Indoor bouldering gives first-time climbers a relatively low-commitment, low-risk way to check out rock climbing. Wearing proper attire gives you a safer, more rewarding bouldering experience. Bouldering usually involves rock climbing short distances either up or sideways without the use of safety ropes or harnesses. Boulderers use crash pads, also called bouldering mats, to soften the impact of falls. Bouldering tends to be a social activity, as boulderers usually spot each other to help prevent injuries while they work on bouldering routes, called "boulder problems," together.
Climbing shoes can make or break your bouldering experience. A poorly fitting pair of climbing shoes will literally start you off on the wrong foot, encouraging you to learn sloppy, imprecise footwork. Climbing shoes should fit like snug gloves over your bare feet, with no air pockets or room to wiggle your toes. Most experienced climbers downsize from their street-shoe size anywhere from one-half to two full sizes. Expect unlined leather climbing shoes to stretch up to a full size with wear. Lined shoes and synthetic shoes stretch much less, as noted by REI.
Bouldering movements frequently involve positioning and moving with your legs in severely flexed or extended positions. Select comfortable pants, capris or shorts that will not restrict your range of motion. Bottoms crafted from stretchy, tear-resistant materials tend to work best. Extremely baggy bottoms are not recommended, as they can interfere with your vision and get caught on holds and rock features. Boulderers often roll up longer pant legs so they can clearly see and effectively use their feet.
Female boulderers usually wear a sports bra or a sports top with a built-in bra as their first layer. In warm conditions, this nonrestrictive piece of clothing often suffices on its own or with a light T-shirt. For colder conditions, select a sweat-wicking, lightweight, long-sleeved shirt or jacket that allows for total freedom of movement in your upper body. While you're spotting or resting in between efforts, wear a fleece layer and/or a down jacket to maintain warmth in your upper body.
Boulderers use gymnastic chalk -- magnesium carbonate -- to improve friction between their fingers and the rock, as explained by a study reported in "Sports Biomechanics" in November 2012. Though boulderers sometimes wear a chalk bag on a belt, they'll more often use a chalk bucket -- a bigger version of a chalk bag you can set upright on the floor or ground. This prevents chalk spillage in the event of a fall, which happens often with belted bags. Dip your hands into the bucket, called "chalking up," between bouldering attempts. Other common bouldering accessories include winter hats, sunglasses to reduce glare and small brushes to remove excess chalk from holds between bouldering attempts. Take off rings and any jewelry that dangles -- including earrings, bracelets and necklaces -- before bouldering. It's easy to scratch your watch face while bouldering, so you may want to take your watch off, too.
A professional writer since 1997, Harvard graduate and pro rock climber Alli Rainey's articles have appeared in "Climbing Magazine," "Rock & Ice" and "Men's Fitness," among many others. Rainey is also an ACTION certified personal trainer (CPT) and climbing coach.