Categories
Bouldering Climbing

How different is outdoor bouldering from indoor bouldering?

A strawberry is to a tomato, what indoor bouldering is to outdoor bouldering.

I mean, sure, they’re both technically a fruit and both are usually pretty sweet— but does that mean that they both go well on a cheesecake? Oh please, no. Not again. My friend had a cake like this in China—a nice sponge cake with cream and fruit on top, and amongst the strawberry, rape, and mango … and a tomato.

So yeah, outdoor bouldering is very different from indoor bouldering in some aspects. If you like the gym vibe, cheer your friends up indoor bouldering is great. If you love the adventure, and being outside plus you’re not afraid of learning to fall, then outdoor bouldering is better. Outdoor bouldering also is very different in how it feels on your fingers – you won’t find a gym where you have rain, mud and snow on the holds. The difference between the two sports; between indoor bouldering and outdoor bouldering, is getting greater and greater all the time. What was once used only for training and practice, has become almost completely unrecognizable, with some problems being as far from anything you would find outdoors as— say, a strawberry is from a tomato.

The roots of bouldering

The roots of outdoor bouldering find themselves used as practice and training for outdoor rock climbing and mountaineering— a way of staying in shape during the offseason and practicing hard moves while having barely left the ground. A great way to train finger strength, stay fit and improve technique by just climbing the hard part over, and over, and over.

It wasn’t long before outdoor bouldering became its own sport, pretty much entirely separated from rock climbing with a rope. No longer just practice for the main event, many people these days considered themselves only boulderers—because, well… they only do bouldering. Some boulderers will spend their entire climbing career on this discipline, never once even wearing a harness. Just climb some ridiculously hard problems, problems which would be near impossible for most rope climber guys and girls to even consider.

This passion for the sport of bouldering gave rise to bouldering gyms; gyms dedicated to the art that is indoor bouldering.

Back in the days

But let’s back up a little.  Back to when bouldering first arrived indoors. It usually had a little section of the corner of the climbing gym. The gym I used to frequent, they had this little cave that was not too much bigger than the inside space of a van. Again, it was to repeat and train on those hard moves, and not many people spent much time in there. Indoor bouldering was used primarily as training for the ‘Main Event’, or even training to get stronger for indoor rope climbing.

Back then, all these indoor boulder problems were set in a way as to mimic an outdoor boulder problem or the crux sequence of a hard rock climbing route. The holds used were fairly similar to real rock, typically designed to imitate limestone features, and were mostly holds to pull down on. Balancey movement on slab style walls and volumes weren’t really a thing. All the bouldering walls were either caves or 45’s. A 45, is a steep wall, overhanging at a 45-degree angle.

As more and more people realized, not only is this indoor bouldering ‘training’ hugely beneficial to one’s climbing game, but it’s also a lot of fun. And with more and more people bouldering, this gave rise to specific bouldering gyms. Dedicated gyms, purely for indoor bouldering.

The sport of indoor bouldering

As indoor bouldering claimed its place in the climbing world as its own discipline, the movement for the problems gradually changed and evolved. It became much more gymnastic; launching oneself around a corner to purposefully fall to the next hold— or using massive half spherical volumes, alien heads and more recently, moving ‘wheel’ style holds. Many modern indoor bouldering problems include movements seen in parkour and free running— something rarely seen in outdoor bouldering.  

Different Holds

The days of problems being restricted to simulate the movement of outdoor boulders have disappeared, as did the restrictive use of ‘outdoor like’ or ‘rock mimicking’ holds. Of course, a lot of the route setters still go for the ‘similar to outdoor’ style, which is great. Just don’t be too surprised when you have to stand on a volume and jump across three more volumes to reach the final hold, which happens to be the shape of a bubble. Just to be clear, holds of these shapes; bubbles and big triangular volumes— they do all exist in nature in some types of rock— but they do not often exist in these sequences and patterns.

Parkour of climbing

If you don’t know what I mean, about the holds and the parkour-ness of it all, take a look at one of the IFSC bouldering world cup events. I remember this one problem, it was the men’s 3rd boulder problem at the bouldering world cup in Vail, 2016. The problem started on a big pentagonal volume. The contestants then made this huge dynamic move, jumping up into a sort-of iron cross position, with both hands outstretched to either side, pressing on the volumes they had just jumped to. These problems were never meant to be like the outdoors. They were set to be unique, and to force the contestants to use interesting and non-conventional movement. The movement we would rarely (if ever) use in climbing of any other form— a rope or not, indoor or outdoor. Some people could (and do) argue, that indoor bouldering has become equal parts climbing, gymnastics and parkour— whereas outdoor bouldering, has remained much the same—just the difficulty of the problems are being pushed to ridiculous new levels.  

Grading systems

Both indoor and outdoor bouldering, use either the V scale or The Fontainebleau Scale (the font scale) to grade a problem’s difficulty. Which system a particular bouldering area or gym uses, is based on location—and worldwide it’s pretty evenly divvied up. All over the US, China, and Australia, the V system is used—whereas all of Europe, South Africa, Japan, and India go for the font scale.   

Given this, you might think then, that a V5 in a bouldering gym in Australia, and a V5 outdoors somewhere else in the world would be similar— they’ve both been given the same grade. But if you climb a problem indoors, especially one at the lower end of the grades, around V0-V3; the outdoor version seems hard as nails in comparison!

If they’re both the same sport using the same grading system, why would the outdoor version of the same grade be so much harder?

In a bouldering gym, a route setter will craft their problem, climb it multiple times, then decide a grade based on not only what they think it is, but what it’s difficulty is in comparison to the other problems in the gym, too. Some say grades are a little softer in the gyms to keep everyone stoked, to keep that feel good vibe. No one wants to arrive at the bouldering gym only to find they are struggling on a V0.

Generally, after the problem is set, it’ll stay up for a few weeks, maybe a month or two, then they will be cleaned and reset as a different problem. There is not a whole lot of time or need to get everyone’s opinion on the grade of this boulder that will be gone shortly anyway.

It’s not necessarily the most important thing either, for the grading to be accurate on a global scale. The importance is more in the consistency of the problems in a gym or area. You don’t want to have two V6’s in a gym, with one far more difficult than the other.  

Outdoor problems: Permanent

Outdoor problems, unlike indoor problems, are permanent. There is no going anywhere for them, and they obviously can’t be rotated or changed (unless a hold breaks, making it easier or harder, and in this case, the grade will change). A boulderer will find, clean and claim the first ascent of a new problem. They get the prestigious honor of naming the problem—and as far as the name goes; the more ridiculous the better. Some current boulder problem names include; ‘Birth Canal’ in Squamish, ‘Pumped full o’semen’ in Hueco Tanks and ‘Hand on poop’ in Dao Cheng.

The climber may grade the problem immediately after having sent it— this is especially the case if the first ascensionist is familiar with the area, as to keep the grades consistent among the area— or they may get a consensus from multiple other climbers before assigning the problem a grade. Over a long period of time, many climbers from many different countries will try the route, and this opens the grading of any particular problem up for peer review.  

The benefit of having the opinions of multiple other boulderers is that you will get a more ‘real’ or ‘accurate’ grade, as opposed to the grades you’ll find indoors, which are often very local to that gym. You’ll have professional boulderers, amateurs and everyone in between, all trying the same lines and agreeing upon the grades. Sure, a V3 in Yosemite might feel like a V6 anywhere else, but as long as the area is consistent, no harm no foul.

Outdoor bouldering: Outdoor experience, Indoor bouldering – gym vibe

The experience of the two sports though is really the biggest difference of all. If you’re bouldering indoors, you’ve got a vibe of a gym. Going hard, cheering others on, sharing beta, getting your sweat on! It’s social. It’s all about pushing it and trying to get better. Go there anytime, rain, hail, snow or shine and crush it. It’s fun, and I can see why a lot of people only boulder indoors.  

Outdoors, on the other hand, you’ve got the elements. You’ve got to travel to the area, you’ve gotta carry your pads and backpack. The end of the day usually results in climbing tape covered body parts, and depending on the rock your climbing, bleeding fingertips. You’ll need to take at least one other person with you, so you can spot each other. You’ve sometimes got ice in the pockets at the top of the boulders, dirty holds, wildlife, uneven landings and your pads blowing away with each gust of Galeforce. Freezing fingertips in spring and autumn are another “plus” you get extra for free if you live in northern Europe or northern America.

It’s only when you really get out and do both, that you’ll realize how huge the difference really is. Like I said—strawberries and tomatoes.

Conclusion: Try both – and see why they’re different but awesome

So, go ahead, try it out, if you never bouldered outside, definitely try it out. Just make sure to pick an easy traverse first, and practice landing first before you try a higher boulder!

If you need some tips for choosing the right pant for bouldering and climbing, read my other article!

 

Categories
Bouldering Climbing

Should I climb every day?

When I first started climbing, around 2 years ago (but who’s counting!?), I tried climbing every day, in every way I possibly could, on anything I possibly could. Climbing gyms, bouldering gyms, outdoor routes, — I was just slightly obsessed.
Once climbing became a part of my life, everything was a climbing wall. A brick building with gaps between the bricks? Climbing wall. A solid wooden table? Climbing wall- just traverse around it. Any number of statues, playground equipment, public sculptures, bridges—literally anything.
Many friends and other climbers asked me this question before, so to make it short: No you should not climb everyday – at least not for extended periods of time. As a beginner your tendons and ligaments need time to heal and rest and get stronger. When you become more advanced, climbing everyday for a week or two is ok, but even then resting is always good for your body.

The age old question

One question that plagues all climbers, new or the grizzled seasoned pro, a question that is a battle between heart, mind, and body…The age-old question of: “Should I climb every day?” Because I really, really want to.
After about a year spent trashing myself, climbing every day; my fingers were destroyed, and I was experiencing some pretty extreme bicep pain. It sort of felt like my bicep muscle was pulling off the bone. I was always sore and my climbing plateaued, but the idea of taking a day off, or heaven forbid— taking two or three days off, was nightmarish. How could I possibly get better by taking days off?!

Resting – the secret weapon of advanced climbers

Any established climber, anyone that’s been pushing themselves for a while will tell you; resting is as important for your climbing as climbing is. Even professional climbers use resting as a tool, only climbing every day during peak periods in a training cycle or on a climbing trip, then usually, taking a decent length break to recover.
One of the worst things you can do for your climbing performance is going too hard, for too long without antiquate rests in-between.

But how much is too much when everyone is different and how do I know when to rest?

Train, climb and rest in cycles.
Though it’s tempting to just jump on the project all day, every day, this can quickly lead to pains and strains, especially in climbers that haven’t let their tendons and pulleys naturally strengthen.

3-days-on, 2-days-off

Working with a 3-days-on 2-days-off cycle, making sure each session is of a different intensity is often a good route to go down. This allows the body to peak naturally and rest adequately. It doesn’t necessarily need to be exactly 3 days on, 2 days off—it could be 2 on, 2 off or 4 on and 3 off. It all depends on what works for you.

Warm up!

The first session can be used as a warm-up, and the goal is to not crush the hardest routes possible; the goal is mileage. Work on technique, and finding ways of not working too hard should always be the goal. Getting into this mindset is also helpful for sending days, as you’re always looking for the easiest, most energy conserving way of doing a crux.

4×4 Circuits – the magic bullet for progression

Implementing 4×4 circuits are a good way of doing this. Choose 4 boulder problems that are between 3-5 grades below your limit. So if the hardest problem you’ve sent is V5, choose between V1- V3. Climb the first problem 4 times, as in, once you’ve sent the first problem, drop back down and immediately climb it 3 more times, then rest for 2 minutes. Do the same thing for the remaining three problems, then rest 5-10 minutes. That’ll complete one set of 4x4s. From here you can either repeat this or choose 4 different problems of the same grade. The goal is 3 sets.

You shouldn’t feel too sore after this session, and you definitely shouldn’t feel any pain during. You should feel good and psyched for tomorrow. Learn to recognize good pain and bad pain. A burn in the arms, legs and abdominal muscles after a session is good, but nagging deep pain in index finger or forearm is bad, and shouldn’t be ignored.

Better general fitness promotes shorter recovery periods.

Including other forms of training, otherwise known as cross-training, can help boost your climbing game and improve your recovery time drastically. Include Yoga practices, Tabata sessions, light running or cycling—anything that will get your heart going and improve cardio. Aerobic workouts have been shown to increase the size of blood vessels, therefore allowing the blood to flow more freely and more easily throughout the body.

If your fingers or arms are ‘bad’ hurting while climbing, STOP!

Building muscles and gaining a sweet six pack is relatively easy when climbing. This is why most elite climbers look like a Greek statue. Muscles generally build fast, and you can notice a physical result both in looks and strength gains within weeks. Unfortunately, not all body parts work that way.
Tendons and pulley take a lot longer to build and strengthen, and injuries to these parts are some of the more common injuries amongst the rock climbing population. They are injuries you really don’t want, as these can take a long time- often months- to heal properly. They are also injuries that are avoidable by just listening to your body. Finger injuries are among the most common injuries climbers are prone to, and
pulley injuries or Biceps Tendinopathy — are not fun either.
So take it slow, and if something hurts in a ‘bad’ way, stop. Talk to other climbers, talk to a physiotherapist, figure out what it is—never ignore it.

Rest like you train.

Remember, even on rest days, you’re still training, just in a different way. And these rest days are just as important as your climbing days. You’re training your body to recover. These days can be spent looking after your gnarly hand skin, eating well (think whole foods), analyzing climbing videos, stretching—whatever you like, just nothing too physically strenuous. The climbing days are for you to do, your muscles and your brain. Rest days are up to your body. Let it do its thing.

Should I rock climb every day? In short, no. Not if you want to be a lifelong climber.

Alex Lowe Peak once said “the best climber is the one having the most fun”, and to me, not a truer thing has been said. When it really comes down to it, we ultimately only climb because it’s fun, and climbing injured and full of pain isn’t fun. To many, climbing is not only a sport, but it’s also a lifelong relationship that is only possible with injury prevention. So have fun out there, avoid injury and you’ll hopefully still be sending when you’re 95! Read my other article on building endurance for more information on proper training regimes!

 

Categories
Climbing

8 great tips for rock climbing preparation and bouldering

Climbing and bouldering are complex sports. I love this aspect, and it was one of the reasons why I fell in love with it. You can find tons of guides on the internet about how to warm up before you hit the walls or the boulder gym. Likewise, there are many articles explaining how to stretch your different muscle groups to become maximum efficient.
But what about other methods of rock climbing preparation? Mental preparation for sports is important for any type of sport.

I have 8 tips for you: 

  1. Fight fear of failure
  2. Improve Hip flexibility
  3. Work with your brain – it’s the best muscle
  4. Regenerate after training
  5. Manage expectations
  6. Know when to not climb
  7. Be honest about your weaknesses
  8. Find good climbing partners

Chances are high you know that you need to train your weaknesses, although you might not know how to exactly. This is all good knowledge. But have you ever had the feeling there are some other basic truths about climbing? Fundamental aspects which you fundamentally know exist, but are neglected by most of the people because they don’t grasp them consciously?

I know they exist, I have experienced what happens if you forget about them a lot of times. This happens most often when I had a day when I went home and knew that I could have done better. But also more recently when gave my best to keep them in mind – and it boosted my climbing a ton.

So without further ado, let’s have a look at these 10 fundamentals most people love to forget in their daily climbing.


1. Fear of failure

Fear of failure, number one killer of performance. It’s not just for climbing, in fact, many people are hindered in their ability to achieve success by it at work or personal life too. And the worst part: Most don’t even know about it, as this fear is not really consciously present most of the times. For most people, it’s a mere feeling, an unwelcome sensation, a thought in the back of your mind nagging you with “what ifs”.

Maybe you feel uncomfortable when strangers watch you trying a new wall the first time? Are you more comfortable climbing at a hidden secret spot with your friends? Well, I’ve got news for you buddy – unless you’re a chronic misanthrope (of which I actually know some) that’s fear of failure at work.

It is at work when these feelings arise, and it will stop you in dead your tracks from leaving your comfort zone and becoming better. Instead, you will play it safe and do what you feel already comfortable with. But playing it safe won’t let you grow – there is no progression, no new input, no motivation in your comfort zone. If you want to progress you need to dare something new. So yeah, your comfort zone, which is fear of failure at work, feels nice. It’s not called comfort zone for no reason – leaving it does not feel “nice” – but it’s crucial to leave it every once in a while to grow.

2. Hip flexibility is key

Your hip is important, bring your center of gravity over your feet, keep a stable balance – all these “newbie” pearls of wisdom are old you’ve heard them a hundred times. Of course, they are all true, but here is the problem: You have likely been climbing for a while, and the chance is at least medium that if you have a problem with hip flexibility and balance you won’t even know it.

I see a dozen climbers every time I go to the gym or the wall who have been climbing for years, yet they still ignore the fact that they continuously lack hip flexibility. No wonder they have difficulty moving their core precisely over their feet when they need to adjust their center of gravity. And they’re not even realizing it.

A typical sign: When they climb harder routes they complain that their arms and hands are shot after just a couple of routes and they don’t know why. Well guess what: If you severely lack hip flexibility and are climbing with a poor quality of balance all the time, your arms are compensating it.

It becomes blatantly obvious only when they climb an edge of a roof, where more flexible climbers are easily swinging by and they can’t even get the foot up. I’m no excuse to this, I have severe deficiencies in my hip flexibility, and to have a good movement range in your lower body and legs you need hip and core flexibility.

So, next time you climb, spend some 10-15 minutes training hip flexibility – you will benefit from it in the long run as it plays an important role in transferring loads in dynamic moves as well.

3. Your brain and mind wins the game

Strength and technique are important tools in your shed. But I see climbers who are fit, have good technique and endurance, but they still won’t make it to the more difficult routes.

On the other hand, I know some weaker climbers, who are just 100% focused and they send routes where everyone else was sure they couldn’t do. This is what I call mind game. What you can and cannot climb is first and foremost decided by your inner game – given that you have a certain level of strength and technique of course.

Most books recommend for beginners to not focus on hangboarding and supplemental training but instead just going out and climb as much as possible – not only to learn technique but also to develop an inner mindset needed to climb harder.

Especially when it comes to exposed climbing routes, mind game is king. You need inner will and power, a positive fundamental attitude and the will to fight. Climbing is a puzzle of movement, which you need to solve and then it’s all about the fight and inner strength to actually climb up.

4. Regeneration

Your body is changing after your training not during. If you set a hard training stimulus, your body will repair the broken muscle tissue so that next time the same stimulus hits it will be able to resist it. It’s the basic principle of any training routine.

But to repair your body first and foremost needs rest and a pause. The basics always work: Get enough sleep, make sure to follow training with a period of rest meaning no or only very light training, drink lots of fluids and eat up.

Not saying you should stuff your face with fast food, but get plenty of nutritious food (enough protein and enough calories so your muscles can grow) like pasta, lean meat, vegetables, nuts, and fruits.

Focus on non-processed foods – your joints and tendons will love it and you will minimize chances of inflammation and chronic pain.

5. Manage your expectations

This is closely connected to number three. If you expect something to be hard you will focus and give it all, if you think something is easy there is a chance you will be overwhelmed by how hard it really it is, and your performance may suffer.

If you climb 5.10 regularly and try a 5.11 route you cannot expect to succeed immediately. So don’t be frustrated if you fail, shrug it off and try it again. Give it some time, and you will progress.

6. Feel when to stop and not climb

No matter if you’re in overtraining, too tired or just planned something else. There are days and reasons not to climb.

Sometimes you just don’t feel like it and like with any other outdoor sport, it’s usually better to listen to your inner voice.

A good day of regeneration and relaxing is sometimes better than forcing it. How do you know if today is a good day to take a break?

That brings me to the next point…

7. Being honest about your ability and skills 

You need to learn to develop a feeling for your own body and abilities. It’s an art and most people you meet in your daily life are so disconnected with their basic feelings that they need to rely on step trackers, heart rate monitors and their doctor telling them to take a break.

You need to go out, practice and get experience to develop this knowledge, go out and climb, make mistakes and learn from them.

Ask some elite climbers and they will confirm this: It’s crucial to be able to judge your own skills and abilities. And please be honest about it – everything else won’t do you any good in the long run.

8. Get good climbing buddies

Most of the motivation lies in your inner game. But having a good friend with you belaying you and helping you out, judging your technique etc is great. This is true for bouldering in the gym as well, where you are not really forced to bring someone with you.

It’s also okay if he or she brings some competence, as good-natured competition can make routes and boulder problems a lot more fun.

I’m not saying you should make every climbing session into a contest – but if it’s something you and your friends enjoy – why not?

Competition brings a new dynamic to climbing, caused by the fact that more than one person tries to solve a puzzle, come up with creative ways to find a solution for difficulties and push each other’s limits. Plus it’s way more fun to celebrate success over a problem with good friends than alone.

 

Conclusion

Try it out, you will see the difference it makes if you follow these 8 tips.
If you want to learn more about training and endurance, check out my other article.

Categories
Climbing Mountaineering

Could Alex Honnold have climbed back down to escape the route? A quick overview of the lost art of down climbing.

The other day I watched Free Solo, Alex Honnold’s movie, with a friend. It’s breathtaking and my palms were sweaty for 90% of the movie, definitely In the middle of the film is a scene where he starts the ascent but then bails out when he reaches the Freerider slab-pitch. Slab routes can be a bitch, and you have to be confident about your chosen path if you have a wet slab without many holds. To answer the question of down climbing, we split it into two parts:

  1. How do climbers get back down when free soloing? When they climb long free solos like in Yosemite (Half-Dome etc.), they usually hike back down. These mountains are accessible via hiking routes. On shorter routes it is not uncommon for them to downclimb, there are videos where you see Alex Honnold do this.
  2. Can a climber who’s not finishing the route climb down to “escape” from the route? Yes, this is sometimes possible, but in Alex Honnold’s case on El Capitan  –

No, I am pretty sure Alex Honnold could not have climbed back down THIS particular part of the wall. But he could probably have done it on Half-Dome or one of the upper pitches of Freerider. It’s just the lower slab part of Freerider which is weird to climb down. You’d have to be stupid or suicidal to try climbing it down without a rope.

Alex probably knew this, and as he was unsure about the pitch, he bailed out on the first ascent in autumn. He rappeled down with an ATC which he borrowed from the camera team – so he did not actually climb back down where he came from.

They didn’t show these scenes in the movie, but he talked about it in a Q&A..here he also states that they had a 1000 foot fixed rope and that’s what he used. He is also pretty open about the fact that hadn’t he had an ATC he would have gone hand by hand or french free climbed (use and pull bolts) down.

Pretty badass I thought when I saw it. I have downclimbed the one or other easy route, and it was always way scarier than climbing up, plus I felt super uneasy every time. Now imagine this without belaying and a rope – something Alex Honnold has reportedly done before on certain routes. This is  an actual video where he supposedly climbed back down a route.

So what if you cannot downclimb nor have a camera team? There’s only one option: Find a safe ledge and try to flag other climbers for help. This would probably have worked for El Capitan, but for other less frequented routes it could mean you will be stuck there for hours to days – without food and water unless you have a phone and call search and rescue services. So we mentioned the word downclimbing quite a few times now, what does it mean? Except for the obvious – that you’re climbing down instead of up.

Down climbing – a lost art?

Downclimbing used to be pretty normal, like 100 years ago, when most climbs where solos and people were forced to climb down afterward. Just have a look at some of the old photos of climbers in the Alps.


But since sports climbing and one pitch routes took off, most people stopped focusing and training downclimbing. Nowadays we all just climb lead, build an anchor, your buddies follow toprope or lead again, and when you’re done you rappel down or just lower (if you’re top-roping).

Why down climbing might be still good to learn

Down climbing might still be a nice skill to have. Just imagine you’re climbing lead and at some point in the route you realize you cannot finish it, now down climbing is a nice skill to have, if just to remove your protection step by step. So if you’re getting into traditional climbing, down climbing is definitely worth to practice.

Navigating dangerous descents is good when you are able to down climb, even if you’re rappelling, as it can save you from injury.

It’s also good to practice it, as it trains you unexpected situations – some multi-pitch routes actually have sections where you need to traverse and/or down climb short sections. Just watch Alex Honnold’s movie again to see what I’m talking about.

You never know when you have to do it and trust me it feels VERY weird and is different from normal climbing. So, maybe take some time and practice it next time you’re on the wall.

 

How to down climb

Find your center of gravity

Do this before you start. Once you have established your Neutral Balance Point (NBP) you can start the down climb. The NBP is crucial, it allows you to rest, get in a comfortable position, and assess the situation. You should always try to establish Neutral Balance Points along your down climb, as you can use these position to calm down etc.

Prepare mentally by breathing right and having a quick checklist

Being prepared mentally is another important step when climbing down. You need this mindset as you’re in reverse gear now. Communicate with your buddy belaying you, stay positive but alert him. I like to have two things when I feel panic: A good deep breath, controlled in and out that is, and a checklist, something I learned by heart to focus on. It’s like a mantra. And usually, when you’re in a dicey situation, try to think how you got there, it will help you find your way down.

Go over these questions:

  1. What was the last move you made?
  2. Can you reverse it?
  3. Is there a resting hold or ledge somewhere under you? Or will you need to climb down in one whole sequence?
  4. Can you remember some of the holds? If yes, visualize them, as you need to find them looking down

 

Technique of down climbing

Standing on your feet and your footwork is as important as on the way up. Most footholds will be easier to use, thanks to gravity and the fact that your weight will be shifted from the movement down. This means that some smears and little edges might now be good footholds, while they would not have worked when you were ascending.

Holds like leverages, laybacks and opposition holds can be all used when down climbing, and you make reverse high steps into low steps. Always keep in mind to achieve your neutral balance once you made a move. Down climbing is one move at a time, no hurry.

How to position your body

If you climb down, you need to keep in mind that there are two positions that use almost no energy.

One is the lockoff, where you have your hands placed on holds which are chin high, with elbows in. This position looks like if you just completed a chinup. The other position is the lockout position where you have straight, extended arms and weight distributed on every bone.

While you descend, try to stay in these positions as much as possible while you plan your next move. Sometimes you have to compromise, as the structure and geometry of the route leave you no other choice.

Generally, though, you should minimize time in half-cocked arms. To increase your line of sight, you can also lower yourself from a lockoff into a lockout when planning the next move and eyeballing possible holds. This will increase your range of sight. After you plan your move, you can then go back to lockoff, regroup and move to the hold from a neutral balance. It’s like a transition from balanced on feet to a lean and back to balanced.

Training makes perfect – also if you climb down

There’s nothing better than practical training. Go indoors, lead climb a route and instead of rappelling down, climb down. It’s great training to increase hand and eye coordination as well. You will be surprised by how often your eye, which is trained to climb up and judge distances when ascending, fools your brain and a foothold that looks miles away from up is actually just a short step away.

Trust your buddy and stay smart

Always have someone belaying you when you down climb. He or her needs to not only bring in the rope when you climb down but be extra cautious and alert in case you fall. In case you climb down do end the route, and you remove quickdraws and protection, definitely consider hanging to some of the quickdraws or make stops to rest up – you will need your physical and mental power!

Conclusion

And always keep in mind: Gear is replaceable. If you feel unsure, it’s better to spend 20$ on two new quickdraws, build an improvised top rope anchor and just top rope the down climb than to fall and get injured or even die. Beats paying hospital bills for sure!

Want to get better at technical sections? Make sure to read my guide on climbing endurance.

Current top three climbing movies:

Categories
Bouldering

Do I really need climbing shoes for bouldering? A minimal gear guide.

Bouldering is a pretty minimalistic sport. In terms of gear requirements, it’s like climbings little brother. Wild and strong, always on the move but not with a lot of baggage. Typically people ask me if they really need climbing shoes when they start bouldering. Quick Answer: No, you don’t really need climbing shoes for bouldering as a beginner. But beginner climbing shoes can be really helpful for bouldering too, make it more fun and are not that expensive. And if you climb some harder problems chances are high you will need a good pair of climbing shoes at some point.

Why climbing shoes are still a good idea

You can get climbing shoes for any style, many of them are designed for bouldering. When you chose them, you must usually compromise between some factors like:

  • Tight or lose fit? Tight is better for performance om small holds, loose is more comfortable.
  • Sticky rubber or firm rubber? Sticky rubber is soft and makes shoes wear down faster, but also makes them stick better to the wall. Firmer soles give you better smearing. When you press your shoes to the rock or slab and use friction alone to get a grip, that’s called smearing. Firm soles also last longer
  • Thin soles are sensitive but less durable

If you’re a beginner, don’t spend too much money on shoes. Chances are they won’t last very long anyway as your footwork most likely is not perfect. In terms of fit, they should not cause pain, read my guide on climbing shoes!

Some quick advice: The tighter the fit, the better will they perform. It’s normal to have climbing shoes at least a size smaller than normal street sneakers. So make sure that they fit nice and snug, but not super painful. They will probably flex a little bit so make sure to have no dead space in the front or around your heel!

The stiffer the shoe the less tight it needs to be. If you’re advanced you can get a pair of extremely tight shoes that almost bend around your feet. They will give you extra support on small edges and holds, but it makes it harder to climb on slabs where you need to get a large portion of rubber to the wall. And they can hurt your feet, keep that in mind.

Beginner shoes are usually quite stiff, with a lot of rubber and a flat sole. They’re not super performance oriented, but feel comfortable. I would definitely get comfortable shoes in the beginning, and then buy a pair of performance shoes later on.

Some other non-essential items for bouldering

Besides climbing shoes for bouldering, some other obvious things such as a crashpad and chalk are good to have. If you boulder outdoors you also need some good functional clothes and a brush to clean rock holds. Another nice-to-have thing is a small patch of carpet to keep shoes clean and a tarp for humidity protection of your pad. Also, a guidebook and maybe a compass can be nice. And bring some water and food if your bouldering spot is a little off the tracks.

You should definitely wear loose fitting clothes – not too baggy, but tight jeans without stretch are a no-go. If you go bouldering outside, bring an extra hooded jacket or softshell jacket, as rock walls can get cold. It’s always good to wear an extra layer when you do your warm-up routine. You should get warm when warming up, after all, it’s called warm-up for a reason. When you feel your temperature rising you can start shedding layers until you feel comfortable. Don’t keep them on, otherwise, you will be soaked in sweat which is not good either.

A climbing pad, or bouldering mat, is definitely needed if you boulder outside – it absorbs the shock from falling and will keep you from being injured. Although you still need to learn to fall!

Chalk

Chalk is actually  Magnesium Carbonate or MgCO₃, it’s a white powder that absorbs sweat from your hands. A lot of climbers and boulderers use it, it’s quasi a gold-standard and it serves both a practical and psychological use. Just watch some of the pro climbers religiously reaching into their chalk-bag when they work on complicated routes. If you climb you will notice a lot of sweat on your hands – this can be due to the physical activity but also because of fear. Especially common for new climbers who are not used to the height.

Chalk is great to absorb the sweat and give your hands a firm grip. Chalk itself does not increase friction, but it prevents sweat and as such it helps your hands get a firm grip on holds. Some brands of chalk actually contain a drying agent. It helps to reduce sweaty hands even further if you climb in warm temperatures. But do keep in mind that too much chalk is not too good for your skin. It’s quite the opposite actually, and continued overuse will dry out your hands and harm the upper layer of your skin.

So make sure to wash your hands when you’re done bouldering and use a good lotion to regenerate skin moisture. You can buy chalk as powder, liquid mixed with alcohol and as chalk balls. Chalk balls are round begs of mesh filled with chalk, reducing the number of particles becoming airborne when chalking your hands.

You can also use liquid chalk, which eliminates chalkdust completely.  But it is even worse for your hands’  skin thanks to the ethanol it comes mixed with. It evaporates when touching your hands, leaving a thin layer of chalk in your hands. Good for a base layer of chalk too. Don’t overdo it with the chalk and bring a brush to clean some of the grips if you make a chalky mess. It’s nicer for the climbers who come after you.

Chalk Bag

chalk bag with brush and climbing tape
My chalk bag with my brush and climbing tape

This one is a must, it’s a little pouch to keep your chalk available when climbing. You can hang it to your belt or harness. You can also get a bouldering chalk bag or bucket, they are usually bigger and not designed to drag around with you. Just leave them on the ground, chalk up before you go and good. It’s also a good idea to buy an airtight box to store your supply of chalk in your house: Keeps chalk from dusting your furniture and the chalk itself stays dry.

Clothing

If you climb close to your car you probably need no extra clothing. But things look different if you actually have to hike for an hour to get to your bouldering spot. This becomes important if conditions are cold or humid or both. Don’t forget to bring:

  • A warm cap or hat that covers your ears
  • A pair of gloves if it’s cold – rock can make your fingers numb after only a couple of minutes climbing
  • Breathable base layer with long sleeves – roll them up once you feel too hot. It’s super important to have the base layer made from some breathable material. Don’t just wear a t-shirt unless it’s in the mid of summer
  • Fleece or wool jumpers for mid-layer, which you can keep wearing if it’s really cold even when climbing
  • Down jackets are super light-weight and very warm, but if it rains you must wear an extra layer of breathable protection. Cold and wet down is no good!
  • Shorts are nice when it’s warm, but won’t protect your legs from ticks and insect bites when it’s warm
  • I really like to wear thin socks inside my climbing shoes if it’s cold – it’s uncommon but it works great for me
  • Get some hiking boots for long approaches on rough terrain. They will also keep your feet warm in autumn, spring and winter, give good support to your ankles and last for years.

Brush

A brush is essential to clean boulder problems and climbing routes of excess chalk. You can get them in any color or shape, usually, a plastic or wooden brush works fine. There is a type of brush on the market with a telescoping stock, which helps to reach holds high up in the air. Don’t ever use a brush with metal bristles as they damage the rock destroy holds for climbers who climb the same route or problem later on.

Skin care products

Definitely bring some zinc oxide tape, it will protect your fingers and keep skin in working conditions. Sandpaper or pumice stone can help to minimize blisters and rough patches on your skin: If you remove it, chances are smaller to rip flakes of the skin of when going hardcore monkey style on fat holds. Your skin needs some time to adapt, by the way, so get used to having some amount of blisters on your hands. I had terrible bleeding blisters in the first weeks of bouldering. The easier your routes are the worse it is as difficult crimping finger holds are usually not easy to grip with the full palm of your hand – but beginner holds are. You should also invest some money in a good skin moisturizer or lotion. Another thing you should buy is some climbing tape. It will not only help you if you are prone to finger injuries but you can also use it to conveniently tape blisters.

The boulder crash pad

Relatively new (they became a thing in the 90s), these pads will save you from injury when falling. Before that, even short falls were potentially very dangerous. Since bouldering became really popular in the last years, sales for pads have soared too, as the pad decreases chances of a sprained ankle etc. drastically.

hinge style crash pad
A hinge bouldering mat
taco bouldering mat
A taco style bouldering mat

Since crash pads came by, some harder higher boulder problems were suddenly accessible. It’s easy to stack them or build a field of pads when a problem has a bad landing. They have another nice effect long-term: They minimize wear and tear of your knee, foot, and ankle joints as they absorb a lot of the shock from repeated falls.

Design options like color are endless, but most pads consist of one or more layers of foam which are covered in a hard rubber fabric, making them strong and durable. The hard layer is usually placed on top to spread the load of the impact, which is then absorbed by the underlying foam areas. Pads can be small (1m x 1.5m x 5cm thickness) or large for highball (very high and dangerous boulders) (3m x 2m x 15cm thickness). Most guys and girls I know like smaller pads since they are easier to haul. Make sure to buy a good pad, as the foam does the work and good foam costs more than the cheap stuff.

Pads come in two fundamental shapes: Taco and Hinge. While Taco pads have a whole section of foam which is bent in the middle for carrying, a hinge pad consists of two sections of foam connected with a hinge.

 

Categories
Bouldering Climbing

What are the benefits of climbing pants?

I was climbing in the gym the other day and one of my friends asked me, being a beginner if climbing pants were any good and had some benefits. So are there any real benefits from wearing pants like Prana or E9? It took me around 3 months to actually buy a pair and I was glad I made the switch from worn out jeans. Benefits of climbing pants include stretchy material, breathable materials, they transport sweat really good without becoming damp and soaked, and they are really durable too. Plus you get an insane amount freedom of movmenet. Let me go into some more detail though, why you need these benefits, and why actually any pants with these features work great as a climbing pant.

Facts – these benefits are measurable and objective

  • Stretchy Material – must have for climbing
    Climbing pants are made from a durable mix of cotton and elastic material. They are usually pretty lightweight, so when you wear them you have maximum agility. They need to be designed that way to allow for a big range of motion, as climbing involves a lot of legs and hip movement. Along with the stretchy fabric, climbing trousers usually come with a diamond gusset. This is an extra patch of fabric in the groin area between the legs. Normal pants just have 4 connecting pieces of fabric here, which is not really flexible. The diamond gusset, on the other hand, is very soft and this makes climbing pants super flexible around your core. This is written from my male perspective though, so leggings are no real choice for me, climbing pants are the most comfortable clothes I personally know.
  • Breathable for long climbing sessions, moisture wicking and protected from the sun
    Good climbing pants are made from mostly cotton – and some addition of an elastic material. This makes them super breathable and comfortable to wear even when it is hot and humid outside or you wear them for longer periods of time. In fact, I wear my E9 pants whenever I have a chance. They are so nice and comfortable that you can wear them at home or when you work out too. Another nice side effect is that this material makes them wick moisture, so they will dry easily and not become soaked so easily. Sun protection is nowadays built-in too, so you can save some SPF as your legs won’t need so much when wearing climbing pants.
  • Durable and resilient
    Climbing pants can take a beating. No matter if you scrape over rock, take a big fall or just wear them when you approach your climbing spot through the forest. Since they are so flexible you will most likely wear them when you belay your buddies too, so all the rope friction and load on your harness will wear off a normal pair of pants real quick. When it comes to abrasion resistance, climbing pants are usually pretty well of too – it’s not easy to rip them. Just try wearing sweat pants try approaching a route through brambles, manzanita or sagebrush – you will be walking around in rags within an hour.
  • Cut for maximum freedom of motion and stay in place when moving
    Climbers love to move around, myself included. I want my pants to have a maximum of freedom. And compared to other athletic gear I own, climbing pants actually stay in place when I buy them in the right size. No annoying riding up my crotch area anymore! And I love the freedom of motion when I have a route where I need to do some high-stepping.
  • Protect your legs from scratching up (if long pants)
    Long climbing pants will protect your legs from scratches, especially when you do outside bouldering on low-hanging roofs or rocks. If you fall upside down (which you should avoid but it can still happen nonetheless), wearing shorts can actually lead to burned legs due to rope burn. This does not apply if you wear climbing shorts, as they don’t cover your lower legs too.

Subjective Benefits – these might be true for you or not

  • Gear loops and cool features for climbing
    My E9 pants actually come with some loops for gear, brushes etc. which makes it really easy to use them with existing gear. Might seem not important, but if you really need to carry something you will love this. Plus they have a little stretchy cord on the height of the ankle – you can use it to make them very tight so they won’t be in the way or hanging over your shoes.
  • Are they helping you climb better?
    Sure they can. But I personally know lots of people who climb in fitness shorts or even regular jeans. It all works – in the end, you need to be a good climber to climb well. I think: Why not wear something that feels good, works good and is designed for the sport? Just because you can run a marathon in FlipFlops and will probably outrun someone who has never trained, doesn’t mean you should ignore good running shoes.
    In bouldering gym or climbing hall, you can probably wear sweatpants and never have a problem as holds and wall are smooth compared to outside. I have been bouldering in Ireland on rocks that were razor sharp and actually damaged my hands etc by just touching them – but my E9 pants held up pretty good.

Alternatives and hacks

  • Climbing pants alternative #1: Levis 511
    Although not being sold and branded as pants for climbers, a pair of Levis 511 will actually work nicely too. They have a good stretch, a cut that doesn’t restrict freedom of motion, deep pockets to fill with stuff and good protection against scraping and abrasion. They will probably last you 100s of sessions too – and they do look stylish.
  • Climbing pants alternative #2: Boulder jeans
    Climbing pants are super nice to have, but they also come with a certain “functional” look, meaning they look super baggy and often flash bright colors. Some of my friends don’t like this look. Are there alternatives to just wearing regular Levis 511s? Lucky enough yes. They basically look like going out pants but also work as climbing pants. They’re also super stretchy and resist chalk, so you can go from crag to work no problem. They’re kind of expensive though, so better get them on a sale.

Tips and recommendations

  • Get the size right (go smaller in doubt)
    Climbing pants tend to be fairly large and bulky, as they need some extra room in the legs etc. So make sure to actually try a pair on before buying them, as most people end up buying them too large. You should also make sure you’re ok with the cut, some people don’t like the extra fabric on legs as it looks kind of “bulky”. If you’re a woman there is an easy way out of it: Climb in leggings.
  • Recommendations for tall, skinny guys
    Most of the climbing brands make pants for people with a smaller frame, as most climbers have. This is true especially for italian or european brands. But if you’re a tall skinny guy, make sure to check out some Prana trousers. They come in tall-guy sizes like 36/32. Try the model Stretch Zion for example, it has good flexibility and is durable too.
  • Some good brands for climbing pants
    Your typical contenders here are E9, Prana and La Sportiva. Other more outdoor focused brands like Patagonia have been making climbing pants, as do suppliers like Vaude. I stick to E9 and Prana and Black Diamond for most of my climbing pants.
  • “I’m female, can’t I just wear a pair of yoga pants or leggings?”
    Yes, you can, my wife goes climbing in leggings or yoga pants without a problem. The only problem she had so far was that she actually destroyed a cheap pair of leggings on a route with sharp holds. This is of course due to the thin fabric and high amount of elastic material in leggings. It can also get cold in springtime wearing only leggings, especially if you live in the northern US or Europe. So keep that in mind if you want to climb with leggings only.

Conclusion: Get one high performance and expensive pant and/or some cheap ones

So it comes down to how much you are willing to shell out. The benefits of climbing pants actually apply not just to climbing pants. I would start with one really nice looking pair, a high-quality one if you take climbing seriously. These you can use on hard routes, in the gym etc. But as I said, you can climb in any flexible and durable synthetic pant with enough freedom of movement. They may be more likely to rip and break, but they also cost only a fraction of the expensive ones. If you go outdoor climbing 1-3 times a week, get a decent pair of E9 or Pranas.
If you just started, go with a cheap pair of target nylon cargo pants. I own several of these, they cost me about 30 bucks and after 2 years of climbing, they still look ok. Make sure to read my article on climbing shoes too!

 

 

 

 

Categories
Mountaineering

How do you keep your boots from freezing overnight in winter?

I love camping, it’s the perfect combination of adventure and relaxing. I used to only go camping during spring and summer, but last year I started winter camping. It’s a little bit more advanced, you need to prepare better, but it’s really rewarding too.  There’s something about being outside in the rain or snow in the forest, building shelters and camping outside during times when most people enjoy sitting inside behind a cozy oven. A typical problem is how to warm up cold boots when winter camping. The answer in short: Either avoid letting them go cold altogether, or make sure to carefully use a fire or heater to warm them up. Just walking around won’t work a lot of times, especially when it is really cold and the shoes are still damp.

Winter camping – an adventure but best with dry warm feet

Winter camping is primitive and exciting, like a little mini expedition or adventure to spice up your daily routine. And nature is beautiful in winter too, you will see weather phenomena, feel a vibe and atmosphere you never experienced before. Last year I woke up during the middle of the night when almost freezing cold rain that tapped on the tent had turned slowly into snow as the temperature was dropping.
The steady tapping all of a sudden stopped, but you could still hear a very soft swishing sound on the side of the tent, almost as if little leaves were falling on it. It was a very eery night and in the morning we were completely snowed in.

And since I left my boots at the end of my sleeping bag they were cold as ice and frozen solid. I ended up putting them on, walking around with what felt like solid blocks of ice and warmed them up on the fire we started quickly to cook some coffee. Ever since then I have been looking for tips to keep boots warm during a freezing night in the tent how to warm up cold boots when winter camping.

Keeping your boots warm is better than warming them up

Never leave them outside the tent! A lot of beginners do this, but it’s a surefire way to have frozen, damp boots in the morning. Worse, even when in a warm climate, boots outside the tent is a no-no: Creepy crawlies etc. can just crawl right inside if you leave the shoes for hours outside without attention.

Keep your boots on when it really counts. It sounds bad, but if it’s really cold and you need to stay warm, it’s better to dry your boots before you go to bed and keep them on. It’s a weird feeling to keep them on when you snuggle in your sleeping bag, but it will keep them warm, dry and make a difference.

Put them inside a garbage bag, and the bag inside your sleeping bag. Your sleeping bag is the best place for stuff you don’t want to be frozen. So if you don’t like the thought of wearing your shoes overnight, just stuff them in a plastic garbage bag and place the garbage bag at the end of your sleeping bag.

Alternative: Put them under your pillow. If your boots are clean you can also place them under your pillow – in case you don’t like the feeling of having them inside your sleeping bag. This way they are close to your body and they can even be used to have a higher cushion.

Sweaty boots outside when it’s below zero mean frozen blocks of ice in the morning. If it’s above zero, aka not freezing, your boots will be tough and cold, but you can rethaw them no problem. But when the thermometer falls below zero (or 30 Fahrenheit), forget about that. The sweat built up in them during the day will freeze them solid overnight. And even worse: When you thaw them on the fire or in your tent they will still be really cold and damp – which is not good either.

Try to keep your boots dry as long as you can. If you cross a river, take your boots off, even if the water is low and you jump some rocks.

If the snow is deep, definitely wear some gaiters and wear Goretex boots. Goretex is super reliable in keeping stuff dry. And you want to keep your hiking socks dry inside your shoes.

Leather boots are easier to fit on when frozen. But you need to unlace them and spread them apart. The reason they work better when frozen is that synthetic material often shrinks when frozen, leaving your rigid shoes a size smaller than normal.

Remove liners and/or soles from the boots to keep those dry and warm with you in your sleeping bag at least. It’s not as good as having the boots in the bag, but it’s a start. This way at least you have dry and warm soles and liners. It will make thawing the frozen outer shell of the boots easier too.

If you must warm them up – use a fire

When it’s really cold, your boots won’t warm up from running and jumping. Trust me, when the weather is really cold you can walk and jump around all you want, your boots will stay frozen. The sun in the winter is not really strong, so setting them outside in the sun will not work either. If you are isolated and have no way to warm up, frozen boots can be a risk of cold injuries. So don’t put your money on thawing them by walking in them. You need a fire, and keep in mind: Don’t leave them near the fire too long or they will melt.

Don’t wear cold and damp boots for long periods. If you thaw your boots and they’re still damp – don’t keep wearing them in this state. Trench foot and cold injuries can be caused by prolonged exposure to cool and damp conditions. Unless you’re in a life and death situation, it’s better to stop your trip and go home and dry your boots and feet than to risk lasting issues due to cold injuries.

The heavier the boot the harder to put on they become when frozen. If you have really heavy duty boots, possibly soaking wet from snow, it can be really hard to put them on when truly frozen. You probably know this if you’re a snowboarder and ever forgot your damp boots in the basement or outside and tried them on in the morning. In this case, no way to fit in them – you need to rethaw.

Some good tips

Plastic socks trap moisture from your feet and keep the boots dry and not frozen. It’s actually a technique some people use with their sleeping bag too. It’s called a vapor barrier and it keeps your boots dry and warm but it makes miserable squishy feet. But hey, better squishy than cold right?

Pro tip #1 – Put a plastic bottle with hot water inside your boots during the night: This way you can extend or even hinder your boots from freezing. Just make sure to stuff the bottle in as far as possible. You can also use hand or toe warmers – you know, these little chemical pads you can buy at Outdoor stores, Walmart etc. It will make boots warm up quickly and will leave them cozy warm.

Pro tip #2 – Keep socks on your body during the night: Keep your socks on during night or at least keep them close to your body and dry. It’s a good idea to just drape them over your shoulder so they directly touch your skin. This way they will be warm and dry in the morning. You can also wear booties made from downs, which will keep your feet warm and toasty. Remember: Keeping warm is easier than warming up.

Which shoes to wear? If it’s just a thin layer of snow of a few centimeters or less, traditional hiking boots with warm socks will work perfectly. If the snow is deeper you should get some winter mountaineering boots – their additional waterproof and insulating layers will keep your feet warm and dry. Put on some gaiters too to stop snow from moving inside your boots and socks if you move around a lot. Gaiters have another nice side effect: They put an extra insulation layer around your lower leg  – nice!

Conclusion & Call to Action

Try out winter camping soon, it’s a blast. Best take your buddies with you, I promise you, you will have an awesome time sleeping outdoors when it’s cold. Just make sure to prepare and bring a good tent and sleeping bag. It’s also smart to try it first in a controlled environment, meaning having a car close by to stop things from getting worse if you made a mistake preparing etc. Also, read my guide on finding the right climbing shoes if you like climbing too.