Rock Climbing 101: Types of Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing 101: Types of Rock Climbing

If you’ve ever been rock climbing before, you’ll understand how exhilarating the outdoor activity is. The thing is:

There are so many different types of rock climbing out there that it’s hard to know which one you should try, let alone understand what they mean. 

And that’s what you’ve come here for. This article is going to break down all you need to know about the styles of rock climbing.

By the end of this article, you’ll know everything you need to know about the rock climbing styles the gear you need to take, and where you can participate in the activity.

Sound good? Great. Let’s get started:

Staying Safe While Climbing

Before you get out there, it’s essential you understand how to stay safe while you’re climbing. So in this section, I’m going to give you 8 top tips to stay safe while you’re climbing:

  1. Always Check your harness is correctly fitted before you start climbing.
  2. Always wear a climbing helmet to stop rocks from hitting your skull
  3. Check that all your knots are correctly tied before you start climbing (use the buddy technique).
  4. Pay attention to the people climbing and be ready for a fall.
  5. Double-check the rope and belay device before you get started climbing.
  6. Use a long rope, so you always know you have enough.
  7. Make sure you bring more than enough gear to take on the climb.
  8. Always use safe anchors. 


If you follow these rules when you’re climbing, you’ll significantly reduce the risks. That being said, accidents happen, so make sure you’re prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.

Types Of Rock Climbing 

As mentioned in the intro, there are so many different types of rock climbing out there, and understanding each one can get pretty complicated.

Not only do you have to understand what each style of rock climbing entails, but you also need to know what gear you need with you to succeed.

And that’s what these following sections are going to explain:


Trad Climbing 

Trad climbing is the process of climbing while placing gear into the rock to add protection against falls.

When you’re trad climbing, you’ll have a minimum of two people taking on the route. The first climber is known as the lead climber, and it’s their job to place the gear as they climb up the route.

The second climber will use a belay device to keep the lead climber safe as they go up the wall. And when the leader is ready, the second climber will start the climb and remove the gear previously placed in the wall.

So, what gear do you need for trad climbing:

  • Climbing shoes
  • Harness 
  • Helmet
  • Chalk
  • Chalk bag
  • Rope
  • Slings
  • Quickdraws
  • Nuts/hexes/cams
  • Nut extraction tool
  • Belay
  • Locking carabiners
  • Nonlocking carabiners
  • Guidebook

As you can see, you need quite a bit of gear to go trad climbing, which can make it very expensive and heavy to carry. You can easily add an extra 15 lbs to your harness once you’ve got all your gear on.

Example Location: Yosemite National Park – California


Sport Climbing 

Sport climbing works similarly to trad climbing, except bolts are already set in the wall instead of placing gear for protection.

As the climber progress up the climb, they’ll reach bolts in the wall where they can clip their quickdraws onto and then around their rope. Once they reach the top, they’ll clip the rope into the carabiners, and the belayer will lower them down.

As they are being lowed down, they can remove all the quickdraws they placed ready for the next person to go on the route.

So, what gear do you need for sport climbing?

  • Harness 
  • Helmet 
  • Belay device
  • Climbing shoes
  • Chalk
  • Chalk bag
  • Rope
  • Quickdraws
  • Slings
  • Locking carabiners


One of the great things about sport climbing is you don’t need as much gear to get started, which saves you a bit of cash and reduces the weight you need to carry.

Example Location: City of Rocks National Reserve—Malta, Idaho


It started its life as a warm-up activity for trad climbers and sport climbers. But since then has become its own sport. 

Bouldering is all about climbing boulders. The routes are very short but usually require a series of technical and powerful moves to get yourself to the top of the boulder.  

One of the best things about bouldering is you don’t need a lot of gear, and it’s a great workout. 

So, what do you need to get started?

  • Chalk 
  • Chalk bag
  • Climbing shoes
  • Bouldering mat/mats

As you can see, you don’t need too much gear, which can lower the cost of the activity. And you can’t afford a mat or don’t like climbing outside; there’s plenty of bouldering centers in and around the US.

Example Location: Indian Creek, Utah

Top Roping/Indoor Climbing

Most people go top-roping at indoor climbing centers because they can turn up without any gear and have a go at climbing.

But here’s the thing:

You can also top rope outside to try a climb before you trad climbing it. Top roping involves setting up anchors at the top of the climb using a combination of slings, carabiners, rope, nuts, and cams.

You’ll then run the rope through the anchors and chuck it down the climb, so you have both ends at the bottom of the cliff.

The climber will tie themselves onto one side of the rope using a figure of eight, and the other end will be connected to the belayer. 

As the climber progress up the wall, the belayer will start to take in the slack until they reach the top of the climb. Once they’ve reached the top, the belayer can lower them down safely and slowly.

Here’s the gear you need to get started:

  • Harness
  • Chalk
  • Helmet
  • Belay device
  • Climbing shoes
  • Rope
  • Slings
  • Locking carabiners

Top-roping is an excellent option if you’re with a group of people because you can quickly rotate the climbers.

Example Location: New Jersey Rock Gym

Free Solo

I wouldn’t suggest this style of climbing to anyone, but it’s important that you understand what it is and why it’s so dangerous.

Free soloing is the process of climbing a route without any protection. You may have seen people like Alex Honnold taking on the like of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley.

But it’s not the kind of thing your average climber will ever get into. If there’s one good thing, it’s that you don’t need a lot of gear:

  •  Climbing Shoes
  • Chalk

Example Location: I wouldn’t advise any location

Ice Climbing

If the winter has come around and all the cliffs are frozen, it’s time to get your ice axes out for a spot of ice climbing.

Ice climbing is about ascending cliffs, mountains, or waterfalls that have frozen, making it impossible to climb in the traditional manner.

It’s very similar to trad climbing, except you need to use ice axes and crampons to get yourself to the top of the cliff.

Here’s the gear you need for ice climbing:

  • Harness
  • Helmet 
  • Belay device
  • Crampons
  • B3 boots
  • Ice screws
  • Quickdraws
  • Slings
  • Ropes
  • Ice axes

Example Location: Ouray, Colorado 


Final Thoughts 

There’s nothing like being outside on the crag. And it doesn’t matter what style of climbing you’re doing; you’re guaranteed to have a great time. The trick is making sure you’re prepaid for the routes you’re going to be taking on, which means having the right gear for the job.


If you’re looking to have a wicked weekend away climbing with your friends, make sure you pack a radiate campfire to enjoy at the end of a long day climbing. Relaxing outside by the fire with friends is truly the perfect way to end a day of rock climbing!


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