What Are the Different Types of Climbing?

In the world of rock climbing, there are five different types of climbing. Each individual climber will find one more challenging than the other. Additionally, each type of climber requires its own gear and skills in order to safely complete the route.

In this article, you will see lead climbing mentioned. While this is a type of climbing, it is divided into two subcategories. Lead simply means that the first climber is not protected by the rope form above. If they slip, they will fall 10’ or more to the clip below them.

Traditional (Trad)

Traditional climbing is simply called trad, and it is a form of lead climbing. It has evolved over the years from aid climbing into what it is today. Look up the Dirtbags of El Cap to learn the history of trad, if you are interested.

With trad climbing, you need to climb on outdoor walls that have cracks. The crack can range in widths from a dime to the length of your forearm.

In the crack, you set up your own gear that will be used to create a safe route to climb. Should you fall off the route, the gear is what will catch you and prevent you from plummeting to the bottom of the route.

The type of gear used includes nuts, hexes, and cams. Nuts and Hexes are most commonly used in smaller cracks. Cams range from incredibly small to the largest type of protective gear for trad climbing.

Many individuals consider trad difficult when they first start because they must build their own route. This means hanging onto holds for a longer period of time and remaining calm while setting up their gear.

Trad requires complete mental clarity while climbing. You must know your limitations and understand how to properly use your gear. This is your only protection, so it is important to be a confident climber at your grade.


Sport climbing is a form of lead climbing that can be completed both in gyms and outdoors. With sport climbing, bolts are permanently fixed to the route. Indoors, the bolts are spaces roughly ever 5’. Outdoors, there is no standard for the distance of the bolts.

Sport climbing

In order to safely climb up the wall, you must know which bolts are yours to clip onto. You may need to clip on the left or the right, depending on the route.

In order to safely clip onto the wall, you will use a quick draw. Once the quickdraw is placed on the bolt, you will clip the rope into it.

Sport is how many climbers get into lead climbing because there are not as many components to keep track of. You only need to clip the quickdraw onto the bolt. You do not need to find where to set the bolt itself.

Top Rope

Top rope can be completed at a gym or on a mountain. Top rope means that the route has already been set up by the lead climber using either sport or trad climbing methods. The rope is now secure through an anchor.

Top Rope

Since the rope is secure, other climbers can climb up the route and be brought down by their belayer. With top rope, the climber is protected by the rope from above. If the climber slips, they will fall only a few inches.

Top rope is popular at gyms because climbers can work through various sections of the route over and over again. It is also normal to see top ropes set outdoors. This allows the entire climbing party to enjoy the route without each person having to lead it.


Speed climbing is a unique form of climbing that focuses on how fast a climber can make it up the wall. Speed is only completed on gym walls because it is a fixed route that has not changed since 2007. The entire route is 15m (49ft) high.

Speed climbing

With speed climbing, the climber is attached to an auto belay device. Operated by magnets, the auto belay will not hinder the climber as they scale the wall. Should they fall, the auto belay will gently lower the climber to the ground.

To understand speed climbing, it is easier to watch a video of the world’s top performers. This style of climbing requires a combination of dynamic power and muscle memory to scale the wall at incredible speeds.

In case you were wondering, the current world record for speed climbing by a woman is 6.96 seconds and by a man is 5.20 seconds. Compared to an average gym climber, that is about 30 seconds faster.


Bouldering is an unassisted form of climbing, which means there is no safety protection for the climber. The climber only wears climbing shoes and uses their hands to climb the problem (route). Bouldering can occur indoors or outdoors.


When bouldering outdoors, at least one crash pad is recommended. Since there is no way to protect a climber from falling, the crash pad will absorb the impact. While not comfortable, it does feel better than landing on sharp rocks beneath you.

Those who boulder inside are typically landing on thicker crash pads. The higher the artificial wall, the thicker the crash pad. In fact, there is a brand called BigAssPads that are incredibly comfortable to land on even after falling 15’ or more.


Regardless if a climber decides to engage in one, several, or all five types of climbing, they will be participating in a sport that creates mental and physical challenges. The adrenaline rush from pushing the limits is addicting. Each climber will find one style to be more challenging than the other, which is what makes the sport of rock climbing enticing for so many. Everyone can find at least one type of climbing that fits their confidence and skills.

Calvin Rivers

Hey, I’m Calvin Rivers, a climbing veteran with 10+ years on crags and walls around the world. I can’t wait for you to explore our site and fall in love with the outdoors just like I have.

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