Rock Climbing vs Bouldering

What’s the difference?

When it comes to the term “climbing” there can be a lot of confusion. What is the difference between Rock Climbing vs Bouldering?

Bouldering vs Rock Climbing is not exactly black and white.

Rock Climbing vs Bouldering

In a sense, Rock Climbing is a more general term that includes all types of rock climbing, whereas, bouldering a specific type of climbing.

The main types of climbing are as follows:

  • Lead Climbing – Climbing a route from bottom up using a rope for protection
  • Trad Climbing – Lead climbing without using fixed protection
  • Sport Climbing – Lead climbing using fixed protection
  • Top Roping – Having the rope running through fixed anchors at top of the route (good beginner style)
  • Bouldering – Climbing boulders less than 20ft (~7m) using crash pads as protection
  • Highball Bouldering – Climbing more than 20 ft (~7m) but less than 50 ft (~16m) using crash pads
  • Free Solo – Climbing over 50 ft (~16m) without a rope or any protection

Types of Climbing

There are many different types of climbing. Let’s go over the popular kinds of climbing and different terms that refer to them.

Lead Climbing

Sport ClimbingThe term Lead Climbing refers to climbing with a rope from the ground up. This is commonly done using fixed anchors for safety. Often this is split into two sub-categories. Trad Climbing and Sport Climbing

Trad Climbing

Traditional Climbing (Trad Climbing) is climbing without using bolts fixed into the wall. Instead, one climbs with gear that fixes to the rock temporarily, such as nuts and cams. Typically, this is done where prominent cracks exist in the rock so gear placement is straightforward.

Sport Climbing

Sport Climbing is done using fixed bolts in the rock. This is a safer and more beginner friendly version of lead climbing. This can be done with only a rope, harness, and some quickdraws.

Top Roping

Top roping is the most basic form of rope climbing. Usually, you will need someone to lead to the anchors and then set up the rope in order to climb, but it offers the safest mode of rope climbing. Falls will be much less aggressive while top roping.

The best Top Roping spots are ones where you can hike up to the top of the route and set up you rope. It is so easy to climb at these spots with any level of climber.


Bouldering Rock ClimbingThe sport of Bouldering involves climbing on shorter problems (aka routes) that typically are under 20 feet high. For protection, you will need to use a crash pad instead of a rope. Bouldering is different from Rock Climbing in a sense that you don’t climb with a rope and you climb from the ground to the top of the rock.

Note: Bouldering can be done SOLO or another words, by yourself.

HighBall Bouldering vs Free Solo

This is a tough one. Highball bouldering is climbing something so tall that you would be severely injured if you fell. On the other hand, Free Soloing is something where, if you fell, it would be certain death.

That being said there is still some definite gray area that exists for this topic and probably a 200 page long MP forum thread on it.

Rock Climbing vs Bouldering

In general, when somebody says they are “Rock Climbing” they are talking about all types of climbing where it is with or without ropes. On occasion “Rock Climbing” can be used to just define lead climbing, as this is the most popular and well-known type of climbing.

You will sometimes hear somebody say that Bouldering isn’t Rock Climbing. This is usually either a dedicated Sport Climber or an Old School Climber. They will often use the phrase “Bouldering is only training.

So does bouldering help rock climbing?

It is true that Bouldering got its origins as a way to train difficult moves and gain strength for lead climbing when it was too cold to climb long routes or multi-pitches.

That being said, Bouldering has become an extremely popular way to enjoy the sport of climbing.

Rock Climbing vs Bouldering

 Rock ClimbingBouldering
Grades5.0 to 5.15cV0 to V17
HeightOver 20ft (~3m)Under 20ft (~3m)
Climbing LineRouteProblem

Final Words about Climbing vs Bouldering

In summary, Rock climbing is something that is done on ropes, whereas, bouldering is shorter routes done using crash pads.

If someone asks you if is bouldering harder than rock climbing, explain to them how it’s different.

Let us know what you think about Rock Climbing vs Bouldering in the comments below. We love to hear about what you think.

If you are trying to Strength Train for Climbing (or Bouldering) check out this page.

Owner and Operator of Every Last Rock. He is dedicated to spreading the Stoke about all things climbing. Often found Bouldering around the US and obsessively training.

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