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How To Try Bouldering

Author: Outdoor Research

June 04, 2019

Bouldering is like other rock climbing, except generally on shorter rocks. Instead of having a rope to catch a fall, you'll lay out pads on the ground beneath the boulder and rely on friends to "spot" you, watching you carefully and being prepared to help you land softly if you come off the rock. Different routes—called problems—are rated by degree of difficulty, from V0 to V17 in the United States. Bouldering is simple, and a great way to work on technique, build strength and enjoy time with friends. But if you've never tried bouldering before, there are a few things you should know first. We asked climber Nik Berry to explain what gear you need and how to go about getting started.

What gear do you absolutely need to get started bouldering? One of the many wonderful things about bouldering is its simplicity—even the gear is simple or minimal! Go to your local climbing shop and they'll get you in some climbing shoes, with a chalk bag, a pad (if you're going outside) and chalk.  You could say it's a fairly low barrier to entry, compared to other types of climbing.

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What gear don't you need to get started? Like, if you're on a tight budget, what can you skip? Brushes, fancy packs, super climbing specific clothing. Just go with what you've got! I will be shocked if you're not swooping up the above items shortly though, because limbing is so infectious!

Does it matter if you start indoors or outdoors? No! Just get on that horse. 

Bouldering looks simple—just try to climb to the top of the rock, right? Is it actually that simple? What does a first-timer need to know? You have two options once you pick up your new kicks, chalk bag and chalk: outdoors and indoors. Climbing's greats, lifers, elites, and average joes have put in work to clean specific routes to follow to the top of the boulders. These paths are referred to as problems, because many are cryptic to figure out. Please don't let this deter you from trying bouldering! There are many straightforward problems for first timers.  Indoor gyms are a blast, and the easiest way to try out bouldering. Indoor problems usually follow a specific color of climbing hold from bottom to top, with the starting hold marked. Gyms also rent shoes and chalk—just show up and you are climbing!

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Bouldering also looks hard. What's one tip that makes it easier your first time?
Bouldering is very powerful and gymnastic, which makes it very fun, but also hard.  Learning to push with your feet is crucial. Your legs have big muscles, so put those puppies to use!

What's one piece of advice, as far as manners or crag etiquette, a first-timer should know? Take turns and be aware of climbers around you so there aren't any collisions. If you're going bouldering outdoors, please leave our beautiful areas better than you found them by following Leave No Trace principles.

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Do you remember the first time you went bouldering? What was it like?
I remember it well! I went out to Little Cottonwood Canyon with some friends and we shared a friend's climbing shoes. We all were hooked and starting climbing together four or more days a week. Once spring rolled around, we went on some road trips to Moab, Triassic and Joe's Valley. Climbing has been the best thing in my life since! 

What do you particularly like about bouldering? I love the simplicity, the low commitment, that it's very social and supportive—and, of course, napping on the pads.

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Outdoor Research

Outdoor Research® is dedicated to inspiring the journey ahead with award-winning technical apparel and accessories. Based in Seattle since 1981, we are committed to improving our customer’s experience through innovative materials, purpose-driven features, and versatile products that are backed by our Infinite Guarantee®. We rely on the real-world testing of our athlete ambassadors, mountain guides, and local adventurers involved in our core sports: alpinism, rock and ice climbing, hiking, backpacking, paddling, trail running, and backcountry skiing and snowboarding. We’re here for the fun, adventure, excitement, and For the Journey Ahead™. Get to know us at www.outdoorresearch.com or follow along on the journey via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.