In this guide to outdoor bouldering for beginners you will learn all the beginners rock climbing techniques you need to have fun and stay safe.
Bouldering Vs Climbing
Bouldering is rock climbing without special equipment such as ropes and harnesses. And you don’t climb high. No higher than is safe to fall.
Often people bouldering will still use climbing shoes and chalk. These things make bouldering easier but are not 100% necessary.
For safety I recommend using a crash mat to pad your fall. Check out some crash mats here.
In this article, I use the terms bouldering and rock climbing interchangeably.
Bouldering and rock climbing techniques are the same as far as rock climbing for beginners goes.
Rock climbing with ropes requires technical knowledge to use the equipment safely.
This article on rock climbing focuses on bouldering technique for beginners. You don‘t need any special climbing equipment.
The Benefits of Rock Climbing
There a many rock climbing benefits. Here are a few off the top of my head:
- A bouldering workout plan. Using bouldering for fitness is a fun way to keep in shape. If you want to get toned up, a bouldering workout routine will get you there faster than most other sports, and it’s more interesting than hitting the gym.
- Make friends. You may think of climbing as a solo-sport, but it really isn’t. Although you can do it alone, I recommended having at least one person to do it with. Apart from that, climbing communities are close-knit in most cities. Everyone has the same passion and a similar mindset.
- See the world in a new light. When beginning rock climbing, you will see things from a different perspective. Rocks, trees, buildings, and anything else that you might climb.
- Get outdoors. Although there are plenty of indoor climbing gyms for those rainy days, outdoor bouldering will get you into nature. Going outside is also cheap rock climbing since you don’t have to pay gym fees. And there are no “gym rules” you need to stick by. You could try out barefoot rock climbing.
- Improve your mind. Climbing isn’t only muscle and technique. A lot of your success depends on choosing a strategic route. There will also be times when you will want to give up from sore muscles. Mind of matter will get you through.
- A useful “flight” skill. This is the main reason I outline the basics of rock climbing on this website. Knowing how to climb may save your life one day.
Rock Climbing Fundamentals
When beginning rock climbing you need to start with the basic principles.
In fact, if the only things you learn from this climbing article are these bouldering fundamentals, you will be a better climber than most people on the planet.
The rock climbing term “holds” refers to what you place your feet and hands onto to climb. They are what you ‘hold’ onto.
Climb With Your Legs
As far as rock climbing basics go, you can’t get more fundamental than to climb with your legs.
Your legs do the climbing, not your arms. Though you often need a little pull-up, your arms are primarily for keeping balance.
To conserve energy, move your feet up the wall first and use your leg muscles to push you up. Once balanced, rest your weight over your legs.
Don’t use your arms to hold you up. This will tire your out too fast.
Here are more leg-related beginner rock climbing tips:
- Step light and place your foot carefully and firmly. Don’t ‘stomp’ into the holds.
- Use the edges of your feet or the ball of your big toe.
- Press your foot downwards and into the wall.
- Trust you can stand.
Plan Your Route
Plan your route before you climb and at least one move ahead whilst climbing. Know where you will place your foot of hand before taking it off the hold.
You can adjust your plan as needed while you are climbing.
Climbing smooth means to be fluid. Don’t pause between moves. Planning your route is essential for you to achieve this.
It doesn’t mean you can never stop. Look 3 or 4 moves ahead and plan where you think a good ‘rest point’ will be. Climb smooth until you get there and then rest and plan your next moves.
Another part of climbing smooth is to breathe. Like with all physical activities, holding your breath will stifle your movement and also wear you out faster.
Reaching to grab holds will drain your energy. Though it is necessary sometimes, there are other ways to grain reach which you can try first.
- Reach Backwards. Turn away from the hold and reach backwards for it. It is like reaching for something far under a bed.
- Stand Up. Stand straight and keep your hips close to the wall with your weight over your feet. This is as opposed to leaning against the rock.
- Bumping. Gain momentum off one hold to reach a better one.
The key takeaway from the above bouldering tips for beginners is to conserve your energy.
Rock Climbing Grips Technique
In this section you will learn the different bouldering grips and which rock climbing holds to use them on.
To conserve energy, only grip a hold as hard as you need to.
Edges are horizontal holds that have an edge you can grab onto. They can be flat or may have a lip wish you can pull on.
To grab an edge, use the crimp grip. This is where you grab the edge with your fingertips flat and your fingers arched above the tips.
Crimping too hard can cause tendon damage.
The full crimp is when you place the pads of your fingertips on an edge and curl your fingers so that you flex the second joint.
Press your thumb on top of the index finger’s fingernail to secure the grip.
The half crimp is when you let your thumb press against the side of your index finger. It is weaker but less damaging to your fingers. If you can, use the half crimp.
Slopers are round handholds without an edge.
They are easiest to grab if they are above you.
When griping a sloper, use the open hand grip and keep your arms straight for leverage.
Open Hand Grip
The Open Hand Grip uses the friction against the rock surface.
Wrap your hand onto the hold with your fingers close together. Feel around with your fingers to find grip spots.
Also, feel around with your thumb to see if there is a bump you can press against.
Pinches are holds which you can grip by pinching with your fingers on one side and your thumb on the other.
If the pinch hold is small, use your thumb opposed to your index finger with your middle finger stacked on top.
With larger pinch holds, oppose your thumb with all your fingers.
Side pulls are holds you pull on sideways instead of straight down. You would do this depending on the orientation of the hold.
You can pull outward on the side pull while pushing a foot in the opposite direction to keep you in place.
Pockets are holes in the rock surface which you can place one or more of your fingers in. Insert as many fingers as you can comfortably fit.
Use your strongest fingers first. Feel inside the pocket to find a surface you can pull against.
A gaston is a vertical or diagonal hold, usually to your front.
Grab a gaston with your fingers and palm facing the rock and your thumb pointing downward.
Bend your elbow at a sharp angle and point it away from your body.
Crimp your fingers on the edge and pull outward.
An undercling is any hold you have to grip on its underside. To do it correctly requires body tension and opposition.
Grip the rock with your palm facing up and your thumb pointing out.
Pull out on the undercling and push your feet against the wall.
If no handhold exists, you can keep your hand in place by pushing into a dimple in the rock with the heel of your palm.
The matching hands rock climbing technique is when you you place your hands next to each other on the same hold so you can change hands.
You can do a similar technique with your feet. Do so by slowly replacing the foot and without jumping.
You can also do it with a hand and foot.
While matching is important to know, try not to use it.
It is better to reach for an extra hold over so your trailing hand can have its own hold.
Reaching will cause fatigue, but matching increases the chance of falling. Ideally you want to do neither of these rock climbing skills, but if you have no choice, reaching is better than matching.
Rock Climbing Foot Techniques
We covered hand climbing techniques for beginners. Now we will focus on the legs and feet.
Smearing is like palming for the feet.
Push the flat of your foot hard on the wall, using friction to hold you up.
If you want to go up direct the force a little downward.
Return to a foothold as soon as you can.
Back stepping is one of the basic rock climbing techniques for gaining reach.
Step on a hold so that the outside of your hip faces into the rock. You will have a longer reach in the same direction as the foot you back stepped.
Drop one knee toward the ground with the other pointing up for an exaggerated back step.
Use flagging to balance your body when reaching for a hold.
Cross one foot behind the other to avoid swinging out from the rock.
You can use the mantle to climb up onto a ledge that you are hanging off. This bouldering technique uses your hands and feet.
Pull yourself up onto a ledge by rocking sideways. Turn your hand around and push yourself up until you can place a foot and stand up.
If you want to build strength for mantling, one of the best rock climbing exercises for beginners is the pull up.
Stemming is a good rock climbing tips for beginners to climb opposing walls, or “chimneys”.
This is another of my climbing tips for beginners that uses your hands and feet.
To do stemming, press one foot into one of the walls and your other foot against the other. Push out with an opposing force to hold your weight up.
Do the same with your hands.
Hold your weight with your arms/hands and shift both feet up.
Once you are stable on your feet, hold your weight with your legs and move your hands up. Repeat this ‘shuffling’ with your hands and feet to climb the chimney.
Heel and toe hooks can aid in balance and provide leverage for movement.
There are many ways to use the hook, e.g., with your foot to climb onto a ledge.
You can hook under a rock to keep stability whilst negotiating an overhang.
Tips for the Different Types of Climbing Faces
The final section of outdoor and indoor rock climbing for beginners is how to climb different types of faces.
A slab is any rock face than is at an angle less than 90°.
To climb a slab, keep your weight centered on your feet. As you climb, be precise with your toe placement.
Stand upright on the rock and away from the slab surface.
Aim for big holds but don’t make big steps to get to them. It is better to make small steps on small footholds and then reach once you reach your big hold target. Plan three to five of your intended foot holds ahead at a time.
Look for variations in the surface and smear on tiny holds. You can also feel the hold with a finger to find the best spot for your foot placement.
Climbing Vertical Faces
Vertical faces are at a 90° angle, i.e., straight up, or near enough. This is the type of face you commonly see climbers with ropes climbing.
When climbing vertical faces, have an upright body position and keep your weight over your feet as much as possible.
Use your hands and arms for pulling if needed.
Overhangs are rock faces that are overhung or angled over 90°.
Climbing an overhang is one of the hardest rock climbing techniques for beginners to do. This is because it requires more strength.
Use heel and toe hooks to take the weight off your arms.
Basic Crack Climbing Techniques
You can climb the natural cracks in rocks by wedging your body parts into them.
This rock climbing technique is jamming. Jamming in crack climbing holds can cut your hands. Over time you can condition them, but to prevent injury when you first practice this basic bouldering technique you can tape your hands.
Perform a hand jam by wedging the side of your hand in the crack with the thumb on top.
Tuck your thumb into the palm of your hand.
Next, expand your hand to exert opposing pressure against the walls of the crack.
Once conditioned, you can hang your weight off your wedged hand.
You can also do this in smaller cracks with your finger. This is finger crack climbing and is an advanced crack climbing technique.
After jamming your hands into the crack, lift a foot and push the front part of your shoe into the crack.
Stand up on the jammed foot.
Step the other foot up to calf level and jam it in the crack.
Now that your hands and feet are in position, you can move upward by shuffling.
There are three ways to do this.
- Move your top hand up first, then the lower one below it.
- Lift the bottom hand out of the crack and hand jam above your upper hand.
- Use the above two techniques together.
Do the same with your feet.
Teach yourself emergency roping and bouldering skills,
because this knowledge will save your life!
Bouldering for Beginners Conclusion
In this rock climbing beginners guide are all the basic bouldering skills you need.
Remember to always keep in mind the basic climbing principles while using the hand and foot techniques.
You now also know more advanced rock climbing techniques such as overhangs and crack climbing.
Please remember that safety is paramount. You don’t need fancy equipment when outdoor bouldering, but a crash mat, a friend, and a cell phone is advisable.
Never climb higher than you can safely fall when bouldering. And if you start climbing higher with ropes, take a professional course or hire a guide.
Also, be sure to take care in the weather. Have enough food, water, and clothing to keep you healthy whilst enjoying your amazing rock climbing experience.
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