Bouldering Essentials

A climber working on a tree-shaded boulder near a river with two bouldering pads beneath him.

Bouldering. Nature’s puzzle. A simple, yet challenging task of using specific holds, in a specific way, in a specific order which allows access to the finish or top out. The problems usually don’t come easy, you’ve got to unlock them with some climbing.

Whether you have tried bouldering at the local climbing gym, or are a never-ever, and are wanting to give it a go, you are going to need a few things you’ll need for bouldering outside. That’s what makes bouldering so extraordinarily easy for beginners and new climbers. It really only takes a few things to open the door to a new sport, and maybe a new obsession. Trust us when we say it can become an obsession…in the best way.

(At Least One) Crash Pad

A photo taken from above of a climber sitting on a pile of multi-colored crash pads as they put on their climbing shoes.

It might be news to some folks, but mother nature doesn’t really care if the landing to your first boulder problem is flat. Even if there is a flat landing, the ground is unforgiving even when falling from just a few feet, not to mention any small rocks or roots that could easily twist an ankle and end your day. A crash pad is super vital. It gives you a firm but soft landing when you inevitably miss that hold. Before you go and drop the big bucks on a pad, consider grabbing a friend’s pad in exchange for adult beverages. Better yet, go climbing with said friend! If you are more of a lone wolf, see if you can rent them from your local outdoor shop. If there is anything climbers will tell you is that you WILL fall. A lot. So pad up!

If you’d like to rent a pad and get on some boulders, you can click HERE.

Climbing Shoes

A climber sitting on some crash pads near a boulder as they put on their climbing shoes.

Generally, if you’ve been climbing for a long time, your feet have a specific love/hate/pain relationship with your trusty climbing shoes. After all, a surgeon has a scalpel, you have your climbing shoes. For beginners—or just the people can still feel their feet—comfort is key. Once you’ve climbed a lot, you’ll note that certain shoes will climb better on certain types of rocks. More downturned or “aggressive” shoes are best for more overhanging problems. But to put it simply, if you are new to bouldering and climbing, get something comfortable that you can wear for a while. If you’d like to read up on climbing shoes and get some more info, you can check out “How To Choose Climbing Shoes.”

Chalk

A photo with a Metolius chalkbag in the foreground and a climber spotting another climber in the background.

The only white powder that is okay to have on your person in public. Chalk is as much a drying agent as it is part of a routine—just when you think you just chalked up, you go back for more. Chalk comes into play every few minutes, or every try at a boulder problem. Some use it as a break, some people just think it looks cool, (it does). Having dry hands allows more friction and less slip when grabbing various holds. It comes in liquid form, and it comes in solid form, it all dries your hands. Most stick to the solid form due to its price. Rub it on your hands and get to sending! Plus everyone knows you climb when it’s smeared over every inch of your clothing. Ultimate stoke. Pro tip: Don’t be the person that carries around a ziplock bag full of loose chalk to the gym or out at the boulders, you will need a super cool bag to carry it in.

Chalk Bag

Climbers generally tend to use chalk bags with a waist belt. These are awesome for wall climbing because they’re small, and hold just the right amount of chalk for a route. Bouldering chalk bags come in a variety of sizes, and are commonly referred to as chalk buckets (chalk bags on steroids). With firm sides and velcro or magnetic closure, you can throw both hands in to chalk up in between tries on the boulder problem. They also hold way, way more chalk. Plenty of folks love the classic waist chalk bag, but if you are only going to be bouldering, the chalk bucket is a good move.

Fuel

Bouldering fuel differs from wall climbing fuel because you can bring a backpack and a cooler. Think like canoe camping meals, but on dry land. If you like packing light, feel free to bring a granola bar or two. But with the more “basecamp” feeling of bouldering, bringing that whole sandwich with extras is always a possibility. Your fuel of choice depends on how big the group is and how long you’ll be out there. Obviously, water is another good call. Hydration is key. Whatever gets you fueled for that next try…

PMA (Positive Mental Attitude)

Maybe you only get one move into your problem. Maybe you can’t even get your body off of the starting hold. Whatever the hurdle, it’s better handled with PMA. Positive Mental Attitude. This sport is just as much mental as it is physical. So go out there, focus your energy, and leave those other problems in the car. It’s just you, the pad, some buds, and that one move. Stay positive, that boulder problem is only going to come with repeated tries.

A friend

2 climbers help spot another as they attempt a move on an overhanging boulder.

Bouldering solo is sometimes totally what you need to recharge your battery. Everything falls on you. But also, being outside with friends is awesome. With bouldering, having a friend can be a real game-changer. From a safety perspective, a spotter to move a pad, or direct your falling body onto that pad, instead of those rocks can be a lifesaver. For most though, once safety is covered, it’s all about the camaraderie. Bouldering is a social sport for a lot of people. Talking through those moves, showing someone a new area for climbing, getting perspective, enjoying a beverage, and getting egged on for that final move to the top. That old saying about the tree falling in the forest: If no one is around, does it make a sound? If you finish that last move to the top and no one is around, did you really finish it? Friends fuel stoke, pure and simple.

Extras

Brush

If you are new to the bouldering game, this might not be essential. But for some, it’s just as important as the shoes or pad. Oily hands, wet holds, too much chalk, can all come into play with nature’s puzzle. Having a SOFT bristled brush to clean those holds is a fantastic extra. DO NOT use a hard bristle or wire brush, those can smooth holds and ruin the problem, and it’s bad for nature. Plus, if you are totally tired, walking up and brushing clean that one hold is a good illusion of preparation so your friends think you’re stronger than you actually are…maybe?

Layers

Colder, drier temperatures give rock its highest friction. Being able to throw on the puffy or fleece between tries or when taking that lunch break is key. It is also big for keeping your muscles warm. Throw that puffy in the car for your next bouldering outing.

Crag Dog

Not totally essential, but awesome. Bouldering is great for the fact that you can set up the four-legged friend in their own little chill zone. Bed, water, snacks. It is amazing what a little pet session can do for your bouldering skill. We’ve heard its powers can give you an entire 3 more goes at that boulder problem when used sparingly. Everything’s better with a well-behaved crag dog.

Bouldering is an amazing way to get climbing without having to own a bunch of stuff. You could make an afternoon with simply a pad and shoes. It is awesome that way. Head to your local outdoor gear shop and snag a guidebook, and get to sending!

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