What gear do I need for bouldering?

Bouldering is a fun and hassle-free way to start rock climbing. When starting bouldering in a gym, all you really need is to go to the gym, pay the entrance fee, rent a pair of climbing shoes and get on with it.

When bouldering outside, a bit more gear is needed to climb safely and make the whole experience more enjoyable. If you are uncertain how to transfer from the gym to outside, HERE is an article about that.

Anyway, here is what I take with me when going bouldering:

Climbing shoes

You will need your own pair of climbing shoes. There’s nobody in the forest who will run a shoe rental business.

Climbing shoes that are suitable for climbing on real rock are typically quite snug and preferably a bit more supportive, at least at the beginning of your climbing career. Climbing on real rock demands more from your shoes than climbing in the gym. Outside the footholds can get quite small, even non-existent and gym specific shoes can feel really clumsy.

HERE you can find out more about how to choose a pair of climbing shoes.

Tip: Most climbing gyms have bulletin boards where you can find adds on used climbing shoes.

A crash-pad /bouldering pad

A crash pad is a thick, stiff pad that looks kind of like a small mattress that you can carry with you on your back. The point of a crash pad is to soften the impact in case of a fall. The crash pad is not meant to feel comfortable and soft, it’s meant to be stiff and keep your bones from breaking.

In the gym the floor is covered in a thick mattress, outside you will lay the crash pad where you think you will fall.

what gear do i need for bouldering A spotter is nice to have when the landing is uneven. Photo by Marko Kauko

There are many different brands, types, and sizes of crash pads to choose from. My favorite brand at the moment is Organic Climbing crash pads. The build quality and density of the foam inside (aka the ability to break your fall) is just superb.

Also, it is nice to have a spotter when bouldering outside. Need more info about spotting? A spotter is someone who keeps you from falling headfirst. A spotter will not catch you in case of a fall. A spotter will try to guide you feet first to the crash pad when falling. Read the article. It will be enlightening 😉

Tip: Climbing gyms typically rent crash pads at a reasonable price so you don’t necessarily need to buy one before knowing you will stick to it.

Chalk or magnesium

Climbing chalk (aka magnesium) is used in climbing to dry the hands and fingers from extra moisture. In other words, it will make your sweaty hands dryer which will make friction better. The better the friction, the easier the climb will feel.

A bouldering brush

A brush is used to clean the holds you are about to grab. Brushing the holds frequently enhances the friction of the rock and makes climbing feel easier. A climbing brush is also used to clean excess chalk once you are done with the climb.

Some climbers give their worn-out regular toothbrush a new life as a climbing brush, but I can not recommend doing so. At least not for the outdoors.

what gear do i need for bouldering Climbing the holds is important! Photo by Johan Rapakko

A regular toothbrush has nylon bristles, that can wear out the rock. Nylon bristles are great for brushing plastic holds, a far better option for real rock is using natural bristles. One example is a brush with boars hair bristles. Sounds kind of yucky but they work really great on real rock and plastic as well. The natural boar’s hair bristles clean the surface really efficiently from chalk and dirt AND are gentle to the rock. Wire brushes should only be used when cleaning a new problem or route on virgin rock.

My favorite climbing-specific brush at the moment is the Sublime Climbing brush. If you are unaware of the etiquette when climbing outside, read about it HERE.

Climbing tape (sports tape)

Tape is important. With climbing tape, you can do quick fixes on ripped clothing, damaged gear and most importantly, damaged skin. You can also use tape for supporting injured fingers. Here’s how to tape fingers for climbing.


A towel or a rag of some sort

A cloth of your choice has many uses when climbing outside. You can wipe your shoes before the climb, dry the holds in case of slight dampness, spank the holds off of dirt and excess chalk and such.

Cleaning your shoes before stepping on the rock is really important. Some rock types, such as sandstone, are prone to turn glassy (really slippery) if constantly climbing with dirty shoes. Nowadays some climbs have become unclimbable due to erosion of the rock.
Preserving the rock is the only way to ensure enjoyable rock climbing for future generations as well. Especially with the increasing number of climbers hitting the crag these days.

Tip: A cheap doormat is handy for changing and wiping you climbing shoes before stepping on to the rock.

Skin management kit

This is not mandatory, but a nice addition to the gear listed above. Skin management is an important part of climbing outside. Think about it: your skin along with climbing shoes is the only thing keeping you on the rock. Why not get a bit nerdy and keep it in ideal condition for climbing outside? Here is a whole article on that matter. Enjoy!

skin care for climbers Better clip that small flap and sand down that rolling skin.

First aid kit

Most climbers don’t have a first aid kit with them at the crag but I think it is a good addition to the standard bouldering kit. You don’t necessarily need to buy a ready-made first aid kit. You can always make your own.

My kit includes plasters, tape, an emergency blanket, first-aid bandage, painkillers, and a cold pack. I’ve found the kit useful a number of times, especially at times when I didn’t have the kit with me 😉

Go climb!

Climbing outside can feel like an entirely different sport compared to climbing in the gym. It can feel way harder and sometimes a bit frustrating. Don’t get dishearted. Learning new stuff almost always feel hard but keep at it. Climbing outside can be an eye-opener.

Remember to stay safe and always let someone know where you’re going and when you are expected to return from your adventure (have you seen the movie 127 hours?).

Thanks for reading! Was this helpful or is there something missing? Please let me know by commenting below. Because rock climbing is awesome. It just is.


Related articles:

How to start climbing outdoors

How to start rock climbing [Guide]

How to choose a climbing rope

Climbing shoe review: Five Ten Aleon

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