Ask any climber what they love about bouldering and we’d stake our chalk bucket that they’d opt for how easy it is to get started. With your kit list amounting to a pair of shoes, some chalk and potentially a crash pad (only if you’re outside), it’s the climbing variant with the least baggage by far. In fact, ‘essentials’ for bouldering runs far more into your attitude and approach to the wall than material gear, which is why it’s perfect for introducing adventure into the everyday. To get you started, we’ve collated some essential bits of kit, basic skills and advice on spotting other climbers, so you can get stuck in straight away, indoors or outdoors.
As highlighted above - and in our advice on how to get started with bouldering - the kit list for this type of climbing is notoriously short, which makes it perfect for beginners. That’s not to say that bouldering is easy, though - anyone who’s seen highlights from the 2017 IFSC World Cup will appreciate that. But with the kit below, which can be rented from an indoor bouldering wall, you’ll be well prepared to rock up and start climbing.
Climbing shoes can vary depending on how steep and challenging the terrain you’re tackling is, but for beginners, comfort and support are key. Once you become more proficient and start to ascend steeper, more technical problems, a downturned shoe helps to create the optimal toe position for those climbs, though at the price of comfort.
The other bit of kit you can’t do without, whether you’re indoors or outdoors, is chalk. Nor is it there to simply look dramatic when you clap (though, let’s be honest, it’s half the reason we use it) - chalk helps to improve your grip by counteracting sweat on your palms. Steep, overhanging grips are strenuous work, and you can expect to leave the wall having worked up a sweat - the chalk ensures you don’t fall because of it. For a rugged chalk bucket with a bold design, check out the Belmez Darkside Chalk Bucket.
#3 CRASH PAD
Bouldering outside presents an increased challenge, and not just because the holds aren’t obviously coloured - there’s no matted flooring to catch your fall. To that end, a portable crash mat is essential, as well as someone to reposition it as you move - but we’ll get to that.
#4 FINGER TAPE
Tape will not only protect your skin from cuts and grazes, it can offer structural support when your entire body is suspended from a couple of fingers. It’ll help you tackle those steeper gradients and avoid injuring the ligaments and tendons in your fingers before you’ve had a chance to strengthen them. It might also be time to invest in some hand cream – bouldering is going to toughen up your skin.
Now, this isn’t an essential per se - but if you’re going to get into bouldering, you might as well look the part, right? Spanish climbing brand Belmez design and produce apparel fit for bouldering in the narrow urban streets of Madrid - their slogan is ‘Bouldering Came First’, which speaks volumes about their bold, uncompromising style. Jeans fit for climbing, comfortables hoodies and contrast bobble hats - they’ve got it all covered.
One of the beautiful things about bouldering is that it’s fairly intuitive - you just have to get from A to B in the most efficient way possible, using all four limbs. Saying that, making these simple adjustments to your body position will go a long way in making that far, far easier.
#1 Keep your body as close to the wall as possible; if your centre of mass behind your grip, it’ll put an extra strain on your limbs to keep you upright. The key is to focus on pushing your hips forward and using the sides of your feet rather than your toes.
#2 Straight limbs use less energy than bent ones, since your larger, more energy-hungry muscles don’t have to contract as often. Use your feet to move around a straight arm instead of just pulling yourself up.
#3 Bouldering is much like chess - you need to think several moves ahead to be successful. Planning a route up the wall will be easier than just clambering on and working it out on the move.
#4 Using all four limbs will make bouldering much, much easier. The temptation for a lot of people is to just pull themselves from hold to hold, only stepping onto grips for support. Your leg muscles are considerably stronger than your arms - use them.
Although climbing down from an indoor wall is often advised, falling down is part of the fun (those matted floors are there for a reason, right?). When you move outdoors, though, the challenge becomes far more pronounced. You can boulder outdoors on your own - it’s one of Steve McClure’s favourite hobbies - but we’d advise going with someone else so you can spot each other.
A spotter’s job is, essentially, to make sure that the climber doesn’t fall onto hard ground. As the climber moves across or up the wall, the spotter must reposition the crash mat directly underneath them, and remain ready to make sure they don’t fall off it. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but keeping your eyes on the climber at all times and maintaining outstretched arms will help to guide them onto the safety of the mat.
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