Climbing competitions have many different formats and styles. For a new climber they might seem intimidating, busy and confusing but actually they can also be great fun, exciting and sociable. Competitions aren’t just for the top climbers, although at every level you will likely see some amazing skills on display. Some competitions are also for novices, or those looking to improve and any climbers wanting to push themselves. Early preparation and knowing what to expect will help you perform to your best.
Registration and Entry
Friendly competitions at local climbing walls can usually be entered on the day. Turn up, pay the entry fee, take a score card and have a go. Many walls run them regularly – monthly or quarterly or as part of an annual series. Some competitions take place over a month or longer time period, so you can go along and have a go at any convenient time or even go back and try and improve your score. Others will take place at a specific time and have a fixed time limit, usually several hours, to complete climbs.
Regional, national, international or some other big competitions will have to be registered for in advance. Others may have a maximum entry number and close entries when it is reached so it could be a risk to wait to enter on the day.
Competition registration fees can be nothing (or just the wall entry fee) up to about £15 per competition.
We will try to keep an up to date list of as many competitions as we can on this site.
Competitions can focus on one type of climbing or cover a mix of styles. Bouldering, Top Rope or Leading (usually age category dependent) and Speed. You will usually be expected to provide your own personal equipment, although many centres will also rent out things like shoes to new climbers. In many junior top rope competitions belayers and ropes are provided but some leading comps will require you to provide your own – so as in everything, be prepared and find out in advance.
Occasionally, competitions put everyone in the same category but most competitions will separate out children/youth by age category and gender. This may be a broad range such as under 12’s and 12-16, or identified by a letter linked to a 2 year birth year range based on the IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) system. The BMC (British Mountaineering Council) and most other regional/national competitions will all use the IFSC system, as will some local ones.
Some competitions allow parents and coaches to accompany children into the competition area, but some do not. Where parents are not allowed then children would be grouped by age category and accompanied by a chaperone arranged by the organiser.
The format of each competition can differ so make sure to read the rules every time, even if you’ve entered a few sometimes they change the rules and not knowing exactly what’s allowed may make a big difference to your placing or even result in a disqualification. Bigger competitions may have a talk fully explaining the rules after the end of registration. Here is a summary of the most popular formats and what to expect but you may notice the regular use of the word “usually”, because competitions can differ.
- A number of problems, perhaps 10 to 30, set specifically for the competition will marked around the climbing centre. These may have markers for the starting holds for hands and feet or just for the hands. These must be held as the starting point.
- The turn starts once all holds indicated have been touched (note, no other hold on the problem should be touched before the start of your turn, doing so could result in disqualification). Coming off the problem once you have started (even just placing a foot back down) counts as a failed attempt. To complete the problem, both hands must touch the final hold whilst ‘under control’ (meaning that it can’t be just a touch as you fall).
- The scoring can be complex and each competition may have slight variations. Usually it will involve a set number of points to reach the top, points to get a bonus hold (or zone) if not reaching top. There may be only one attempt allowed or a reducing score for multiple attempts (usually 10, 7, 4 and 1).
- The problems will cover a variety of climbing grades, styles and holds. Regional and national competitions will have few or no lower grade routes but local competitions are likely to have a full range so that everyone can have a go. Problem grades will not be indicated.
- Some competitions are scramble format – you can try any problem at any time during the competition in any order. Others may require you to take turns or go in a set order. Qualifying rounds are usually scramble format.
- Finals are always done in a structured way. They may involve being put in isolation (a holding room away from everyone else and the routes) so that climbers cannot see other competitors climb or get advice from anyone in the audience but there will, generally, be short opportunity for all the finalists to ‘observe’ the problems as a group just prior to isolation starting. There will also be a time limit for each problem (usually 3-4 minutes) but the competitor can have as many attempts as they like within that time (but be aware that the scoring system may take attempts into account). Finals will usually be in front of an audience of the other climbers. Although this may seem scary, they’ll all be very supportive.
- Top Ropes/Leading
- Routes which are part of the competition will be identified around the climbing centre and on the score card. There will not be as many as at a bouldering competition, perhaps up to 6 for qualification. Finals will also usually involve isolation and climbing in front of an audience.
- As with bouldering competitions the format may be scramble but more usually an allocated order by age category.
- Scoring: Usually a point is awarded for reaching each hold and an additional point when using that hold to move on. Reaching the final hold, with both hands, under control would complete the route and give maximum points. Some competitions award bonus points for reaching the top on first or second attempts.
- Having reached a hold it may be classed as a fail to climb back down an excessive distance. This might happen for example if route read incorrectly.
- On lead routes, it may also be classed as a fail if the climber ‘Z clips’ the rope (clips the rope into quick-draws in the wrong sequence) and is unable to correct it or the climber ‘back clips’ the quick-draws).
- The difficulty of routes will increase in grade as the route gets higher. A route may start at 5c but finish as 6b+. Grades will not be shown.
- Speed climbing is a race that involves two climbers going head to head on the same route. The routes are set next to each other and the first to the top to stop the clock wins.
- The routes are standardised and the specification for the wall, the over hang, even the holds are all set by the IFSC. There are 10m and 15m versions.
- Climbers are attached to auto belays.
If you’re new to the centre do arrive early and take time to look around first. Ask if there are any queries with the rules or the routes.
You may have to complete paperwork permitting you to climb at that centre and many centres require that you pass a proficiency test in order to be allowed to climb unsupervised (this, generally, doesn’t apply to children under the age of 14 as they are expected to be being supervised by a parent, an instructor or the competition organisers for larger comps).
Take every opportunity to watch other climbers and get ‘beta’ on the routes if this is allowed. Others may have found alternative ways to approach a tricky problem.
Competitions can get very busy. Be careful to stay aware, notice what is going on around you and stay safely away from falling climbers dropping from the top holds.
Climbers are a really friendly bunch, happy to help, give advice or have a chat. Don’t be nervous to approach them – unless they’re focused on climbing their route or about to dyno for a tough hold, then they won’t like that!
Many walls have cafes to get a good meal, but they can be very busy on competition days. Take a decent supply of drink and snacks to keep energy up; 60 climbs in 3 hours can be exhausting!