Indoor climbing walls are popping up all over the place. And with bouldering being so much simpler than sport climbing (with ropes and belayers), dedicated bouldering walls are common, popular and very accessible. So why try bouldering outdoors? Here are 8 reasons to leave the indoor climbing wall and get out into the wild.
Bouldering at a climbing wall is a fantastic alternative to the gym. It gives you a whole body workout and is thoroughly enjoyable. But indoor bouldering walls weren’t invented on their own.
Climbing indoors began as training for outdoor climbing. To provide a bad weather alternative for outdoor climbers when they couldn’t get outside. They are of course great during short winter days, or if the distance to a crag is too far to travel in the time available. In the past climbers started outside on rock and moved indoors when they needed to.
Times have changed and many climbers and boulderers get their first taste of our sport inside. Many of them never venture outdoors at all!
As a climber I have been lucky to experience some of the best bouldering in Europe. So to me, only climbing indoors loses much of the essence of what I love about bouldering or roped climbing. Fortunately, the simplicity of bouldering means that transferring outside can be fairly straightforward, if done correctly.
So here are 8 reasons that you should leave the gym. Go beyond the city limits to visit crags for a taste of what outdoor bouldering has to offer.
Please note, outdoor bouldering is a very different environment to indoors. There is a significant increase in risk to your safety, so anyone who wants to try bouldering outdoors should seek professional instruction or guidance from an experienced climber. For more information check out Prowess Climbing Coaching.
Outdoor sports are popular because they get us into a natural environment and engaged with the natural world. The benefit to both mental and physical health from being out in the great outdoors is well documented. This is no less the case with bouldering than any other outdoor activity.
Surrounded by hills, mountains, rivers, sea, it’s impossible to try bouldering outdoors without getting immersed in the natural world. Unlike some activities like cycling that see you speeding past the outdoors, climbing involves a lot of sitting and resting. This gives even more opportunity to kick back and take in natural wonders. And you really never know what wildlife you might see.
Many bouldering venues are in spectacular settings. I should know, I’ve been to more than 100 of them. From bleak and barren moorland like the Peak District and Dartmoor to the mountains of Snowdonia and to coastal venues such as St Bees in Cumbria. Bouldering can act as a driver to see unbelievable places that would otherwise pass you by.
And of course, you needn’t limit yourself to our shores. Bouldering has taken me all over Europe and has shown me places I couldn’t have imagined if I tried. Sweden’s endless forests, the Alps and it’s enormous snowy peaks, the high and dry sandstone cliffs of the Iberian mountains in Spain and, of course, the incomprehensible sandy forests of Fontainebleau near Paris. These are just some of the landscapes I would know little about without bouldering.
For most of us, nipping ten minutes down the road to a world-class bouldering venue isn’t possible and so you’ll need to travel. While it can be a bit of a burden to arrange everything, this also gives the opportunity to turn your bouldering session into a proper adventure. Which is one of the best reasons to leave the indoor climbing wall!
Camping somewhere, meeting new people, experiencing different cultures are all aspects that climbing holidays will open up to you. Climbing, and especially bouldering, are sociable activities with very friendly people. I met some of my closest friends at a crag. In 2014, I was invited to a friend’s wedding in Sweden who I met bouldering in Fontainebleau…
The holds at an indoor climbing wall are set by a person who has decided where to bolt them. On a rock face the routes are generally set by whoever first climbed it, but it is nature that lays out the holds. The usual hold recognition – “I’ve seen that hold on a different route, I know what it feels like” – now suddenly changes and you never know what you’re going to get.
For many, it is the problem solving aspect of bouldering which is the big appeal and this is never better than outdoors. Aside from first ascents – finding a new venue to develop yourself – you can rest assured that it is possible. Your task is to figure out how! Which is why you should try outdoor bouldering.
Indoor climbing walls are limited in their space, with climbers wanting new routes to try once they’ve completed them. So most climbing walls periodically change them. This keeps the challenge fresh and climbers coming back for more. The downside is that if you’ve not finished a climb before it’s taken down, your chance is gone forever.
It’s the opposite outside. Aside from routes occasionally getting damaged – either naturally, by accident or through vandalism – outdoor boulder problems stay the same forever. So you can keep coming back and trying again. This is known as projecting. It’s common for climbers to keep returning to their chosen problems time and again to complete their goal. My longest project took four years of effort to complete! Although this wasn’t the only climb I tried in that time…
One of the top reasons to leave the indoor climbing wall is to connect with bouldering history. Climbing an indoor problem is cool but it is artificial. It lacks the lasting feeling you get doing an outdoor bouldering problem. Sure, you might think back on a “red route” that was super cool but, and trust me on this, it pales in comparison to ticking off a classic boulder problem at an established venue.
Part of that joy comes from the knowledge of the people who have pulled on the same holds before you. Many climbs develop a reputation, such as the Marie Rose in Bas Cuvier, Fontainebleau which was the world’s first 6a and is notoriously difficult. There’s a very satisfying feeling to standing on top of a boulder and drinking in the history that comes from that.
Tell other climbers about a route you climbed at your indoor wall and they’ll not know the moves or how it feels like to climb it. However, bump into an experienced boulderer and tell them you were on Helicopter in Font and they’ll know exactly what you were up to. And they will probably ask if you took the big spinning fall that catches out so many people.
Only a handful of climbs develop a true worldwide reputation, such as Midnight Lightning at Camp 4 in Yosemite. But generally, you can talk to anyone who has visited the same crags as you and you’ll find common climbs to chat about. Shared experiences on boulder problems help people gel and effectively ingratiates you into the wider climbing community.
Just because you try bouldering outdoors it doesn’t mean you can’t keep going back to your usual climbing gym! Bouldering outside has its own distinct disadvantages – such as the week I spent sat in a wet tent in an Italian meadow. It is at times like these that climbing indoors comes into its own.
But there’s nothing to say you can’t split your time between indoors and out. In decades past, climbers looked down their nose at indoor climbing as a means to itself. Thankfully this is changing and climbers can be equally respected for climbing indoors and outside. So why not get the best of both worlds and try outdoor bouldering? You’ll not regret it!
We hope you found these reasons to leave the indoor climbing wall inspirational! Get plenty of ideas from out bouldering travel page.