Climbing: types of climbing, belay techniques, climbing techniques, difficulty levels

In terms of development history, climbing has probably been going on for longer than walking on two legs. The current state of science is that our ancestors had their habitat on the trees. It was not until later that our ancestors discovered the ground, the upright walk and the advantage of the hands freed by it (for other activities such as manufacturing and using tools).


There are many different definitions of the term “climbing” in the relevant literature. These are all very specific, but in my opinion do not make the causal difference between walking and climbing. Where does walking stop and when does climbing start? Here is an explanation from me:

Going (and all offshoots like hiking, jogging etc.) is a natural form of locomotion in which propulsion comes through the lower extremities (legs and feet). Only the feet touch the ground.

At this level, it’s not a problem. If the path becomes steeper, however, the walking becomes more and more difficult.

At a certain point the hands have to be added, so as not to lose grip and to be able to move further. This is where, in my opinion, climbing begins. Climbing is therefore also a natural form of locomotion, in which, in contrast to walking, the upper extremities (arms and hands) are also used for locomotion.

Climbing as sport

Silhouette of a climbing manClimbing was initially used for practical reasons (e.g., for the first time, it was not possible to use the “wp-image-7776″ src=”×300.jpg” alt=”Silhouette of a climbing man” width=”204″ height=”300″). climbing a tree or a rock to look for prey or predators), climbing has developed over time into a sport with various variants. Today numerous climbing variants are described.

Alpine climbing

Performed in the mountains alone or in a rope team. Many technical equipment (technical climbing) can also be used here.

Technical climbing

In technical climbing, a variety of aids (climbing clamps, ladders, etc.) are used for locomotion. Today, technical climbing is used only occasionally.

Free climbing (free climbing)

Free climbing describes climbing without locomotion aids. Only the ground and your own body may be used for climbing. The technical aids (rope, hip belt, safety device such as tube, etc.) are only used to secure against a fall. Free climbing can be done in nature (rock) and in the hall. In the great outdoors, climbing routes are usually prepared with hooks in the rock, with the help of which the climber can secure himself.

In climbing halls, climbing grips for hands and feet are screwed to so-called routes on so-called artificial walls. This allows a very controlled gradation of the difficulty levels of the individual climbing routes, which are also easy for beginners to climb. This makes indoor climbing accessible to a wider audience. In addition, indoor climbing is not dependent on weather conditions.

The climbing is secured either with top rope or with the help of a rope, into which the climber integrates himself and then hooks this into already existing hooks on the wall during climbing (lead climbing).


bouldering is, in short, climbing at jump height and can be done in the great outdoors or in the climbing hall just like free climbing. There are no technical aids at all for locomotion and protection in the event of a fall. Only mats are used to cushion a fall (crash pads). Due to the fact that the routes are naturally only a few climbing moves long (e.g. movement sequence, finger strength, dynamic pull, etc.), various focal points are set.


Buildering developed from bouldering and describes the (mostly illegal) climbing of buildings. Legal buildering takes place on buildings that have been converted into climbing facilities.

Free Solo

As with bouldering, Free Solo does without all forms of technical aids for locomotion and protection in the event of a fall. In contrast to bouldering, it also climbs at great heights. A mistake that leads to a fall can be fatal. With Deep-Water-Soloing (DWS) you at least climb over deep water, which catches a fall.

securing techniques for climbing routes


Man hikes on rockWith Top Rope climbing the safety rope runs over a deflection at the upper end of the route, so that always two free rope ends reach to the ground. With one rope end the climber integrates himself into his harness. The belayer attaches the other end of the rope to his harness using a safety device.

The climber and the belayer are now connected via a deflection via the rope, which comes from above. Hence the term top rope. Top-Rope is often used in climbing halls and is especially suitable for beginners.


Climbing in the lead climb is much more challenging and is mainly suitable for climbing on natural rock and/or in overhangs. The climber ties the safety rope to his hip belt with a knot (e.g. a figure of eight knot) while still standing on the ground. The securing person fastens the free end of the rope to his hip belt using a safety device (e.g. tube).

The climber and the belayer are now connected directly via the rope. The belayer gradually releases rope to the climber so that he can hang the rope into regularly available intermediate belay devices (rings, carabiners).


The descent is used on multi-rope routes with several climbers. Here the first climber climbs up (= leading). When the first climber has reached a suitable place to secure his stand, the second climber climbs up (= descent).

The safety rope comes from above, just like in top rope climbing. The second climber gradually releases the rope from the intermediate safety devices during the ascent.

difficulty degrees free climbing

Pleasantly, there is no uniform classification of the levels of difficulty in free climbing. Almost every country has its own classification.

In addition to the breakdown according to UIAA (= Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme), the picture below contains a tabular overview of the levels of difficulty in free climbing for the following countries: USA, France, Austria, Great Britain and Germany.

In bouldering, 2 other classifications from France and the USA have become established:

Boulder degrees
F* 1-2 3 4A 4B 4C 5A 5B 5C 6A 6A+ 6B 6B+ 6C 6C+ 7A 7A+ 7B 7B+ 7C 7C+ 8A 8A+ 8B 8B+ 8C 8C+
USA VB- VB V0- V0 V1 V2 V3 V4 V5 V6 V7 V8 V9 V10 V11 V12 V13 V14 V15 V16

* The climbing degrees are often preceded by an “Fb”. 6C+” then becomes “FB 6C+”.

For Android smartphones there is also an app called Climb Converter. The following regions are converted: YDS (USA) – British – French – UIAA – Saxon – Ewbank – Finnish – Norwegian – Brazilian – Kurtyki (Poland) – Verm – Fountainbleau.  Here you can download the Climbing Converter.

This post is also available in: German

William C. Hilberg
As an author, Mr. Hilberg has published several papers on health issues that have gained international recognition. He is close to nature and loves the seclusion and activity as a freelance journalist. In his function as editor William C. Hilberg manages the entire content of PENP. Our team greatly appreciates his expertise and is proud to have him on board.