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Bouldering, Sport Climbing, Trad Climbing – What’s The Difference?

Female rock climber flexing for the camera while on a route

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Bouldering Basics

Bouldering at Mcconnell's Mill State Park in Pennsylvania.
Bouldering at Mcconnell’s Mill State Park in Pennsylvania.

You can essentially boulder anywhere you find rocks. There are tons of established routes out there, with Utah, Colorado, and Idaho having some of the best routes.

If your interested in bouldering, discover the ultimate crash pads for beginners that will cushion your every move, while unraveling the secret behind selecting the perfect climbing shoe tailored just for you

Sport Climbing Basics

A climbing duo at Lisbon Ohio Log Town  lowering off the wall using safe belay techniques.

Sport climbing is done on established routes that already have bolts placed into the rock wall. Unlike bouldering, you can’t simply walk up to a rock wall and sport climb. 

The bolts placed in the wall are what you will attach your own protection to. Quickdraws are the main form of protection for sport climbing.

There are some major differences between bouldering and sport climbing:

  • Gear: with sport climbing you need gear. A harness, rope, quickdraws, locking carabiners, slings, an anchor system, and a safety. And none of it is cheap!
  • Requires more endurance: Sport climbing routes can be single-pitch or multi-pitch and can range in height from 30 feet to the massive 1900 ft Squawstruck located in Utah!
  • Technical: To climb a sport route you must know how to belay, how to properly place protection, how to create an anchor, how to take an anchor down, how to tie a figure-8 knot, and how to clean a route. It’s a lot more technical than bouldering where you just go up and down. For multi-pitch routes and solo sport climbing, you must also learn how to rappel. 
  • Expensive: Climbing equipment must be thoroughly tested and must be extremely reliable – you are literally putting your life into your equipment’s hands. So, needless to say, it’s expensive! Ropes alone are anywhere from $120-300. Harness, $50-150. Quickdraws, $60-150. It adds up.

Sport climbing is probably the most restricting form of climbing because you must climb established routes. However, there are so many established routes that you still have plenty of choices no matter what state you live in!

Ready to climb to new heights? But feeling both exhilarated and a bit apprehensive? You’ll need to choose the right rope and knot to keep you safe and secure as you scale to new heights. Let’s explore what rope works best for your adventure and how to tie the essential knot for maximum safety and security. Get ready to conquer your fears and climb to the top!

Hey there, adventurers! If you’re hungry for more rock climbing gear knowledge, check out these awesome articles:

Trad Climbing Basics

Trad climbing, also known as traditional climbing, is done on rock walls just like sport climbing is. But instead of using bolts to place protection, you use camalots to place your own protection into cracks and holes in the rock face.

Camalots, commonly called cams, are a piece of climbing gear that you place strategically in the rock face so that they will hold your weight if you fall. You then attach your rope to the cams to climb up the wall safely.

In addition to cams, you can use other forms of protection such as nuts and stoppers. These are called passive protection, which is just a fancy way of saying they don’t have moving parts. 

Trad climbing differs from sport and bouldering in a few different ways:

A man using a rope to climb up a rock face.
  • Technical: Traditional climbing is even more technical than sport climbing. In addition to needing to know everything you do for sport climbing, you also need to know, with certainty, how to place your cams correctly so they will catch you if you fall.
  • Expensive: Yea…a single camalot will run you about $80 and you need around two full sets before you can climb a wall with confidence. Not to mention the rope, nuts, stoppers, and nut removal tool. 
  • Pure: Trad climbing is considered by many to be a pure form of free climbing. You’re using your own judgment to place gear and relying on your ability to read the route to make it to the top.
  • Endurance: Sport climbing has the advantage of giving you an idea of when your next break will be. You can see the next bolt. For trad, you have to constantly be looking for the next gear placement, deciding if you can skip that crack and make it to the next. It takes serious endurance to trad climb.

Trad climbing gives you more freedom than sport climbing because you can pretty much climb anything available that has areas to place protection. You can get creative and make your own routes.

In the same vein, you’re limited to rock walls that have cracks and holes so you can place protection, whereas sport climbing can be done on more sheer walls as long as there are handholds and footholds.

A shirtless man climbing rock outside.

The Best Climbing Style For Beginners

If you’re new to the climbing world – welcome! Climbing is a challenging sport that works your whole body, including your brain!

But you may be wondering where you should begin? Do you sport climb to start, or begin with bouldering and work your way up?

You can try any style of climbing to begin with. However, bouldering and sport climbing are easier to start with than trad climbing.

Get ahead of the game in climbing with a solid grasp of the lingo and language used in the sport. Don’t let confusing terms hold you back – read up on the key vocabulary to conquer any challenge on the mountainside!

Sport climbing is the best choice to start if you plan to climb outdoors only. It offers you the most versatile climbing and there are enough established routes to keep you busy for, well, ever.

Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, these 9 essential items will ensure a successful climb. Don’t miss out if you’re ready to conquer new heights. Lace up, gear up, and let’s dive into rock climbing together!

Trad climbing is typically something you get into after you’re already an experienced climber. There’s a lot more knowledge necessary to trad climb, and having a good foundational understanding of climbing can go a long way.

Bouldering, Sport Climbing, And Trad Climbing – Our Conclusion!

A man rock climbing outside.

Climbing is an amazing sport that will challenge both your body and your mind. If you’re new to the sport, you probably have a lot of questions.

One of the most important questions is: where do you start?

Rest easy, getting into climbing may seem overwhelming, but with a few of our articles paired with a few youtube videos, you’ll be good to go! (Seriously, we learned MOST of our climbing knowledge through youtube).

If you’re just getting into climbing, you have three basic choices when it comes to styles of climbing:

  • Bouldering
  • Sport Climbing
  • Trad Climbing

For beginners, sport climbing and bouldering are going to be easier to get a grasp on than trad climbing. If you just want to dip a toe into the climbing world, try bouldering. It’s the cheapest route and will give you a good idea if you like climbing or not.

To start, check out your local gyms and get a day pass. Do a few boulder problems, rent a harness and try out a few sport routes, and see what you like.

For more articles on climbing, hiking, vanlife, and traveling with your pet, check out our blog


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