“The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.” – Alex Lowe

We have done many articles on rock climbing, places to rock climb, rock climbing equipment, etc, so I thought today I would do a simplistic breakdown of the 5 main types of rock climbing – from the most simple climb to the most dangerous and I start with full-safety climbing…

Full-safety climbing

This is the safest way to climb, but it’s also the least exciting. With full-safety climbing, you are tied to all kinds of ropes and you climb up a surface by grabbing onto pre-installed grips. Furthermore, someone on the ground will be pulling on the rope to help you haul your body up to the top, just in case you’re not strong enough to do it yourself. It is a good way to start as you feel so safe.


This is another popular first-time climbing option unaided by equipment. Bouldering is done on a low, freestanding rock or at the base of a larger rock where falls aren’t very steep or dangerous. However, no matter how simple a climb looks you should always climb with someone – you never know when you might need help.

Free climbing

“Maybe true. Maybe not true. Better you believe.” – Sherpa saying.

From full-safety climbing and bouldering you will inevitably gravitate to free climbing. It is considered to be the “essence” of the sport. Equipment is used only for safety, not for creating holds, and need not be used at all. You know all those fabulous pictures of climbers hanging from an overhang with one hand and a small safety rope – well you, too, can do this with some practice! The following video from agujan, follows a group of Austrians – one the 14 year old son of a sherpa, free climbing in Thailand.

Aid (or artificial) climbing

This should be left to pros. Used mainly when free climbing becomes impossible, aid climbing uses equipment (like hand-held suction cups) to create artificial holds in the rock. Complicated and scary and definitely only for the professionals.

There is, of course, another type of Artificial climbing: this is the “knack of appearing to climb by talking about it. This technique is best employed far from actual climbing areas, which tend to be hazardous. Small taverns and pizza parlors with an impressionable clientele are excellent sites for artificial climbing”… just kidding!

Solo Climbing

And last but not least – soloing. This is dangerous. It is a longer climb unaided by any safety equipment and many professionals refuse to do it. Dean Potter, who I have written about several times before, is a master at this. The video above was equivalent to solo climbing but their safety feature was the water they could fall into…

Safety Precautions

Within these types of climbing, there are various safety features you can use. The most popular being belaying. This is where two people climb together while hooked up to each other. Used in free and aid climbing, belaying prevents long falls (definitely a good thing!). The “leader” climbs first, and the “second” follows. While one is climbing, the other belays – that is, releases enough rope for him to climb. The rope is anchored to some fixed point on the rock (like a nice strong root or tree) while the belayer stays steady at that point to attend to the rope. Should you fall, you will only fall as far as the amount of rope that has been anchored. The belayer must always be alert, watching the leader at all times and with enough tension in the rope to feel the connection between him and the leader.

“I think climbers should get credit just for remembering what their jobs are on Mondays.” – Gary Clark