Bouldering Gear for Indoor vs. Outdoor: Know the Differences

Confused about the differences between gear for indoor and outdoor bouldering? You’re not alone. Like many others, including myself, grasping which equipment is crucial for each environment can significantly impact how well you climb.

This article will shed light on those distinctions, from shoes and chalk bags to safety considerations like helmets and crash pads. Hang tight; your ultimate guide to understanding the nuances of bouldering equipment awaits!

Key Takeaways

  • Helmets are crucial for both indoor and outdoor bouldering, but they become non – negotiable when climbing outdoors due to the unpredictable nature of rocks and falls.
  • Skin protection is important in both indoor and outdoor bouldering to prevent friction, blisters, and calluses. Climbing gloves or finger tape can provide added grip and protection.
  • The type of shoes you choose for bouldering depends on your environment. Indoor climbing shoes prioritize comfort, while outdoor bouldering shoes offer more sensitivity and flexibility for natural rock features.
  • Having a chalk bag is essential for keeping your hands dry and improving grip during both indoor and outdoor climbs. Outdoor climbers need to consider environmental impact when using chalk.
  • Crash pads provide cushioned landings during falls in both indoor gyms and natural rock formations, reducing the risk of injury. Consider factors such as climb height when choosing crash pads.

Gear Differences Between Indoor and Outdoor Bouldering

Indoor bouldering requires gear such as helmets, skin protection, shoes, chalk and chalk bags, and crash pads.


Helmets are crucial in both indoor and outdoor bouldering, but their significance increases exponentially once you step outdoors. In the sheltered environment of a climbing gym, helmets aren’t typically required unless you’re lead climbing or there’s a risk of falling debris.

Head protection often seems optional indoors due to the controlled conditions and foam mats provided for soft landings. However, when facing real rocks outside, donning a helmet becomes non-negotiable.

No matter how skilled you are as an amateur climber, unpredictable factors like loose rocks or rough falls can present immediate dangers to your noggin’. So whether it’s sleek sporty models for indoor climbs or tough hardshell helmets for battling natural elements outdoors – never underestimate the value of this essential piece of gear in your bouldering equipment arsenal.

Skin protection

Taking care of your skin is crucial when it comes to bouldering, whether you’re climbing indoors or outdoors. The rough surfaces can cause friction and abrasion, leading to painful blisters and calluses.

To protect your hands during both types of climbing, invest in a good pair of climbing gloves or tape your fingers for added grip and protection. Additionally, applying moisturizer regularly can help keep your skin hydrated and prevent dryness and cracking.

Remember, healthy skin means better grip on the rock or plastic holds! So make sure to prioritize skin protection as part of your overall bouldering gear setup.


One essential piece of gear for both indoor and outdoor bouldering is shoes. The type of shoes you choose can make a big difference in your climbing experience. Indoor climbing shoes are designed to provide maximum grip on artificial holds, which often have textured surfaces.

They typically feature a stiff sole that helps in edging and precise foot placement on plastic or wooden walls. On the other hand, outdoor bouldering shoes are designed to tackle natural rock features, offering more sensitivity and flexibility for smearing and feeling tiny edges.

Indoor climbing shoe designs prioritize comfort for longer sessions at the gym, with more padding around the heels and toes to absorb shock during falls or jumps. Outdoor bouldering shoe designs tend to be more aggressive, emphasizing precision and performance over comfort due to their focus on intricate movements on challenging natural terrain.

It’s important when choosing between indoor and outdoor climbing shoes to consider your specific needs, preferences, and skill level as well as the types of climbs you’ll be tackling. Trying out different pairs before committing can help ensure that you find the perfect fit for your own unique climbing style.

Remember also to take into account factors such as sizing (climbing shoe sizes often run smaller), closures (laces versus velcro), material durability, and maintenance requirements.

Chalk and chalk bags

I always make sure to have my trusty chalk bag with me when I’m bouldering, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. Chalk is a crucial part of the climbing gear because it helps keep your hands dry and improves grip on the holds.

In indoor climbing gyms, you’ll often find chalk already provided in communal buckets, but having your own personal chalk bag ensures that you always have a steady supply throughout your session.

Plus, using your own chalk allows you to choose the type and texture that works best for you. Outdoor bouldering requires carrying your chalk with you in a portable bag attached to your harness or backpack.

Crash pads

When it comes to bouldering, crash pads are an essential piece of gear that can make a big difference in your safety and comfort level. These thick foam mats provide a cushioned landing surface to protect you from falls while bouldering both indoors and outdoors.

Whether you’re climbing at a gym or exploring natural rock formations, having a crash pad underneath you can greatly reduce the risk of injury if you happen to slip or lose your grip. It’s important to choose a crash pad that offers sufficient padding and coverage for your specific needs, taking into account factors such as the height of the climbs and the type of terrain you’ll be encountering.

So before hitting the walls or venturing outside, make sure to invest in a reliable crash pad that will have your back (or rather, your bottom) during those daring descents!

Environmental Factors in Indoor vs. Outdoor Bouldering

Outdoor bouldering poses unique challenges due to factors such as weather conditions, climbing surfaces, noise levels, and the impact on the environment.

Weather conditions

Weather conditions play a crucial role in determining the type of bouldering experience you’ll have, whether indoors or outdoors. When climbing outside, you need to be prepared for various weather elements like rain, wind, and extreme temperatures.

It’s essential to check the weather forecast beforehand and dress accordingly with layers that can be added or removed as needed. Indoor bouldering is not affected by weather conditions since it takes place in a controlled environment.

This means you don’t have to worry about sudden changes in temperature or unexpected rain showers interrupting your climb. So whether you prefer the unpredictability of outdoor climbing or the consistency of indoor sessions, being aware of weather conditions can help you plan your bouldering adventure accordingly.

Climbing surfaces (rock vs. plastic)

When it comes to bouldering, the type of climbing surface can greatly impact your experience. In outdoor bouldering, you’ll be scaling actual rocks, which provide a unique and natural feel to your climbs.

The texture, shape, and features of the rock can vary greatly from one location to another, offering exciting challenges for climbers. On the other hand, indoor bouldering typically involves climbing on artificial plastic walls with preset holds.

These walls are designed to mimic real rock formations but offer a more consistent and predictable climbing experience. While both types of surfaces have their benefits and appeal, it’s important to note that outdoor climbing usually demands more technical skill due to the unpredictable nature of natural rock formations.

Noise levels

I remember when I first started outdoor bouldering, one thing that really surprised me was the difference in noise levels compared to indoor climbing. Outdoors, you’ll experience a whole new level of tranquility.

Instead of hearing the constant buzz and chatter of climbers in an indoor gym, you’ll be surrounded by the sounds of nature – birds chirping, leaves rustling, and maybe even a distant waterfall.

It’s incredibly peaceful and can make your climbing experience feel even more immersive. So if you’re looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of city life, outdoor bouldering might just be what you need.

Cleanliness and impact on the environment

When it comes to bouldering, cleanliness and the impact on the environment are important factors to consider. Whether you’re climbing indoors or outdoors, it’s essential to be mindful of leaving no trace and respecting the natural surroundings.

In indoor climbing gyms, cleanliness is typically maintained by regularly sanitizing equipment and surfaces. However, in outdoor bouldering areas, climbers must take extra care to preserve the environment.

Outdoor bouldering spots may not have designated cleaning crews like gyms do, so it’s crucial for climbers to clean up after themselves. This means packing out any trash or waste and avoiding damaging rock formations or vegetation while climbing.

Safety Considerations for Indoor and Outdoor Bouldering

Ensuring proper group size and supervision is essential for safe indoor and outdoor bouldering. Learn more about belaying techniques, route evaluation, and handling rock climbing injuries in our full blog post.

Stay safe while enjoying your climbing adventures!

Group size and supervision

One important aspect to consider when it comes to bouldering, whether indoor or outdoor, is the size of your group and the level of supervision you have. When climbing indoors, especially in a gym setting, you may feel more comfortable going with a larger group of friends.

This can be helpful for motivation and support during your climbs. However, it’s crucial to remember that safety should always be a top priority. Make sure there is an adequate number of experienced climbers in your group who can provide proper supervision and guidance.

On the other hand, outdoor bouldering often requires a smaller group due to the nature of the activity. It’s essential to keep in mind that while climbing with others can enhance your experience, having too many people at once on a boulder problem can lead to overcrowding and potential accidents.

Belaying techniques

Belaying is a crucial skill in rock climbing and bouldering. It involves securing the climber’s rope and providing a controlled descent or catch in case of a fall. Here are some important belaying techniques to keep in mind:

  1. Use the appropriate belay device: Choose a belay device that suits your climbing style and experience level. Popular options include tubular devices, assisted braking devices, and figure-eight devices.
  2. Keep a firm grip on the rope: Maintain a secure hold on the climbing rope while belaying. This will ensure that you can quickly respond to any unexpected movements or falls.
  3. Provide a dynamic belay: When belaying, it’s essential to give the climber some slack as they ascend, allowing them to move more fluidly. However, be ready to apply tension if they fall, to prevent excessive impact.
  4. Communicate with your climber: Establish clear communication signals with your partner before starting the climb. Use standard commands such as “Climbing!” when the climber is about to start ascending, “Slack!” when they need more rope, and “Take!” when they need tension.
  5. Pay attention and stay focused: Belaying requires constant attention and focus on both your partner’s movements and potential hazards around you. Avoid distractions like talking on your phone or engaging in unrelated activities while belaying.
  6. Practice proper body positioning: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart for stability, facing towards the wall or climbing route when belaying indoors or outdoors respectively. Keep your arms slightly flexed but avoid leaning too far back, as this may compromise your balance.
  7. Be prepared for falls: In the event of a climber falling, maintain a strong stance and brace yourself by bending at the knees rather than relying solely on arm strength.

Crag and route evaluation

When evaluating a crag and the routes you want to climb, there are several factors that you should consider. Here is a checklist to guide you through the process:

  1. Start by assessing the difficulty level of the routes. Check the climbing grades assigned to each route to determine if they align with your skill level.
  2. Look for any potential hazards or dangerous features on the route such as loose rocks, unstable holds, or overhanging sections. Take note of these and proceed with caution.
  3. Consider the type of climbing holds present on the route. Are they predominantly crimps, pockets, slopers, or jugs? This will give you an idea of the type of technique required to tackle the climb.
  4. Examine the route’s length and endurance requirements. Some routes may be short and intense while others may be longer and require sustained energy.
  5. Evaluate the rock quality and texture on the route. Is it solid and reliable or does it crumble easily? Knowing this can help you prepare mentally for any challenges that may arise.
  6. Take note of any specific gear requirements for the climb such as cams, nuts, quickdraws, or additional protection like slings or hexes.
  7. Consider environmental factors such as weather conditions and time of day when choosing your climbing location. Outdoor climbs can be greatly affected by rain, wind, or high temperatures.
  8. Assess access points to reach the crag and whether there are any fees or permits required for climbing in that area.
  9. Familiarize yourself with any local regulations regarding climbing activities at that particular site.
  10. Lastly, talk to other climbers who have experience at that crag or read online reviews to gather more information about its challenges and rewards.

Dealing with rock climbing injuries

Rock climbing injuries can happen both indoors and outdoors, so it’s important to be prepared. When it comes to dealing with rock climbing injuries, the first step is always safety. Before you even start climbing, make sure you warm up properly and stretch your muscles to prevent strains and sprains.

Additionally, using proper technique and positioning while climbing can help minimize the risk of falls and injuries.

If an injury does occur, immediate response is critical. Carry a first aid kit with you that includes essentials like bandages, tape, and antiseptic wipes. Be prepared to address minor cuts or scrapes on the spot.

For more serious injuries like fractures or dislocations, seek professional medical help as soon as possible.

Remember that taking care of yourself off the wall is just as important as being cautious on it. Resting adequately between climbs allows your body time to recover and reduces the risk of overuse injuries.

Don’t push yourself too hard if you’re feeling fatigued or in pain – know your limits and listen to what your body is telling you.


In conclusion, understanding the differences between bouldering gear for indoor and outdoor climbing is crucial for a safe and enjoyable experience. From helmets to crash pads, each environment requires specific equipment to ensure your safety.

Additionally, being aware of the environmental factors and safety considerations unique to each setting will help you make informed choices while pursuing this thrilling sport. So whether you’re scaling plastic walls or tackling natural rock formations, knowing the right gear and techniques will enhance your bouldering journey.

Happy climbing!


1. Is there a difference between bouldering gear for indoor and outdoor climbing?

Yes, there are some differences in the gear used for indoor and outdoor bouldering. Outdoor bouldering often requires more durable and protective gear, such as crash pads, climbing shoes with thicker rubber soles, and specialized chalk bags designed to withstand outdoor conditions.

2. Can I use the same climbing shoes for both indoor and outdoor bouldering?

While it is possible to use the same climbing shoes for both indoor and outdoor bouldering, some climbers prefer to have separate pairs. Outdoor climbing may put more strain on your shoes due to rougher terrain, so having a dedicated pair of shoes specifically designed for outdoor use can help extend their lifespan.

3. What type of chalk is recommended for indoor vs. outdoor bouldering?

For indoor bouldering, most climbers opt for regular chalk or loose powdered chalk. However, in an outdoor setting where moisture might be present or humidity levels are higher, climbers often choose liquid chalk or chunkier blocks of chalk that provide better grip and longer-lasting effectiveness.

4. Do I need any specific safety equipment when bouldering outdoors?

When bouldering outdoors, it’s important to have crash pads (large foam pads) placed strategically around the landing area to prevent injuries from falls. Additionally, carrying first aid supplies such as bandages and antiseptic ointment is recommended in case of minor injuries while exploring remote areas away from immediate medical assistance.

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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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