What Is The Difference Between Bouldering and Rock Climbing?

By January 9, 2020 No Comments

If you are quite new into climbing, you might actually think that there is no difference between bouldering and rock climbing, but you’d prove to be wrong.

Traditionally, bouldering was associated as a way to stay in shape for rock climbing. Over time, both activities have evolved into two distinct disciplines, which at a first glance may seem quite similar, but in reality have a lot of differences.

In this article, we will explore the actual differences between bouldering and rock climbing so that you can get a better understanding of both activities, and hopefully try them both!

Rock Climbing

rock climbing

Rock climbing is an activity that can be done in outdoors or at a gym. The participants are supposed to climb up, down and across different rock formations or artificial rocks that can be found in a gym. The ultimate goal is to reach the summit of an endpoint whilst avoiding falling.



Bouldering is a form of rock climbing where the climber doesn’t utilize any ropes or other technical gear. Bouldering is usually practiced on walls, roofs, stairways or paths that are less than 20 feet high. A lot of climbers utilize bouldering as a form to physically train and get fit.

What’s The Difference Between Climbing and Bouldering?

Climbing Styles

As you may already guessed, the actual movements between both activities are quite similar. You are required to have a unique strength, precision, endurance and a perfect technique in order to succeed in both disciplines.

  • Climbing: A climber will always be secured by a rope which will prevent him from making a ground fall while he is climbing. Rock climbing requires maintaining a mental focus throughout the whole climbing activity as you have to ensure you can avoid all sorts of distractions- especially the intense heights and exposure you get being on top of the ground. Also, as you get more experienced you learn to trust more the ropes and gear, but its crucial to always remain focus and avoid getting complacent as a fall from up high will most likely kill you. Another challenge rock climbers face is when they find themselves both physically and mentally exhausted, to remain focused enough to tie into and rig anchors correctly.
  • Bouldering: Bouldering requires more intense and short movements. It typically involves climbing a piece of rock that’s above 3-6 meters high. With bouldering, the physical difficulty is very intense and you usually do a lot of foot, dynos, toe, mantles. One big difference is when you are reaching the top, as you will most likely be required to mantle up the boulder. Due that you have no rope, the is no anchor that you can clip into and fall safe. Therefore, you either do it or fall back to the ground and have to start all over again.


climbing gearRock climbing raises your heart rate and improves your cardio- respiratory wellness while also enhancing your muscular endurance and stamina. The more difficulty of routes, the more this will intensify.

Bouldering as described above, will involve climbing shorter routes- or problems (as its also known) closer to the ground and without a rope. The climber’s endurance is tested here as they will push their bodies to their limit.


What Gear Do You Need For Bouldering?

indoor boulderingOne of the key advantages while bouldering is that you require way less gear. This helps to reduce costs and makes it easier to jump on your next bouldering activity. Let’s now break it-down between Indoor Bouldering and Bouldering Outdoors:

  • Indoor Bouldering: Your essential gear will be the bouldering shoes. You want to ensure you spend some decent money here to ensure you have a comfortable experience. In addition, I do recommend getting some chalk bag and brush in case you are getting more serious.
  • Bouldering Outdoors: In this case it gets a bit trickier, as apart from your bouldering shoes, you will need to ensure to bring a long a crash pad, some chalk bag and a climbing brush.

To boulder, your essential gear will be the bouldering shoes. Having some chalk bag, crash pad and a brush will just make things easier.

What Gear Do You Need For Rock Climbing?

This will depend on a variety of factors such as if you are doing rock-climbing indoors, sport climbing or Trad Climbing.

In general you would require the following gear:

  • Climbing shoes: Irrespective of what type of climbing you decide to make, climbing shoes are the first thing you need to get. They are basically the main gear you will need to invest on. There are heaps of options available for your first pair. When you are at your learning stage, I wouldn’t bother too much on getting anything fancy.
  • Chalk Bag: The climbing shoes would typically be everything that is necessary to get you started, but I can assure you that the chalk bag will just make things much easier for you. They are not expensive, and luckily there is a broad variety of options for you to choose from.
  • Harness: This will mainly depend on what type of rock climbing you decide to go after, but if you are in the outdoors you will definitely need a harness. They tend to be a good investment, as they are not expensive and they have a good lifespan.
  • Helmet: This is another (must have ) gear either if you are climbing outside or in a gym. It’s one of those items that usually don’t look that cool but when it actually counts you will be more than glad to have invested on a proper helmet. Ultimately its your decision and you need to determine how much risk-adverse you want to be. I personally suggest to invest a decent amount of money on this item.
  • Rope: If you are going for sport climbing or trad climbing then you will eventually need a rope. Typically as a beginner, it’s usually recommended to spend some time with more experience climbers (who tend to have ropes of their own). As you progress and become more experience, then you may start considering investing in your own rope.


There is a lot of risk associated with climbing. Some of them may be more controlled while others may be more unpredictable. As a rule of thumb, climbing indoors tends to be more safe than outdoors, although there can be some serious accidents and even fatalities in climbing gyms.

  • Bouldering Indoors: Your main risk could be to a big fall, a certain move or twisting an ankle.
  • Rock Climbing Indoors: The main risk here is associated to human mistakes, such as not tying your rope appropriately, using a wrong knot, etc. Although non-climbers tend to fear that the gear will not function appropriately, the reality is that the manufacturers have to go and comply with strict controls, consequently they ensure their products can meet all the required standards.
  • Rock Climbing Outdoors: It tends to be one of the safest options considering all the gear involved. However, it is important to highlight that due to the higher heights, the risks are higher in case something goes wrong. Furthermore, the environment is more watery, thus you will need to pay a closer attention to the holds as the weather can change really quickly, causing them to be loose.As stated above, rock climbing requires more gear in order to ensure the climber stays safe.


Rock Climbing and Bouldering utilize different grades systems. The number of grade conversions are vary depending in different parts of the world. They are quite subjective, and the grades will end up varying according to the different locations and set of climbers.


If you are wondering which type of climbing is right for you, you’ll want to factor your age, stamina, fitness level, and skill level. In addition, we strongly recommend that you begin training at a gym, where you will have the appropriate supervision and safety measures that will enable you to learn the proper technique and get a feel for both activities.

Both of these activities are amazing, therefore, in the end its up to you to determine which one you prefer the most!