There are many different types of rock climbing, each suited for different climbers, their bodies, and their strengths. While both rock climbing and bouldering are both forms of climbing used by enthusiasts, they have many key differences in difficulty, climbing techniques, safety gear, and body muscles used. While many rock climbers enjoy both types of climbing, some find their skills and strengths fit perfectly with one or the other. 

Rock Climbing

When a person generally thinks of climbing as a sport, they are most likely picturing traditional rock climbing. This type of climbing can come in many forms, from indoor top-rope climbing to outdoor climbing with advanced techniques. Each of the climbing disciplines comes with their own climbing gear, terms, and moves. 

Climbing Gear

When you’re just starting out, your climbing gym will often let you rent some gear from them while you learn. Once you’ve advanced or move to outdoor climbing, you’ll want to invest in your own pair of climbing shoes. The fit of your climbing shoes can help when you’re getting the feel of the wall or moving on to more advanced climbs.

There are certain aspects of a clothing item that can make it better suited for the sport. Wear something you can easily move in, but covers your body. This coverage will keep you from injuries due to jagged rocks or sharp edges while climbing. Fitted, stretchy clothes work well, so you don’t have loose fabric hindering your movement or getting in the way of ropes.

While not always worn and usually reserved for outdoor rock climbing, a climbing helmet can be very important to the safety of beginners.Each new climber should get a helmet made specifically for rock climbing and make sure it is fitted well to them. These helmets can help protect from loose rock or even some falls. 

With rope climbing, you and your climbing partner will need a set of climbing ropes. With the basic dynamic ropes, you’ll connect together the rest of your climbing gear. After being attached to the anchor of the top of your climbing route, your rope will fall to the base. Around your body, your climbing harness will connect you to the rope. Through a network of small, metal loops, called carabiners, your belayer, or climbing partner, will hold control of your rope for support with a connected belay device. 

Indoor Rock Climbing Gyms

Indoor rock climbing is the most common type of climbing for new comers and those who recreationally climb. Indoor rock climbing gyms typically have climbing walls covered in artificial foot and hand holds, configured in different climbing routes. Some outdoor equipment stores also have small indoor routes for anyone to enjoy.

When starting out at an indoor climbing gym, the gym will typically allow you to rent most of the climbing gear you’ll need. They may also be able to partner you with an accomplished climber to show you the ropes and help you develop climbing techniques.    

Outdoor Rock Climbing

Outdoor climbing is similar to indoor, except these routes are on natural rock formations in outdoor locations. Out door climbing requires higher skill levels and more climbing experience since it is a less controlled environment than indoor. Most of these climbing routes require difficult moves, advanced climbing skills, and additional type of muscle development. 

Outdoor rock climbing routes will require many of the same equipment as an indoor climbing gym, but its more likely a climber will need to supply their own gear. 

Top-Rope Climbing 

Top-rope climbing is a type robe climbing where an anchor is placed at the top of a climbing route. The climber will move up the climbing wall or natural rock towards the anchor while a climbing partner at the bottom keeps the climbing rope pulled tight with a belay device. This partner is known as the belayer.

This method of climbing is used in both indoor and outdoor rock climbing. This is typically the type of rock climbing that beginners will start with, as it provides for the most assistance with safety and developing muscle strengths.  

Sport Climbing

Sport climbing is a form of climbing used by more advanced climbers, as there is less protection and routes require more overall body, core, and grip strength than traditional rock climbing. In this method of rope climbing, there are anchor bolts placed throughout a climbing route as opposed to just at the top of a course. Climbers will clip on a safety bolt as they progress. This comes with some extra risk, as there isn’t a belayer at the bottom keeping the robe taunt. If a climber experiences a fall, they will fall as far as their last safety anchor. This has a high chance of injuries, but poses a new challenge to advancing climbers. 

This will require some extra gear for clipping throughout the route and rope for the course. 

Traditional (Trad) Climbing

This type of climbing is for very advanced and professional climbers. In Trad Climbing routes, there are very few bolts placed throughout the route. Instead, climbers will place their own anchors in the rock as they climb. This it typically done in outdoor routes and anchors are placed in natural fissures and formations in the rock. 

This type of climbing comes with the highest risk, as it has the lowest level of protection from falls and requires the most skill and strength. 


While still a type of rock climbing, bouldering has key differences in its own style, techniques, and skills. Boulder climbers can enjoy this version of climbing at both indoor gyms and outdoor natural routes. 

As opposed to traditional rock climbing where the goal is to reach a higher point, bouldering is a climbing technique where the routes are horizontal instead of vertical. Climbers will use hand and foot holds to make sideways across a wall or rock. Bouldering routes typically only take climbers to a height that they would safely jump down from. 

Due to the lessened height when bouldering over rock, there is far less equipment needed for bouldering. Climbers won’t need ropes or a harness, just some chalk to keep moisture from the hands, climbing shoes, a crash pad for any falls, and a spotter. 

While closer to the ground and less of a demand for equipment, there are many ways that bouldering can be more difficult for beginner climbers. Without a climbing rope, all body weight is fully held onto the wall or rock by the climber alone. This can require advanced body control, muscle strength to hold body weight and avoid strain injuries, and new skills to navigate a sideways bouldering route. Some amateur climbers may find bouldering a difficult place to start their climbing journey. 

While both exciting and great forms of exercise, classic rock climbing and boulder both some with their share of challenges and skills to be learned. With coordination, muscle strength development, and the direction of some fellow climbers, anyone can enjoy all climbing has to offer.

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