About six months ago my husband announced that we should try bouldering. I announced that breaking my arm in public didn’t seem like a fun way to exercise. Eventually, he convinced me to give climbing a try and after a few sessions, I finally got the appeal. And so far, no broken bones.
Bouldering has been slowly growing in popularity, with more climbing gyms seemingly popping up everywhere. HBO Max has recently launched the first season of The Climb with Jason Momoa, which features amateur climbers taking on massive rocks in the outdoor climbing competition series.
A big draw for us to start bouldering was that we could do it as a family. Like golfing or skiing, bouldering is a sport that families can enjoy together, which is great for parents would want to get out of the house, workout, and help their kids get rid of their energy.
When it comes to indoor climbing, there are a few options. We started with automatic or auto belay, which is when a belay device is attached to the top of the climbing wall. Climbers wear a harness and clip into the belays and can climb solo without someone on the ground belaying them. When the climber falls or makes their way back to the ground, the belay slowly lowers them.
Auto belay was a good starting place for us as new climbers because there is less training required than traditional belaying. It also allows climbers to get used to climbing without the risk of injuring themselves from falling.
After a safety demonstration, the whole family was able to begin climbing, including our four-year-old, who was naturally much better than my husband and I. Have you been to a park lately? Kids love climbing.
While I did enjoy auto belay, I quickly realized that my fear of heights has not diminished as I’ve gotten older. Fun fact! So, onto bouldering.
With bouldering, climbers are not strapped to any type of rope. While bouldering walls are much shorter than top rope walls, falling is still scary. Climbing gyms require new climbers to take a safety course before bouldering, which is essentially learning how to fall. That’s right, we paid a gym to let us fall from upwards of 15 feet. I bet you can’t wait to sign up!
Kidding aside, bouldering is a sport that comes with bumps and bruises, but it is also a great full-body workout. While I’m still relatively new to the sport, I have found several positives.
It’s a great workout – As we mentioned before, climbing works out the entire body. First time climbers will find there are muscles in their body they were previously unaware of having. Depending on how you climb, bouldering can be similar to a weight-lifting workout or an endurance set.
You can boulder solo – If working out solo is your thing, bouldering is a great option. Unlike other top rope climbing (not including auto belay), bouldering doesn’t require climbers to have a partner.
It’s a welcoming environment – This is a big generalization, but out of the five climbing gyms I’ve tried, every experience has been positive. Climbers are a chill and supportive breed. Most gyms have benches or Adirondack chairs for climbers to use when resting, which helps to facilitate a warm and social atmosphere.
Classes and gym equipment are included – The majority of climbing gyms offer yoga classes and have gyms with standard exercise equipment, which means getting a membership gives people the benefit of climbing, exercise equipment, and classes, all for one price.
It’s a year-round sport – Live somewhere with a terrible winter/awful summer? Indoor climbing gyms are about to be your new best friend.
All ages can climb – Parents, take note. Bouldering, and climbing in general, is a great sport to get the family involved in because it’s fun for all ages. Many of the gyms I visited have lessons available for kids as young as 4 to 6. Each climbing problem (individual rock patterns) is also graded for difficulty, which makes it easy to identify beginner routes.
Minimal gear is required – Thankfully, climbing is a sport that doesn’t require a ton of gear or financial barriers to entry.
Of course, there are some negatives too. Falling is a risk climbers take every time they ascend. Bouldering is also hard on the hands and fingers and blisters are almost a given. While required gear is minimal, bouldering can be pricey. The average one day pass for my bouldering gyms in Arizona is about $25, but every gym offers a membership, which offers savings for frequent climbers (these typically come with guest passes – bring a friend!).
Whether you’re top rope climbing or bouldering, the list of items required to enjoy the sport is short. We’ve outlined climbing gear below, including bouldering essentials and useful add-ons.
1. La Sportiva Finale Climbing Shoes
Read More: The Best Climbing Shoes
If you’re going to climb somewhat regularly, investing in your own pair of shoes is a must. La Sportiva is one of the best-known climbing brands and is typically carried in most climbing gyms. My husband wears the men’s Finale and I wear the women’s Tarantulace style. Both shoes have an unlined leather insole that will stretch and mold to your foot. We like this style because it works for bouldering and if we want to do any belay climbing as well.
2. Friction Labs Premium Sports Chalk
Read More: The Best Climbing Chalks
Another must-have product for newbies and experts is chalk. Hands take a beating with bouldering and one of the best ways to protect your skin and improve your grip is with chalk. Plus, it helps make beginners feel like pros. We use the Friction Labs Premium Sports Chalk, a popular brand that is sold in most climbing gyms.
3. Climbskin Hand Repair Cream
BEST HAND REPAIR
Even with a solid layer of chalk, your hands are still going to be crying by the end of each climbing session. Before I leave the gym I am already slathering the inside of my hands with Climbskin, a non-greasy, shea butter balm that hydrates the skin and helps aid recovery. It’s also a good idea to use Climbskin a few hours before climbing to help create a layer of protection.
4. Hampton Adams White Finger Tape
Bouldering comes with a lot of cuts and blisters, but they don’t have to keep you off the wall. Finger tape, like the Hampton Adams line, helps provide protection, while allowing your hands and fingers the flexibility they need to keep their grip.
5. Hydro Flask Wide Mouth Water Bottle
BEST WATER BOTTLE
A water bottle is a must-have for any sport and I love using my Hydro Flask when bouldering. It’s easy to add ice cubes thanks to the wide mouth opening and the professional-grade stainless steel interior keeps water cold for up to 24 hours, which means you can get your water ready the night before for an early morning climb. I also like that the powder coat exterior never sweats, which is especially important when you want to keep your hands dry during climbing sessions.
6. Hawatour Nail Clippers Set
BEST NAIL CLIPPERS
It’s a good idea to keep a pair of nail clippers in your climbing bag for two reasons. One, you may have forgotten to trim your nails and need to do a quick clip to get your hands ready for climbing. Two, nail clippers can help remove dead skin from the blisters that will inevitably start popping up once you begin climbing.
Nail Clippers Set, Ultra Sharp Sturdy Fingernail and Toenail Clipper Cutters with Visibly Tin Case by HAWATOUR
$12.99 23% Off
7. Two Stones Climbing Chalk Brush
Some gyms provide brushes, but not all, which is why it’s a good idea to have a chalk brush on hand. Over time, chalk and rubber from climbing shoes can build up on jugs, crimps, and foot holds (aka the ‘rocks’ on the wall) and make the surface slippery, a word climbers never want to hear. A chalk brush like the pair from Two Stones makes it easy to clean your problem (the pattern of ‘rocks’ you want to try) before climbing.
1. Stretch Zion Slim Pant II
Read More: Stretch Zion Slim Pant II Review
A great aspect of bouldering is that you don’t need a lot of gear, including clothing. Climbers can opt for tight or loose-fitting clothing as long as they are comfortable and can move. But if you want to step up your climbing look, the prAna Zion Stretch Pants 2.0 are the best. SPY editor and climber extraordinaire Anthony Mastracci swears by them, which is why my husband and I bought them. It’s true – they’re awesome. Unlike most workout pants, they keep your butt covered when stretching, which is especially important when you’re hanging 15 feet in the air.
2. FourLaps Level Tech Tee
Again, bouldering clothes can really be anything that you can move in and are comfortable with. But, if you’re looking for a recommendation, the FourLaps Level Tech Tee uses 37.5 technology and active particles to keep users cool in warm conditions and retain heat in cool conditions. SPY received a sample of this shirt and it’s our go-to when climbing since most gyms are heavily air-conditioned. It keeps us comfortable at the beginning of our climb and at the end when we are a sweaty mess.
3. Metolius Project Training Board
BEST TRAINING BOARD
Metolius has a large selection of training boards designed to help climbers improve their grip, arm, and back strength, but we like the Project Training Board for beginners. The board comes with mounting hardware and is easy to install, giving new climbers the chance to practice holds between climbing sessions.
4. Cotopaxi Halcon Chalk Bag
BEST CHALK BAG
A chalk bag isn’t a necessity, but it is useful. With a chalk bag, specifically one like the Cotopaxi Halcon that includes a belt, you can keep your chalk on you at all times while moving through different problems at your gym.
5. Nathan Limitless 2 Liter Sling
BEST FANNY PACK
Keep in mind that your chalk bag and climbing shoes will quickly become covered in chalk, so skip purchasing a high-end sports bag and carry your shoes and chalk in a tote you’ve got lying around. We do recommend you purchase a quality fanny pack that can hold your phone, keys, wallet, snacks, tape, Climbskin, and more while climbing. SPY received a sample of the new Nathan Limitless 2-Liter Sling. We love that it! It has a ton of room for our personal items, comes with a reusable water bottle, and is great for walking, running, and hiking, which are all great exercises that will help improve your endurance for climbing.
6. So iLL Finger Massager
BEST RING MASSAGER
At this point, it should be clear that climbing is tough on your hands. One way to help your fingers recover faster is with a ring massager like the So iLL Finger Massager. By rolling the ring over fingers, circulation is improved, which in turn helps fingers recover quickly between climbing sessions.
7. TriggerPoint Grid Patented Multi-Density Foam Massage Roller
BEST FOAM ROLLER
One of the best health aspects of bouldering is that it’s a full-body workout that uses muscles we often ignore in traditional workouts. To that same point, you are gonna be sore. Like, really sore. Help your newfound muscles stretch and recover with a foam roller like this one from TriggerPoint, which made our list of best foam rollers (click here for more on how to properly use a foam roller aka your new bouldering best friend).
TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller for Exercise, Deep Tissue Massage and Muscle Recovery, Original (13-Inch), Orange
8. Manduka Pro Yoga Mat
BEST YOGA MAT
It’s common for bouldering gyms to offer yoga classes, which we highly recommend taking advantage of when climbing. Not only will yoga help with muscle recovery, but flexibility is a big part of bouldering. Improving your flexibility is a great way to also improve your climbing abilities and having your own mat means you can get some stretching in at home. We’ve had our Manduka Pro Yoga Mat for years and it hasn’t shown any wear or tear even after regular use.
9. Theragun Mini 2.0
BEST RECOVERY TOOL
Read More: Theragun Mini 2.0 Review
A recovery tool to use at home will help with sore muscles after a climbing session. SPY writer and fitness expert Taylor Galla is a big fan of the Theragun line, especially the company’s new Theragun Mini 2.0, which packs the same (soothing) punch as the original Theragun, but in a quieter, easier-to-hold form.