Trad vs Sport Climbing

Trad vs sport climbing | how do they differ from each other?

Traditional (or trad) and sport climbing are forms of rock climbing. But what makes them different? Discover the basics of both forms of rock climbing. Climbers are always on the lookout for more challenging routes. For this reason, after much practice and progress lead climbing and top roping in the climbing gyms, they develop the need to explore the outdoors on natural rocks.

From alpine climbing to free climbing to aid climbing, the outdoor opportunities are practically endless. And it’s easy to confuse one over the other.

However, in this article, we focus on the basic differences between sport and trad climbing so you don’t feel left out of group discussions with your climbing friends. Read more, about why most climbers don’t like to wear gloves, here.

Trad Climbing vs Sport Climbing

Sport and trad are all about lead climbing as they both involve taking the ropes up along climbs and clipping the rope to a point on the rock over a fairly small distance for protection against fall.

Sport Climbing Basics

Sport climbing, also called bolted climbing, involves climbing a rock with non-removable bolts.

Technically, climbers clip the rope to these non-removable bolts on the rock while leading a sport climb. The rope is attached to the harness and clipped on the other end of the quickdraw. This forms a means of protection for the climber from falling from a long distance—avoiding injuries. In addition to that, it also provides stability all through the ascent.

This style of climbing allows you to tackle overhangs and roofs with ease without falling. Unlike trad climbs (where the battle to stay on the wall is real), sport climbers rather shift their focus to solving challenging routes. For this reason, traits such as problem-solving skills, resilience, and most importantly, perseverance are needed to sport climb.

While sport climbing is completed outdoors on natural rock, it can as well be completed indoors. Although, when done indoors, it becomes competition climbing where climbs are made on artificial walls.

Upon successful ascent, there’s usually a double bolt anchor at the top for the climber to use to descend to the ground or initial rappel point.

Sport Climbing Special Gear

Unlike trad climbs, the number of gears used in sport climbing is much simpler and lesser.

Moreover, every gear has its function on the rock for a safe ascent. Climbers can choose to carry as much as they want based on distance and personal preference. The sport climbing gears are:

  • Rope
  • A belay device
  • Sport climbing shoes
  • Quickdraws
  • Climbing harnesses
  • Chalk bag containing chalk

Of course, every climber needs a chalk bag to place the chalk. The climber smears the chalk on the palm for every distance climbed to be able to grasp holds firmly. Likewise, special sport climbing shoes like La Sportiva, evolv, etc, are made specifically to stick to footholds and ascend steep walls easily.

Traditional Climbing Basics

Traditional climbing or trad climbing for short is another form of rock climbing but unlike sport climbing, there are no bolts on the route. Instead, the trad climber takes his time to place special devices in suitable cracks or natural weaknesses of the rock along a climb over relatively small distances.

Thereafter, the lead climber can choose to clean the protection out from the rocks if he’s solo climbing. Or have the second partner clean it out as they ascend the route.

The old way of rock climbing done by climbers in the early days is modernized trad climbing today.

Although, years back, there were not many options for protection. Climbers only relied on jamming pitons into the rock for protection which only inflicted damage on the rock. This brought forth the invention of innovative devices used today to be temporarily placed on rocks. And ever since, trad climbing has been a lot safer.

In addition, it’s easy to see the bolt in sport climbing, whereas in trad climbing, finding ideal cracks to fit in the devices can be time-consuming. It’s an entirely new experience therefore, the climber alone is in charge of his or her decisions.

Beyond that, if the protection is pulled up or down or not placed properly, it could pull out and lead to a fall. That said, it’s easy to see trad climbing poses more difficulty and inherent risks than sport climbing.

Despite the inherent risk, trad climbers do find this style of climbing adventurous. Plus, they love the mental and physical challenges it comes with it.

Regardless, it takes a high level of courage and experience to pull off trad climb successfully when compared to the ease of sport climbing.

Traditional Climbing Special Gear

The trad climbing gears work together to serve the same protection purposes as the gears used in sport climbing. But unlike sport climbing, trad climbing is more gear intensive. In other words, climbers take a lot of gear along to trad climb. The trad climbing gears include:

  • Spring-loaded camming devices
  • Nuts
  • Slings/ropes
  • Quickdraws/carabiners
  • Tricams

When it comes to using cams, they can be retracted and wedged into horizontal cracks. Nuts, on the other hand, are placed by the trad climber to fit it in any constriction where cams aren’t ideal. Like the cams, the nuts must also be placed correctly to avoid being pulled out.

Also, the ropes are secured by the trad climber by tying together the sling and carabiner to each protection.

Moreover, climbers can choose to have as much protection in their trad rack but see that the weight doesn’t sacrifice their ability to climb.

Keep in mind that knowing how these gears work isn’t near enough. It’s super important for all trad climbers to learn how to secure each gear and place them in cracks the ideal way.

You can practice while still close to the ground. Because generally speaking, 70feet above the ground isn’t where you want to do trial and error with your trad rack.


All things considered, the differences between both sport climbing and trad climbing lie in the types of gear used and the climbing styles. From above, it’s easy to see that gears used both in trad and sport climbing are not the same and for this reason, climbing styles tend to differ. Also, the risks associated with trad climbing tend to be higher when compared to sports climbing.

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