6 Tricks and Tips for Better Bouldering

Learn Essential Bouldering Skills

A young man climbs a diagonal crack on a high boulder problem.
R. Tyler Gross / Getty Images

Bouldering is not only about finesse and power and making rad dynamic moves. Those are some of the techniques that get you up the rock, but if you want to have more fun and get up more boulder problems, then follow these few simple bouldering tips and tricks. They are all basically no-brainers, but it's easy to forget the simple stuff sometimes. Now you don't have an excuse.

1. Clean Your Rock Shoes

It is a simple act to clean dirt and dust off the bottoms of your rock shoes before you try a boulder problem. It's a fact that clean boot soles stick better than dirty ones. Remember that dirt sticks just as good on sticky rubber as the rubber sticks to a foothold.

Wipe your feet on a small carpet patch or towel that you can place at the base of the problem. This is especially important if the ground is muddy.

Also, make sure that the first footholds are clean. If the last couple climbers that tried the problem tracked dirty soles up against the rock, then there might be bits of dried mud or sand on the holds. Clean them with a soft brush, swat a towel or t-shirt on the holds, or even just blow the debris off.

2. Clean the Handholds

Dirty handholds are just like dirty footholds, they are hard to use. Most handholds on boulder problems, especially popular ones, are dirty with chalk residue. Chalk and sweat from hands get caked onto holds, making them feel slick and polished. It is best to use a toothbrush to brush the dirt and chalk off handholds.

For high handholds, use some athletic tape and attach your toothbrush to the top of a stick to clean the holds. You can also brush the footholds. After you've climbed the problem, be a nice guy and clean your chalk off for the next person.

3. Cheater Stones

A cheater stone is a large rock or stack of rocks piled beneath a boulder problem to allow short climbers to reach holds that they otherwise couldn't grab. To use or not use cheater stones is really an ethical question.

A purist says, "No to cheater stones." Part of the boulder problem is to start from the ground and figure out how to use the first holds. Cheater stones allow you to do exactly that, to cheat your way up the first moves. Your choice.

If you do use cheater stones, watch you don't break an ankle on them if you fall off. Also, remove the cheater stones from the base of the problem before you leave.

4. Previsualize the Moves

Before attempting a boulder problem, stop and look at the problem. Imagine yourself climbing the rock. Look for the handholds. Decide where you are going to place your feet. Ask yourself: What is the sequence from bottom to top? How will you grab the handholds? Will the moves make you off balance? Where will you land if you fall?

Previsualize yourself stepping off the ground, latching the crucial layback flake, stemming your foot on a pebble, and mantling onto the boulder summit. Now step up to the rock and try your sequence.

5. Check Out the Top Out

When you're bouldering, you have to decide how you are going to top out on the problem. Is it a mantle move? Are you going to have to heel hook and roll onto the summit? Is it a beached whale move where you inelegantly flop onto the top? It here is an easy route to the top, boulder up and check out the final moves from above. Find any hidden holds, clean dust and dirt off the crucial holds, or move leaves and debris. If you know what to expect when you are pulling onto the top, you will be more likely to finish the problem.

6. Check Out the Descent

Okay, you've checked out the top out moves. Now check out the descent. Before climbing a boulder, walk around it and see if there is an easy way off. Sometimes it will be a short downclimb. Other times it might be a downclimbing problem to a jump off. If it is an easy boulder problem, you might want to climb up and down it so that you are familiar with the moves.

There is nothing more embarrassing then climbing a problem and finding that you are marooned on top. Don't call 911, just call your buddy to get you down. Yep, that's embarrassing.