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11 Types of Climbing Explained: Indoor and Outdoor

Interested in taking up rock climbing? Here are 11 different types for you to choose from

If you enjoy active leisure, climbing may be one of the best recreational activities you can indulge in. Additionally, it will provide you with the thrill you were always looking for.

The fact that wall climbing has been recognized as an extreme sport and an international sport should not be surprising. Climbing is a sport that requires the climber to use both his hands and feet in order to scale a man-made or natural structure. In climbing, natural structures such as rocky walls are not always climbable. Therefore, experts have come up with the concept of climbing walls as a solution to this problem.

The climbing wall is nothing but a man-made simulated structure with clenches or grips that help climbers to scale the wall. Climbers can decide whether they want to make the climb relatively difficult or fairly simple with these grips. The walls may be made of solid blocks or may simply be wood climbing walls. The majority of structures today are solid layers of a board with holes or grips drilled in them to provide support. With the popularity of parkour climbing walls increasing, many of these walls are made of metals such as steel, aluminum, etc. Let’s take a look at different types of building climbing walls that you can opt for.

1. Top Rope Climbing

Top rope climbing has long been considered the most classic way to learn how to climb. You learn how to distribute your balance, how to handle ropes, and how to train your body as a whole when you do top rope climbing. The best way to get started in climbing is to start with top rope climbing and bouldering before moving on to more challenging or complex climbing techniques.

With top rope climbing, the climber guides the rope upward to a pulley under the ceiling. Additionally, it can also serve as a pulley block. From there, the rope is then dragged all the way down to the belayer who will continue to secure the climber. A loose rope is always kept under tension to ensure that you can react quickly in the event of a fall.

Thanks to the type of securing, this type of climbing is very safe. With the rope and climbing harness absorbing the impulse, the fall distance is minimal. When a rope is heavily pulled in a climbing hall, the pulleys have built-in stoppers that, like the safety belts in cars, automatically stop the rope.

2. Bouldering

Bouldering only involves climbing a few meters above the ground and being secured by a sports mat. Therefore, there is very little equipment required here. The only equipment you need for bouldering is climbing shoes, climbing chalk, and magnesium powder.

Compared to running and sprinting, top rope climbing and bouldering are similar. The most important thing here is to know the level of difficulty, not the route you climb. There are several standardized levels of difficulty in bouldering, and the routes are called “problems.”

If you go to a climbing hall and climb a boulder wall, you'll find both very easy and extremely difficult routes.

The high effort and partly technical difficulties of bouldering make it commonly used as a training exercise. For people who don't really want to begin climbing, bouldering is a great way to add a little variety to their exercise routine.

Learn even more about bouldering by checking out our go-to guide!

3. Lead Climbing

Lead climbing involves climbing without a rope from above. Fortunately, you take the rope and hook it into the wall using anchors positioned regularly along the way. Typically there is a carabiner (or quickdraw) on the anchor to which the rope can be clipped. As a result, the rope is lowered from the climbing harness to the next anchor, then down through all the others to the person securing the ground. Lead climbing is just as safe as top rope climbing as long as you follow a few rules when clipping in the rope.

However, you should only attempt lead climbing after gaining some experience. The risks are slightly higher, and the falls are higher and therefore more difficult than with top rope climbing. This is why it is important for the belayer to be trained in catching such falls on the ground as well.

4. Sport Climbing

Sport climbing can best be compared to rope climbing indoors. It almost always involves hooking into the next anchor with quickdraws. (Quickdraws are made up of two carabiners connected by a sling.) Usually, these anchors have already been firmly placed in the rock and drilled into it. The routes are categorized based on difficulty levels, so you will know what to expect.

The climber is then secured by the belayer—as in a climbing hall. A rope runs from the person securing the rope to the climber through the anchors.

The focus of sport climbing is more on the sporting aspects such as endurance, strength, and technique since you don't have to worry about anchor placements, and the route is determined by the anchor placement. It's also a great way to relax as well as enjoy the surroundings!

5. Traditional/Trad Climbing

Trad climbing leaves the rock untouched because there are no prefabricated anchors. A challenge of traditional climbing is finding your own way and setting your own anchors.

Climbers are secured to the ground with a rope that passes through the anchors and carabiners.

The anchors in traditional climbing are constructed by themselves, and you have to carry much more equipment than you would in sport climbing.

As you can imagine, setting your own anchors is riskier than fixing a solid bolt in the stone. Therefore, traditional climbing is more exciting, but it is also more dangerous since you are totally dependent on your equipment and anchors, which you must make yourself.

Traditional climbing gets its name from the fact that it was the first form of climbing done outside. There were climbers already before prefabricated routes with fixed anchors were available. This is why it is termed traditional climbing. Until the 1970s and 1980s, climbing was not very popular, so the permanently installed anchors allowed even fewer die-hard climbers to access the rocks.

6. Multi-Pitch Climbing

Multi-pitch climbing allows you to climb higher than one rope length in a single climb. Such routes require a specific strategy for climbing further at the end of the rope. Changing the role between the climber and belayer is the most common method. After almost reaching the end of the rope's range, the climber climbs back a few steps, so the last anchor is higher up. The lower climbing partner then climbs up, past the new belayer, and continues as far as the rope will allow. That's how it goes until you reach the top. There is always a break in between.

You can climb multi-pitch routes either traditionally or by using fixed anchors.

However, you should know everything about the route before you embark on such a great adventure:

  • How much time does it take?
  • ​ What equipment will I need?
  • ​ What do I do to get back down? Hiking/tanning/etc.
  • ​ What is the level of difficulty?

7. Aid Climbing

While aid climbing, the equipment carried is used for more than just securing. Rock faces are equipped with hooks, ropes, rope ladders, etc. to build support artificially. With appropriate equipment, it is possible to get past a horizontal rock ledge as well.

Climbing in this way is very pragmatic, as it focuses exclusively on climbing to the top with the aid of equipment. Climbing of this type has been refined over time and dates back to the beginning of the last century. In those days, climbing aids were often permanently installed, but today, mobile equipment is used more often.

Aid climbing can be disadvantageous in that it can sometimes take a long time to move a short distance. In one day, you can climb cliffs as high as 3,280 feet (1000 meters). Due to this, and also because the equipment is so prevalent in aid climbing, it is not unusual for climbers to spend the night on the rock face! To sleep at such dizzying heights, you'll need a hammock, a sleeping bag, and a lot of courage.

8. Ice Climbing

As its name suggests, ice climbing is a climbing activity that involves ice instead of rocks. The ice is usually a frozen waterfall that you climb vertically.

The dangers of this form of climbing are greater than those of rock climbing. Ice needs to be completely hardened, and even then, it is not as stable as rock or provides as much support.

Additionally, to the usual climbing equipment such as helmets, climbing harnesses, ropes, etc., ice climbing equipment also includes spikes on shoes as well as ice picks to help get a grip.

For securing, ice screws are used. These are long screws with anchors at the end. Due to their size and need for sufficient support, they are hollow from the inside and made of light materials.

It is also important to consider what type of ascent you will undertake. When lead climbing, there would be no protection if the ice gave way. When the ice on which it is attached falls into the depths, even the most careful securing is useless. Top rope climbing would be safer when using a rope from above, which is securely anchored.

9. Alpine Climbing (Mountaineering)

The goal of Alpine climbing is to reach the summit of the mountain which brings together all disciplines. There are many different types of climbing, depending on the mountain.

It does not matter if you reach the top by traditional means, permanently installed hooks, or with technical aid.

Mountain climbing is a big and potentially dangerous undertaking, so it requires detailed planning. You need to know how long it will take to obtain the necessary supplies and what equipment you need.

A traditional climbing route uses the same equipment, plus appropriate clothing, ice climbing equipment, and (if needed/desired) technical aids such as hooks, ladders, etc. Furthermore, the use of twin or half ropes reduces the chance of rope tears on long routes.

With lead climbing, securing is generally the same as it is with multi-pitch climbing. The routes of such multi-rope climbing can also be climbed by a team of three. There are normally two half ropes, so the leader is connected to both ropes, and the two climbers following are connected to one rope each.

The descent can be accomplished via hiking routes or via abseiling/rappelling.

10. Deep-Water Soloing

Water provides a completely different type of safety when climbing. Without any other safety equipment, you can climb a wall with deep-water soloing. As a result, you are able to enjoy bouldering and normal rock climbing at the same time. The risk here is not zero—an uncontrolled fall from great heights into the water isn't to be ignored.

At first, deep-water soloing was performed only on cliffs with a river, lake, or sea underneath the climber. Nowadays, artificial rock climbing walls are built over swimming pools as well.

For deep-water soloing, the wall should extend continuously above the water at an angle so that a fall will not cause damage to the wall. As the name implies, deep-enough water is also an essential factor for a safe deep water soloing experience.

11. Free Soloing

Free soloing is the most spectacular way of climbing, but you need to be an adrenaline junkie to do it. That's because free soloing is like suicide. You don't use ropes or other safety mechanisms to climb mountains. Fortunately, only a few lunatics do this, and even then, they pick easy routes and take it slowly.


Each of these 11 climbing types is different and challenging in its own way. It is always important to increase the difficulty gradually and have the right equipment—no matter what type you choose.

Here’s wishing you a lot of fun while climbing, and I hope you found something interesting here!

For more information on roping and climbing skills, feel free to check out our book here:

Did you find this article about different types of rock climbing useful? If so, please share it with your friends.

Article by Sam Fury

Sam Fury 3 png
Sam Fury 3 png

Sam Fury is the creator and owner of the Survival Fitness Plan.

He has had a passion for martial arts and outdoor pursuits since he was a young boy growing up in Australia.

As a young adult he joined the military and studied outdoor leadership in college. After that, to further his skills, Sam started traveling to learn from the best in the world in various fields related to the Survival Fitness Plan including various martial arts in China, SE Asia and Brazil, Parkour in Singapore, Surf Life Saving in Australia, and others. 

These days, he still enjoys learning new things, traveling and sharing what he has learned via the Survival Fitness Plan. 

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