Sport climbing is the most rapidly growing type of climbing. It is more accessible to more people than traditional rock climbing, both in terms of location and in cost of outfitting. Its fun and often competitive atmosphere, combined with the immediate gratification of completing many difficult routes in a single outing, is drawing more newcomers to the sport all the time.

What Is Sport Climbing?

Sport climbing is more like a sprint than a marathon. It involves high-intensity, difficult climbing on relatively short routes. Its distinguishing characteristics include preplanned routes, fixed anchors and an emphasis on the physical aspect of the climb rather than the destination or summit.

In sport climbing, it's normal and expected for a climber to fall, often repeatedly, as he or she works out a difficult move. In traditional climbing, the climber typically takes care not to fall and stress the anchors he or she is placing. Again, it's the journey rather than the destination that is the focus of sport climbs.

Bolted Routes

Because the emphasis is on the moves, sport climbers don't place their own protection, but clip into preplaced bolts with metal hangers. It takes time, energy and strength to carry a full rack of gear and place protection—time and energy that sport climbers would rather spend on the difficult moves and problem solving involved.

Sport climbing is extremely popular because of its versatility. Bolted routes can be found indoors or out, on real rock "crags" (nearby climbing cliffs that are usually easily accessible) or on artificial walls at a gym or a competition arena. Climbers can enjoy being on the "sharp end" of the rope—that is, leading the climb—without knowing how to place chocks or camming devices.

Sport Climbing Tactics

Sport climbing is often gymnastic climbing that pushes physical limits. Climbers concentrate on sustained, fluid climbing on rock faces (sometimes nearly featureless), roofs or overhangs. Sport climbing competitions focus on speed, difficulty of moves and routes that require sustained strenuous output.

Sport climbing has a difficulty rating all its own. The language describing various ways of approaching difficult sport routes follows:

  • On-sight Flash —This describes the "preferred" (and most difficult) way to complete a sport route. It signifies that the climber has completed the entire route on the first attempt without falling or "hang-dogging" on the rope, and without any prior knowledge of the climb.
  • Flash —A flash is to climb a route on the first try without falling or hanging on the rope, except that the climber has been given information about how to do the climb.
  • Redpoint —Redpoints are basically "practice makes perfect." They are the successful climb of a route that the climber has practiced many times. He or she now completes it without falling, resting or hanging on the rope.
  • Pinkpoint —The pinkpoint is the same as a redpoint but with all the quickdraws (carabiners attached to each end of a short runner) preplaced. All the climber has to do is clip the rope into the carabiner instead of removing the quickdraw from his or her harness, clipping it into the bolt and then clipping the rope. Some climbers don't make a distinction between red- and pinkpoint routes.

Sport Climbing Gear

Gear for sport climbing is light, streamlined and aimed at speed and efficiency. Quickdraws are used instead of an entire rack of protection.

Padded Harnesses

Lightweight, streamlined harnesses are padded to cushion the repeated falls that can occur in sport climbs. The design is thinner, often with fewer gear loops to shave weight and maximize mobility.

Rock Shoes and Slippers

Slip-lasted shoes or slippers are thinner-soled and are usually worn tighter so that the climber can feel the smallest of features underfoot.

Quickdraw Sets

These are pre-attached carabiner and sling sets with one straight-gate and one bent-gate carabiner each.

Or make your own quickdraw sets with the following items:

  • Quickdraw Runners
  • Straight-Gate and Bent-Gate Carabiners (one of each for either end of the quickdraw)

Chalk, Chalk Bag

Chalk is a necessity to keep hands dry for dicey moves with tenuous holds.

Bolts, Bolt Hangers

Most sport climbing areas have preset routes. Setting bolts on new routes is uncommon, especially in areas where the subject has stirred controversy. Opponents of bolting feel that it degrades the natural beauty and integrity of the rock. Nonetheless, bolting is still done. Climbers use special drills to fit expansion bolts with hangers into the rock.