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A Beginners Guide to Climbing

By Cotswold Outdoor
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From its origins as a training routine for the early mountaineers, it could be said that rock climbing has evolved into four key styles. At times the boundaries between these can seem blurred and climbers are continuously exploring innovative ways of pushing the sport. But today these four styles are commonly known as; Traditional, Sport, Bouldering and Ice.


Traditional or ‘Trad’ climbing is the original form of rock climbing. The core value of Trad is to climb by placing your own protection and without damaging the rock. This involves climbing up and placing temporary ‘gear’ into cracks, holes and features within the rock itself. Originally this would have meant wedging stones or mechanical nuts and bolts into a feature; slinging a piece of cord around this and then looping this onto the rope. That way if you fell, the little stone would wedge deeper into the rock and save you from falling to the ground… or at least that was the idea.

Nowadays Trad protection is incredibly strong, light and effective. This has enabled climbers to tackle much more challenging routes. This does not mean however that it is without its risk, and at times Trad climbing does require a more technical understanding of safety. It is the level of knowledge required and the minimal damage caused to the rock that means many regard Trad as a particularly pure form of climbing.

Trad Climbing Equipment


Sport Climbing is a more modern approach that involves using bolts that have been drilled into the rock face. These are incredibly strong and hardwearing, enabling many climbers to take big falls onto the bolt with little risk of the protection failing. The bolts are drilled and placed by a person who wishes to make the area more accessible, and remain for all climbers afterwards.

One of the main advantages of Sport climbing is that it can be safer than Trad. This frees climbers to tackle much more dangerous routes, and psychologically liberates people to take bigger risks and much bigger falls. Also, as much of the protection is already inside the rock when you arrive, it means that people can climb very light, which frees them to climb even harder still. For many the combination of relative safety and simplicity is the appeal of sport climbing, resulting in an exhilarating and physically demanding type of climbing.

Sport Climbing Equipment


Bouldering is quickly growing in popularity. It involves very little equipment or technical knowledge and therefore has very few barriers to entry. It is also much more social than other forms of climbing, as many people can gather around a particular problem and attempt a short route very quickly, without having to build belay stations or work with rope.

This is because bouldering is predominantly done at a very low level, and classically consists of a handful of short but technically difficult and physically strenuous moves. However, just because somebody may be close to the ground by no means eliminates all the risks, and a thick bouldering mat is used to protect the climber from serious injury. Aside from being a serious discipline within climbing, bouldering is also great way for climbers to diversify their skills and many use it as a means of training, or simply for relaxing with friends.

Bouldering Equipment

Ice & Mixed

Ice climbing is a unique style for a number of reasons. Firstly as the name would suggest, it takes place on ice and therefore is classically done in winter. The other element is the equipment; ice axes are used to dig into the ice, and spikey attachments for your boots called crampons are used to dig into the slippery ice.

Depending on the location or the conditions of the ice, sometimes an ice climber will encounter areas of bare rock. This is common in the UK, and when climbing on both rock and ice the climbing is generally referred to as ‘mixed’.  It is still possible to use an ice axe on rock by digging the tip into a small feature, or twisting it in a crack and using this tension to pull yourself up. Ice and mixed climbing is a particularly challenging form of climbing as it requires exceptional understanding of weather conditions, great climbing ability, technical equipment and physical fitness.

Ice and Mixed Climbing Equipment