Some may say that bouldering, due to the elegance of it's simplicity, is the purest form of climbing. All you need is your boots, chalk, and a pad - that's it. In recent times things have changed a little, with new products that have crept their way into the boulders portfolio: the specialist climber's brush (as opposed to an old toothbrush), a boulder bucket (as opposed to just a plain old chalk bag) and maybe a two or three pads rather than just a single one. Still, relatively simple - just fermented rather than distilled perhaps?
What spurred me to write this article though wasn't the addition of a few new brushes, or a slightly larger chalk bag that fundamentally did exactly the same thing as the smaller ones we'd been using previously, it was a post on Instagram where someone - who shall remain nameless - was using a battery powered fan to cool down a hold. On the one hand I thought 'what have we become', but on the other I thought 'this is incredible…'. The times had undoubtedly changed, or maybe it would be more accurate to say that they'd been changing for some time, with many other items having either come to market or having been adopted by the top level. As such, an article was in order to explore some of the weird and wonderful objects that constitute the new wave of bouldering 'essentials'.
Nobody ever got up anything using a single pair of shoes, and only heathens go out with less than three pairs at a time. You never know if you'll need that cheater heel on the Anasazi VCS, the No Edge on your Futuras, or is it a better day for the Vibram Grip on your Instinct VSRs or the Vibram Edge on your Instinct VSs. It's a wonder the modern boulderer doesn't melt down more often with such weighty questions on their minds.
As with shoes, how are you supposed to get that fine level of brushing without a variety of different density brushes? Yes, the Sublime Brushes provide a sturdy bristle, but is it worth having a small nylon one for those dinky pockets, or a slightly bigger one for the larger surface area?
Whenever you are brushing, remember to follow the commandments set out within our #respecttherock campaign.
It isn't the 90s anymore, nobody climbs with a single pad. At the very least I'd expect to see two, possibly three, plus a little corduroy footmat.
Finger Tape and Superglue
Finger tape is obvioulsy useful where pulleys and tendons are concerned, but where fingertips are concerned it doesn't quite do the job unless you go down the superglue avenue too. This killer combo (which comes with a health and safety warning) can work wonders, miracles even, after you think that 100th 'last go' is actually your 'last go'.
The Beer Mat
The beer mat is steeped in bouldering history, insofar as they were probably the first bouldering mats ever used. Slim on the cushioning, but great for cleaning your shoes and whacking holds - something that we should all remember to do more often.
The Brush Stick
Earlier this year I reviewed the Beta Project Brush Stick and concluded "I can see it becoming a popular choice for boulderers around the world, much as carrying a brush already is" and I firmly maintain my stance on this. Since then there's been the addition of the Pongoose 3-in-1 Brush Stick and no doubt there'll be more in years to come. They're also good at brushing off any unwanted/excess chalk, something we're trying to raise the profile of in our #respecttherock campaign.
Mobile Phone, with data (and preferably 3 or 4G)
A long time ago in a galaxy far away, there was a time when people simply figured out how to climb boulder problems by trying to climb the boulder problem. Now, with the wonders of modern technology and the invention of the word 'beta', those days are over: all need to do is search for it on YouTube or Vimeo. The UKC Logbooks can also be of help, if only to see if people you deem weaker than yourself have successfully climbed the problem, thus providing you with the necessary impetus to succeed.
Many out there will be familiar with the branded moisturisers used by climbers, with ClimbOn, Climbskin, ProBalm, Joshua Tree, and Monkey's Fist all being familiar names; however by the standards of the modern elite these are all small fry compared to the gold standard of Elizabeth Arden 8hr Cream. The plethora of other 'essentials' out there, many of which take the word 'care' out of skincare, will also be covered later in the article.
Somehow we, the proletariat, survived for years with just 'normal' chalk, but thankfully those dark days are now over... 'Premium' chalk, which is very similar only quite a lot more expensive, provides its most noticeable effect upon your wallet. Does it work? Is it just a placebo? Who knows and who cares if it gets you up your project.
For a more constructive take on how it performs check out our Friction Labs Chalk Review.
One for when the going gets really grim and your tips are so thin that the only thing that will stop them sweating through is to apply what is fundamentally an alcohol/chalk blend and hope for the best. Jokes aside, this stuff genuinely gives you a few more moves and is something I would highly recommend having at the base of your bag for emergencies.
Knee Pad(s), Glue Spray and Duct Tape
What is it with the next generation of boulderers and the application of glue to parts of their body? Much like tape, it seems that even the humble knee pad is no longer adequate to fit without the use of either glue spray, duct tape, or both. Shaving your legs will help minimise the pain whilst removing it too...and I'm not even joking...
On the note of knee pads, I once had a conversation with the patron saint of knee barring - Alex Barrows - who extolled the virtues of carrying a variety of knee pads around in much the same way you would shoes, as certain pads work better in some scenarios but not others. This is the age we live in...
Gel Toe Caps
I'm still not sure if the individual who recommended these is just yanking my chain, but considering I'd have thought that 95% of the items included within this list were a piss-take anyway I saw no harm in yet another.
Allegedly these are the business for all serious toe-hookers, making even the most painful of hooks possible in relative comfort. Thankfully when your boots are on you can't see them either, which is great because they really do look pretty weird...
The Squeegie, the sanitary towel, and the tin foil
When the going gets truly awful, and the limestone is on the wetter side of the fabled 'sticky damp' the squeegie does indeed have its place, as does the sanitary towel and the tin foil. They say you can't polish a turd, which indeed you can't - or wouldn't want to - but you can certainly do a whole variety of other things to it!
Camera and Tripod
If a climber climbs a problem and doesn't put a video on either Facebook or Instagram afterwards, did they really climb it?
The static rope, harness, GRIGRI, and ground anchor
The more astute readers will no doubt have noticed that the items listed above aren't really within the remit of what could traditionally be considered 'bouldering', but in recent years I've seen them used more and more - particularly on highballs. Abseiling down, inspecting holds, and giving them a brush is now par for the course - particularly for more esoteric problems which could be green or scrittley.
The ground-anchor, which I know more than one person to have abseiled off, is most certainly NOT CE rated or recommended for anything other than what it's designed for: to stop your (preferably quite small) dog from running away.
Going back to the notion of 'care', this stuff is definitely not caring and is something that probably isn't even recommended. Basically, it stops you sweating and forms a load of hard skin. The pro: you slip less off the holds; the con: it does tend to result in your hands falling apart and flappers that consist of whole pads + fingertips. In short: if you do decide to branch into this - something we don't really recommend - do so with the utmost caution.
All those little bits of dead skin can peel, leading to cracks and weak spots which can lead to bigger cracks and bigger weak spots - as such it's best to nip them in the bud with a quick sanding sooner rather than later.
Much like antihydral, there's something of a public health warning attached to razor blades, which can be used for more major surgery than the sanding block, which tends to be more useful for minor repair and TLC. It can also be used to cut those renegade bits of rubber away from the edges of your rock boots.
Portable fingerboard & Theraband
Another 'obvious' one that seems to have risen in popularity over the last few years. Gone are the days when anyone actually warmed up on a real life boulder problem. Getting warmed-up and (buzz word) recruited before something as intense as bouldering is essential if you're wanting to perform and avoid injury.
Warming up at Lake Pearson for a day on the boulders of Flock Hill. From tomorrow @minaclimbing and myself will be taking over the @fiveten_official Instagram with lots of splendid pictures of this spectacular climbing area so be sure to check it out!! 📷: @minaclimbing @moonclimbing @fiveten_official #bouldering #flockhill #brandofthebrave #beastmakers #training #climbing_pictures_of_instagram
When Jongwon Chon entered the CWIF earlier this year he wore tonnes of this, and in the weeks that followed I think shares in the stuff had gone up there was so much of it about! I'm still not completely sure what it actually does, or if it's just worn as some sort of adornment in much the same way that Mauris tattoo their face and bodies. Having researched the latter (i.e. googled it) I was struck by the parallels:
"Ta Moko - Maori Tattooing. Ta Moko was like a history of a person's achievements and represented their status in their tribe. It was like a resumé. ... It was a huge honour for people to have Ta Moko. Ta Moko was worn by both men and women."
If so, I'm not sure what it says about these guys though...
Tarp + Tent Pegs
Boggy landings are a bit of a nightmare and the tarp and tent peg combo is your way out of creating a Mississippi mud pie of pads layered together.
Tarps can also be used over problems when it starts raining (which it inevitably will if you live in the UK) or if it's too sunny (which it will inevitably be if you're from virtually anywhere else).
Thermal Wellies, Snow Shoes and/or Oversized Crocs
Approach shoes are a thing of the past, or at least they are as far as bouldering throughout the winter is concerned, as they're cold, get wet too easily, and are annoying to take on/off between goes. You need to get yourself either a pair of Thermal Wellies or some Snow Shoes, and depending on your budget this could be something from Decathlon or from the mail order section in Horse and Hound (if you're going for the quintessential country gent/lady look).
Oversized Crocs - as well as being a strong fashion statement - are also useful for slipping into with your rock boots on, just so they don't get wet and dirty between attempts.
Hot water bottle and hand warmers
The hot water bottle is the traditional tool of choice for staying warm, but chemical hand warmers have become popular amongst our winter climbing cousins; however, a recent addition to the market in the form of the USB charged hand warmer could spell something of a revolution for those that live in fear of getting cold hands.
Over the years I've used a variety of things from headtorches to bike lights, but in recent times there's been one lamp that's reigned supreme: the Screwfix lamp. Light and stable, these beauties have around 3hrs battery life and supply you with enough light to last a good session. If you've got a few of them then it's a case of the more the merrier, as you can get around those awkward shadows.
The only caveat to using a lamp is to take heed on where you're using it and read the guidelines set out within the BMC's article Dark knights: eight tips for night bouldering sessions.
Stepladders aren't necessarily something new, as you still find a couple here and there at certain unnamed limestone powerhouses around the Peak. The rise in popularity of the portable telescopic stepladder is new however, and has a number of benefits.
Firstly, the ability to feel holds before you use them. This is key on certain problems, where having intimate knowledge of a hold could help you use it more effectively. Sometimes this can be hard to ascertain whilst trying the problem ground-up, so bring in the stepladder and hey presto!
The second reason is for brushing, a feature that is less useful with a brush stick, but does allow you to get up there next to it to ensure it's been well brushed and cleaned.
Still, does it count as ground-up???
This one was new to me and when I first saw it I think it was the only one of the above to truly make my jaw hit the ground. It is without a shadow of doubt my favourite on the list too. A step too far or an obvious addition to the boulderer's artillery?
Humidity and airflow are often some of toughest challenges a boulderer faces, with some problems requiring a certain amount of windspeed from a specific direction in order to come into condition - what happens if it's not doing that the day you go there? Answer: the portable fan...
About the Author:
Rob Greenwood is the Advertising Manager at UKClimbing.com.
Despite once proclaiming Scottish Winter climbing to be the 'one true faith', Rob now prefers to spend his winters bouldering on the Gritstone of both Yorkshire and the Peak District. Some say he's gone soft, others say he's got wise - we'll let you be the judge. When he's not climbing the chances are that he's thinking about climbing, reading a (climbing) guidebook, or volunteering for the BMC.
He keeps a (very) occasional blog and - when allowed out the office - even writes the occasional article.