Bouldering is distinct from other kinds of climbing because there is no rope or harness to catch you if you fall. That means every time you fall while bouldering, you will hit the padding or the ground.
Now, we should be careful to note that all climbing is inherently dangerous, with or without a rope. No amount of blog posts, guidebooks, or YouTube videos are a substitute for accredited experience-backed in-person instruction. However, there are some key risk factors and ways of mitigating those risks that we’ll focus on this week.
Welcome to On Sight, a tip and technique blog run by your very own Tufas Boulder Lounge staff! This week we brace for impact with Bouldering Basics: How to Fall When Climbing.
Keep in mind that different climbing gyms have various hazards. One may allow patrons to boulder the beginning of, otherwise, roped climbs. Another may allow topping out, where the climber would have to get beyond the finish holds and take stairs or a slide on the other side to descend. Each one will have a bouldering orientation dealing with the specific risks of their respective spaces. Furthermore, this blog post will not be covering more advanced techniques, such as spotting, or how to properly take a roped fall when top-roping or lead climbing.
A Note on Bouldering Pads
In the early days of bouldering, there was no such thing as padding. Famously, the climbers in Fontainebleu, France, would opt for a small rug instead of any cushioned alternatives. The mat was not for protection but to wipe the dirt of off the bleusard’s climbing shoes.
We have made astronomical strides compared to the bleusard’s modest rug as padding gets better and more portable. However, this may lead to a false sense of security: How dangerous could this be? You’re falling on these thick pads!
The truth is that pads do not and cannot guarantee safety. Don’t get me wrong. Padding in climbing gyms is designed to absorb the impact. If I had the choice between a throw rug and the modern drag pad, I would be opting for the pad faster than you can say “Fontainebleu!” However, climbing is inherently dangerous, and no amount of padding is going to change that.
If your gym uses drag pads—the moveable pads that the climber positions to cover their fall zone—anticipating the crux of a climb can help make a responsible decision on pad placement. Also, make sure fall zones are clear of any obstructions, like phones, water bottles, chalk bags, and brushes. Finally, avoid landing in gaps, whether spaces between pads or crannies between the wall and the pad. Many have sprained their ankles after being caught in these spaces whey they fell.
Before You Climb
A lot of the work for a proper fall comes before you even get on the wall. For starters, consult a staff member regarding the allowed bouldering height for their gym. Some gyms that have roped climbing in addition to bouldering may allow patrons to boulder the beginning sections of roped climbs up to a certain height if there is proper padding.
Secondly, look at the path of your bouldering problem. Is it a straightforward climb, or does it traverse? Where does it start? Where does it finish? Are there climbs that intersect with it? Where are the tough sections that might make you fall? Asking these questions is crucial.
It’s important to remember that falling is an inherent part of bouldering. A challenging move on a climb is not the only time you could fall. A hold could spin, causing you to lose your balance, or your foot could slip on a warm-up route. It’s vital to practice caution when climbing!
Risk Factors and Proper Falling Technique
There are several risk factors in falling when bouldering. One of them is height: the taller the fall, the higher the risk. To mitigate risk, try to downclimb whenever possible. At Tufas, we’ve installed light-gray downclimbing rungs for this very reason! Why take a fall from 15 feet when you could do it from 12, 10, or 6 feet?
After downclimbing to a comfortable distance from the ground, one must scope out their landing zone. Chalk bags, water bottles, cell phones, and gear can often clutter a pad. Also, somebody could be standing under you and not paying attention – scoping out your landing can save both of you from an unfortunate accident. Now would also be an excellent time to review your gym’s pad policy.
Always try to land in a controlled manner. However, DO NOT try to “stick” the landing like Simone Biles, and instead opt for the following falling technique:
- Scope out your landing.
- Widen your stance, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Tuck your head and limbs into your body by bringing your arms across your chest.
- On impact, bend your knees and in one fluid motion roll onto your back and side.
- Important! DO NOT try to brace yourself with your arms upon landing. Keep them out in front of you or across your chest as if you’re hugging yourself.
The steps outlined above are not a substitute for a gym-specific orientation or experienced and accredited instruction. Climbing is inherently dangerous!
If you liked this blog on Bouldering Basics – How To Fall When Climbing, then we encourage you to check out the rest of our On Sight: Bouldering Basics blog series! If you’re interested in the reading more about climbing around the world, then Czech out our Send Global blog series! Send Global focuses on international perspectives on climbing and is currently accepting guest blog submissions! Reach out to us using the Contact Us link if you fancy yourself a chalk-bag totin’ globetrotter!
Kudratov wrote this, among other things. They’re an imported Philadelphian with a soft spot for public transportation, public radio, and the PMA.