the rope secure as the climber ascends. Trad climbing is also utilized with multi-pitch climbing, which allows ascents of much greater height.

Are you ready to go pro yet?

Rock climbing is an extremely enjoyable outdoor activity. As you explore the different types of rock climbing, give yourself the chance to experience each one. There are different thrill levels among them, which adds to the variety. Sometimes you might think you like one type the best, until you try the next kind. This versatile sport is certainly addicting, with so much to learn and climb. If you are new to rock climbing, make sure you are learning from someone more experienced when trying other types of rock climbing. Find a rock climbing buddy to join you. While it certainly is exciting, rock climbing also poses some inherent risks. Keep yourself safe by exercising those necessary precautions before you send it.

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