How to Start Bouldering Outdoors for Beginners
Show of hands - how many of us climbed trees and rocks and fences and maybe even homes when we were kids? Come on, I know I’m not alone here.
One of the reasons I love climbing so much is because it’s basically a grown-up riff on the original version of play that we can more often engage in as adults.
Of all the different ways you can climb a rock, bouldering is one of my favorite forms because it requires so little equipment and skill to get started. The overhead to explore this type of fun and adventure can be a lot lower than that of sport or trad climbing where you need more ropes and extra gear.
There are a few common questions and concerns I hear from friends and strangers who are newer to the sport that I want to address here. Those questions include: what equipment do I need to boulder? How much does it cost to start bouldering? Can beginners even do bouldering? How do you improve your bouldering technique?
Let’s dive in and find out how to start bouldering outdoors, shall we?
What Equipment Do I Need to Boulder
As I said above, bouldering requires the least amount of gear of any of the forms of rock climbing. The essentials are just three things: shoes, crash pad, and chalk. That’s it. If you want to add a few extras into your kit a brush and a chalk bag are nice to have.
Climbing shoes are critical for keeping you on the wall to the best of your ability. Having good shoes is important although having good technique and strong muscles will take you far as well.
Shoes come in a wide range of styles and materials. Some are better for beginners and some are better for more expert climbers. Some are better for slab (relatively flat walls that are less steep than vertical and rely on balance and friction-oriented moves) climbing and some are better for overhanging roofs (a rock that is angled at more than 90 degrees).
The type of shoe you need will depend greatly on the size and shape of your foot, your climbing style, and the type of rock and typical features you’ll be projecting.
Another thing to keep in mind as you explore this sport is that you don’t necessarily need brand new shoes. Sometimes used shoes can be a great starting pair for newbies because they’ll cost less and be largely broken in already! Breaking in climbing shoes can be very painful and so skipping this step might be beneficial.
Your crash pad is extremely important. This is the piece of gear that is going to break your fall - and you are guaranteed to fall. Crash pads come in a variety of sizes and foam thicknesses. A bigger crash pad might be better to fall on, but it’s also going to be heavier to carry and take up more space to store.
It’s a good idea to get crash pads in as new condition as you can find and afford. These are a huge safety piece and you don’t want to skimp on an old, inflexible one that won’t protect you from the forces of gravity.
Chalk & Bag
Some climbers use chalk for every move they make, some climbers only dust-up before starting a route, and some climbers don’t even use the stuff. There are as many different kinds of chalk as there are shoes and crash pads so we recommend you test out a few different brands and styles to see what works best for your hands and climbing style. Some chalk is sold in its own ziplock-style bag and some is sold in bricks that will need you to bring along a chalk bag to carry it in.
How Much Does It Cost to Start Bouldering?
So if you only need three things to start bouldering, how much might this end up costing you?
If you buy everything brand new, getting started with bouldering might cost between $250-300. This price range is based on full-priced, beginner-focused gear. If you happen on a seasonal sale, coupon, or lucky strike, it could be less! If you want higher-end gear, it’ll likely cost far more.
If you want to try out bouldering before investing in brand new gear, it might cost between $50-150. On our app, we even have some listings for shoes as low as $20! At less than HALF of what brand new, discounted shoes cost, that’s a steal if you’re just trying to get into the bouldering scene.
As with most outdoor activities, bouldering *can* cost as much or as little as you want it to, relatively. It *can* be wildly expensive to have all the best gear or it can be piecemealed together from used gear shops to thrift stores to garage sales to donations from friends.
One of the greatest parts of climbing, in general, is that it’s a very social activity and so you may even be able to borrow gear from climbing friends and partners before going for the full send and getting your own pieces.
How to Boulder for Beginners: It’s All About Mindset
While bouldering is a relatively low barrier to entry activity in the gear sense, that’s basically where the ease-of-use stops.
Bouldering is hard.
It can be intimidating and discouraging sometimes because a bouldering route is essentially crux move after crux move after crux move. Where sport climbing usually has one or two relatively hard moves on a route, bouldering is all the hard stuff in a (usually) smaller package.
So in addition to gear, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got the right mindset when learning to boulder.
A few tips for keeping your mindset and expectations right:
- View It As A Puzzle - Every bouldering problem (a “problem” is the specific route a climber takes to get from the bottom to the top) is a new puzzle that you get to solve. No two routes are going to be just alike using all the same moves and muscles. Heck, even climbing the same route more than once you may find new ways to get from the start to the finish! Each piece of the puzzle can be experimented with and put into place by you.
- Get Creative - One of my favorite parts of rock climbing is that it is endlessly customizable and so dependent on your own skills and preferences. To learn more about yourself and your climbing style, you have to try as many new things as you can. Seek out new project types, try out slab or overhang or jugs or crimps. Take your time climbing on them, check out different hand- or footholds to see how they feel. Make a move that feels uncomfortable just to see how it actually pans out. Staying creative will keep you on your toes and on the wall in the long run.
- Learn How Your Body & Skills Can Work For You - As I just said, we’re all different and our bodies are all different. The way a 6’ 6” climber tackles a problem and the way a 5’ climber tackles a problem are going to be vastly different from each other. Some climbers are very skilled with upper-body moves and some are far more reliant on their feet. We all have different preferences and strengths and weaknesses and so you are free to get as creative as you want or need to make it to the top of any route!
- Most Importantly, Have Fun With It! Seriously though, have fun. Bouldering, climbing, really any activity *can* get competitive and sometimes the competition can be fun and motivating but if you aren’t enjoying the process, reevaluate how you’re approaching the sport and find ways to make it fun for you again.
Hopefully, this guide has given you a starting point for how to start bouldering outdoors and peace of mind when it comes to finding the appropriate gear.
We hope to see you out there wrestling some pebbles soon!