The Four Different Types of Climbing

2020 is an exciting year for climbing. For the first time in the history of the modern games, climbing will be a featured event in this year's summer olympics in Japan.

According to Cycling Weekly, adoption of the UK government's ride to work scheme rose by 30% following the London 2012 olympics, we're expecting to see a similar effect on climbing across the globe as more and more people are introduced to the wonders of bouldering, traditional and lead climbing. 

So, what are the different types of climbing and do you need to be able to free climb up El Cap to get involved? Here's our brief guide to the four core types of climbing.


Bouldering is a form of climbing where you use no ropes and no harnesses. For a beginner that might sound terrifying, but stay with us for a minute. If you go bouldering at one of the many great indoor climbing centers across the US, you'll find that they cater for different abilities from absolute beginners to competition-level experts. 


Woman bouldering on an indoor climbing wall


The walls themselves have different color routes all over them - often referred to as 'problems'. Each of these colors indicates the difficulty or grade of the route you are attempting. To tackle one of these problems, you simply follow a route by only using holds of the grade you have chosen. 

At the bottom of the wall you'll also find safety mats to break your fall should you lose your grip. 

Bouldering is a great way to build confidence and test yourself on the wall, but we recommend if you're a complete beginner to get yourself a few lessons first. That will help you pick up the basic techniques and ensure your safety when out on the wall!

Sport or Lead Climbing

Lead climbing on the other hand does involve using ropes and harnesses to protect yourself from a fall. For many beginners, this is the likely to be where you start; providing a safety net as you familiarise yourself with the basic principles and following a set route as you climb the wall. 

The key here is that in sport or lead climbing, the anchors that your gear attaches to are permanently fixed to the wall - whether there are anchors embedded into the wall as you climb, or a fixed point at the top, you will not be required to place any anchors yourself as you climb.

Traditional Climbing

Trad or traditional climbing, much like lead climbing involves ropes and anchor points. However, the main difference here is that the climber or climbers will place all of the anchors and gear they need as they climb. There will be no fixed or permanent anchors for you to use on the wall. 


Man traditional climbing on an outdoor pitch


As a result, trad climbing is one of the more advanced types of climbing and requires not just climbing skill and physical strength, but also great understanding and knowledge of how to correctly fix your own anchors. At the end of the day you and your fellow climbers will be entrusting your lives to these fixed points, so they need to be placed correctly. 

Once a pitch is complete you would then also remove these anchors, leaving everything as you found it.

Speed Climbing

Finally, speed climbing is when two climbers compete side by side on a standardized universal route created by the IFCS and the first to the top wins. Times are recorded by a plate underneath the climbers foot at the bottom of the route and a light sensor at the very top which climbers must hit to complete the climb. For competitions or speed records to take place the IFCS must first certify the wall according to their set of specifications. The IFCS has two speed courses, one at 10 meteres and another at 15 meters but all International events are set to 15 meters. There can be World record attempts for either length but they must be sanctioned by an IFCS appointed Jury President. The current speed record is 5.6 seconds for men and woman 7.53 respectively, both achieved at World Cup competitions.

Want to find out more about getting into climbing? Why not take a look at our blog on the best indoor climbing centers in New York?