Sport Vs Trad Climbing Comparison – Which Is Right For You?

Sport vs trad climbing:

Sport vs trad climbing: The new wave versus the old way, athleticism versus adventurism, assuring safety versus reserving nature. In this article, we will give you an overview of the differences between the two climbing styles.

Sport And Trad Climbing: What Are The Similarities? 

Let’s clear out some confusion first. Both sport climbing and trad climbing is a form of free climbing. That means climbers don’t use climbing gears to ascend a rock. 

Although climbers of either of these two forms take cams, bolts, ropes, and quickdraws with them along the path, these devices do not directly assist them in reaching the top.

The other similarity is there is a leader who leads the party and places protection in both styles. So they share some climbing techniques and commands like lead belaying and “Take!”, “Slack!” or “On Belay”.

Sport And Trad Climbing: What Are The Differences?

Frankly, sport and trad are not that different before a pair of untrained eyes from afar. But to the vets, they are distinctive in protection methods, climbing techniques, and ethics.


Now we move on to the differences between sport climbing and trad climbing. 

The main distinction is the way of placing protection. Sport climbing involves permanent fixed anchors to which climbers will clip their ropes. In contrast, trad climbers have to use removable protection and not interfere much with the rock surface.

Sport Vs Trad Climbing Comparison - Which Is Right For You?

Sport climbers don’t worry much about the protection because the bolts are preplaced. They only need a climbing rope, quickdraws, a belay device, a chalk bag, a harness, climbing shoes, and a helmet.

Besides standard gear like helmets and shoes, trad climbers need to carry a lot more.

A standard trad climbing rack should consist of the following constituents: Cams, wired nuts or stoppers, shoulder-length sewn runners, carabiners, quickdraws, nut tool, accessory cord, and prusik.

These are just some basic guidelines. The specifics depend on your preferences and rock styles. One more thing we want to add about racking is the placement.

To us, racking placement is all about consistency. You should have a plan beforehand and stick to it over and over again. You should reach the point where you can do it without looking. So when you are tired, you can intuitively know how to take a cam off your harness.

Trad climbing routes follow a crack or a slab that has natural holds for climbers. Sport climbing can be performed both indoor and outdoor. Thanks to the bolts, sport climbers can climb vertical walls and roofs.

Design Of Shoes

We want to dedicate a section for climbing shoes because of their importance for safety and performance. There are three aspects of a pair of shoes you may keep in mind while choosing one for climbing: Size, toe box, and curvedness.

It is not uncommon for a trad climber to wear a pair of climbing shoes under his regular size. Smaller shoes allow you to perform more precisely with small footholds. 

Meanwhile, oversized shoes are more suitable for flat and large volumes, which appear more in speed climbing than in outdoor climbing.

A typical pair of shoes for sport climbing has a downturned form, generous toe box, and a snug fit. 

These features aim to curl the climbers’ toes downward to apply more force into small footholds. This design ensures improved footwork on the overhanging surface and vertical walls. 

Sport shoes and trad shoes are not interchangeable. Sport climbing shoes are not ideal for trad paths since the large toe box will hinder foot jamming. On top of that, a tight pair of shoes will fatigue your feet if worn all day long regarding a route involving various pitches. 

On the other hand, a pair of shoes for trad climbers features a flatter and neutral form, purposefully designed for wearing for a longer period. Downturned sport climbing shoes are not cut out for climbing on cracks. As a result, shoes for trad climbers come with a slimmer toe box.

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As stated above, the main difference between sport vs trad climbing apart lies in the protection placing method. So the difference in techniques is mainly associated with protection placing.

The primary focus of sport climbers is performing difficult moves and pushing their physical boundaries. So they tend to be more experimental and flashy with their techniques compared to trad climbers. 

However, to prepare a route, you need to know how to use tools to place a bolt, reinforce and adjust holds or even create new ones.

Meanwhile, a major part of trad climbers’ set of skills is placing protection on the go. You need to know how to map out your route from the ground, find secured holds, work a cam, and use a nut.

Other ascending techniques are virtually the same in the two styles. For example, hand jamming and foot jamming while sport climbing and trad climbing are not so different.

To do a hand jam, you put your hand as slim as possible in a crack, then put your thumb into your palm to make a wedge. 

You can do it thumbs-up and thumbs-down as long as it is more convenient for your next move. When done right, it is one of the most solid holds of all time. Fist jamming is similar but with a fist.

The most critical thing about the foot jam is not putting it in too deep. Just twisting the foot and dropping the heel. In that way, you will be able to release quickly and move on to the next step.


The last thing we want to discuss regarding sport and trad climbing is ethics. This has been a hot topic that has many nuances among climbers since the birth of sport climbing.

Many traditionalists frown upon sport climbing because they think climbing a pre-bolted route is not a proper way to conquer a rock. Another reason for the negative sentiment is they think sports climbers are corrupting the beauty of nature.

But if a route is not safe enough to climb without bolts, like a slate quarry, it is generally acceptable to have the sport climbing approach. 

Additionally, the bolting method can become a point of argument. Some say you can bolt a route top-down from a rope, while some only accept a bolted route made by the first ascender.

We think each style has its own goals and the important things are to remain safe and respect the rules and tradition of the venue you attend.


Sport climbing is a style of free climbing that involves preplaced bolts to achieve the next level of technical and physical ability. And trad climbing is the free climbing style that focuses on the sense of adventure where you place your protection on your way up. 

If you’re new to rock climbing, we recommend starting sport climbing first as it’s safer and easier to pick up. We hope that we’ve provided you with a thorough sport vs trad climbing comparison.

Reference source: What’s the difference between Sport Climbing and Traditional Climbing?

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