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The Crushers Guide To…

Sport Climbing

Its rich history, marked by the pioneering efforts of climbers like Wolfgang Güllich, has evolved into a global phenomenon, with diverse climbing styles and destinations.

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Must See Guides

Want to find out more about sport climbing? Take a look at some of our guides below!

Climbing Grades Explained

Explained: Sport Climbing Grades

There are many sport climbing grades out there, so knowing which one to use can be confusing. From the YDS scale to the Ewbank, we explain it all!

9c Climbing Guide

The Ultimate Guide to 9c Climbing

Only three climbers have entered the realm of 9c climbing. Will you be the next?

Hardest Sport Climbs in the world

The Hard 100: Sport Climbing Edition

Here you’ll find a list of all the hardest sport climbs in the world!

The Evolution Sport Climbing

Sport climbing emerged in the early 1980s as a revolutionary approach to rock climbing, driven by the desire to ascend smoother rock faces that traditional climbing couldn’t safely manage. In France, climbers like Patrick Berhault and Patrick Edlinger began installing permanent bolts into limestone walls, notably in Buoux and Verdon Gorge, creating safer, more accessible routes. This innovation shifted the focus from survival and gear management to the athleticism and technique of climbing.

Parallel developments occurred in the United States, with climbers like Alan Watts at Smith Rocks initiating the American sport climbing scene. Routes like Watts Tots and Chain Reaction marked the beginning of this new era. Initially met with skepticism, especially in traditional climbing strongholds like the UK, sport climbing gradually gained acceptance as it pushed the boundaries of climbing’s physical possibilities.

Figures like Wolfgang Güllich, with his ascent of Action Directe, significantly influenced sport climbing, continually elevating its standards and popularity.

Wolfgang Gullich climbing
Wolfgang on La rose et le vampire. Buoux. 80s ©Thomas Ballenberger

What Exactly is Sport Climbing?

Sport climbing is a form of free climbing where climbers ascend routes using only their physical strength and skill, without the aid of devices that assist in the climb. The routes in sport climbing are typically shorter than those in traditional climbing, ranging from about 100 feet (30 meters) in length, although some of the hardest sport routes like DNA and Chilam Balam are over 50m!

Seb Bouin DNA First Ascent
The amazing cave of La Ramirole with the route, DNA ©Lena Drapella

The defining feature of sport climbing is the use of pre-drilled, permanent bolts that are fixed into the rock. These bolts, usually spaced at regular intervals, provide protection in case of a fall. 

Climbers use quickdraws (a set of two carabiners connected by a strong fabric loop called a dogbone) to connect their climbing rope to these bolts. This setup significantly reduces the risk associated with climbing, as it prevents long falls.

Climber pinkpoint climb

The focus on safety and the athletic aspect of sport climbing makes it particularly appealing to those new to climbing, as well as to experienced climbers looking to push their limits in a more controlled environment.

Sport Climbing vs Trad, Bouldering & Free Solo

Okay so now we know what sport climbing is, but how does it compare to other forms of rock climbing? 

Trad Climbing

Traditional climbing is a stark contrast to sport climbing. In trad climbing, climbers place and remove their own protection devices in rock fissures during their ascent. This style of climbing compared to sport climbing demands a comprehensive understanding of gear placement and rock characteristics, presenting a higher threshold of risk, adventure, and self-reliance. Trad routes often cover longer and more varied terrain.

Dave MacLeod on Rhapsody E11
Dave making the epic ascent of one of the hardest trad climbs in the world ©HotAchesProductions


Bouldering diverges significantly from sport climbing. It focuses on climbing short, challenging routes, known as “problems,” without ropes or harnesses. The height of bouldering problems is usually less than 20 feet but you do also get what are known as highballs where the height of the boulder can exceed 14m. When it comes to protection, bouldering uses crash pads and spotters to soften a fall. Bouldering emphasizes powerful, dynamic movements and intense problem-solving in a compact format. It’s often more social, with climbers working together to solve problems.

V17 Bouldering
Shawn Raboutou on Alphane @honngy

Free Solo Climbing

Free solo climbing represents the extreme end of the climbing spectrum compared to sport climbing. It involves ascending without any ropes, harnesses, or protective gear, relying solely on the climber’s skill and mental strength. The risks are significantly higher in free solo climbing, as any mistake can have dire consequences. This discipline is reserved for the most experienced and skilled climbers, exemplified by feats like Alex Honnold’s famous free solo ascent of Freerider on El Capitan.

Alex Honnold free soloing Freerider

Essential Gear for Sport Climbing

Sport climbing requires specific gear to ensure safety and enhance the climbing experience. Below you’ll find a rundown of the essential equipment you’ll need to take wit you to the crag. If you want a more comprehensive guide, take a look here.

#1 Harness: A well-fitting, comfortable harness is crucial. It should not restrict movement or circulation, especially during long climbs or while belaying.

#2 Climbing Shoes: Select shoes that offer a balance between comfort and performance. They should be tight, but not painful. 

#3 Rope: A durable rope is a must-have. A 70-meter rope with a diameter of 9.7 – 10 mm is versatile for most sport climbs. 

#4 Quickdraws: Quickdraws are used to clip the rope into the bolts on the route. They consist of two non-locking carabiners connected by a dogbone.

#5 Belay Device: Knowledge of belaying is essential. Start with a simple locking carabiner and ATC setup, then consider upgrading to devices like the Petzl GriGri, which offers auto-locking capabilities.

#6 Chalk Bag: A chalk bag helps maintain grip by keeping your hands dry. Choose one that fits your hand comfortably and comes with a waist strap. 

#7 Helmet: A helmet is vital for protection against falls and falling debris. 

Understanding Sport Climbing Grades

Sport climbing grades are essential for climbers to gauge the difficulty of a route and to track their progress. These grading systems, while varying globally, offer a standardized way to understand the challenge a climb presents.

Climbing Grade Conversion Chart

Yosemite Decimal System (YDS)

Predominantly used in the United States, the YDS starts with a 5, indicating rock climbing, followed by a decimal number representing the difficulty. The scale ranges from 5.0 (easiest) to 5.15 (most difficult). For example:

  • 5.0-5.8: Beginner
  • 5.9-5.10: Intermediate
  • 5.11-5.12: Advanced
  • 5.13-5.14: Expert
  • 5.15: Elite

At 5.10 and above, a letter (a-d) further refines the grade, with ‘a’ being easier than ‘b’, and so on.

French Grading System

Widely used in Europe and many other climbing destinations, the French system uses numbers and sometimes letters. The scale starts at 1 and progresses upwards, becoming more difficult as the numbers increase. For instance, a 6a is easier than a 6b.To find out more about sport climbing grades, take a look here.

Best Sport Climbing 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:

Yosemite National Park, USA

Highlights: Iconic big wall climbing, amazing bouldering, and single-pitch climbing.

Best For: Intermediate to advanced climbers.

Season: Spring and autumn.

Terrain: Granite walls with a mix of slabs, cracks, and off-widths.Notable Routes:The Nose, Freerider, Freeblast Slab, Half Dome.

Climber on Freeblast Slab
Freeblast Slab on El Cap

Kalymnos, Greece

Highlights: Over 3,400 routes with a variety of grades, perfect for all skill levels.

Best For: Amateur to pro climbers (routes ranging from 4a to 9a).

Season: Year-round, with autumn being the peak season.

Terrain: Limestone with overhanging tufas and sculpted holds.

Notable Routes: DNA (7a), Tufa King Pumped (7a+)

Kalymnos climbing

Dolomites, Italy

Highlights: Alpine climbing with short approaches, sport climbing crags.

Best For: Beginner to pro, but alpine experience is beneficial.

Season: Summer.

Terrain: Dolomitic rock, varying in quality.Notable Routes: Tre Cime, Cinque Torri, Marmolada South Face.

Climbing in Dolomites

Tonsai & Railay, Thailand

Highlights: Tonsai offers a stunning backdrop of lush jungles and turquoise waters, making it a paradise for climbers. The area is known for its steep, overhanging limestone cliffs with a plethora of routes that cater to various skill levels.

Best For: Climbers of all abilities, from beginners to advanced.

Season: The best time to climb is from November to April, avoiding the rainy season.

Terrain: Limestone cliffs with a mix of juggy overhangs, technical slabs, and tufas.Notable Routes: Groove Tube (6a), Tidal Wave (7c), Best Route in Minnesota (6c).

Tonsai climbing, Thailand
On a multi-pitch route in Tonsai

Sport Climbing FAQs

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