When I started bouldering I went with a few of my friends. I didn’t go on my own for a few months and kept going with them until I eventually realized that I liked bouldering enough to try it out solo when all my climbing friends were busy. So I started climbing on my own, indoor and outdoor. Since then I’ve definitely noticed some differences in a few areas when bouldering solo compared to bouldering in a group or duo. These differences aren’t just in terms of safety, but also in how motivated you are to climb or how much you actually enjoy the climbing session itself.
So, what should you do if you want to go bouldering alone? Well the first question is: are you going outdoor bouldering or indoor bouldering? Outdoor bouldering usually requires a spotter, so it would be preferable to have a partner. However, it’s not required if you think about your safety in a suitable fashion. Make sure you have a good set of climbing crash mats with you and don’t attempt any ridiculous dyno moves. Make sure you only climb problems that have good landing spots so if you fall you know you’ll land on your mat. If you can find an outdoor bouldering place where many people are also climbing, you could maybe ask them for a spot. Get the coordinates of your climb from Google Maps so you can inform an ambulance if needs be. I would definitely find a place with cell phone reception and bring some sort of first aid kit… just in case! If it’s going to take a lot of walking to get to your bouldering spots, I would advise that you try to keep your weight really light as you’ll run out of energy before you even start the climb!
Climbing on your own indoors in a climbing gym with a few people around is very different from climbing on your own outside. It’s a lot safer as there are mats all over and people are around if you need help. Solo climbing will probably feel completely different compared to climbing with a partner because aren’t chatting as much so you may have more time to climb, however you may feel less motivated due to the fact you either aren’t competing with someone or they aren’t pushing you to climb harder. That is of course, assuming you usually compete with a partner when climbing or they usually push you to climb better.
I’ve expanded on these points below in more detail to help you on your solo climbing journey. If you want to check out a very detailed Bouldering 101 article I’ve written then click here.
- Outdoor Solo Bouldering Safety
- Outdoor Solo Bouldering Gear
- Indoor Solo Bouldering Tips & Gear
- Solo Climbing May Affect Motivation
- Pros and Cons: Solo Climbing Compared to Climbing with 1+ Partners
Outdoor Solo Bouldering Safety
Bouldering can be a very dangerous sport. Over 70% of injuries in climbing are because of bouldering rather than other types such as lead climbing. This is why you need to really focus on your safety before and while you go on your solo climbing journey. Let’s talk about what we can do to ensure you have the safest experience possible while solo bouldering outdoors.
Climbing Crash pads
These are the most essential part of your kit when it comes to your safety when solo climbing outdoors. If you fall when you’re bouldering, which is very likely to happen you’re probably going to want to fall on something that is going to cushion your body/head. It sounds simple right? You’d be surprised at how many people climb a few months and decide to start climbing a rock outdoors while they’re with their mates in the countryside when they haven’t got any mats (or the right gear in general). Don’t be silly, buy a few crash pads and use them. If you want my opinion, Mad Rock Mad Pads (click for link)are some really good climbing crash pads – they’ve got five inches of open and closed cell foam for firm but comfortable drops and if you want to sit down, the crash pad can be turned into a comfortable lounge chair!
Find an Outdoor Climbing Spot with People Around
Let’s say you do fall and hurt yourself but no one’s around to help you, what now? It’s best to find a spot where you aren’t all on your own. You want someone or a group of people around you who will be able to help you before your solo climbing trip turns into the sequel to 127 hours. You may even find that one of them will spot for you and maybe even join in with your problem solving.
Climb in a Spot with Cell Phone Reception
If you haven’t found a spot with anyone around, it is paramount you find a spot with cell reception and keep your phone close to you. If you fall you want to know where EXACTLY you are so you can ring for an ambulance and give them any information. Therefore I’d advise finding your coordinates on Google Maps. Even if you are around other people, I would still advise you find a place with cell reception if possible because if you do have an accident someone’s going to have to ring 911.
Bring a First Aid Kit
Do I really have to explain this one? It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Plasters, antiseptic wipes, bandages, and safety pins are just a few things you’ll need to bring with you. If you’re around other people they’ll hopefully help you use the first aid kit if something does go wrong.
Don’t Climb Wildly
So you’re on your own without a spotter… unless you’re 100% sure you are going to land on your crash pad without any problem, why would you perform ridiculous dynos and reckless moves? These kinds of climbs should only be performed indoors where there are really spongy mats or when you have spotters. Solo climbing can already be quite dangerous so why add more hazards?
Outdoor Solo Bouldering Gear
The key here is to keep your gear as light as possible, especially if you’re going to have to do a bit of walking to get to your bouldering spot(s). There are a few things you’ll definitely need (some have already been mentioned in this article). But you might want to leave a few extras that are going to increase your overall weight to carry (for example guidebooks). You can find most of the information you’ll need about certain areas on the internet, which is why a cell phone with reception also comes in handy. Not only that but if you get lost, there’s always Google Maps! Here’s what you should take on your outdoor solo bouldering adventure (any links below will take you to my recommendations):
- Climbing Crash pads
- Your climbing shoes
- Climbing Chalk and chalk bag
- A cell phone (preferably in a place with cell reception as already discussed)
- A first aid kit
- A small snack for a burst of energy if needed
Indoor Solo Bouldering Tips & Gear
Solo bouldering at your local climbing gym is completely different to bouldering outdoors. You’re so much safer and you don’t have to take half as much equipment if you don’t want to! The floor is literally a massive crash mat so you won’t need to bring any of them. The climbing gym should provide the first aid kit if needed and there are always people around to help you if you get injured. All you’ll need when you go solo bouldering indoors is (any links below will take you to my recommendations):
- Climbing shoes
- Climbing chalk and chalk bag
- Anything else you wish to bring with you
A Tip for People Who Want to Climb Without Chatting
Sometimes you want to go bouldering on your own to relax and de-stress. You may not want to speak to anyone as it’s your “me time”. Now if you’re going solo bouldering and don’t really want to talk to people here’s a tip I’ve found. Wear headphones and don’t make eye contact with anyone. It’s actually so simple but effective. There are times when I’m climbing solo and I don’t mind talking to people, but there are others (especially in one particular climbing gym) that I really don’t want to get into a conversation with anyone – I just want to climb in peace with my own thoughts.
Solo Climbing May Affect Motivation
One thing I’ve definitely realized is my lack of motivation when it comes to solo bouldering. When I’m climbing with one of my friends we’re always trying to compete against each other about who can finish what climb. It pushes us forward as climbers and helps us to become better. Healthy competition between friends is great. But when I’m solo bouldering I’ve noticed that I don’t have as much motivation because I’m not in competition with someone else. I’ve tried my hardest to be in competition with myself by setting myself goals throughout the session. This seems to work quite well but not as well as having a partner there to compete with. This may not be the same for everyone, but for me this is definitely something I’ve found.
Pros and Cons: Solo Climbing Compared to Climbing with 1+ Partners
There are definitely pros and cons to climbing solo compared to climbing with one or more partners. Let’s list a few.
- Chance for quiet meditation period while climbing
- Increases problem solving skills
- Can climb to your own schedule
- May have less motivation
- There is not as much of a social aspect
- Less safe if climbing outdoors
- Have to carry equipment on your own if outdoors
I hope this information has helped you on your way to solo bouldering.