The appeal of bouldering is that it's simple fun. Hands, feet, friends. No ropes, minimal equipment, and an ounce or two of gritty determination. The objective of bouldering is simple – climb, up, around, or over a big rock without falling off.
Once considered a whimsical distraction from real climbing, bouldering has exploded in popularity. It has evolved into a prominent sub-culture of the climbing community, complete with its own locations, competitions, and unique grading systems. All over the world new areas are being discovered, new problems are being developed, and the level of difficulty continually rises.
Bouldering is truly about power and movement. Unlike traditional climbing, bouldering is characterized by quick sequences of short, powerful moves, often less than ten feet off the ground. The truly tenacious "project" routes over and over again, working the same series of moves until they successfully link them together.
All you really need is a pair of climbing shoes, a chalkbag, some chalk, and, if you're headed outside, a crashpad.
Climbing Shoes (as a general rule) should be comfortable, snug, and supportive. If the shoes are going to be used exclusively for bouldering, slip-ons or hook-and-loop closures are best. It's a start-and-stop activity. One moment you are trying a problem and the next you are spotting a friend. So it's a bonus to have shoes you can slip on and off quickly.
Read Choosing a Rock Shoe if you're in the market for your first pair.
Chalk and Chalkbags for bouldering are often the large communal type that stay upright on the ground. Many problems do not require more than one dip in the chalk, so you don't need to carry it with you. Communal bags prevent dumping all the chalk if you fall. For longer problems or traverses, you might want to bring a standard bag with belt.
Crash Pads are essentially portable mattresses. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have proven themselves to be a boulderer's best friend. Whether landing on your back from two feet up, or on your heels from fifteen, pads help absorb the impact of your fall. A group of friends armed with pads can transform a neck-breaking talus landing into a plush lounge. Be smart about placing your pad, try to anticipate where you will land if you fall at the crux.
Be conscious too about the consequences of an unintended fall from an easy section. When you're bouldering, every fall is a ground fall.
Read about spotting, falling, and landing techniques in our Safer Bouldering article.