Is Outdoor Bouldering Harder than Indoor Bouldering?

Bouldering is one of the most popular sports today. In addition to being fun, it’s excellent for your shoulders, back, core, and fingers. As much as it may look easy when you’re looking up from the bottom of problem, it will certainly become challenging after you start climbing. Bouldering can be done indoors or outdoors, but between the two, which one is easier? Is outdoor bouldering harder than indoor bouldering? Let’s delve further into this topic to help you understand better.

So, is outdoor bouldering harder than indoor bouldering? Overall, outdoor bouldering is harder and more challenging than indoor bouldering. Outdoor bouldering can be dangerous and intimidating for beginners. You may have tried indoor climbing, either once, twice, or even regularly, however it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve bouldered indoors; your first time outdoors will come with lots of challenges and surprises you did not anticipate. For example, the fear of falling is much larger outdoors than indoor because the floor isn’t covered in very spongy crash mats – instead there’s likely to be a few, less comfy crash pads.

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The Main Differences between Indoor and Outdoor Bouldering

Indoor bouldering is very different from outdoor bouldering in many ways. If you like climbing in a gym environment with the cool gym vibe around you, indoor bouldering will be great for you. However, if you are in love with adventure and being out in nature, and aren’t afraid of falling on a stiff crash pad, outdoor bouldering will be fun. Below are the most common differences between indoor and outdoor bouldering.

  • Landing – Indoor bouldering uses foam mats and flat floors as landing pads. This gives boulders soft landings that are safe since no gym owner wants to you injuring yourself badly on their premises. On the other hand, outdoor bouldering has a rocky, uneven ground, which is very hard and risky if you happen to miss a crash pad and land wrong. Outdoor bouldering landings are rarely flat and sometimes require certain landing techniques to keep you safe.
  • Weather – Indoor bouldering has air conditioning, nice lighting, and heat-regulated rooms that create a conducive environment for climbers. Contrarily, outdoor bouldering tests the climber’s ability to overcome unexpected climbing challenges. One of these unexpected challenges is facing harsh weather unexpectedly. You could face wind, rain and/or extreme sun. The sun might shine directly onto your bouldering rock, or the wind might create a wild sense of exposure. The anticipation of these weather challenges is what makes outdoor bouldering exciting. However, one needs a proper plan of action in mind in the event the weather conditions become severe.
  • Safety – Indoor climbing gives the climber an opportunity to enjoy bouldering within the confines of a regulated environment. This environment has a lot of safety equipment, e.g., sufficient padding on the landing level and mats below each boulder. Bouldering outdoors has less control over the falls, the falling surface, and the direction of falls. Outdoor climbers are supposed to be more careful since there is less padding below them if they happen to fall. Climbers can still get injured when bouldering indoors, but they won’t be as significant as injuries sustained during outdoor activities.
  • Noise – There is a noticeable difference between the background noises when bouldering indoors versus bouldering outdoors. Most Indoor bouldering centers will often have background music, and the noise produced by the climbers is trapped within the confines of the bouldering gym. When bouldering outdoors, you will hear and interact with peaceful sounds of nature, including birds chirping, wind, and even wild animals. In outdoor bouldering, sometimes, you may need to shout to communicate with your fellow climbers.
  • Gear – There is also a huge difference in the type, quantity, and quality of gear used for indoor climbing versus outdoor climbing. When bouldering indoors, you only really need chalk and shoes to get going. The type of gear used when bouldering outdoors depends on what you are climbing and where. That is why you need an experienced climber when going outdoor bouldering for the first time. The experienced climber will give you a list of what you need and when you will need it. You won’t need your own crash pads when bouldering indoors, but if you’re bouldering outdoors, crash pads are a must-have accessory. You may realize that you need more gear than expected when going bouldering outdoors for the first time.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Bouldering Grades

Unfortunately, most bouldering gyms like to make climbers feel good about themselves by exaggerating the difficulty of the climbing grades. They do this to give climbers a sense of progress, making them want to come back for more bouldering lessons. As much as encouraging climbers is a good thing, climbers will need to be prepared for the worst when going to boulder outdoor for the first time. There is a high probability that most of them will not be able to climb boulder grades as high as they normally do in the gym.

Most gyms rarely set problems harder than V10, as the majority of climbers can’t go beyond this grade – plus it’s hard to find someone who knows how to set beyond that grade. In outdoor bouldering, grades can extend up to V17. If you are not able to comfortably tackle every problem in bouldering local gym, you better start training harder instead of worrying about when you’ll climb outside the facility.

Also, don’t allow the challenging outdoor bouldering grades to scare you. It takes several climbing sessions to adapt to the holds, texture, and movements on real rock. If you want to adapt quickly, get into your first outdoor bouldering challenge with an open mind. Your main goal should be enjoying nature while having fun instead of trying to attain your hardest V-grade. Soon you will realize that you are bouldering harder outside than when bouldering in the gym but you aren’t climbing as high grades. This experience will make you realize that there’s more fun to bouldering than pulling and climbing plastic in a chalk-covered subscription facility.

Injuries You are More Likely to Sustain from Indoor Bouldering

Indoor bouldering is indeed the simplest and the most enjoyable sport. One does not need ropes and carabineers to try; all that’s needed is chalk and nice shoes. The lack of safety gear means that when you fall, you will nearly always hit the mat. The common injuries in indoor bouldering include pulled tendons, sprained wrists, sprained ankles, climber’s knee, and climber’s elbow. These injuries can interrupt your daily life; that’s why you should always listen to your body and stop whenever it’s telling you and stop.

Injuries You are More Likely to Sustain from Outdoor Bouldering

Outdoor bouldering can be hard and unforgiving. Even without any falls, you can get a couple of nasty wounds during your outdoor bouldering session. On top of the injuries from indoor bouldering, you can also get scratches, bruises, and even more severe wounds. Different types of rocks can do different types of harm to your skin. You can also get injured after swinging sideways into a rock, flipping upside down and falling, or even hitting the edge. To avoid outdoor bouldering injuries, start small, and slowly work your way up to bouldering bigger rocks.

Is Indoor or Outdoor Bouldering Safer?

Indoor bouldering is not only safer than outdoor bouldering, but also the least dangerous. Falling heights in indoor bouldering are lower than in outdoor bouldering, and the surfaces have shock-absorbent mats that take a huge percentage of the fall energy. Outdoor bouldering is more dangerous than indoor bouldering, with a high risk of light to medium injuries. Outdoor bouldering can sometimes have a high risk of severe injuries (depending on how much care is taken) since the surface has less landing gear to reduce the landing impact in case of a fall.

Transitioning from Indoor to Outdoor Bouldering

Most climbers eventually get tired and bored of bouldering indoors and set sight on a new exciting challenge of transitioning to outdoor bouldering. Just because you climb well in the bouldering gym does not mean you are ready to do the same in the wild. Bouldering outdoors requires different types of gear, an advanced skill set, and a strong head.

As a beginner, you should approach outdoor climbing with lots of respect, a willing mentality to practice new techniques, and don’t expect to get the same climbing levels you were used to when climbing in the bouldering gym. Most importantly, get an experienced mentor, and let them guide you appropriately on how to transition from indoor to outdoor bouldering.

If you want to transition faster from indoor to outdoor climbing, it is good to learn from someone who is better than you. An experienced outdoor bouldering expert will give you useful amounts of information that will help you progress very quickly while minimizing the risk of injuries.

You will also learn different ways to enhance your climbing experience using a circuit and training board, gym routines, hang boards, and other bouldering exercises. If you have any outdoor bouldering questions, you can always get clarifications from them. Never rush from indoor to outdoor bouldering, lest you risk injuring yourself.


I'm the owner of Rock Climbing Central and I fell in love with climbing about 5 years ago as soon as my feet touched the wall. Since then all I've pretty much done is research about climbing and climb whenever possible.

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