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Bouldering (FS120428)

(Published January 2018)


Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that takes place on artificial bouldering walls, large natural boulders (rocks) or small rock formations, close to the ground without the use of ropes or harnesses. There are plenty of fantastic facilities, both indoor and outdoor, to suit all ages and abilities.

Although a sport in its own right, bouldering can be used as a first step into other disciplines of climbing. It is also great for helping to develop co-ordination, problem solving skills, flexibility and increasing fitness.
This guidance aims to give some hints and tips as to how to safely mange bouldering as an activity.


Bouldering wall – a man-made (artificial), typically an indoor, low height climbing wall (max. 4.5 metres), with an appropriate safety matting system.

Boulder – a large rock that has become detached from a rock formation typically made from sandstone, gritstone, limestone or granite.

Boulder problem
– the path that is taken by the participant to complete the route. This could be vertical or horizontal.
Traverse – a boulder problem where the participant travels predominantly sideways.

Grading system
- most bouldering problems will have a grade which helps to tell you how easy or complex the problem will be. Depending on where you are bouldering, there are different grading systems in place.

For more information check out the BMC website where you will also find a downloadable UK Grades Comparison Table.
Note: Many other climbing grade conversion tables and calculators can also be found online.

Spotter (spotting) – A person used as a safety measure, to help reduce the risk of someone falling off the boulder/bouldering wall and getting injured. A person spotting (the spotter) stands at the bottom of the boulder/wall, typically with their arms raised and ready to make sure the climber, if they do fall, falls on to a bouldering mat. The spotter can also be used to give encouragement to the climber and can help direct the climber if they get stuck.


When running bouldering activities always check you have appropriate equipment for the activity, environment and group members. Any equipment must follow manufacturer’s guidelines for use, storage and maintenance.

Suitable clothing
– that allows lots of flexibility. Unless it is warm, you will need a couple of layers for your top half; you’ll most likely boulder in a t-shirt as you will get hot, but you will need a jumper for when you are standing spotting. Loose trousers, shorts or leggings are ideal for your bottom half. Anything which could catch onto the bouldering features should be avoided.

Bouldering mats/pads – to help to cushion any landings or falls. Indoor facilities will already have bouldering mats/pads in place. When bouldering on natural rock, you will need to make sure that a mat is provided or that you take one with you.

Climbing shoes – although not essential when you first try bouldering (trainers will do), they are well worth investing in if you are going to undertake bouldering or other forms of climbing on a more regular basis. They aren’t the most comfortable to begin with but help with gripping the rock/wall, control and flexibility. Many climbing centres will have climbing shoes for hire.

Chalk – helps with grip and can be used for both indoor and outdoor bouldering. Comes in either lose powder form or as a ball and is generally stored in a chalk bag.

Guidebook – useful for outdoor problems, guidebooks often give information about a bouldering area(s), and generally include graded boulder problems, maps, pictures/diagrams and top tips.

Scout-led bouldering activities

Scout members who are leading bouldering activities do not need a climbing permit but should be aware of the risks involved in the activity and plan for the limitations of their groups. Where artificial bouldering venues provide operating procedures these must be followed.

In these situations the following guidance should be followed by the person leading the activity in order to manage the activity safely:

If you are bouldering outdoors, you may need a Terrain 1 or Terrain 2 hillwalking permit holder to get to and from the boulder area. At any point you require ropes for your boulder problem, this stops becoming a bouldering activity and you will need to follow the rules and guidance for climbing.

Artificial Walls

For younger and less experienced climbers, an artificial environment may be more suitable as the area can be controlled more than an outdoor location. It is down to the leader in charge to set appropriate boundaries (including a maximum height if required) for the group to stay within. It is easier to extend the height rather than reduce the height during a session. A piece of tape across the wall or identifying a specific hold to be the finish hold could be used as a height marker.

If your group is lucky enough to own or have regular access to a wall, regular re-routing is a great way of retaining interest in bouldering and promotes creativity amongst the participants. You may want to encourage older sections to have input in designing bouldering problems. Re-routing should be supervised by a competent adult.

Things to consider:

Natural Rock

It is not recommend that you take a group bouldering on natural rock without significant bouldering experience in the leadership team and confidence in the abilities of all participants. Bouldering outdoors on natural rock is more difficult than on artificial walls.
Things to consider:

Externally provided bouldering activities

There are many externally managed bouldering facilities within the UK. These normally come in the form of climbing centres and activity centres.

It is important to check that you are satisfied that the provider is meeting the externally led activities requirements as laid out in our externally led resources.

Top tips:

Taking it further - Bouldering Games

Once climbers are comfortable with their technique and are bored of just doing problems, you may want to play some games. These are best suited to indoor bouldering walls, due to having larger matted areas, but some games could be adapted to play outdoors. All games should be considered within the risk assessment. Some ideas for games can be viewed here

Useful Links

BMC climbing wall finder - Find a climbing wall near you
British bouldering venues for beginners – Top 10 bouldering venues for beginners
www.nhs.uk - Health benefits of climbing


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