- Invented: 1950s
- Founded By: John Gill
- Highest Governing Body: International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC)
- Olympic Status: Added 2021 (Sport Climbing)
If you have ever wanted to try rock climbing, but found the heights and complicated, expensive gear intimidating, then bouldering may be for you. Bouldering does not require ropes or a harness and takes place at relatively low heights. The origins of bouldering came to be in the forest of Fontainebleau, in nineteenth-century France, where traditional alpine climbers used short climbing routes to train without ropes in the offseason. This activity was not legitimized as an independent sport until it was championed by John Gill in the 1950’s and 60’s. The prescribed progression from hold to hold is known in bouldering as a problem, unlike other disciplines of climbing where it is called a route. John Sherman revolutionized the sport in the 1990’s by inventing the V system for grading the difficulty of problems. The spread of indoor climbing gyms and social media has increased the accessibility and popularity of bouldering since then. Bouldering made its Olympic debut as a part of the sport climbing event during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2021.
What is bouldering?
Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that takes place at low heights, typically below 20 feet (6 meters). Bouldering climbers, called boulderers, proceed up and across vertical or inclined faces, using small protrusions from the wall or rock, known as holds, to support them. Bouldering can be practiced indoors in a climbing gym or on short cliff faces and rock formations outdoors. When bouldering, no safety harnesses or climbing ropes are used, but crash pads are placed on the ground or floor to reduce the risk of injury from falls.
Where are the best places to go bouldering?
The best places to go bouldering are usually the ones that are accessible and close to home. Bouldering is meant to provide a full rock climbing workout with only minimum gear and vertical climbing space. Therefore, a local climbing gym or public park is often the best venue for bouldering, as it can be visited almost daily. Although climbers can boulder nearly anywhere, some iconic bouldering destinations have emerged. One is Fontainebleau, a picturesque scattering of boulders set in a forest outside of Paris, France. Another is Hueco Tanks, a range of low mountains and boulders in the North Texas desert.
What equipment do I need to safely go bouldering?
Little equipment is required to safely go bouldering, which is part of its appeal. For indoor bouldering, the only necessary gear is a pair of climbing shoes. These shoes can typically be rented at the indoor climbing facility. Outdoor bouldering also requires a crash pad. Crash pads are portable slabs of foam wrapped in a durable fabric and placed on the ground to cushion a boulderer’s fall. Climbing chalk, contained in a cinchable chalk bag, and finger tape can provide additional comfort and security. In some areas, outdoor boulderers may wear climbing helmets as a precaution against falling rocks and other debris.