How to spot in bouldering: Top 7 tips

Climbing is all about having fun. And it’s alot more fun if you’re not getting injured while climbing. When sport climbing, your fall is caught with a rope and a belay device. In bouldering the protection that breaks your fall is the crash pad. But how you fall onto the pad is equally as important as having a crash pad to protect you. Here is where spotting comes into the picture. How to spot in bouldering and what to take in consideration when spotting? Here are my Top 7 tips on How to spot in bouldering.

The basics

Spotting is not about trying to catch the falling climber. It’s about DIRECTING the falling climber onto the crash pads safely and in a good position. If trying to catch the climber, both you and your falling buddy are more likely to get injured. Good spotting is also a lot more than just pushing the falling climber in the direction of the pads.

1. Placing the crash pads

When placing crash pads make the landing area as level as possible. Try not to leave any empty spaces between the pads. The most common injury while bouldering is rolling an ankle. All exposed crash pad edges are potential ankle killers. It is better to have a larger even area to fall on, than a thick stack with lots of edges to sprain your ankle on.

2. Make a spotting plan

It is also good to make a ”spotting plan”. Good spotting is all about preparation and educated guessing. Where is the fall most likely going to take place? How hard of a fall might that be? Are you falling in a good position? Do some of the pads need to be moved to a better position during the climb? Have a conversation on how your climbing partner wants to be spotted and where they want you to be. Are there any big rocks under the pad you don’t want to fall on? Is there a ”no fall zone” (where falling can be very dangerous)? You get the idea. Go over anything that comes to mind so you’ll have a game plan ready when the time comes.

how to spot in bouldering
Better keep those thumbs tucked in… Photo by Marko Kauko

3. Don’t break your thumbs!

The correct position of the thumb while spotting is tucked in tight next to the index finger. As if ”cupping” your hands. This way the weight of the climber is distributed evenly across the whole hand instead of the thumbs. The thumb can seem like a strong and hefty finger but the weight of a falling climber can easily sprain or even break the thumb.

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I learned this the hard way when spotting for the first time. I tried to catch the falling climber and grabbed him by the waist. This resulted in spraining my thumbs pretty bad. My climbing for the day (and week) was pretty much over. Don’t break your thumbs! Pay attention to your spotting technique.

4. Guiding the falling climber

Like I mentioned before, you’re not trying to catch the climber. Your guiding the climber to the pads safely as possible. Pay attention what the climber is doing on the climb and where his or her center of gravity is. Don’t just shove them on the back in case of a fall. Try aiming for the hips or lower back instead. This is where your partners center of gravity most likely is. Try guiding the climber to the pads feet first.

If on an overhanging route or doing high heelhooks, aim for the upper back in order to flip the climber feet first to the pads. If on a low ball, at least protect the neck and head from hitting the ground. Remember that you are the one keeping your partner safe. Be worthy of your climbing partners trust.

how to spot in bouldering
Photo by Marko Kauko

5. Keep your hands up! Be ready!

Falling can take place suddenly. If you are not paying attention, you are of no use spotting. Keep your hands up and be ready. The climber can take an unexpected fall at any time. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll probably be late spotting when the fall happens. Don’t be drinking coffee (though it can be major part of climbing outdoors 😉), dont’t be changing your shoes or posting on social media.

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Pay attention and make your climbing partner feel as safe as possible on the climb. If the climber hesitates on the climb for some reason, you can give them encouragement by saying ‘I got you!’ or ‘ I’ll catch you! or anything to make the climber feel more comfortable.

6. Power spotting

Helping a climber try moves on a problem by pushing the climber and holding some of their weight, is called power spotting. Sometimes even the slightest of help can make a difference whether you think the move is possible or not. You don’t want to waste all your energy climbing from the start every time, just to try a certain move higher up the problem. Power spotting is okay when trying moves and rehearsing sequences, but not on the send.

7. Good spotters are popular climbing partners

Who doesn’t want to climb with a parter that you can trust to keep you as safe as possible? Great spotters are highly regarded climbing partners. When you up your spotting game, you are likely to get more invitations to go climbing. And besides, it’s always nice to be liked in the community.

Go out, lay your pads and be safe. Because climbing is awesome. It just is.


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