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What is Bouldering - Ultimate Guide to the Sport

What is Bouldering? A Pebble’s Throw Back to its Roots, Routes, and Rockstars

Be Fuller boulering in the last 3RD ROCK photoshoot in north wales.

Belinda (Be) Fuller, bouldering in our latest 3RD ROCK photoshoot. North Wales. Wearing 3RD ROCK Luna Bra and Daphne leggings. Photo by: Guy Mor

What is Bouldering, Really?

👋🏼 Hello, dear rock-touchers and vertical adventurers! Welcome to a world where climbers, boulders, and a dash of daring coalesce into what we fondly dub: Bouldering. A discipline? A passion? A lifestyle? Oh, it's a splendid blend!

Ah, bouldering! The sport that looks at towering cliffs and says, “No thanks, I’ll take this rock here.” It’s climbing’s cool, quirky cousin, where daredevils navigate through perplexing paths, creatively termed ‘problems’, upon rocks or artificial climbing walls.

Welcome to the quirky, gripping, and often vertically challenging world of bouldering, where the only way is up, especially if you fancy hanging about on rocks! At 3RD ROCK, we’re not only smitten with the sport but also with the eco-friendly approach to conquering crags, both indoors and out. So, strap yourself in (or not, because, you know, no ropes in bouldering) as we chalk up our fingers and delve into the rich, rocky tale of bouldering, explore its celestial spots, and throw in a dash of style (and sustainability) on what to wear while doing so!

The Genesis of Bouldering: Definition and Core

Back in the day, bouldering wasn’t the star of the show – it was the underappreciated sidekick to its bigger cousin, rock climbing. Climbers would practice on boulders to prepare for daunting ascents. But like all great sidekicks, bouldering broke free, scribbling its own epic across the craggy canvases of Fontainebleau in France, the verdant landscapes of the Peak District in England, and beyond.

But what is it, really? Wikipedia says: "climbing on large boulders, either for practice or as a sport in its own right." We say:


Rock climbing stripped down to its undies – sans ropes, sans harnesses, just you and the rock

(and a crashpad because we all appreciate a soft landing!). Envision nailing sequences in short, powerful bursts, with problems (that’s boulder-speak for routes) that test your strength, technique, and problem-solving prowess. And while it sounds a smidgeon risky to the uninitiated, bouldering is a communal, inclusive, and downright fun way to get intimate with the world of climbing.

As climbers began to recognize the distinct, raw appeal and the individual challenges posed by boulders, the discipline carved out its own niche within the climbing community, giving birth to a whole new realm of rock touching, where boulders became the main event rather than the practice ground. In the late 1950s through the 1960s, American mathematician John Gill pushed the sport further and contributed several important innovations, distinguishing bouldering as a separate discipline in the process

Alizee Dufraisse, bouldering in Spain wearing 3RD ROCK leggings and sports bra

A Straightforward Scoop on Bouldering Grades

Diving right into it, bouldering grades have a fascinating history that parallels the evolution of the sport itself. In the early days, the simplicity of grading mirrored this, being categorised nonchalantly as "easy", "medium", or "hard".

However, as bouldering carved out its own niche, a more nuanced system was needed. The V-scale, initiated by John Sherman in the dusty realms of Hueco Tanks, offered a systematic approach to gauge the difficulty of problems, starting at V0 and, to date, extending up to a formidable V17 (more recently).

Comparing bouldering to its other climbing relatives reveals a variation in grading systems and climbing focus. While the V-scale is focused on short, technical routes, or ‘problems’, route climbing uses systems like the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) and the French grading system to accommodate longer, more endurance-focused climbs. The systems may all talk about rock climbing, but they differentiate enough to respect the unique challenges posed by bouldering and route climbing respectively.

V-Scale (USA) Fontainebleau (Europe) Difficulty Level
V0 4 Beginner
V1 5
V2 5+
V3 6A/6A+ Rockin' Steady
V4 6B/6B+
V5 6C/6C+
V6 7A Intermediate
V7 7A+
V8 7B/7B+
V9 7B+/7C Advanced
V10 7C++
V11 8A
V12 8A+ Pro
V13 8B
V14 8B+
V15 8C Defying Gravity
V16 8C+
V17 9A
V15 8C Superhuman
V16 8C+
V17 9A
Climber is at the top of a highball boulder with 3 spotters lifting their arms to try and protect a fall

3RD ROCK Ambassador Patrick Gebert highballing Zimbabwa. Great example of what a highball is in the bouldering Lingo. Photo by: Marcel Dippon

Deciphering the Bouldering Lingo and Types

Stepping into the bouldering scene might have you bumping into a smattering of jargon that sounds like a secret code. But worry not! It’s merely the climbers’ way of narrating their adventures on the rock, and soon it will be a language you speak fluently too.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Bouldering

Starting with the spaces we climb, bouldering venues can broadly be divided into indoor and outdoor environments. Indoor bouldering involves artificial walls dotted with holds of various shapes and sizes, offering a controlled environment to practice and play. Here, problems are colour-coded, meaning the holds of each problem are visually unified to avoid any mid-climb mix-ups.

On the flip side, outdoor bouldering introduces you to the raw, unfiltered essence of climbing. Nature becomes your playground and your adversary, offering erratic rock formations and weather conditions that keep you perennially on your toes.

Navigating Through Problems

Speaking of problems, let’s demystify this term a bit. In bouldering, a problem refers to the path that a climber takes in order to complete the climb from start to finish. It’s not just a physical challenge but a mental puzzle, requiring a synergy of body and mind to solve.

Highball and Lowball Problems

When we delve a bit deeper into problems, we meet highballs and lowballs. A highball is a taller bouldering problem that often demands not just technical skill but a hearty dash of courage due to the height and increased risk. Conversely, lowball problems are closer to the ground but can offer their own technical and physical trials.

Dab, Flash, and Beta - Oh My!

Dipping our toes into the lingo pond, let’s fish out a few terms. A dab refers to unintended contact with the ground or a spotter, often negating the attempt. To flash a problem means to solve it on your first go, while the term beta refers to the information or tips regarding a problem’s sequence or specific moves.

3RD ROCK Ambassador Billy Ridal Wearing our Hiro Light trousers

World-Class Pebbles: Famous Bouldering Spots Around the Globe

Bouldering enthusiasts don’t merely see a world map; they envisage a sprawling canvas of bouldering opportunities, each location whispering tales of gravity-defying problems and the climbers who’ve danced upon them. So, let’s embark on a little journey to some of the world’s most renowned bouldering destinations.

1. Fontainebleau, France

Nestled just south of Paris, “Font” is often heralded as the bouldering mecca of the world. With its enchanting forest and sandstone boulders that seem sculpted by the hands of climbing gods themselves, Fontainebleau invites boulderers of all levels to explore its vast array of problems amidst a fairytale-like setting.

2. Hueco Tanks, USA

Tucked into the arid landscapes of Texas, Hueco Tanks has firmly etched its name into the annals of bouldering history. Not only is it the birthplace of the V-grade system, but its powerful, overhung problems set amidst the stark desert beauty also draw climbers from across the globe to test their mettle.

3. Rocklands, South Africa

A world away, the Rocklands in South Africa paint a contrasting but equally mesmerizing picture. With its rich, red rock, the area offers a plethora of bouldering problems set against the stunning backdrop of the African veld, providing a perfect blend of physical challenge and aesthetic awe.

4. Magic Wood, Switzerland

Magic Wood, much like its whimsical name suggests, offers a dream-like bouldering experience. Amidst the serene Swiss forests, climbers are treated to a bounty of problems, from delicate slabs to powerful overhangs, all wrapped in an almost mythical woodland atmosphere.

5. Squamish, Canada

Venturing to the granite-laden landscapes of Squamish, boulderers are met with a rugged, untamed beauty that the Canadian wilderness so effortlessly curates. The dense concentration of boulders here provides a diverse playground for climbers, making it a must-visit spot on the global bouldering circuit.

3RD ROCK Ambassador Mikey Cleverdon climbing at Stanage, Peak district UK.

What to wear bouldering: A Wardrobe Worthy of the Walls

Let’s get down to the knitty-gritty: what to wear when you're bouldering, whether you're conquering walls indoors or scaling boulders under the open sky. Here’s a straightforward guide from 3RD ROCK, designed for both men and women, so you can be comfy, stylish, and sustainable on your climbing adventures. Deciphering what to wear on your climbing escapades can make a world of difference, ensuring your focus is solely on your next move and not on an uncomfortable seam.

3RD ROCK: Elevating Climbing Couture

👖Meet 3RD ROCK, your craggy companion, weaving sustainability with style and delivering bouldering threads that embody the spirit of the rocks. Our activewear doesn’t just narrate a tale of ethics and eco-consciousness but is sculpted, stretched, and stitched to compliment every crimpy climb and audacious ascent. From resolute robustness in our threads that war against wear and tear, to the snug suppleness that cossets you in comfort as you conquer every crux, we embody the essence of eco-friendly ethos and hearty durability.

Climbing Threads: A Stitch in Time Saves the Climb

🧵When it comes to climbing, we believe in a seamless blend of performance and sustainability. Imagine leggings that let your legs luxuriate in comfort, yet are steadfast against the abrasive whisper of the wall. Picture a top that’s as breathable as it is bold, ensuring your skin savours every whisper of the wind. Our fabrics aren’t merely materials; they are meticulously mastered mediums through which we explore, express, and exude our love for the planet and the Sport.

A Rocky Round-up

Whether you’re strategizing your next move indoors or caressing the rough textures of outdoor boulders, 3RD ROCK ensures that you’re always attired appropriately. Sustainably sourced, ethically produced, and designed with the discerning climber in mind, our gear is more than just clothing; it’s a commitment to mindful climbing, one stitch at a time.

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