TLDR: Planning your first outdoor bouldering trip isn’t too difficult or different from other trips. There are only a handful of additional considerations you’ll want to include to ensure that the trip experience is great.
Going on your first outdoor trip is a significant milestone in every climber’s life. It marks an evolution in your bouldering progression – you move beyond climbing in predictable indoor environments, onto more nuanced and delicate interactions that only rock faces can offer.
As you gain experience bouldering outdoor, you’ll also start to develop a sharper sense of awareness about your body and the environment. You’ll find yourself moving more deliberately, and tuning in to previously “invisible” features on the rock face. Pretty soon, you too will marvel at how a seemingly static rock face can solicit such diverse and dynamic interactions from your body.
Now, you might ask: How should I start planning for my first outdoor bouldering trip? What should I be on the lookout for? What special equipment should I bring, and how should I prepare myself for such a trip?
These questions may seem daunting at first, but I assure you that their answers are really rather simple. In this first article of three, we’ll look into some general planning considerations that will help you get ready for your first outdoor bouldering trip.
Location, Location, Location
There are a heap of blog articles and online databases that offer accessible and free information to possible bouldering destinations that will match your preferences. Websites like 27 Crags and The Crag host a robust collection of crowd-sourced destination databases, organised by intuitive graphical interfaces and charts that make navigation a breeze.
To avoid being overwhelmed by the volume of information, explore the galleries that climbers and their local community have shared of the destination. These pictures can provide an accurate and useful guide to what the boulders and their surroundings look like. Let the best-looking rock, most inspiring scenery and highest ratings guide you towards your final choice.
On one hand, far-flung and exotic destinations could yield some exceptional experiences. On the other hand, these destinations would also mean that you’ll probably need to spend more holiday time (and energy) travelling, and getting used to a different climate and uncertain conditions.
Destinations closer to your home base could offer the right mix of familiarity and convenience. Cultural compatibility and environmental similarities could make the trip more comfortable, reduce communication complications and minimise transit time.
When browsing for regional locations, seek out destinations that host a high density of boulders – they are more likely to be closer to established modes of transport and offer a range of climbs that can match your experience and skill level too.
To gain an idea about how much the regional cost of living will differ from your local prices, browse local accommodation listings, vehicle rental and fuel prices. They will help you to arrive at a more accurate budget and decide on how much cash or credit to carry. Regional destinations may also have the added benefit of sharing compatible financial systems and structures (e.g.: banks, credit facilities and ATMs).
Once you’ve identified the general region you’re keen to travel to, try looking up possible local clubs, associations and federations that may be actively supporting, cleaning up or maintaining the local bouldering spaces. These communities will provide a platform for general enquiries, potential safety issues and even transport arrangements.
While this isn’t a make-or-break consideration, a supportive local community is likely to bring a good level of cleanliness, good quality of access (think signposted trails to walk on and well-curated maps), and even some emergency and support services to turn to.
You’ll also need a guidebook, map or “topo” of the climbing areas. These maps usually contain information about where the climbing walls are, and what climbs they host. Some locations are easily accessible by footpaths and passenger vehicles, while others may require advanced bookings and even a local guide.
If this is your first outdoor bouldering trip, and you’re not feeling too adventurous, we would recommend squadding up with some experienced friends or local climbers and let them help out with the navigation. With some practice, you’ll probably even get comfortable enough to manage all these on your own.
Personal & Safety Considerations
Travel insurance is an often underappreciated asset like duct tape (you’ll only realise its value when you really need it) when it comes to adventure travelling. A small investment could give you some valuable peace-of-mind amidst the uncertainties of venturing abroad.
The recent popularisation of rock-climbing has encouraged most insurance companies to include them as an acceptable recreational adventure sport. Check-in with your preferred insurance agent to clarify your policy terms, or seek out short-term ad-hoc alternative policies that will cover you while you travel.
Emergency contacts are a must on bouldering trips – both for yourself and your loved ones at home. Always let someone know where you’re planning to climb for the day, and what time you’re expecting to get back. Many official bouldering areas even have a local ranger station or park office that provides maintenance and emergency support. You’ll want to include them when you assemble a list of local emergency contacts that can help you out in the event of unexpected injuries or even inclement weather.
Finally, to ensure that you’re self-sufficient and able to take care of minor bumps, scrapes and inconveniences, take some time to pack a personal first-aid kit with some essentials and personalised medication. Consider taking a basic training course in first-aid too to ensure that you’re ready to deal with minor issues for yourself or your party. Being prepared will help to ensure that you can stay focused on the main goal of the trip – having fun on the rocks day after day!
Stay tuned for our next article, where we discuss gear and training preparations for your first outdoor bouldering trip!