Climbing and bouldering don’t seem like they’re that different… BUT you’ll be surprised how many differences there are.
The Difference Between Climbing and Bouldering
The difference between climbing and bouldering lies mainly (but not only) in the height of the object that’s being climbed. Due to the height (which is about 30 m for climbing routes and about 4 m for bouldering) and the belaying technique and risks that come with it, climbing has quite different requirements than bouldering.
Climbing vs. Bouldering – 8 Differences
- The height (climbing at a height of 30 m or 3 m)
- Belaying technique (climbing requires training)
- Maximum strength vs. endurance strength (bouldering: maximum strength – climbing: endurance strength)
- Character (intensity, duration, psyche, tactics, etc.)
- Dynamics (bouldering is more dynamic than climbing)
- Gear and Money (more gear is required for climbing)
- Risk (different risks and safety precautions)
- Going solo? (You can boulder by yourself, while sport climbing is always done with a partner)
Bouldering is usually done at a height of up to about 4 meters. There are of course exceptions where bouldering is done at much greater heights… so-called highball bouldering. But exceeding the 4-meter mark is unusual since the risk of injury increases the higher you go.
Sport climbing routes are usually 15 to at most 40 meters high. However, most routes are no higher than 30 m.
A standard climbing rope is 60 m long, and therefore perfect for a 30 m climbing route.
Anything higher than this is called “multi-pitch climbing”. As the name suggests, this involves climbing several pitches.
The term alpine climbing is also used for this quite often, usually referring to the same discipline.
2. Belaying Technique
Like just about everything else in bouldering, the belaying technique is quite simple. Neither a rope nor a belay device are needed. For bouldering indoors, only the general bouldering rules need to be followed; no special belaying techniques are necessary (more on this in the chapter on safety).
The safety measures for outdoor bouldering are limited to:
a.) Crash pads – a soft pad that ensures a safe landing.
b.) Spotters – a spotter ensures that the boulderer doesn’t hit the ground head first, but rather that they land in a controlled manner.
The safety measures are relatively easy to learn and do not require any special training.
You can also boulder alone. Sport Climbing is always done in pairs – every climber needs a belay partner!
Belaying – Sport Climbing
Due to the height and the risks that come with it, climbers use a rope and a belay device.
Knowing how to operate the respective belay device is a prerequisite for rope climbing and must be learned in advance under professional guidance.
Climbing courses – learning how to belay
To learn the right belaying technique, a climbing course in a climbing gym is a good option. In 5-10 hours you will learn everything you need for safe climbing.
3. Maximum Strength vs. Endurance
Rule of thumb:
- Bouldering requires maximum strength and explosive power.
- Climbing requires usually more power endurance.
(Of course, there are exceptions – some bouldering problems are long and require endurance, while some climbing routes are short and need maximum strength)
Finding a good position to rest
- Bouldering: The boulder problem is climbed from start to finish in one go (without resting).
- Climbing: In the longer (30 m) climbing routes it’s quite common to rest in suitable passages and shake out the forearms.
Overview of the differences between bouldering & climbing
|Duration||10-20 seconds||1-10 minutes|
|Height||3-4 meters||15-40 meters|
Become a Better Climber / Boulderer
- Improve your Footwork
- Improve Positioning
- Improve overall Technique
4. Character – Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing
Bouldering is characterized by few, but very intensive moves that take you to the limit. It’s about perfecting movement sequences to solve the boulder problem.
Between attempts, which often only last a few seconds, there is time for regenerating and for social exchange with like-minded people.
The “best” sequences (Beta) are often tried and found together as a group. It is also a comment to cheer and motivate each other. To work out difficult moves, having an eye for details is an advantage.
Climbing is characterized by prolonged exertion. The moves are not as intense (relative to bouldering), but you climb while battling fatigue.
After a strenuous 25 meters of climbing and pumped up (tired) arms, suddenly every move is intense. The length of the routes and accompanying endurance load require efficient, economical, and concentrated climbing for several minutes.
Unlike bouldering, climbing emphasizes tactics and psyche as crucial, and potentially performance-limiting factors. Climbing tactics include:
- Finding and using resting points.
- Recognizing difficult passages (cruxes) and push through them quickly and efficiently.
- Communicating with your belay partner.
One of the most exciting aspects of climbing is the mental challenge of having to deal with the possible consequences of a fall at 20 meters. In climbing, fear is “part of the game” – it’s always present and you just have to learn how to deal with it.
This is what makes climbing so unique – the confrontation with your own fear, a conscious and deliberate approach to fear. Climbing offers you the opportunity to face your fear and to outdo yourself.
The topic of fear in climbing is fascinating and I’ve highlighted it in several posts, you can find more here:
– Fear of Falling when climbing.
5. Dynamics and Age
Bouldering and climbing can be done at any age. Because of the difference in characteristics, older people gravitate more towards rock climbimbing, while younger people are more attracted to bouldering. Why is that?
Bouldering is maximum strength paired with dynamic movements – something young people enjoy.
Climbing is enduring and controlled – it better suits older/more mature people.
Because of the consequences of falling, climbers generally tend to make static and controlled movements – in contrast to the dynamic, explosive movements in bouldering.
Bouldering is dynamic
6. Gear – Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing
Climbing requires a little more gear. However, it needs to be said that even though climbing gear doesn’t last forever, it does usually have a very long lifespan.
Bouldering – 2 Things You Need
1. Climbing shoes
Climbing shoes or bouldering shoes can be rented, but they’re usually the first piece of climbing gear that newcomers go out and buy for themselves.
2. Chalk bag + chalk
Chalk is magnesium powder and is used to keep wet hands dry. Dry hands = good grip. The powder is stored in a small bag (chalk bag) so you always have it handy.
We Tested Rock Climbing Shoes.
Take a look at the 9 Best climbing shoes.
Climbing – 5 Things You Need
- Climbing shoes
- Chalk bag + chalk
(Same as for bouldering, see above)
- Climbing rope + rope bag
A 60 or 70 m climbing rope + a rope bag for bringing it with you
- Climbing harness
You are strapped to the rope and rope partner via a climbing harness.
- Belay device + carabiner
There are lots of belay devices – no matter which one you choose, learn how to use it until you’ve internalized the correct belaying technique.
Additional Gear for outdoor rock climbing:
A set of Quickdraws (10-12 pieces) is part of the standard gear for outdoor rock climbing. In the gym, no quickdraws are needed since they’re already attached to the wall.
Let’s talk Money – Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing
Indoor Bouldering is significantly cheaper than rock climbing – simply because less gear is needed. If you want to know what exactly the costs are – here is a list of all expenses (including gear and entrance fees).
- The 30 Best exercises
- 3 Training Plans
7. Risks and Safety
What’s more dangerous, bouldering or rock climbing?
When it comes to injuries – bouldering is more dangerous. Statistics show that more injuries happen during bouldering.
Rock Climbing – mistakes in rope management or belaying can cause serious dangers to health and even life.
Therefore you could argue that rock climbing is ultimately more dangerous than bouldering.
Gym climbing & bouldering
A study conducted in 2017 by the DAV (German Alpine Association) shows that bouldering results in more injuries (compared to sport climbing). The results presented data gathered on indoor climbing and bouldering. The most common injuries affect the lower extremities – mostly the ankle, to be more precise. That’s because most injuries happen during landing.
If a mistake is made while climbing or belaying, dangerous falls can occur. These happen pretty rarely but usually result in a visit to the hospital. The responsibility of the belayer is much higher when rock climbing, hence a flawless belay technique is extremely important.
Loose or brittle rocks are not uncommon, so a helmet is advisable when rock climbing. When bouldering, a helmet is not necessary because the boulders are much smaller and unlike huge rock walls, there are usually no unexpected rock falls.
8. Going Solo?
Can you go bouldering by yourself?
Yes, you can go bouldering by yourself. Although bouldering in a group is more fun, you can boulder by yourself just as well – all day, every day.
Climbing – Climbing partner
Solo climbing is also possible (special belay devices in the gym or doing a self-belay), but the latter is very demanding in terms of safety and rope management – it is only recommended for very experienced climbers. Basically, you can only climb with a partner!
Climbing partner and falling practice
Good communication between climbing partners is vital, especially when you’re taking it to the limit, where falls are a regular occurrence. You need to be able to trust your climbing partner 100%. Falling practice is a very, very good idea for both the belayer and the climber.
Climbing or Bouldering – Which One Is Better for You?
If you’re a beginner then just try both and you’ll realize pretty quickly what suits you better. Here’s a basic breakdown of both:
In general, bouldering is more dynamic and requires maximum strength. Strong people with good body tension will feel more comfortable bouldering right away.
Bouldering requires hardly any initial training – “impatient” bundles of energy can start right away and let off some steam. Of course, you can do bouldering any way you want… but I think that if you’re sociable and communicative, you will feel right at home in a bouldering gym.
In general, climbing requires more endurance, is easier on the joints, and “weaker” or more mature people will feel more comfortable here, as a sense of achievement will come more quickly when climbing.
In addition, there is some mental work needed for learning how to belaying correctly. A little patience and ambition to perfect the belay technique is time well spent. The psychological aspect of climbing (see the chapter on psyche) is also quite relevant… anyone who enjoys this aspect of climbing will feel right at home.