What Are the Rules of Bouldering (The Complete Guide to Problems, Grades, and Walls)?

Generally, there are no strict rules in bouldering. However, there are guidelines and etiquette you must follow in order to have a good and harmonious relationship with fellow boulderers. These are as follows: share the wall, stay out of the fall zone, keep your stuff, turn your music down, know your route, go easy on the chalk, and don’t offer unsolicited beta.
What Are the Rules of Bouldering

Table of Contents

Routes climbed in bouldering are called “problems.” The V scale is used to grade the difficulty of problems. Basically, the higher the number, the more difficult the problem is.  The Burden of Dreams is considered the hardest problem in the world with a grade of V17.

What is the Point of Bouldering?

Bouldering is a type of rock climbing, stripped down to only essentials. Unlike rock climbing that uses a lot of equipment, in bouldering you only need a pair of shoes, some chalk, a brush, and a crash pad.

The objective is to climb, whether it be natural rock formations or artificial climbing walls, and solve “problems”. The climb is short enough not to use harnesses but high enough to challenge a person.

What Are the Rules of Bouldering?

There are not a lot of rules in regards to bouldering. However, if you are a beginner, consider the following bouldering etiquette and tips to avoid committing blunders:

  • Sharing is caring: Learn how to share problems with other boulderers, they’re probably waiting for their turn. Once you fall, give them time to try it, don’t hog it all for yourself!
  • Be mindful of the Fall Zone: Know where the Fall Zone is and keep out of it when you’re resting, waiting for your turn, or spotting someone. Unless you want someone falling on you, it’s best to hang out somewhere else.
  • Stow your belongings: Be responsible for your stuff. Keep water bottles away from the Fall Zone as someone might fall and slip on it. If you’re bouldering outside, avoid placing your kit below the whole boulder.
  • Turn it down: Sometimes you really need to zone out to concentrate and while it’s fine to wear earphones, make sure they are not so loud that you fail to hear “look out” warning from other climbers.
  • Know your route: Before starting a problem, check the wall first as others might have started the same problem or crosses the problem you want to try. Give them time to finish their climb to avoid traffic on the wall.
  • Easy on the chalk: Only apply the necessary amount of chalk you need. Too much chalk on a hold is as bad as having no chalk. It’s bad for you and other climbers!
  • Don’t offer unsolicited beta: Sometimes people just want to figure out a problem themselves. So before you start offering beta, make sure they want the advice, otherwise, you’re just spoiling their fun.

What Are Bouldering Routes Called?

Bouldering routes are called problems. Before climbing, you may have to look and examine the route to find the best way to climb up.

If you’re a beginner or looking into the sport, this is one of the terms that’s going to come up often.

What is a Bouldering Problem?

As mentioned, bouldering problems or just “problems” are routes you take when climbing. Compared to rock climbing, the usual height of bouldering problems is around 7 to 15 feet (2 to 4.5 meters).

Because they are not generally that high, problems are climbed without safety ropes or equipment. Problems higher around 8 to 20 feet (2.5 to 6 meters) are called “tall” problems and any problem beyond 15 feet (4.5 meters) is called a “highball”.

What are the Different Types of Boulder Problems?

There’s a wide variety of bouldering problems but here a list of the most frequently encountered problems:

  • Overhang: A wall or rock face with a slope of over 90°, leaning towards you. It’s necessary to have a strong upper body and core strength to overcome this problem.
  • Slab: When a wall is almost vertical, it’s considered a slab. Climbing slab is good for practicing and improving footwork.
  • Roof: This problem requires a lot of core strength as it requires you to climb upside down on the underside of a horizontal surface. Think of Spiderman crawling through the ceiling, hence its name “roof”. Overhangs are great preparatory climbs before you try to tackle the roof.
  • Arête: Means climbing towards an edge, a ridge, or a corner. To successfully climb arête, keep an eye out for handholds and foot placements.

How Do You Read Boulder Problems?

The biggest mistake you can do is to start climbing up a route without looking up and examining the problem. Here’s a short guide to reading boulder problems:

  • Assess it as a whole: Set yourself up for success by checking out the climb. Look at where it starts and follow the path visually up to the top where it ends. It gives you a general overview of the climb.
  • Consider individual parts: Once you’ve seen the route as a whole, now it’s time to scope specific problem areas. Look at the handholds and the footholds. Are there any alternative placements? Is the crux difficult? Where might a potential rest be?
  • Envision the climb: Next, imagine yourself actually attempting the climb. Would your body be facing this way or that way? Is it possible to reach the hold with my arm and feet placement? Doing this step is important as it reminds you to consider your own strengths, height, wingspan, etc.
  • Evaluate and try again: Whether you successfully climb the problem your first try or fell halfway through, evaluating a problem is a necessary step to ensure you can have a better climb the next time. You can just do it yourself or ask for beta from other boulderers who had tried the specific problem in the past.

What is the Hardest Boulder Problem in the World?

The Burden of Dreams in Lappnor, Finland is the hardest ascended boulder problem in the world. It has a proposed grade of V17.

As of 2020, it has only been ascended by Finnish professional climber Nalle Hukkataival in 2016. It took him almost four years to successfully climb it.

What Does the V Mean in Bouldering?

V stands for the level of difficulty of the problem. The V Scale is one of the most common bouldering scales today. Basically, the higher the number, the harder the problem is.

Historically, V stands for “Vermin” or “Verm.” It was the nickname of pioneer boulderer John Sherman who created the V scale. Presently, the highest rating of boulder problems reaches up to V16 and V17.

Is V3 Bouldering Hard?

V3 is generally an easy problem. A beginner can progress to V3 in round 3 to 6 months of consistent bouldering.

For some boulderers, V3 is considered as the start of “real” bouldering. Progressing to this grade makes you think of more technical body positioning, footwork, handholds, toe hooks, and the like.

What is a Good Bouldering Grade?

Bouldering grades depend on your level. There is no fixed “good” bouldering grade as one naturally becomes stronger and climb better over time. For reference, here’s a list of grade categories:

  • Beginner: V0 to V2
  • Intermediate: V3 to V5
  • Advanced: V6 to V8
  • Expert: V9 to V12
  • Elite: V13 and above

What is the Highest Bouldering Grade?

As previously mentioned, V17 is the highest recorded bouldering grade climbed by Nalle Hukkataival.

He named the problem Burden of Dreams. No one else has ascended Burden of Dreams except for him.

How High Are Bouldering Walls in General?

On average, bouldering walls are about 15 feet (4.5 meters) in height and around 98 feet (30 meters) in width. The dimension allows for 10 different routes at the same time.

In bouldering gyms, problems are generally rated V10 at the most.

What Are Bouldering Walls Made of?

Bouldering walls can be made with a variety of materials: brick, wood, thick multiplex boards, granite slabs, pre-fabricated fiberglass, steel and aluminum panels, and concrete wire mesh.

Most indoor walls are made of plywood with a metal framework. Hand and footholds are bolted up plastic and are sometimes spray-coated with texture to mimic rock faces.

What is Considered a Highball Boulder?

A highball problem is a boulder problem that is difficult and long. There is no fixed rule but a problem is considered a highball when it’s over 15 feet (4.5 meters) in height.

As bouldering is done with no harnesses and safety ropes, climbing highballs are deemed to be risky. To avoid risks and accidents, boulderers sometimes use a top rope and stack multiple crash pads to brace a fall.

How Do Bouldering Competitions Work?

For beginner and intermediate competitions, a scramble format is usually implemented. All competitors are given a score card or a score sheet to record routes completed. The total score is computed from the total number of routes finished and the number of attempts.

For elite or professional competitions, they use a 5 on/5 off arrangement where competitors are given 5 minutes to read and complete a problem and 5 minutes to rest and recover.

Who is the Best Boulderer in the World?

Daniel Woods is considered the best boulderer in the world right now. Some even argue that he is the best boulderer of all time. He has completed a total of 34 boulder problems with a grade of V15 or higher. Six of those are graded V16.

For over ten years, Woods has stayed in the top three boulderers list. Today, he has the greatest number of achievements among those are The Process (V16 highball at 50 feet) and Creature From the Black Lagoon (first V16 in the world).