Free climbing

Free climbing

Free climbing is a type of rock climbing, in which the climber uses no artificial aids to make upwards progress. In this way, the climber will use only hands, feet and other parts of the body. Ropes and protective equipment are used only for protection against the consequences of a fall. The term is used in contrast to aid climbing, a much less prevalent practice in which equipment is used directly (i.e. pulled or stood on) in order to make progress.

Styles of free climbing include traditional climbing, sport climbing, free soloing and bouldering.

The term free climbing is commonly confused with free soloing by non-climbers. Free soloing is a type of free climbing where no rope or protective equipment is used for protection, and a fall would clearly be disastrous. In contrast, the vast majority of free climbers will make use of such equipment as a safeguard when climbing at height.

Another common misunderstanding is that the term soloing means free soloing. This is not so. Soloing simply means climbing without a partner. This can be done safely by using one of a number of self-belaying systems.

Free climbing "guidelines" from a U.S. perspective (Stonemaster's, et al.): the adventure of exploring the unknown, living on the cutting edge of the possible and the impossible, and striving to go one better. In light of those ideals, the climbing community espoused a goal of avoiding behavior that sullies (makes less challenging in any way beyond personal improvement) a climbing route.


The goal is to climb the route first try on-sight as if the rope (if one is being used) is not there. Therefore, true free climbing prohibits:

  • Pre-climb inspections to learn more about the climb before starting (however one should always perform a safety inspection on any face that they are about to climb)
  • Hangdogging (resting on gear or the rope)
  • Pre-placing gear (pinkpointing)
  • Pulling or stepping on gear (french free)
  • Prior top roping of the lead climb (most common in trad climbing, frequently termed 'headpointing')
  • Practice through falling (i.e. failing) on previous lead attempts (most common in sport climbing, frequently termed 'redpointing')

Although an on-sight attempt is the most coveted, in practice all of the above tactics are common practice to greater or lesser extent. This is especially the case in sport climbing. Ordinarily, the traditional climber will only resort to aid as a last resort, in order to complete a hard climb. The aid climber strives to free climb as much of the route as possible.


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