Bouldering is a type of rock climbing stripped down to its roots. There is almost no gear involved, making it more challenging than other forms of rock climbing. But it is also more rewarding, especially after a successful climb.
Nevertheless, suppose you’re looking to give bouldering a try. In that case, you’ll need bouldering training gear, such as climbing shoes, chalk, and a crash pad (Only for outdoor bouldering). But, how do you choose the right equipment?
Don’t worry. After all, that’s why we are here. We’ll cover all the beginner’s bouldering gear essentials to best of 2021 that you need to started. But if you’re at square one and want to know more on bouldering, we have an article on What is Bouldering..
You’ll also have information about features that you should look into on each one. This way, you can choose the equipment that best suits your needs.
So let’s jump right into it.
Bouldering Gear for Beginners: Things to consider
As we said before, you only need a few items before you can start bouldering. Why did we say that? Well, traditional climbers, like those who practice free or aid climbing, need ropes, harnesses, quickdraws, helmets, and more.
If you like your gear to be organized, then we recommend Mountain Method Boulder Caddy, the ultimate organizational accessory insert to slip inside your crash pad.
You don’t need any ropes, harness and the like to to start bouldering. Although, some beginners prefer to a pair of rock climbing gloves to help with grip. But it’s not necessary.
For us, bouldering gear essentials are items that you can’t practice climbing without, such as:
- Bouldering shoes
- Climbing chalk
- Bouldering crash pad
- Bouldering brush
So, let’s start with bouldering shoes.
Bouldering Gear: Shoes
A pair of bouldering shoes is, hands down, the most vital piece of gear for bouldering. It protects your feet and while increasing your grip. Yes, you can use almost any type of sports shoes for indoor bouldering, as long as the problem isn’t that difficult.
But you should get a decent pair of climbing shoes if you want bouldering to be a long-run hobby. One thing though bouldering shoes aren’t comfortable. So, forget about getting a pair that you can wear throughout the day. Let’s discuss some relevant features.
Fit and Bouldering Shoe Shape
Bouldering shoes must snugly fit your feet. There shouldn’t be any gaps. Hence, it is crucial to know how long and wide your feet are. It would be ideal to try the shoe first. Some bouldering gyms rent them. This way, you can try a pair and see if it works.
Most bouldering shoes use one of the following closure systems:
- Velcro shoes: It is a good middle-ground between laces and slip-on bouldering shoes. That’s why most models use it.
Velcro straps offer quick on and off. However, poor-quality velcro wears off in time. Besides, velcro straps might come loose after intense movements.
- Laces shoes: The good and old laces. You can choose how tight you want your shoes to be, and they don’t come loose that easily. However, it takes more time to put them on and off.
Besides, the friction between the rock and the laces might tear them apart, forcing you to replace the laces.
- Slip-on shoes: You can put on a pair of slip-on shoes in the blink of an eye. Plus, they are the most comfortable system that you can find. Nevertheless, they also have an Achilles heel.
Slip-on bouldering shoes are ten to stretch with time. Hence, they will lose their shape and won’t fit as tight as the first day. I used to own a pair myself. After two years I had to purchase new ones. This time, I incline for velcro straps.
Bouldering Shoe Stiffness
Bouldering requires a lot of complicated moves. That’s why your feet should have enough support to prevent twists. But soft enough not to temper with movement. Sadly, these are all relative terms.
To explain, seasoned climbers with strong feet will prefer something softer, with more “feel”. Conversely, beginners should get a pair of bouldering shoes that offer more support.
How stiff a shoe is depends on the materials and construction. For example, single-piece rubber offers more support at the expense of mobility. Additionally, the rubber itself also influences how soft the shoe is.
Sadly, there is no standard rubber rating as most brands use proprietary materials.
Soft Leather vs Synthetic Bouldering Shoes
Most bouldering shoes have a leather or synthetic upper and sides. Both are resisting abrasion. However, synthetic bouldering shoes typically last longer than the average.
In contrast, leather bouldering shoes are more comfortable in the long run. It is a tradeoff, as with anything.
Downturn: What is it, and how it affects performance
Before we talk about the different types of downturns, let’s first define what it is.
Downturn refers to the sole curvature. There are three downturn levels, and to explain:
Flat profile: As the name suggests, this type of bouldering shoe has a flat sole. This profile gives more space for your toes and works best on vertical routes. In other words, routes that don’t involve complex moves. That’s why flat sole bouldering shoes are an ideal option for beginners.
Aggressive profile: On the other side of the coin, we have aggressive profile bouldering shoes.
These banana-shaped shoes work best for tricky problems where there is only room for the tip of your toes. The extreme curvature keeps your heel and toes engaged, giving you enough power to push yourself up. It all sounds good. But your feet will hurt like hell.
Moderate or Neutral profile: Hitting the sweet spot between aggressive and flat, we have: Neutral or moderate profile shoes.
These have a subtle curvature, giving you just enough power to tackle complex movement without being unpleasant in the long run. Moderate profile bouldering shoes don’t particularly shine at anything. But they don’t suck at anything either.
Bouldering Gear: Climbing Chalk
It might sound a little weird, but having climbing chalk is crucial.
The chalk absorbs moisture from your hands, thereby keeping them dry. This, in turn, increases grip. It also pays to get a chalk bag to carry the chalk on you. Besides, the bag will keep the chalk secure and away from moisture.
Keep in mind that regular chalk, the one used in classrooms, is not the same as climbing chalk. I once tried to use it and made a horrible mess. It dissolved with sweat and didn’t keep my hands dry at all. So, make sure to get climbing chalk.
But, you might be wondering, which chalk type is the best? Climbing chalk comes on four presentations. Each one has its pros and cons.
Climbing chalk types:
Fine Loose Climbing Chalk: This is what we think about when we hear chalk. A fine white powder. Loose chalk is very easy to use. Simple dip a hand inside the bag and then rub your hands intensively to spread the chalk.
However, it is easy to make a mess with loose climbing chalk. For instance, if you get too much fine powder chalk on your hands, the excess will end up on the ground. It might not be a problem in the outdoors. But your peers will give you a dirty look if you are inside a bouldering gym.
Additionally, it is easy to spill chalk, and this is a problem wherever you are. That’s why you should always keep loose chalk inside a bag.
Climbing Chalk Balls: Chalk balls are nothing more than some loose chalk stash inside a cloth ball. The fabric has tiny pores through which the chalk comes out as you squeeze it. As a result, there is little to no mess, and the chalk is easier to move and store.
Still, covering your whole hands might take some time. Even after a fair amount of squeezes, you might still have uncovered surface areas. On the other hand, it is more challenging to coat your hands while sorting a problem.
Liquid Climbing Chalk: Yes, liquid chalk does exist. I know. It might sound odd to use liquid chalk to absorb moisture. The thing is that liquid climbing chalk uses a mixture of alcohol and powdered chalk.
The alcohol evaporates shortly after being applied. Thus, leaving a coat of solid chalk on your hands. Liquid climbing chalk offers a middle ground between loose and ball presentation. You enjoy the simplicity of using ball chalk with the possibility of covering your entire hands.
Sadly, liquid climbing chalk is more expensive than any of the others presentations.
Block Chalk: Although uncommon, climbing chalk blocks are easier to transport and store than loose chalk. You need to ground them first to the desired size. Then you can use it as you would do with regular loose chalk.
Bouldering Gear: Crash Pads
While it is unnecessary to get one for indoor bouldering, it is a must for those who want to venture outside. In addition, a bouldering crash pad will lower the risk of getting injured from a fall.
Thus, it is a smart move to get one, especially if you think of getting serious with bouldering. We covered the best bouldering crash pads here.
Most bouldering crash mats have a nylon shell with a foam interior. However, quality does change. For example, some crash pads have a 1000-denier nylon exterior, whereas others use 900-denier nylon. The first is thicker and most durable, and the second is not.
Similarly, not all pads are of the same thickness or size. A thicker pad offers more protection. Not to mention, there are high-quality pads with layers of foam vs. single layer. However, they are inherently more expensive and heavier.
Bouldering crash mats size categories:
- Regular Bouldering Crash Pad: These 3’x4′ crash mats are commonly 4 inches thick. They offer just enough protection for entry-level problems, making them ideal for beginners. However, they fall short for more challenging routes. You can always get two if you think that one isn’t enough.
- Full-size Bouldering Pads: A full-size crash pad offers up to 20 square feet of landing zone. Some of them are 5 inches thick. Thus, offering more protection.
- Oversized Bouldering Crash Mats: Oversized bouldering pads are the solution for those looking for more than 20 square feet of coverage. These huge mats offer the ultimate protection, something that makes them ideal for highball bouldering. Something that beginners will unlikely encounter.
- Supplementary Crash Pads: Boulderers use these backup mats to add an extra layer of protection to their standalone crash pads. Never use them as your main source of protection.
Bouldering problems, especially indoors, might have some traffic. That’s why most holds and edges have a white coat of chalk. While it might not look like a big deal, that excess of chalk combined with dirt and rubber from the shoe could make things slippery.
Here is where a brush comes to the rescue. Use it to clean the hold. However, make sure that it has nylon bristles, like a regular toothbrush. Otherwise, you will be eroding the rock surface and potentially changing the problem entirely.
While a brush might not be an essential piece of bouldering gear for some climbers. It is a good practice to start using it at the early stages. Besides, brushes are, next to climbing chalk, the most affordable pieces of equipment.
Best Bouldering Gear Essentials of 2021
After reading all about the bouldering training gear that you need, it is about time to discuss some of the best pieces of gear that you can find in the market. We will keep the same order as before. We will start with bouldering shoes, followed by climbing chalk, then bouldering pads, and close the review with brushes and climbing pants.
Best Premium Bouldering Shoe: La Sportiva Katana Lace Climbing Shoe
Features: Sizes: 34 to 36 Medium asymmetry Downturn: Slight Upper: Leather and microfiber Closure: Laces Sole: Vibram rubber
First of all, skip this one if you are not willing to pay more than 100 bucks. The Katana bouldering shoes aren’t what we refer to as affordable. Still, its quality features earned a place in this review.
This lace version of the bestselling Katana bouldering shoe features a leather and microfiber composite upper. La Sportiva added a breathable tongue and lining for moisture management. Your feet will always be dry, regardless of the heat.
The rubber midsole guarantees that the slight downturn shape will remain unaltered for years to come. Thus, preserving performance. On the other hand, the proprietary Vibram 4 mm sole increases grip, allowing you to place your weight on the tiniest of edges without worrying.
Overall, the Katana bouldering shoes have a premium built quality that keeps the shoe durable yet pleasantly comfortable. La Sportiva recommends getting 0.5-1 US sizes smaller for a snug fit.
- All-round climbing shoe
- Highly breathable
- The shoe keeps its downturn even after prolonged use
- Comfy toe box
- The sides might stretch
Best Budget Bouldering Shoe: Black Diamond Momentum Climbing Shoe
Features: Sizes: 5 to 15 (US) Downturn: Flat Upper: Engineered Knit Technology Closure: Velcro Sole: 4.3 mm NeoFriction Rubber
Beginners looking for a more budget-friendly option will surely love Momentum bouldering shoes by Black Diamond. They hit the sweet spot between affordability and quality.
You may choose one of six colors. Each one retails for the same price and is of the same quality. The construction is quite different from the one we last saw. For instance, these bouldering shoes have a flat downturn, making them ideal for vertical problems while offering unparalleled comfort.
Black Diamond opted for a set of velcro straps to keep the shoe in place. In addition, the upper fabric offers flexibility where you need it while keeping the support around your ankles. What’s more, its soft lining allows moisture to space. Hence, keeping your feet dry.
The 4.3 mm rubber sole guarantees durability and consistent performance for many years. Additionally, the soft midsole increases sensitivity while offering a comfortable surface for your toes and heels. I had a pleasant experience with the Momentum bouldering shoes. However, I don’t recommend them for tricky problems where you have to rely on tiny holds to progress. It just doesn’t have enough downturn.
- Vegan construction
- All-day comfort
- Tight fit
- Great for sweaty feet
- Thick sole
- Not enough grip for tiny holds
- It runs small
Best Beginner Bouldering Shoe: Climb X E-Motion High
Features: Sizes: 5 to 12 (US) Downturn: Flat Upper: Leather Closure: Single velcro strap Sole: Leather
People looking to start climbing without breaking the bank will be more than pleased to get their hands on a pair of X E-Motion bouldering shoes. The downside is that quality is somewhat compromised. Let’s see why.
Just like before, the X E-Motion uses a velcro strap as a closure system. This time, however, we only have one. As a result, the shoe doesn’t fit as tightly as the previous two options.
The entire shoe is made out of leather. Yes, even the sole. Sadly, this means that the shoe isn’t as durable as the other two. Why? Well, leather can’t handle sharp edges as rubber does. The only advantage is the incredible grip that leather gives, particularly over wet surfaces.
Breathability is another thing to consider. While it lets some air get inside, it is not enough to keep your feet completely dry. Therefore, you should avoid these climbing shoes if you sweat too much.
Overall, the X E-Motion is not the best option for people looking for a lot of value for their money. However, it is a superb option for beginners who are just starting bouldering and would like to cut prices down.
- Remarkable light
- Great for wet boulders
- The sole is not as durable as rubber
- It doesn’t fit tightly
|Image||Name of Product||Product Dimensions||Weight||Climbing Shoe Type||Gender||Price|
|La Sportiva Katana Lace Climbing Shoe||14 x 7 x 5 inches||1.99 Pounds||Moderate||Unisex||$195.00|
|Black Diamond Momentum Climbing Shoe||9.45 x 9.45 x 6.3 inches||15.8 ounces||Neutral||Men’s||$85.64|
| ||Climb X E-Motion High||13 x 6.1 x 4.2 inches||1.25 Pounds||Not Provided||Men’s||Price not available|
Best Budget Climbing Chalk: Friction Labs Magic Chalk Ball
Features: Skin-friendly Type: Ball Weight (Ounces): 2.2 Refillable
Budget-friendly and outstanding quality are two terms that define the Magic Chalk Ball by Friction Labs. But if you need another reason to get it, it is also refillable.
The cotton bag is thick, durable, and soft at the touch. We notice that spreading the chalk is pleasantly easy. It only takes a couple of squeezes to cover the whole hand. Despite the chalk comes out easy, it does so without making a mess.
The chalk itself is of super quality. It absorbs water, sweat, oils, sunscreen, and pretty much anything your throw at it. It is the perfect companion for those who have sweaty palms. Thus, using chalk is a bouldering gear essential.
According to Friction Labs, this climbing chalk hasn’t any artificial fillers nor drying agents, making it perfect for climbers with delicate hands. Naturally, this is only valid as long as you refill the ball with similar chalk.
- Absorbs all moisture
- Easy and mess-free application
- The chalk is too fine
Best Premium Climbing Chalk: Survivor Chalk Bag with Refillable Ball and Liquid Chalk
Features: Type: Chalk ball and liquid chalk Comes with a climbing chalk bag Refillable Chalk ball
I know, it might seem like a little too much to pay almost 25 bucks for some climbing chalk. But look closer. You’re getting a chalk bag, ball, and liquid chalk! Now it is one hell of a deal, right?
Beginner boulderers are the ones who will benefit from getting this Survivor combo. The climbing chalk bag itself has enough space for the chalk ball, liquid chalk, brush, and even your phone. Certainly, the drawstring will keep the chalk secured and prevent spillage.
Now, it is time to talk about what we are interested in: The chalk. Both presentations work just fine. However, the liquid chalk was a little dry on our bundle. Mixing it with some alcohol helped a little.
What’s more, the climbing chalk ball is also refillable. The only drawback we saw is that the chalk doesn’t come out that easily, rather it took a couple of squeezes to cover both hands.
Another thing that you should know is that the alleged phone pocket is just too small. My Pixel 5 barely fit inside it. While a phone isn’t quite a bouldering gear essential, a chalk ball is perhaps handy when you can hang it off your pant loops.
- Superb value for your money
- The ball is refillable
- The drawstring keeps the ball from falling out
- The drawstring come loose at one side
- The liquid chalk could come a little dry
Best Block Climbing Chalk: SPRI Chalk Block
Features: Type: Chalk block Weight (ounces): 2 Pigment-free Non-toxic
Climbing a chalk block might not be the first choice of any climber. Still, we wanted you to have at least one example of each type of chalk. This way, you can make an informed decision.
You can buy it as a single block or either in a 4- or 8-pack. All blocks weigh around 2 ounces. Still, it all depends on how much climbing chalk you need. A single block is an ideal choice to buy as part of your bouldering gear essentials.
The chalk itself is nothing special. According to SPRI, it has neither toxic substances nor pigments. It is 100% pure magnesium carbonate. But something that we did notice is that the chalk does come off easily.
Sadly, the climbing block crumbles with ease. So, it is easy to lose some chalk if it is not properly stored.
- Easy to apply once broken
- It crumbles with ease
|Image||Name of Product||Weight||Material(s)||Item Dimensions||Price|
|Friction Labs Magic Chalk Ball||62.4 grams||Magnesium Carbonate||7.9 x 6 x 3 inches||Price not available|
|Survivor Chalk Bag with Refillable Ball and Liquid Chalk||8.78 Ounces||Chalk||5.12 x 5.12 x 6.3 inches||$19.95|
|SPRI Chalk Block||2Ounces||Magnesium Carbonate||Not Provided||$12.66|
Best Premium Bouldering Crash Pad: Black Diamond Mondo
Features: Type: Classic Hinge Open dimensions (Feet): 3.7x5.4 Folded dimensions (Feet): 3.7x2.5 Weight (Pounds): 20 Shell: 1000-denier nylon with PU coating Interior: 5 inches thick foam Padded shoulder and waist straps
We also recommend Metolius Magnum Crash Pad or CampUSA Cassin Domino Crash Pad if the Mondo is sold out. To emphasize, the most important bouldering gear essential you need to buy is a crash mat. No explanation needed, right?
If safety is your main concern, and you don’t care about price, then the Mondo crash pad by Black Diamond is a safe bet. The mat is 5 inches thick and covers up to 20 square feet. Plenty of space and cushioning.
The 1000-denier exterior handles sharp rocks without breaking a sweat. Additionally, the PU coating keeps water at bay. In other words, the crash pad won’t get wet.
The 5 inches thick foam gives enough cushioning even for highball bouldering falls. However, if you want to push your limits even further, you can always add a supplementary pad on top. The Mondo crash pad has a classic hinge construction. You can open and close it in a matter of seconds. However, beware of the gutter.
Once folded, the crash pad only takes half the space. Use the metallic easy-hooks to keep both sections together for safer transportation. Together with the hooks and fully adjustable shoulder and waist pads, you can easily carry this crash pad on your back.
- Anti-slip bottom
- Waterproof shell
- Thick foam
Best Budget Crash Pad: Mad Rock Mad Pad
Features: Type: Classic Hinge Open dimensions (Feet): 3x4 Folded dimensions (Feet): 3x2 Weight (Pounds): 14 Shell: Nylon Interior: 3-inch thick open-cell foam with two 1-inch thick closed-cell foam Padded shoulder and waist straps Chest straps Velcro straps
The Mad Pad is a suitable choice for those looking to stay below 200 dollars. However, you lose some square feet of coverage, and the shell isn’t as durable as the previous bouldering pad. Still, it is more than enough for beginners.
Because the shell doesn’t have a PU coating, water does get inside the foam. This is undesirable, of course. So, keep the crash pad away from water and moist. It also pays to lay it on even ground without sharp rocks.
What the Mad Pad offers exactly 12 square feet of coverage and a 5-inch thick landing zone. The cushioning is enough for most bouldering problems. However, you might need another crash pad if you want to climb higher.
One unique feature that Mad Rock bouldering crash pads have is that you can transform them into lounge chairs. Yes, it might not be the most comfortable chair. But it is definitely better than the ground.
- Thick landing zone
- The pad transforms into a chair
- It comes with velcro straps to join several pads together
- It is not waterproof
- The foam degrades quicker than expected
|Image||Name of Product||Open Dimensions||Folded Dimensions||Weight||Colors||Type||Price|
|Black Diamond Mondo||44 x 65 x 5 inches||44.4 x 30 inches||20 lb 6 oz||Red/Black||Classic Hinge||$399.95|
|Mad Rock Mad Pad||36 x 48 inches||36 x 24 inches||14lb||Mustache|
Best Premium Bouldering Brush: Crush Climbing Brush
Features: Natural bristles Length (Inches): 8 Glass-reinforced frame
Having a decent brush might not be on anyone’s bouldering gear essential list. But it is worth it, because it’s inexpensive and cleans the rock off any dirt that would cause your fingers to slip.
The crush climbing brush gives exceptional value to your money. You can choose between two different colors (Blue and Orange), or go for the pack of two. You will also be getting a free double climbing training manual that could come in handy for beginners.
The boar hair bristles are remarkably soft and clean the rock without polishing it. Additionally, you will be leaving no plastic behind.
The 8-inches reinforced frame is durable and also allows you to thoroughly clean the entire hold thanks to the oversized handle. In short, both a simple and durable design.
- Oversized handle
- All-natural bristles
- It comes with a free training manual
- It doesn’t clean small holds
- The bristles fall out rather quick
Best Budget Climbing Brush: Happy Reunion Premium
Features: Natural bristles Length (Inches): 7 Glass-reinforced frame 100% recycle materials
If you don’t care about getting free stuff, but care about the environment, then this brush is an ideal choice.
It has natural bristles as well. The recyclable glass-reinforced handle is almost indestructible. It is more than able to cope with the abuse, falls, hits, and everything else. As you can see, the whole construction is more eco-friendly than the previous bouldering brush.
Although it is slightly shorter, 7 inches of the brush is more than enough to thoroughly clean any hold. In addition, it is not as thick as the previous brush. Hence, cleaning tiny edges is easier.
- Eco-friendly construction
- The bristles won’t erode the rock
- Uneven bristles
|Image||Name of Product||Package Dimensions||Weight||Material||Handle Material||Price|
|Crush Climbing Brush||7.6 x 1.5 x 1 inches||2.4 Ounces||Nylon||Plastic||$15.55|
|Happy Reunion Premium||9 x 2 x 0.47 inches||0.63 Ounces||Boar’s Hair||PA6+30%GF||$5.99|
Bouldering Gear for Beginners: Wrap Up
Bouldering only requires a few pieces of training gear. However, it is crucial to have a pair of rock climbing shoes and some climbing chalk to start climbing indoors. In contrast, you’ll need more bouldering gear essentials, such as crash pads and climbing brush, are extra pieces of equipment you need before hitting wild boulders.
You might be wondering about what clothes should you wear, rock climbing pants or shorts? Basically, any pair of sports or hiking pants will do. Besides, it’s not crucial to own quality bouldering pants. In reality, a good pair of bouldering shoes, chalk, and a crash pad is all you need to get started.
To sum it up, we believe the Black Diamond Momentum climbing shoes and Mondo bouldering pad, combined with the Survivor chalk bag and Happy Reunion climbing brush, are the best gear for getting started as a beginner. These are a balance of both budget and premium options. In addition, you’ll be buying quality items that will endure a lifetime of abuse.
All in all, you’ll be more than pleased with any combination of these selected items. If you want more crash pad options, read our guide to the best crash bouldering crash pads.
Which will you be buying? What do you recommend? Let us know and send us some photos of you in action!
Last update on 2021-09-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API