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Bouldering is a dynamic and powerful style of rock climbing, focusing on short, challenging routes called “problems” that are tackled without the use of ropes or harnesses. This discipline emphasizes strength, technique, and problem-solving skills, allowing climbers to push their limits close to the ground.

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Must See Guides

Want to find out more about bouldering? Check out our guides below!

Bouldering Grades

Explained: Bouldering Grades

Are bouldering grades confusing? You’re not alone. We have created a guide with all the info you need to become a grade expert!

V17 Bouldering Guide

The Ultimate Guide to V17 Bouldering

Is your dream to climb V17? Find out everything you need to know about climbing at the top level.

Hardest Boulders in the world

The Hard 100: Bouldering Edition

There are so many hard boulders out there, so we’ve compiled a list of all the boulders graded V16 and up.

The Evolution Of Bouldering

Its history is intertwined with rock climbing, initially seen as a method for training or a playful diversion from more serious climbs. 

However, the 1950s marked a turning point when John Gill, a climber with a gymnastics background, began focusing on bouldering as a primary form of climbing. Gill introduced dynamic movements, such as dynos, and the use of chalk, significantly shaping bouldering into the sport we know today.

Climber John Gill bouldering

Yosemite’s Influence on Bouldering

In the 1970s and 1980s, Yosemite became a focal point for bouldering innovation, largely due to the contributions of climbers like John Bachar and Ron Kauk. These individuals, along with others in their circle, were instrumental in pioneering and popularizing bouldering in the Camp 4 area of Yosemite.

John making the second ascent of Midnight Lightning
John Bachar making the second ascent of Midnight Lightning ©Bob Gaines

The 1980s brought further advancements with the invention of bouldering mats, also known as crash pads, revolutionizing the sport by allowing climbers to attempt more challenging problems with a reduced risk of injury. This era also saw the rise of indoor climbing gyms, which played a pivotal role in popularizing bouldering, making it accessible year-round and in all weather conditions.

What is Highball Bouldering?

Highball bouldering is a distinct and exhilarating subset of bouldering, characterized by climbing taller boulders, typically ranging from 15 to 40 feet in height. This style of bouldering amplifies the mental and physical challenges of traditional bouldering due to the increased height and potential for more severe falls. Highball problems merge the physical intensity of bouldering with the psychological demands of climbing at significant heights.

Finnish Line Boulder V15 Rocklands
Jimmy Webb on the Finnish Line

What sets highball bouldering apart is not just the height but also the approach climbers take to mitigate risks. Climbers often use multiple crash pads and spotters to ensure a safer landing zone. However, once you reach the no fall zone, no amount of crash pads or spotters can really prevent some kind of injury. 

A perfect example of this is the highball boulder in Buttermilks, Too Big To Flail. First put up by Alex Honnold, this V10 highball is famous for its imposing height and challenging slabby moves.

highball bouldering pads
That’s an insane amount of pads!

Additionally, many highball boulderers employ a methodical approach to these problems, including extensive planning, rehearsing moves on lower sections, and sometimes even practicing the climb on a top rope to understand the sequences before attempting the boulder ‘unroped’.

Bouldering vs Free Solo: What’s the difference?

Bouldering and free solo climbing are both ropeless climbing disciplines, but they differ significantly in intent, style, and risk.

Bouldering typically involves climbing short routes (called “problems”) on boulders or artificial walls where the height is usually less than 20 feet. The focus is on executing a series of complex moves close to the ground. Safety in bouldering is managed through the use of crash pads and spotters, rather than ropes or harnesses.

Dave Graham Climbing Celestine V16
Dave climbing one of his hardest boulder at the age of 41 (photo from Dave IG)

Free Solo Climbing is the act of climbing taller routes without the use of ropes, harnesses, or protective gear. Free solo climbs are often hundreds or even thousands of feet tall, and the risks involved are significantly higher than in bouldering. The climber’s safety depends entirely on their ability to complete the climb without falling, as a fall in free solo climbing is likely to be fatal.

Brette Harrington climber
Brette Harrington free soloing

The line between highball bouldering and free solo climbing can sometimes blur, especially with highball problems that approach the height where a fall could result in serious injury or death. 

Highball bouldering becomes akin to free soloing as the height increases, but it is generally distinguished by the intent and style of the climb. Highball bouldering problems, while tall, are still focused on the complexity and challenge of individual moves rather than endurance or exposure. Additionally, highball boulderers often use multiple crash pads and spotters to mitigate the risks of a fall, a practice not found in free solo climbing.

In essence, while both highball bouldering and free solo climbing share the element of climbing without ropes, they are fundamentally different in their approach, risk management, and the nature of the climbs themselves. Another significant difference is the type of rock face. Free soloing is usually done on the side of cliffs and mountains, whereas bouldering and highball bouldering are generally done on well…boulders!

Essential Gear for Bouldering

Below are some bouldering essentials you’ll need to take with you at the crag or in the gym. If you want a more extensive guide, check out the full essential and non-essential guide I wrote!

#1 Climbing Shoes: Rock climbing shoes are a must! There are way too many options out there depending on your feet and what kind of terrain you’ll be climbing so I won’t go into detail here. But, if you do want to find the perfect shoe for you, Climbing Shoe Review is a great place to start!

#2 Crash Pads: These are portable foam mats placed on the ground to cushion falls. For highball problems, multiple crash pads are strategically arranged for optimal safety.

#3 Chalk and Chalk Bag: Chalk is used to keep the hands dry for better grip. A chalk bag is worn around the waist for easy access during a climb.

#4 Brush: A small brush is often used to clean holds of dirt and excess chalk, ensuring better grip.

Spotters Play a Crucial Role…

Spotters play a vital role in bouldering, especially in outdoor settings. A spotter’s primary job is to ensure that if a climber falls, they land safely on the crash pad. They do this by guiding the climber’s bod, towards the pad. Spotters need to be attentive and ready to react quickly to the climber’s movements.

Good spotting involves:

  • Positioning: Spotters should stand in a balanced stance, ready to move and adjust the pads if necessary.
  • Focus: Keeping a constant eye on the climber to anticipate their movements and potential fall lines.
  • Protection: Guiding the climber away from hazards like rocks or roots and ensuring they land on their feet or back, not their head or neck.
what is beta in climbing

While spotters can’t prevent all injuries, their presence significantly reduces the risk of serious harm, making them an indispensable part of safe bouldering practices. 

Also boulderers, I know it’s hard to control a fall sometimes, but be mindful of your spotters below and try to not take them down with you or injure them. (I may or may not have sprained by partner’s wrist as a slipped off a boulder…)

Bouldering Grades Explained

Bouldering grades are a system used to indicate the difficulty of a boulder problem. The two most commonly used grading systems are the V-Scale in the United States and the Fontainebleau Scale in Europe.

Bouldering Grade Conversion Chart


This system starts at V0, which is the easiest, and progresses upwards. Higher numbers indicate more difficult problems. The scale is open-ended, meaning new, harder grades can be added as the sport evolves. Currently, the hardest bouldering grade is a V17.

Fontainebleau Scale

Used mainly in Europe, this system starts at 1 and increases in difficulty with higher numbers. It also includes letter grades (a, b, c) to provide more granularity within each numerical grade. To make it even more specific, the Font scale also adds a +. For example, 8B, 8B+, 8C, 8C+  and so forth. Currently, the hardest font grade is a 9A.

If you are interested in checking out more information about bouldering grades, take a look here.

Best Bouldering Destinations

Bouldering enthusiasts have a plethora of destinations worldwide that offer unique challenges and stunning natural beauty. Here are some of the top bouldering spots:

Fontainebleau, France

Overview: Known as the “Mecca of Bouldering,” Fontainebleau has a rich history in the sport. It offers a vast array of problems set in a beautiful forest.

Terrain: Sandstone boulders with a variety of features, from slopers to crimps.Best For: All levels, with color-coded circuits indicating difficulty.

jour de chasse Fontainebleau

Rocklands, South Africa

Overview: A world-renowned destination offering a mix of quality boulders, with a huge amount of highballs to get your heart racing.

Terrain: Bright orange sandstone bouldering features a diverse range of problems, from powerful overhangs to delicate slabs.

Best For: Intermediate to advanced climbers, though there are options for beginners.

Rocklands climbing in south africa

Buttermilks, Bishop, California, USA

Overview: Famous for its picturesque setting and highball problems, the Buttermilks is one of the top destinations for bouldering in the USA.

Terrain: Granite boulders with a mix of technical and powerful climbs.

Best For: Those looking for highball challenges and stunning scenery.

Buttermilks bouldering USA

Grampians, Australia

Overview: Offers a vast wilderness area with some of Australia’s best bouldering.

Terrain: Sandstone and quartzite boulders with a variety of styles and difficulties.

Best For: Climbers who enjoy exploring remote areas with diverse climbing options.

guys what to wear bouldering in winter

Bouldering FAQs

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