How to start bouldering

So, you’ve heard of this thing called bouldering, but what actually is it?


Low-level climbing without ropes

Bouldering is one of many types of climbing. It is a form of low-level climbing on rocks or artificial walls without the use of ropes. Bouldering problems are typically only a few metres tall and can be on walls of varied angles from overhangs to balancy slabs. A “problem” refers to the sequence of moves a climber must complete in order to top (or finish) the climb. You can also traverse across a wall by climbing horizontally from one side to the other and staying even closer to the ground.

There is a style of bouldering outdoors known as highball (rope-free bouldering to significant heights) but it’s best to leave that to the adrenalin junkies. You won’t have to go too high in most climbing centres.



Getting started

Bouldering is an easy entry into climbing as you don’t need to learn knots or use a harness and ropes. You do not need to do a course to start bouldering, you simply watch a safety video and off you go,



How did it start

Historically, bouldering was invented as a method of training for roped climbing. By setting specific problems on a wall, people could practice the moves from a climb they were hoping to complete outdoors. It also served as a form of training to improve finger strength and power. However, bouldering developed into a sport in its own right and now we tend to differentiate between boulderers and roped climbers. Of course, many of us practice and enjoy both.


Independent climbing

Do I need a partner?

If you’re new to climbing and you don’t know any other climbers yet, bouldering is the perfect point of access. It is relatively easy to pick up as a sport and you don’t need a partner or a lot of gear. You can be as social or as antisocial as you like! Although you will probably find that climbing centres are very community-oriented spaces and you’ll make lots of friends easily if you want to. The independent aspect also means that you won’t end up frustrated if your friend is running late.

meeting people

The easiest way to meet people bouldering is when trying the same or adjacent problems. Just ask “have you tried this problem?”, “how did you do this one?”. Very often climbers are happy to share advice or offer support for your attempts.


What do I need?

The Kit List

All you will need is a pair of climbing shoes to help secure your feet on holds. You may also want to use chalk to improve your grip. Not every climber ‘chalks-up’, but it can come in handy if your hands get sweaty. It’s best to buy yourself a boulder bucket (essentially a large bag – to place on the mat) or a chalk bag (which you can wear around your waist). Both of these are available in the TCA shops (in centres). You can pour loose chalk or add chalk balls to these bags, also available in centres or online. Alternatively, you could buy a bottle of liquid chalk from reception, this is applied to your hands just before a climb and lasts longer. Why not experiment with different types and find your own favourite?

heading outdoors?

If you do end up bouldering outdoors, you will also need to get yourself a bouldering mat to avoid injuries from falls. We usually stock these at The Newsroom in Glasgow, but there are plenty of suppliers online. Indoor centres will already be equipped with mats. But it is important to remember that these do not remove the risk of injury completely!


Starting out

How do the grades work?

Each problem is assigned a grade based on difficulty. In our centres you will see colours assigned to a grade range – just look for the grading signs or ask staff. This means you can try different colours as you work your way up the grade ladder. Always start with the easiest grades, which are generally easy to spot as they tend to have bigger holds. Other centres will use tags on the starting holds to indicate grades.

If you’re not sure how to find the start or finish holds, ask a member of staff. You must complete all of the moves, finishing with 2 hands on the last hold to tick a problem. There are various grading systems in bouldering, although today most centres will use either the V-scale or the Fontainebleau scale (the latter is used at TCA).

It’s simple: the higher the number, the harder the climb.


No pressure

Just have fun

Although our grades will guide you through levels of difficulty, you don’t have to stick to this. As long as you are not getting in anyone’s way, feel free to move around on any colour. We call it rainbowing. You don’t have to climb to the top. Just go as far as you feel comfortable and remember to have fun!

And, if you’re struggling to move up the grades or to feel confident, why not try our Movement and Technique course? This first step in coaching is packed with tips and tricks to make climbs easier. This course is recommended for those that have been climbing at least five times.

Book Movement and Technique in Bristol
Book Movement and Technique in Glasgow


All TCA centres have bouldering facilities, although please note that The Church is primarily a roped climbing centre.