There was a lot of things i didnt know when i went outdoor climbing my first time about four years ago, so i made you this guide covering everything i have learned and think youd appreciate knowing for your first time outdoor bouldering.
How to go outdoor bouldering? First, its recommended you find a group to go with. Next get the necessary; Crash Pad, shoes and chalk. Then pick your crag based on approach or weather and drive there. When your there use a guidebook or online map to navigate the boulders and choose a climb you want to do. Put your crash pad where you expect to land and then you can climb an outdoor boulder!
Then just go and do it!
But there is a bit more too it than that however haha, and i would like to share some of those things you might not know with you now!
one of the best ways to begin your outdoor bouldering journey is meeting other boulderers that will take you outdoors.
If you can make friends with some boulders from your local climbing gym or online group,
they should be more than happy to take you your first time and they can show you the ropes.
I really recommend trying to find some people to go with your first time because it makes the whole process a lot easier.
Firstly, though probably have their own bolder pads and you won’t have to buy or borrow one for your first time,
Secondly, they can show you around and answer the questions youll have right there and then.
Plus its just way more fun with other people around,
Bouldering is pretty social because you actually spend a pretty short amount of time climbing,
The majority of your time is spent resting so its nice to have a group to chat with and cheer on!
If you can’t find some outdoor boulders to tag along with, I really recommend you have some people come along with you even if they’re not boulders.
With all dangerous activities it’s preferable you have people with you in case you were injured and need help.
especially outdoor bouldering where you could be in the middle of nowhere in some difficult terrain.
Plus its also just much more fun if you can spend your time outdoor with other people.
While i do enjoy solo climbing sessions occasionally, there a bit irresponsible if you were to get injured,
And the psyche is always much higher when climbing in a group.
Its pretty common for groups to come together for a session on a boulder because if you want to try the same line,
or two lines that are close, its good to team up and use all your pads to make the landings as safe as possible.
It also means theres more people for spotting and supporting.
I find i always try much harder when im climbing in a group, the energy is much higher!
Its also a great to be able to observe other people climbing your projects, youll probably learn a lot from how they move and how then use the holds,
Just make sure your watching the good climbers haha.
There’s not much you actually need to go out bouldering, you could go with just your climbing shoes and some chalk like they used to do back when climbers were hardcore.
This is whats really appealing for some boulderers, the fact its so simple.
You don’t have to mess about with ropes you just climb and try hard!
other than shoes and chalk all you need is a bouldering mat or ‘crash pad’.
this is your only protection when you go bouldering so it’s highly recommended you do get one, and a nice one too!
your local bouldering centre might be able to rent you one for the weekend, if you don’t fancy investing in one yourself.
I know the Gym I work at rents them out for up to 2 weeks so you could take them on a trip!
They cost around £100 so they are quite expensive if you’re unsure if bouldering is for you.
I got my favourite boulder pad for £80 but that was a good deal,
heres my review of that crash pad if you wanna read it.
Your shoes chalk and bouldering mat could cost you around £200 if you were to buy it all for your first-time outdoor bouldering.
This is why I suggest trying to find some other boulderers to go with, so you don’t have to buy a bouldering pad to begin with.
If you did want to buy a crash pad for yourself, here’s the review of my favourite bouldering pad.
Spotting outdoor boulders
The memebers of your group that are spectating as you climb can ‘spot’ you.
This is them basically waiting at the edges of the crash pads for you to fall, and they do there best to direct you to land on your feet.
This is a really good way to make all your group memebers feel as safe and supported as possible, and you might as well.
Youd just be sitting there watching otherwise.
To spot a climber effectively theres a few key points to remember:
- One leg in front of other
- aim for the lats when you make contact with falling climber
- DONT try catch the climber your just directing there fall to help them land on your feet.
when someones falling there gunna weight A LOT, no matter how small they are, and how many pull ups you can do!
Other than these three the only equipment you might want is a guidebook.
It’s basically a catalogue of all the outdoor boulders in your area with grades and climb descriptions.
The obviously pretty handy for knowing what each piece of rock is, on how hard they are.
This information is generally available online however if you don’t fancy investing in a bouldering guidebook, they do cost around £17.
If you don’t want to buy a guidebook just Google your local climbing area and ‘Boulder grades’ and you should be able to find most of the information you need online.
Guidebooks are very handy however for the extra information they provide,
they normally describe how to get to the climbing, where to park and even when you aren’t allowed to climb in that area.
It’s pretty common for climbing areas to be closed for some months of the year as birds’ nest in the cliffs, it’s worth checking this before you go.
Most crags are on private land and there’s certain expectations between the land owners and climbers that allow the areas to stay open to climbers.
The guidebooks are great because they tell you all you need to know about these kinds of things.
When choosing a crag, the main deciding factor is how long it takes to get to the crag.
As well as the climbing being close, you should defo spend some time looking for a crag you really enjoy spending time at.
You should have a look online and find an area that inspires you but also has a good selection of easier climbs for you to begin on.
You can spend your first couple of outdoor sessions visiting different crags until you find your favourite.
Don’t go to an area just because the climbs are easy or it’s a ‘beginner crag’.
Go to an area that inspires you, somewhere you enjoy being and want to climb!
We went to a ‘beginner crag’ for our first-time outdoor climbing, and it was a mistake because the climbing was much lower quality and less fun / inspiring than other areas we have visited since.
Other factors you should consider is the approach, average difficulty, rock type and if it’s a sheltered crag.
There’s also tides and wind direction, but these may or may not apply to your local crags.
If you have group members with less mobility for example, the easiness of the approach might be your main factor in choosing the crag.
If it’s been raining recently, you will have to avoid sandstone crags because you cant climb them when wet.
Each crag generally has its own style of climbing based on the rock type, so you can choose a crag by your fabourite style of climbing, or your weakest style of climbing if you love getting beaten up on boulders like i do.
For example, the cuttings is a bouldery, crimpy crag with easy starts and hard finishes… i like it there a lot.
then theres granite where its small, sharp crimps and cracks if thats your thing.
Parking for outdoor bouldering
Please park in sensible places at the crag,
the small carparks where i live are easilly filled and climbers end up parking on verges and in front of peoples property, and this causes assess issues when the crags are on private land.
Just be sensible and respectful, your representing all climbers when you go out to a crag!
The approach to the crag might be an adventure in itself, lots of the ‘walk ins’ are pretty demanding, they will surely raise your heart rate!
If you’re going outdoor bouldering, I’m assuming you’re fairly mobile, but it’s worth mentioning the approach to the crag is likely pretty steep, rocky, and ‘gnarly’.
If you do have any limitations, you should research the approach to the crag to make sure it is possible for you.
The approach to my favourite crag is a rappel or a scramble through a slippy boulder coastline for like 10 mins.
So, it’s definitely an important factor when picking a crag if you have children, or a less physically able group member coming to supervise for example,
You will need to find a crag with an easy approach, so you can all participate.
Don’t worry though, there’s lots of areas you can climb that have very easy approaches, some even only 5 minutes from the parking.
This is where a guidebook is really handy, it will describe the approach to that area so you can make a more informed choice for what crag to visit.
Or you could speak to other local climbers and see what crags they like, and ask what the approaches they like.
My recommendations for you are wear a grippy pair of shoes and have some clothes you don’t mind dragging through Bushes and over rocks.
inevitably your clothes and shoes will get a bit damaged so just make sure you knot in your nicest set of clothes.
Wearing clothes that don’t restrict your movement at all is my suggestion for you, your going to need your full mobility for the climbing and the approach too.
Climbing Ethics / Rules
I feel there’s some unspoken rules in climbing, so here’s my general summary of them for you, so you wont make anyone angry when you’re out bouldering!
Im sure theres more things climbers get mad about,
This is just the main ones you want to know about aha
This one isn’t unspoken, just don’t litter.
some people say if you’re littering where you are climbing, you don’t deserve to be using those places…
Just keep all your rubbish in your rucksack or a specific little rubbish bag.
Bonus points if you bring one extra piece of litter out of the crag with you,
you’ll definitely get some good karma for doing it.
If you do see people littering, dont be afraid to approach them, theres literally no excuse for littering and you will positively impacting the whole area by speaking up!
Appreciate it mayne.
music at the crag is fiercely debated, some people don’t mind, and some people really do.
if it’s just your group in an area, I don’t see a problem with music at the crag, but if you’re sharing the space with other climbers you shouldn’t really play music.
if you checked and they didn’t mind, you can obviously carry on.
it’s just a general rule that you don’t play music in a shared space.
Not even just in climbing, just in general life I feel obnoxious when I play music in public,
Maybe that’s just me…
The only other time I can think of where you shouldn’t listen to music even if it’s just your group is if you’re at a crag that has nesting birds.
at big crags, they sometimes only ban certain sections for nesting bird season so you could be climbing at a crag where birds are nesting.
If you at a crag that has nesting birds Its probably best you don’t play music because your likely disturbing the birds.
Lots of crags are on private land, or the birds are protected and not respecting them is a pretty common reason for climbers to lose access to crags.
leaving chalk and specifically ‘tick marks’ once you’re done climbing is frowned upon in the bouldering community.
When you there climbing the Boulder, there’s nothing wrong with using tick marks so you can see where your holds are,
But when people leave tick marks on the rock after they leave people can get frustrated because it’s an ‘eyesore’ and can ruin someone’s attempts at that climb.
if someone was specifically setting out to Onsight the boulder,
And you left your tick marks, they would probably be pretty mad,
because it essentially ruins there one and only on-sight attempt.
When you done climbing just make sure you give the Boulder a good brush and leave it how you found it for the next climbers.
This goes for the whole crag too,
leaving things how you found them is the way to go!
Bouldering uses a V grade, it stands for vermin after the guy who invented it,
but that doesn’t really matter.
you might already have some familiarity with the grades from indoor bouldering.
be prepared for the grades you usually climb indoors to feel much harder outdoors.
it’s always tough on the ego to transition to outdoor climbing because real rock has its own very specific demands that you won’t really find or be able to train on indoor climbs.
I think a good way to get started outdoor bouldering and find where you stand in terms of grades is to go out climbing and climb every v0 then V1 and so on.
Firstly this will quickly build your mileage, so you can get used to climbing on real rock,
Mileage climbing (climbing Lots) will also boost your experience and technique, if you focus on these things while climbing.
You will also discover where abouts your currently climbing on the V scale, this will help you pick crags and projects in the future.
There’s lots of weird and arbitrary rules about what holds, and sections of rock are allowed for all the ‘eliminate’ boulders.
Basically, an eliminate is the original boulder with some holds or whatever banned from use, to make a different, and usually harder line.
Also its worth mentioning outdoor grades are always way harder than indoors…
Maybe this isnt true at your crag or gym but so far the experiences ive had with my locals would suggest so.
This is partly because i think grades are inflating and totally arbitrary, but also because theres a lot of technique that goes into climbing real rock,
So the grades will probably feel much harder.
Id suggest starting at v1/2 and doing all of those grade in your area, then moving up.
This will give you an idea of the difficulty of things but its also just great for your technique development, and building experience on real rock.
Basically dont worry about your ego getting apsolutely crushed if you can climb v5 in the gym!
The v7’s at my local indoor feel about v5/6 outdoors,
Theres a secret magic to climbing real rock, you just gotta learn how to move through experince!
The ‘landing zone’ of your chosen climb might be nice and flat, or it could be on a Hill with protruding rocks.
This is where your boulder pad is welcome!
You want to position your boulder pad right where think you’re going to land.
This isn’t always going to be below you by the way… if your doing a jump or off balance move your not going to fall directly down.
My suggestion is to imagine the moves and see where you think your momentum is going to land.
This is why I recommend everyone my favourite crash pad as there first.
It has a zipped hinge so you can fold it either longways or widthways, covering way more ground than possible with a ‘Taco’ style boulder pad.
What this means is with one pad you’re basically able to cover much more landing ground, and it’s more specific to the character of the Boulder.
with a normal pad your average low-level traverses would need two pads, but with the ocun Boulder pad you can zip it longways and protect yourself on the whole traverse with just one pad.
here’s my review of the Boulder pad if you want to check it out.
Whatever pad you end up using just make sure you’re covering the area you think you’ll land as best as possible.
ideally, you’d have at least two pads, this way you can protect a pretty substantial area and feel much safer.
You have to be careful when protecting the area that your pads line up nicely, as in there’s no gap in between the boulder pads.
having a gap in between is running serious risk for injuring your ankle, elbow, or wrist because when you fall there’s a good chance you will land in that gap.
Even if you landed on your feet from not that high up at all, you could definitely break an ankle if you landed near the gap.
This is because there’s nothing supporting your foot from going down in the gap and twisting, you’re landing with a lot of force you could easily break your ankle if it rolled into this gap.
There are specific miniature pads designed to cross those gaps between pads, but you could minimise the risk quite a lot by just making sure the pads all line up nicely.
Try and keep the pads as level as possible too, I know its not always possible, but it severely reduces the chances of rolled ankles and injuries from landing funny.
In this section I cover what exactly makes outdoor climbing feel so different to indoor, and what to expect from climbing on real rock.
Firstly, the rock doesn’t care about your feelings, or your experience.
While indoor holds are made specifically to be ergonomic for us climbers to squeeze on, outdoor holds don’t care what you think.
They’re going to be pretty weird to hold in the beginning, they might feel uncomfortable and hurt your fingers.
the holds are going to be weird shapes, and you have to hold them in funny ways.
This is all part of the outdoor climbing experience,
I think you should bleed a little bit your first time climbing outdoors, it’s like your initiation.
Since the rock is likely quite sharp, you don’t really ‘slap’ for holds like you would in the gym.
you need to hit the holds well so your knot dragging your arms over the roughness of the rocks.
This might lead to your climbing style changing,
I bet you’re going to spend much more time locked off in your upper body because you need to feel around with your free hand to find the best bit of the hold.
Since the holds might feel a bit unnatural or bad, you might fall into the trap of feeling around the hold even though you know what the best bit is.
I did this a lot when I began climbing, it’s a hesitation thing…
Just identify the best bit of the hold, no matter how bad it is and use it.
The outcome isn’t important remember, your just out here learning and having fun, its what life’s all about!
I’d say it takes a good couple of sessions for your intuition to begin leading you when you climb outdoors,
there’s a certain skill to ‘reading the rock’ and this takes time to build up, so do worry if outdoor climbing feels much harder to begin with.
It’s pretty much a new sport!
Also, the holds aren’t sticking out in bright colours on a flat wall, you going to actually need to be precise when reaching for holds.
it’s probably going to take you a while to ‘study’ the boulder in the sea of ripples and texture of the rock.
Remember though, this is all part of the experience!
well there we have it, my complete guide to outdoor bouldering.
My main takeaways for you from this article are:
- Get a group of boulderers to go with
- Respect the outdoor environment
- Build up to climbing harder grades slowly
- Dont worry about it feeling really hard to begin with!
Let me know if i missed anything, or if this article brought you some value!
I enjoy making them, so ill see you in the next one!