Bouldering is a type of rock climbing where the climber ascends a small rock formation – a boulder. Unlike traditional rock climbing, boulderers will not use ropes or harnesses. To reduce the risk of injury in the advent of a fall, bouldering mats (“crash pads”) can be placed in the ground by the climbing site.
It is common for boulderers to wear climbing shoes. Another commonly seen piece of equipment is the chalkbag where chalk is stored for easy access during clumbs. The chalk will help keep the climbers hands dry, thus reduce the risk of slipping.
The path that the climber takes to complete the climb is called a bouldering problem. It is unusual for bouldering problems to be taller than 20 feet.
A traverse is a boulder problem where the climber is required to move horizontally from one end to the other.
Bouldering is not an equipment-intense hobby, but most hobbyists will use specialized climbing shoes when bouldering.
Climbing shoes are designed to protect the feet from the rough surface and make it easier to secure footholds. Generally speaking, they will fit more snugly on the foot than other athletic footwear and many models curl the climber’s toes downwards.
When choosing climbing shoes, there are many trade-offs that need to be considered. Here area a few examples:
- High top climber shoes provide increased protection for the ankle. Low top climber shoes do not protect the ankle, but give you more flexibility.
- Stiff shoes tend to be great when there is a need to secure small edges. Softer shoes will on the other hand permit a greater sensitivity.
- An asymmetric shoe front is excellent on overhanging rocks, while a symmetric one is more suited for vertical problems and slabs.
Examples of famous outdoor bouldering areas
- Fontainebleau, France
- Albarracín, Spain
- Hueco Tanks, Texas, USA
- Mount Evans, Colorado, USA
- The Buttermilks, California, USA
- Squamish, British Columbia, Canada
- Oukaimeden, Morocco
- Chimanimani, Zimbabwe
- Rocklands, South Africa
Artificial climbing walls make it possible to practice boulder problem solving indoors. They typically feature plastic holds which have been bolted onto the wall. Steep overhanging surfaces are popular, since they force the climber to practice advanced technical movements.
Climbing gyms will often include several boulder problems in the same wall, so different climbers each can find something suitable for their own skill level.
Bouldering has always been a part of the climbing hobby, albeit not necessarily under that name. We do for instance have records preserved from the late 19th century describing how climbers engage in what we today would call bouldering, but they don’t use any special name for it. Largely, bouldering seem to have been regarded as a way of practicing your climbing skills in preparation for larger ascents.
In the early 20th century, the term bleausards was established by climbers in the Fontainebleau area of France. This is where the climber Pierre Allain developed a shoe specialized for bouldering.
After World War II, interest in bouldering grew in the United States, and in the 1960s the mathematician John Gill was one of its strongest proponents in North America. Gill, who had a background in competitive gymnastics, developed a rating system for bouldering. This helped shift focus from simply reaching the summit to successfully navigating a set of holds. Gill was also an ardent champion for the use of chalk to keep the climber’s hands dry.
The 1980s saw the emergence of two vital training tools: the bouldering mat and indoor climbing walls. The bouldering mats (“crash pads”) reduced the risk of injury when a climber fell from the boulder.
In the early 2000s, the growth of internet helped boulders around the world connect with each other, and the hobby was promoted with the help of home pages for bouldering, discussion forums for hobbyists, videos showing bouldering feats and techniques, etc.