Roped climbing vs bouldering

If you’re thinking about getting into climbing, deciding which type to try may very well be your first challenge.

Jan 18 2023

A man wearing a harness around his waist and a helmet stands at a distance from a roped climbing wall, surveying it

If you’re thinking about getting into climbing, deciding which type to try may very well be your first challenge. At Calshot , we offer both roped climbing (roped and lead) and bouldering. So before you don a harness or take to the bouldering wall, here’s a rundown of the differences between these activities to help you reach new heights in no time .

Two women smile at each other while wearing ropes and harnesses

The basics

Roped climbing and bouldering are both year-round activities that can take place indoors or outdoors – though you might want to stick to indoor climbing in the colder months . They both provide great benefits for fitness, flexibility and strength, and can be a great social activity to perform with friends.

Roped climbing takes place on taller routes determined by pre-installed bolts. Some of the routes at Calshot use a pre-set rope (which you then tie onto your harness), while lead climbing involves clipping a rope (attached to your harness) on to bolts via quickdraws as you climb.

Bouldering doesn’t use ropes. Instead, climbers scale shorter routes known as ‘problems’. When bouldering, you’ll stay quite close to the floor (which is usually padded to prevent injury) so won’t need a rope or harness.

A man stands at the base of a bouldering wall, considering the problem


At Calshot, most of the equipment needed for roped climbing and bouldering is provided onsite. If you’re looking to invest in your own gear or climb offsite, you’ll need to buy the right equipment for the type of climbing you want to do.

Roped climbing requires a climbing harness, a belay device, a locking carabiner, climbing shoes and chalk. We also recommend using a helmet for safety. If you’re looking to lead routes, you’ll also need a rope.

Bouldering requires much less equipment – typically just climbing shoes and chalk. However, if you’re bouldering outside a good crash pad or climbing mat can be a good investment – particularly if you share the cost with friends.

A woman wearing a helmet hangs smiling from mid-air off a climbing wall


Most bouldering problems are about 4.5 meters high. Comparatively, roped climbing walls are often up to 15 meters. So, when deciding which climbing type to give a go first, consider how comfortable you are with heights before you get stuck in.

Two people boulder


You’ll exercise different muscles depending on which type of climbing you do. Roped climbing needs more endurance because you’re climbing a greater distance with each climb. You’ll also need to use your arms and legs equally, so you’ll build strength equally across your body.

Bouldering is less about endurance, being more focused on agility and other explosive abilities. It also needs more upper body strength. The best way to compare the two sports is like comparing a sprint (bouldering) to a marathon (roped climbing). They’re both fun but they build different skills and muscles.

A man stands at the base of a climbing wall considering the route


If you’re looking for an activity to really get stuck into, roped climbing will generally involve more of a time commitment. This is because of the time it takes to set up, the amount of gear required and the scale of each route you undertake. Climbing indoors will take up less time than outdoor climbing, as centres like Calshot usually have everything in place for you to get started.

Bouldering, on the other hand, is a great shout for anyone looking for a quick climbing fix. With less equipment than roped climbing, there’s really no set up – just walk up to the wall and get started.

A  group of people watch a man boulder


All types of climbing can be quite social. Roped climbers need belayers – to manage your rope and belay device – while a spotter (someone to make sure any falls are as safe and controlled as possible) can be handy when bouldering.

Climbing with friends is a good way to get your blood pumping while having a catch up. You can even help each other out by suggesting solutions to the crux (most difficult section) of a route.

Problem solved

Now you’ve had a chance to consider the differences between roped climbing and bouldering, it’s time to give it a go. Head to Calshot Activities Centre, enjoy our bouldering room and climb the tallest wall in the south. You can also check out the Vertical Life app to scope out routes and plan your visit before you arrive.

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