Bouldering Basics

Put your best foot forward. You'll rely on three basic foot positions to stay on the rock: "toeing," "edging" and "smearing." In toeing, you'll stabilize yourself on the foothold using your toes. In edging, it's the edge of your foot that grips the hold.

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On slick surfaces like granite or in cases where there's no foothold, use the smearing technique, in which you hold on to the face of the rock with the balls of your feet.As you become well versed in using these positions, you'll be surprised how small of a foothold (or even no hold) you can cling to.

Be hands on. Anything is fair game for a handhold. When you assess the surface of the rock, look for cracks, protrusions or depressions you can use to your advantage. And don't use a death grip. Instead, use handholds mostly to maintain balance. If your weight is centered and your legs are supporting the majority of your weight, you'll see this idea come into play. Over-gripping will cause your hands to cramp and you to lose contact with the rock.

Chalk it up. You can't maintain your grip with sweaty palms. So reach into the chalk bag frequently to keep them dry.

Rockin' gear

The nice thing about bouldering is that you won't have to sacrifice your credit score to gear up. You need three essentials: climbing shoes, a chalk bag and some chalk to put in it.

Climbing shoes. These specialized shoes have a smooth, sticky, rubber bottom to help you stay on the rock. Buy shoes at least a full size smaller than your street shoes. In fact, if your toes curl up in them, the size is right. Curled toes form an arch that helps you balance on small footholds. You won't feel comfortable walking in climbing shoes, but they'll give you the support you need when you're on the rock. ($70 to $140)

Chalk bag. These small nylon bags hang around your waist and come in a myriad of colors and patterns, and shapes and sizes. Pick one you can easily and quickly slide your hand into. You don't want to fumble with a chalk bag as you're clinging to a rock. ($5 to $20)

Chalk. Climbing stores will sell it either as a large brick of "gymnastics chalk" that you crush up inside your chalk bag, or in bags of already powdered chalk, a less messy alternative. Companies are now making earth-toned, eco-friendly chalk designed to blend in with the rock's natural color so you don't leave white streaks behind. ($1 to $5)

Like any sport, it's important to wear clothes that perform. For climbing, this means materials that draw moisture away from the body and that also allow you plenty of freedom to move. Many women opt for tanks or yoga-type tops for their upper body. But for the lower body, especially for beginners, it's a good idea to offer some protection. Look for climbing pants that are stretchy, lightweight (yet sturdy) and cropped at the ankle for easy movement.

Check out rei.com or prana.com for a good selection of bouldering gear and clothing.


San Diego-based writer and climber Allan Given has more than 18 years experience on the rocks.

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