Sport climbing is a form of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock for protection. This is in contrast to traditional climbing where climbers must place removable protection as they climb.
Sport climbing emphasises strength, endurance, gymnastic ability and technique, over adventure, risk and self-sufficiency. For the majority of sport climbers, sport climbing offers an easier, more convenient experience which requires less equipment, less in the way of technical skills required to be safe during the climb, and lower levels of mental stress than traditional climbing.
With increased accessibility to climbing walls, and gyms, more climbers now enter the sport through indoor climbing than outdoor climbing. The transition from indoor climbing to sport climbing is not difficult because the techniques and equipment used for indoor climbing are nearly sufficient for sport climbing. Whereas the transition from indoor climbing to traditional climbing is hard because traditional climbing requires significantly more in terms of techniques, experience, and equipment.
While sport climbing is common in many areas worldwide, it is heavily restricted in some places where it is considered ethically unacceptable to bolt climbs. This is largely due to the local climbing traditions, and to the type of rock; for instance, it is often considered reasonable to bolt limestone or slate quarries in the UK, especially if these are otherwise unprotectable, but it is considered completely unacceptable to bolt gritstone regardless as to how dangerous a climbing path might be. Debates over bolting in the climbing communities are often fierce. Bolting without a consensus in favour of bolting generally leads to the destruction, or removal, of the bolts by activists against bolting.
Since sport climbing paths do not need to follow climbing paths where protection can be placed they tend to follow more direct, and straight forward, paths up crags than traditional climbing paths which can be winding and devious by comparison. This, in addition to the need to place gear, tends to result in different styles of climbing between sport and traditional.
On a sport climbing route, pre-placed bolts follow a ‘line’ up a rock face. Sport climbs can vary in length from a few metres to a full 60-metre (200 ft) rope length for multi-pitch climbs. The climbs might be equipped with just a few bolts or many.
Sport climbing can be undertaken with relatively little equipment. Equipment used in sport climbing includes:
- A dynamic rope
- A belay device
- Climbing harnesses for belayer and climber
Climbing shoes and chalk bag are normally used, although not technically necessary
To lead a sport climb means to ascend a route with a rope tied to the climber’s harness, and with the loose end of the rope handled by a belayer. As each bolt is reached along the route, the climber attaches a quickdraw to the bolt, and then clips the rope through the hanging end of the quickdraw. This bolt is now protecting the climber in the event of a fall. At the top of sport routes, there is typically a two-bolt anchor that can be used to return the climber to the ground or previous rappel point.
Because sport routes do not require placing protection, the climber can concentrate on the difficulty of the moves rather than placing protection or the consequences of a fall.
Sport climbing differs from traditional climbing with respect to the type and placement of protection. Traditional climbing uses mostly removable protection (such as cams or nuts), and tends to minimize the usage of pre-placed protection. Sport climbing typically involves single pitch routes but can have multi-pitch routes. Long multi-pitch routes may lack pre-placed anchors due to economical, logistical or ethical reasons.
Rock types that produce good sport climbs include limestone, granite and quartzite, though sport climbs can be found on almost all rock types.