I was having a debate with my friend on the definition of "Sport Climbing". We both agree it means rock climbing with no pre-setup ropes on a bolted route.

I think regardless of whether this route is in an indoor gym or at a real rock outdoors it's all called sport climbing. However, my friend thinks it's only called sport climbing if it's at a real rock outdoors. He called it "indoor lead climbing" if it's in an indoor gym. But I think lead climbing has a broader meaning, it includes both sport climbing and trad climbing and it's also mentioned in this question:

What's the difference between Sport Climbing and Traditional Climbing.

Am I correct?

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    @Guran it really doesn't.
    – djechlin
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 13:23
  • @djechlin Not to be taken seriously of course, but there is some truth to it. Sport climbing is not equivalent with a sport. (though some make a sport of it) and bolts do take away a part of what constitutes "climbing" according to an old school tradder.
    – Guran
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 14:04
  • 1
    @Guran 1) yes it is 2) yes it is, neither claims are serious enough to actually debate, I just wouldn't post tried and overdone memes as comments to questions about an activity you like making fun of.
    – djechlin
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 14:38
  • I did write "more than slightly elitist". Let's leave it there. (Personally I enjoy both "sporty" and "bold" climbing. Each has their merits. No prestige in it)
    – Guran
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 7:56
  • We both agree it means rock climbing with no pre-setup ropes on a bolted route. This isn't quite right. A bolted climb that was made from the ground up, drilling each bolt from a stance, is generally considered a trad route, not a sport route. Example: mountainproject.com/route/105721828/walk-on-the-wild-side . A sport climb is one where the drilling was done on rappel.
    – user2169
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 17:58

4 Answers 4


You (arguably) are right. I would even approach it the other way around: Should there be another description for outdoor lead climbing on bolted routes.

"Proof": Climbing on artificial holds has become a pretty huge competitive sport. The main international association for this sport is called IFSC: "International Federation of Sport Climbing". As it's events are pretty well attended you can't really argue this is an abuse of the term (or if you do, you have to accept the abuse is commonplace).

In my opinion the reason why there is no distinction and both climbing on natural rock and artificial holds is called sport climbing is in its development. Originally climbing on artificial holds was a mere means of training, nowadays there is a huge amount of climbers that hardly ever touches natural rock. It has become a sport of its own.

In my opinion it would totally make sense to use "sports climbing" for climbing on artificial holds and "rock climbing" for climbing on real rock. What certainly is inconsistent is to call it "indoor" something, because you also have artificial climbing walls outdoors.

  • 1
    Why do they call it “sport climbing” in the first place? Wouldn’t “climbing” be good enough? We don’t have “sport running“, “sport bicycling” etc. either.
    – Michael
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 8:38
  • @Michael For that, read Liam's answer below - which btw is clearly better than mine, but voting is maybe not broken, but certainly seriously lacking as the first "good" answer usually ends on top no matter what.
    – imsodin
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 19:18

Sport climbing means both indoor and outdoor climbing. Why?

Sport climbing originally developed out of Trad climbing where climbers wanted to climb really hard routes without the nasty business of fatal falls getting in the way. This was the original definition of sport climbing (I think everyone agrees with this).

I'd now say it also covers indoor sport climbing. Sport climbing is now an Olympic sport and will be done indoors. In the Olympics climbers climb on artificial holds. The Olympic committee defines this as sport climbing on their own web site. Now actually the Olympic definition of sport climbing includes speed climbing, lead climbing and bouldering. So if you go by the Olympic definition all indoor climbing is Sport Climbing. It also doesn't mention outdoor climbing at all. So is the definition changing slightly in this age of indoor climbing walls and plastic pullers?!

There is also the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC). Again the Olympic committee define this as the world championships of sport climbing:

The first IFSC World Championships were held in Frankfurt (Germany) in 1991

IFSC competitions are also held on artificial walls.

  • 1
    Great answer. One little thing that I understand differently: Sport climbing did not evolve from trad climbing (at least not in the modern sense), but more of artificial climbing. Using gear for advancement not only protection was the standard and the revolution was to ditch that and climb on "unclimbable" difficulties by using bolts as protection, which allows to fall (which wasn't an option before).
    – imsodin
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 19:22
  • 1
    It's all a bit fuzzy (as everything in climbing is!). I think your right in the sense that the first people to place bolts we're aid climbers where there was no aid but I'm not sure that'd count as sport climbing. In the UK at least it evolved out of Trad climbing. The first bolted route was a Trad route and the bolts got cut because everyone decided it was "cheating". I'd imagine different places developed the sport in different ways.
    – user2766
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 7:25
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    Might want to provide an answer to this @imsodin?
    – user2766
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 7:51
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    Awesome question, and I think it does indeed depend on what place you look at. I am not sure whether I am the right person to answer this, but I might give it a shot (you see, I wasn't around at that time :P )
    – imsodin
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 9:47

It is more about style than routes.

The term "Sport climbing" generally (traditionally) refers to climbing (routes longer than boulder problems) in such a way that the climber only have to focus on overcoming technical difficulty, not risk management. This differs from trad[itional] climbing where the climber always must consider if the protection available is sufficient (depending on the climbers skill and risk acceptance)

"Sport climbing" is thus more about a style of climbing than a classification of routes. There are bolted routes that definitely are not "Sport" and naturally protected routes that can be climbed in a "sport" manner with todays equipment. However, many use "Sport climbing" as equivalent to "Climbing on fully bolted routes".

The "Sport climbing" that is now an olympic sport would rather be called "Competition climbing" by those who care about the difference. "Competition climbing" is sport climbing (or bouldering) arranged in such a way that you have a fair competition. (similar conditions for participants etc)

  • 1
    @Liam No absolutely not: His definition includes "focus on overcoming technical difficulty, not risk management". That clearly excludes trad climbing.
    – imsodin
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 15:48
  • @Liam I've expanded my answer according to your comment.
    – Guran
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 7:39

The expression "sport climbing" was created to contrast against "traditional" climbing. The difference at that time was that sport climbs didn't demand very much effort spent arranging, fixing and cleaning anchors and belays, whereas traditional climbing required one to arrange all of one's own hardware for anchors and belays.

At that time, indoor climbing gyms weren't really a thing, and organized competitions on artificial or natural routes weren't, either.

Style wise, "sport climbing" and leading up bolts in an indoor gym are essentially identical. Name wise, I'm convinced that the expression "sport climbing" is never taken to include the activity of leading up bolts in a gym or on an outdoor artificial wall, but is interpreted to mean leading up bolts placed in rock which was natural before it got developed for climbing. I'm also convinced that the expression "sport climbing" is only taken to mean "contest/competition" by uninformed people outside the sport. Among climbers, they don't call a competitive event "a sport climb", they call a route a sport climb.

  • 1
    Though I agree with this, like I said in my answer, the Olympic committee now deems sport climbing as indoor climbing. Being as this is one of the main governing bodies for all sports it's difficult to argue that sport climbing is now only outdoors.
    – user2766
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 7:54

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