Types of Rock Climbing.

Major types of climbing: Mountaineering; Trad; Sport; Top Rope; Bouldering; Free Solo.

There is a lot of confusion among beginner climbers about what climbing is. Well, it is “…better to see once then to hear ten times…”. Several videos can easily demonstrate the difference between all types of climbing.

Mountaineering (alpine climbing):

Mountaineering is the oldest and most adventurous type of climbing. The first recorded mountain ascent in the Common Era is Roman Emperor Hadrian‘s ascent of Etna (3,350 m) to see the sun rise in 121AD. Mountaineering is also the most dangerous type of climbing and requires a lot of skills  in order to safely climb up a mountain and get back down. A mountaineer must be good at climbing on rock, snow and ice. He has to be aware of all natural  hazards: rockfall, avalanche, lightning etc,. He has to know how to take care of himself and his partners/friends in normal and extreme situations. This knowledge includes: cooking, medical and many other skills. Plus, mountaineering also requires cultural knowledge in order to get to remote mountains  in different countries. Here is a good short video, which demonstrates it all.

Trad Climbing:

Traditional climbing, or Trad climbing, is a type of rock climbing in which a climber or group of climbers places all gear required to protect against falls (pitons, etc.), and removes it when a passage is complete.
Before the advent of sport climbing in the United States in the 1980s, and perhaps somewhat earlier in parts of Europe, the usual style of unaided rock climbing was what is now referred to as “traditional”. In trad climbing, a leader ascends a section of rock placing his or her own protective devices while climbing.
Trad climbing can be as short as length of one rope (one pitch):

It also can be very long multi-pitch climbing:

Sport Climbing:

Sport climbing is a form of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock, and possibly bolts, for protection, (in contrast with traditional climbing, where the rock is typically devoid of fixed anchors and bolts, and where climbers must place removable protection as they climb). Since the need to place protection is virtually eliminated, sport climbing places an emphasis on gymnastic-like ability, strength, and endurance – as opposed to the adventure, risk and self-sufficiency which characterize traditional climbing. Since artificial means are used primarily for safety rather than to make upward progress, sport climbing is considered a form of free climbing.


Bouldering is a style of rock climbing undertaken without a rope and normally limited to very short climbs over a crash pad (called a bouldering mat) so that a fall will not result in serious injury. It is typically practiced on large natural boulders or artificial boulders in gyms and outdoor urban areas. However, it may also be practiced at the base of larger rock faces.

Bouldering World Cup Womens Finals • Vail, Colorado • 2011 • LT11 from Louder Than 11 on Vimeo.

Top Rope Climbing:

Top-rope climbing (or Top-roping) is a style in climbing in which a rope, used for the climber’s safety, runs from a belayer at the foot of a route through one or more carabiners connected to an anchor system at the top of the route and back down to the climber,[1] usually attaching to the climber by means of a harness. Assuming that the route is predominantly bottom-to-top; that the anchor holds; and that the belayer pays attention, the top-rope climber generally will not fall more than a short distance and can thus safely attempt even the most difficult routes. Most top-rope anchors can be reached through non-technical means, such as by hiking or scrambling to the top of the cliff.
Top-roping is often done on routes that cannot be lead climbed for one reason or another. It is the most common style used at indoor climbing walls and is also used in situations where other methods would be unsafe or environmentally damaging.
Top rope climbing is very useful in teaching beginner to intermediate level. Here is a video of how we use top rope climbing as a teaching tool at our school:

Free Solo Climbing:

Free solo climbing, also known as free soloing, is a form of free climbing where the climber (the free soloist) forgoes ropes, harnesses and other protective gear while ascending and relies only on his or her physical strength, climbing ability, and psychological fortitude to avoid a fatal fall. Free solo climbing should not be confused with general free climbing, in which gear is typically used for safety in case of a fall, but not to assist the climb.
Free solo climbing is usually done either by complete idiots or climbing geniuses or Siberians. Members of all three groups die regularly. It is highly not recommended to anyone!

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2 Responses

  1. Michael Rush says:

    Hi there!
    I really like your site and especially this article. Personally I would never dare to try free soloing, but I really admire peoples who are doing this. On the other hand you cannot think about people like Alain Robert that they are 100% mentally healthy;) Do you try all this climbing types in your school?? Except free soloing I think;)

  2. Aleksey says:

    Thank you. Yes, we do all this climbing with school students.