Here are some basic rules about bouldering in the gym anyone new to the sport should know.
By Abi Cotler
It’s a little ironic. Overall, bouldering is a fairly rogue, yet communal experience. There aren’t a lot of rules to it, and you climb solo yet there’s a huge amount of camaraderie. Still, there are some things that newbies should know lest they irritate other climbers, or worse—take them out (and not in the way that involves candles and a nice meal).
Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.
Stick to the following standards and you and those around you will get along just peachy. Really, bouldering etiquette falls into two categories: “Be Safe” and “Be Cool.”
- Stay out of the Fall Zone. If somebody falls on you, it’s your fault. A climber has very little control over where he lands should he lose his grip or cut feet and drop to the pads below. So, it’s up to you to keep out from under him. When navigating the boulder area it’s important to know where the fall zone is–which is generally anywhere on the pads–and be sure that you don’t hang out there.
- Ditch the Metal. If you have metal hanging off you, you can damage the mats or hurt yourself badly when taking a nasty fall. Don’t wear a harness while bouldering (in most gyms, like Mesa Rim, doing so is against gym rules.) Even a chalk bag hung from a carabiner can do major damage if you fall on it.
- Stow Your Stuff. Keep all your possessions out of the fall zone, including water bottles. If the bouldering area is one big pad, don’t bring your water bottle into the bouldering area at all; it will roll around and end up breaking someone’s ankle if they fall on it. This is why the cubbies are there so try to use them if available.
- Listen Up. Be careful when using headphones. Sometimes people will communicate important things like, “Move, please, or I might fall on your head!”
- Down climb. Yes, it can be satisfying to leap to the ground after reaching the top of a boulder, but the practice can have some pretty dire consequences. Though the floor is padded, jumping from 15+ feet places you at increased risk of rolling an ankle—or worse—on landing. Jumping from such heights also places extra stress on the pads, which causes them to wear down faster and makes them less capable of softening the blow when you land or fall. Instead, whenever possible, aim to climb down the entire way or until you’re only 5 or so feet from the ground. As an added bonus, downclimbing is good for building strength.
- Share the Space. If there are other people waiting for a problem, give someone else a turn once you fall. It’s sort of like Disneyland; once you’re off the ride–whether you’ve finished it or not–you must step away and get back in line. If people are projecting something (climber speak for working on a tough route) that you want to climb, ask if you can work in with them. This goes both ways; if you see someone hovering near something you are projecting, ask if they’d like to hop in the rotation.
- Know your route: Be mindful of the direction your boulder problem goes to avoid traffic on the wall. Don’t start your route if somebody has already started theirs if the routes cross (especially at the finish). You’ll know where they’re headed based on the color of the holds they’re using. If your feet are off the ground already and they climb over onto you, it’s ok to let them know to kindly back off. Also, it’s ill-advised to climb a route that’s close to someone else already on the wall even if your route doesn’t cross into hers. Personal space is important on the boulder; climbing side-by-side with someone can disrupt their focus.
- Mind the Zones. Wait off of the pads, everybody needs a falling zone.
- Offer a Spot. But make sure you know how to spot safely before doing so.
- Go Easy on the Chalk. Don’t chalk up too much, too much chalk on a hold is actually just as bad as no chalk on your hands.
- Don’t Spray Beta. Just Don’t. Many people really don’t want unsolicited advice on how to send a problem. You can always offer to give beta, but for a lot of people, finding out on their own how to climb a route is the fun of bouldering. Even if you see someone struggling to put the pieces together, it’s best to ask if they want help before you give it to them. By the way, sharing stoke about a climb is not the same as beta. So, “That problem has some really nice moves,” is always a welcome piece of information.
- Basically, Just Pay Attention. Use your common sense and be aware of what’s happening around you. For example, if somebody goes and gets the long-handled brush to clean some high holds, they get first dibs on climbing their freshly cleaned holds. Don’t jump on there and grease them up while the guy is putting the brush away.