Sport climbing is often assumed to be safer than traditional climbing, but it's by no means risk free. Competent indoor climbers will need to learn some additional skills if they are to safely enjoy the challenge of this new environment.
The climbing wall is a well regulated environment in which lower offs and protection points are constructed to a strict standard, and regularly inspected and maintained by trained staff.
Outside, things are more variable. Rock quality ranges from immaculate to appalling. Most route equippers are competent and dilligent, but people can make mistakes. A key point is to be aware that lower offs and bolts on climbs outside are not checked or inspected. This means that you have to take responsibility for doing this yourself.
Reducing the risk
Before leaving the ground check the guidebook, there may be info on routes with known issues with the bolts or rock quality. Some areas have Wiki pages where problems can be reported. You can look from the ground and assess some of the risk. How spaced are the bolts? Do they look shiny or rusty? Can you spot any loose rock on or above the route?
When leading, check the protection bolts as you climb with a quick visual check. If possible see if the bolts move by twisting them - not always possible if climbing at your limit! Be suspicious of any which move or look worn or corroded, and consider downclimbing to the safety of the previous bolt.
Be extra careful to check lower off anchors before committing to them. If planning to top rope using a lower off, remember that you will not have the back-up of a lower protection bolt in case of a failure, so the lower off must be unquestionably sound.
Whenever possible, never rely on a single bolt to ensure your safety.
Held in by mechanical pressure inside the hole, the visible part is a hanger held on with a nut. Easy and quick to place but not suitable for softer rock.
These combine a bolt with a strong polymer resin to form a very strong fixing. Good for soft rock and sea cliffs, and are often used when routes need rebolting, because they are long lasting and durable.
Problems to look out for
Make sure the bolt is placed in good, solid rock. Beware of cracks or poor rock around a bolt. Watch out for any wear or corrosion affecting the bolt. It may have been there for many years, is it still up to the job? Check for movement of the bolt - if it moves then do not trust it. If in doubt, back off - it's usually better to risk a fall onto a good bolt below you than to press on hoping a bad looking one will be OK.
Find out more
Want to know more? More detailed advice can be found in our bolts advice guides.
Donate to a bolt fund
Ever wondered who bolts all those routes you've been climbing outside? Usually it will be a group of volunteers, working for the common guide and glad to see you climbing their routes. Bolts don't come for free though, so help out and donate if you can.
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