Man mountaineering with his equipment on a snow-covered mountain

12 Types of Climbing

The world of climbing isn’t that mysterious of a place, but it’s definitely exciting, I’ll give you that. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of us that rush out to the crag every chance we get (and fill the rest of our time on the wall at the gym). But to a beginner, all the different types of climbing can sound like a whirlwind of things and our imaginations tend to run wild.

I remember when I first got into climbing. Hearing things like “sport climbing”, “ice climbing” and “bouldering,” I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to get off the wall and go for something outdoors. Let me assure you though, once you’re familiar with the techniques, you WILL want to climb just about everything you can climb.

Here, I help you make sense of the 12 types of climbing. You don’t have to do them today or even do them all, but I hope you’ll know what they’re all about so if you’re curious and have built up your techniques on the climbing wall, you can chase after more challenges, so you know which ones are the types of climbs you’ll be doing as a newcomer.

Outdoor climbing

Outdoor climbing is a world of its own. I highly recommend you stick to the gym until you get comfortable enough to venture outdoors. The techniques you’ll learn indoors will prepare you for the ones outdoors. It’s not that indoor climbing isn’t a challenge – some routes will totally break you! But indoors, you don’t have nature to contend with too, like rocks falling at you, birds cawing as they fly by, insects biting or stinging you (one of my worst memories), or sudden weather changes.

Here are the types of outdoor climbing:

– Bouldering

I often recommend bouldering as the first thing you should try when climbing, though I recommend starting indoors (more on that later on). Bouldering is when you climb small hills of rock or boulders, just like it sounds. It doesn’t require gobs of equipment either. You need climbing shoes when you do it outdoors though at your local gym, you could give your first try of it with your sneakers on.

You’ll also need some climbing chalk to get a good grip and many climbers that go bouldering outdoors take along a portable mat to place underneath them, in case they fall to lessen the impact, since you won’t have a harness or any of that. The falls you’ll experience in bouldering are short and relatively easy but if you’re new, using a mat really helps. Just don’t climb outside the scope of that mat!

Bouldering routes are graded according to difficulty too, so starting out, try something easy and work your way up. Another great thing about bouldering is that you don’t need a partner. So, if you want to get in a climb and have no one to go along, you’ll love the ease of bouldering. You also don’t have to contend with your fear of heights here, and it’s a far more relaxed way to start venturing into climbing.

– Traditional / Trad Climbing

When you go for a traditional climb, there are no anchors like in sport climbing (which I’ll discuss in a minute). It’s a lot more complex and you need lots of equipment plus a climbing partner to do it. You’ll be secured to a rope with carabiners connecting anchors to your belayer who will be on the ground.

Because you have to lay your own anchors, you’ll be carrying lots of equipment. Plus, having to make your own anchors requires practice to get it right because you surely don’t want those to fail. It’s very exciting though, but it’s something you should work up to. You rely on that equipment to keep you safe as well as your belayer.

This is how climbing was originally done, hence why it’s referred to as “traditional” , though if you hear other climbers saying “trad,” this is what they’re talking about. Back in the 1970s and 1980s was when climbing really took off and permanent anchors were installed in certain places. Before then, this was the way to go and it’s an excellent option to get in touch with the roots of climbing, if you’re ready for it.

I recommend plenty of practice before trying a trad climb. You should feel comfortable with your techniques and know how to tie your own anchors and set your equipment before trying it.

– Sport Climbing

When you do sport climbing outdoors, it’s most similar to what you’ve been doing at the climbing wall indoors. The anchors here are already firmly drilled into the rock you’re climbing and the routes are well-known. You’ll hook your quickdraw (that’s a short sling with 2 carabiners) to the anchors and be on your way.

Each sport climbing route is known to have difficulty levels which allow you to choose the right route for your current skill set. It’s still challenging though even when you know what to expect. When you’re climbing, you’ve got your belayer down below helping to keep you safe.

What I love about sport climbing is that I don’t have to worry about where I put my anchors and making sure they’re safe. This is the type of climbing I do when I just want to get up there and enjoy the sport. Now that I’m more experienced, I do love trad climbing, but for newer climbers, sport climbing is a better way to get that experience in before having to go full trad and do everything yourself. Plus, there’s slightly less equipment to carry. I love doing sport climbing outdoors when I just want to appreciate the stellar view that comes with it instead of second-guessing my anchors.

– Multi-Pitch Climbing

Multi-pitch climbing is when you keep climbing up with one or even several stops, which are known as a pitch. The pitch serves as a belay station. Basically, you climb up to the pitch and then the climber and belayer switch. If you’re the climber, you go up to where you almost reach the end of the rope and stop so your last anchor is just above you. Your other partner climbs up past your belayer and this continues as sort of a leap frog up a wall, if you can imagine it. That’s the best way I can explain it without you seeing it happening.

You should have some decent experience climbing to do a multi-pitch and you should expect this to be a long climb, usually with an overnight stay. Multi-pitch climbs don’t need to be trad climbs though. They can be on sport routes too. What you need to know before going is how long your route takes, so you can plan accordingly with food, water, and equipment, how you’ll get back down (either by hiking or rappelling), and how difficult the route is graded.

Newer climbers should try to go with someone a little more experienced on a less difficult route for their first multi-pitch.

– Aid Climbing

This style of climbing requires you to pull yourself up with attached devices, hence the term “aid”. The difference between it and free climbing is that air climbing uses artificial aids while free climbing only uses security equipment to catch them with a belayer.

Aid climbing is usually used on pitches where free climbing is next to impossible, like with extremely steep or long routes. Despite the assistance of these aids, it’s still a very difficult challenge, both physically and mentally. You may hear it called “Class 6 Climbing” because of the rating on the equipment that is required to make it work.

Your basic concern in aid climbing is getting to the top. This has been done for over a century now and with new technological advances, is even better to try. The biggest con with aid climbing though is that it takes quite a long time to advance even just the shortest distance. This is why many climbers spend the night up on the cliffs when aid climbing. Do make sure you read about altitude sickness if you’re planning something like this.

– Alpine Climbing (Mountaineering)

One type of climbing I haven’t experienced is alpine climbing. Also called mountaineering, your goal here is to get to the top of the mountain. It’s very dangerous which is why you shouldn’t try this until you’ve gotten plenty of experience under your belt. And even if you have experience, you may want to sit this one out.

With mountaineering, it’s important to make a detailed plan to figure out how long it will take, the provisions and equipment you’ll need to bring with you. It’s basically the same equipment from a trad climb but you’re going to need the right kind of clothing to handle the cold plus ice climbing equipment. You may also decide to take ladders and hooks. Extra half ropes are often advised for long routes to prevent rope tear too.

Because of the dangers of avalanches, mountaineering is much trickier than other types of climbing. You should never do it if you lack the experience. Even those that are experienced have met their end on the face of a mountain when an avalanche has washed over them in a few seconds.

– Ice Climbing

Ice climbing involves climbing ice, usually in the form of frozen waterfalls. It’s quite dangerous since ice is such a tricky thing to predict. If you’ve ever stepped out onto a frozen pond thinking it was solid and secure and had to immediately backtrack fast, you’ll know what I mean. Ice is not as stable as rock, even when it has completely hardened.

You’ll need your usual equipment including helmet, rope, harness, and the whole nine yards but you’ll need ice picks and shoes with spikes to get a grip on that slippery ice. There are ice screws you can use to anchor, but again, because ice can be unpredictable, they might not do you much good. The best option with ice climbing is a top-rope approach so you have a secure anchor.

– Deep Water Soloing

If you’d like the freedom of free soloing without the likely chance of doom that comes with it, try deep water soloing. You still need to be safe, but there are many artificial walls over deep water pools that you can climb freely and not fear for what will happen if you fall (unless you can’t swim that is).

So, there’s no equipment, like bouldering, and you get to go higher like in regular rock climbing. On a natural surface though, you must be careful because even a fall from a tall height into water can cause serious injury or even death. My suggestion is to try this out on an artificial wall so you can enjoy the experience safely. When it’s constructed this way, the wall is built so you can’t hit it if you fall off, making it an incredibly fun and cool experience.

– Free Soloing

We’ve discussed free soloing on here before in greater detail. This is a totally extreme form of climbing and I don’t recommend it. This is when you climb up a mountain or cliff without any equipment. Not even safety equipment! It’s very dangerous because if you make one wrong move, you’re toast.

Indoor climbing

Climbing indoors is the best place for a beginner to get started or for die-hards to practice during the week. Here are the types of climbing you can do at your local climbing gym.

– Bouldering

Just like bouldering in the outdoors, the only differences here are the abundance of fluorescent lights, air conditioning, and mats in the fall zone. It’s a great place to start finding your love of climbing and getting used to the sport!

– Top Rope Climbing

This is the style of climbing where a rope that’s used for the safety of the climber runs from the belayer at the bottom of the route through carabiners that are joined to the anchor system at the top and then back to the climber again. If you’re the climber here, you definitely want your belayer paying full attention. Top-roping is what you often see going on in your gym though it can also be done outdoors, particularly when other styles of climbing could be damaging to the environment or unsafe to climbers. This is a great way to learn how to climb as a beginner.

– Lead Climbing

Another climbing technique you’ll see at the gym is lead climbing. This is a bit more restrictive than top-roping, allowing the lead climber to attach to the length of dynamic and ascend as they add on protection throughout the route. You also have a belayer here giving you more or less rope to work with and catching you if you fall. Your limbs are what help you get to the top here, and carabiners are only put in place to help your belayer manage you should you slip off the holds.


There are many different ways to climb and while some of them might be on the extreme end, others are easily within your reach once you get the hang of things. Take it slow though if you’re just getting started. Those mountains aren’t going anywhere and you’ll be better prepared for them when you build up your strength and turn techniques into habits.


Attention: You have to take care of your own safety and health when climbing. The information on only serves for learning and entertainment purposes. Before climbing, make sure you have been properly instructed by an expert and adhere to all safety precautions. This site is owned and operated by Mohamed Foued Ben Slama, Mohamed Foued Ben Slama is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for websites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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