Climbing styles
Traditional and sport climbing, deep water soloing and bouldering - what they are and the main places to practise them in the UK.

Climbing styles

Climbing is becoming more and more diverse. New styles are cropping up almost every year, with different techniques, codes and ethics being used to ascend a piece of rock or mountain. As a result climbers are becoming more specialist and tend to concentrate on their preferred or most convenient climbing style.

Climbing can be divided into many categories and in all sorts of ways. For example:

  • Seasons - summer or winter climbing
  • Styles - sport climbing, traditional climbing, aiding
  • Venues - cragging, mountaineering, big walling, bouldering
This article concentrates purely on the summer aspect (i.e. not encountering snow) and looks at the main types of climbing that you are likely to come across in the UK.
  • Bouldering
  • Deep water soloing
  • Sport climbing
  • Traditional climbing

Although relatively new, bouldering is growing very rapidly and to many this is the purest form of climbing. It is a form of true solo climbing, with no ropes and very little gear. The main difference to most other forms of climbing is that a boulderer (someone who goes bouldering) will very rarely climb higher than a few metres (10 - 15 feet) and will be prepared (even expecting) to fall off, whereas a solo climber on the other hand may climb a route as high as 3000ft where at any point if they were to fall, it would be fatal. 

As a rule of thumb, if you don't go above 5 metres (15 ft) then you are bouldering, whether it's at your local wall, on the side of a building (known as 'buildering' but do get permission first) or at the crag on some boulders.

Deep Water Soloing (DWS)

As its name suggests, DWS is soloing above deep water, where if you were to fall off you would land in the water. Like bouldering, it is a form of solo climbing with no ropes and no gear but you must be above deep water. A deep-water soloist will very rarely venture higher than 40 feet. Any higher than this and you become a true solo climber, where falling is not an option and could be fatal. Deep water soloing is not recommended to beginners. Never go deep-water soloing alone and always climb with an experienced deep-water solo climber who knows the area well. 

The best place for DWS is the south coast of England. Conner Cover at Swanage, Lulworth Cove and Portland are the most developed climbing areas where there are an abundance of beautiful coves and small cliffs dropping into the sea. Most sea cliffs have areas where you can deep-water solo too.

Sport Climbing

This is increasingly more popular because of its relative safety. Sport climbing is a form of roped climbing where bolts are used for protection. Bolts are in situ (permanently on the rock) and relatively close together, allowing you to climb at your limit and perhaps with frequent falls. With the danger element removed, emphasis can be placed on technique and doing hard moves.

Any crag or wall that has in situ bolts can be used for sport climbing (subject to access issues, of course). The best place to start sport climbing in the UK is Portland on the south coast. Here there are loads of easy routes and some of the best weather in the UK. There are many sport climbing areas all over Britain but some of the routes can be hard for beginners.

Get out that Union Jack, pull your socks up, and put on your tweed jacket on. Now you're ready for some 'trad' climbing

Traditional climbing

The best of British. Get out that Union Jack, pull your socks up, and put on your tweed jacket on. Now you're ready for some 'trad' climbing. Back in 1886, when Haskett Smith climbed the Napes Needle in the Lake District, climbing gear hadn't been invented. Tying an old tow rope around your waist and questing up a fierce piece of rock was unheard of; but that's what happened and traditional climbing was born. Since then it has developed rapidly along with technical innovations in the equipment used. The term 'Trad climber is given to any roped climber who ascends a piece of rock placing protection as he goes to ensure his safety.
Anyone who started climbing before the 1980s will probably have been a trad climber, because in those days that was the only real form of rock-climbing you could do. Things have changed slightly and it's not compulsory to wear those tweed jackets and breeches anymore!
There is far more trad climbing in the UK than any other form of climbing. North Wales, Lake District, Scotland, Peak District, South West and Northumberland are just some of the prime areas, but you can trad climb anywhere where there is a cliff or crag (rock buttresses) - subject to the usual access issues.

Other styles

There are many other styles of climbing that are described in detail in the Trad section e.g. sea-cliff climbing, headpointing, big walling, aiding, speed climbing, on sighting, cragging and soloing.


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