What To Wear While Bouldering

Whether you are bouldering for the first time on a date or you want to fit in with your friends when they bring you to the climbing gym, you may be wondering what to wear. In general, as long as you can make full movements in all of your limbs without restrictions from your clothes, you will be just fine, but if you want more specific recommendations, keep reading.

Below is a general list for men and women to wear from head to toes. Of course, personalizing the outfit to you is ideal so I’ve provided leeway in the descriptions. I’ve also provided details for the stereotypical climber so keep reading (or scroll) to the end for that.

Women’s Bouldering Outfits

When it comes to women’s outfits while bouldering, there are typical things to consider such as keeping your boobs secured but unlike other athletic events, you also have to consider what people can see from the ground when they look up at you on the wall (underwear may not be enough…). On the bright side, if you already have an outfit that you wear to the gym, it probably meets the basic requirements for climbing.

Below is a full breakdown from head to toe for what to wear/consider for women while bouldering.

Head/Hair For Women Bouldering

Unlike rock climbing, women don’t have to worry about putting their hair in a bun because there isn’t any gear that it could get tangled up in. However, hair in your face will make climbing more difficult so I recommend pulling it up in a ponytail if you have long hair.

Tops For Women Bouldering

Climbing tops are pretty basic, just make sure that your arms can move every way without restrictions. I typically wear a tank top because I don’t have any arm restriction but I will wear athletic shirts with sleeves when I forget to shave my underarms.

I highly recommend deodorant, but allergies to aluminum or things like that are common with climbers so whatever alternative you use, will likely seem normal to many climbers.

Bottoms For Women Bouldering

As for your bottoms, keep in mind that whatever you wear may ride up when you are on inclined climbs (these are more advanced climbs so if it is your first time climbing, you probably don’t have to worry about that). With that being said, baggy shorts not only ride up, but they can get caught on climbing holds or volumes as well and should be avoided.

Instead, try form-fitting shorts, leggings, or flexible hiking pants. Leggins are probably the most common but if you want to look like a higher-end climber, invest in fancy hiking pants that are super flexible and stretchy.

Socks/Shoes For Women Bouldering

If you are going to a climbing gym, you can usually rent climbing shoes. I highly recommend renting shoes because tennis shoes have really bulky toes and it makes the climbs that you can do limited on the size of footholds. If you are considering buying climbing shoes, here are the climbing shoes I recommend for bouldering.

As for socks… When I first started climbing, I was told that climbers never wear socks. Most climbing shoes are built for climbers bare feet but there are more climbers out there that wear socks than you may be aware of. (ask Reddit about wearing socks with climbing shoes, you may be surprised) Also, here is an entire article about wearing socks with climbing shoes and things to consider. If you are renting shoes, it is common to wear socks. If you really don’t want to wear socks, it may be comforting to know that climbing shoes at the gym are sprayed with a disinfectant after each use so they are probably fine to be barefoot in. However, shoe odor is usually caused by bacteria growth, so if the rental shoes smell bad, you may want to wear socks with them. 

Manicures/Pedicures For Women Bouldering

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experimented with different types of nail lengths and nail polish to see what can survive a climbing session. Thus far, I’ve learned that nails will break if you have them so keep them short. Also, nail polish magically chips, even when you don’t think you are using your nails to grip climbing holds. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get through a climbing session without ruining a manicure. For me, I think your nails look better without nail polish than they do with chipped away nail polish, so if you feel the same way, consider removing your nail polish before climbing.

As for pedicures, long toenails will hurt in your climbing shoes, so cut them the day before you go climbing (that way you don’t have the sensitivity that sometimes comes on the same day that you cut your toenails, you know what I’m talking about). As for nail polish, I haven’t had an issue with nail polish coming off, but I imagine gems or other kinds of nail polish additions may not last a climbing session so consider that before adding cute diamond flowers to your toenails.


Men’s Bouldering Outfits

Men’s bouldering outfits are similar to the common gym uniform with a few differences, mainly when it comes to the bottoms. In general, as long as you can move your arms and legs freely without restriction from the clothing, you will do just fine. 

For a full breakdown, keep reading to ensure that your outfit will be good for a man bouldering.

Hair/Hats For Men Bouldering

Climbing seems to have more men with long hair than any other sport. If you have long hair, you should consider wearing it in a ponytail so that it doesn’t get in your face or caught on a climbing hold. If you like beanies or other hats without rims then wear them, you will fit in just fine.

Tops For Men Bouldering

Some men like to climb without a shirt on, but if you are going to the gym, consider bringing a shirt or tank top that is easy to move your shoulders around in. Gyms are climate controlled and some gyms have a shirt policy so it is just better to wear a shirt. Men frequently wear tank tops because they don’t have any restriction in the shoulder area and they help you stay cool during the heat of summer if you are climbing outdoors.

Bottoms For Men Bouldering

Most men wear flexible khakis or hiking shorts or hiking pants. As long as they are easy to move in and there isn’t excess material that may get caught on climbing holds, you should be fine. 

If you plan on wearing baggy gym shorts or something like that, keep in mind that you will have people looking up at you from below while you are climbing. To make sure everything stays where it needs to and no one peaks at anything private, most men wear underarm under their shorts while bouldering if they wear gym shorts.

Socks/Shoes For Men Bouldering

Bouldering has small footholds that are too small for tennis shoes to use so you need specialty shoes if you want to climb everything. Most climbing gyms have shoes for rent, so if you are going to the gym, that is highly recommended. You can also ask a friend if they have an old pair to borrow, but keep in mind that most climbers don’t wear socks with their climbing shoes so you might not want to borrow a friend’s shoes…

If you want to buy your own shoes for bouldering, check out this article for what to consider when buying climbing shoes and what bouldering shoes I recommend you get.

As for socks… Like I mentioned above, most climbers don’t wear socks with climbing shoes and some climbers think that socks make it harder to climb. However, more and more climbers wear socks with their climbing shoes and you need to test it for yourself to see what works best. 

If you are wearing rental shoes, they do disinfect the shoes after each use and I’ve never heard of someone getting athletes foot from rental shoes. However, if you would get peace of mind from wearing socks, then wear socks. Not decided about wearing socks? Check out this article for things to consider and help you decide whether or not you should wear socks.

Manicures/Pedicures For Men Bouldering

In general, it is a good idea to keep your nails short. Long fingernails will likely brake or get chipped. In most sports, men appear to have no fingernail polish or colors on their nails. However, it is common to find men in the climbing gym or out on the crag with their nails colored black with sharpies. If you want to have color on your fingernails, then climbing is the best place to try it out. 

Fingernail polish does chip off, so a permanent marker would be best if you want to add color to your fingernails while climbing. Also, men typically color their nails black if they do want “color” but since sharpies come in all colors, feel free to do whatever you want. I’m not sure how to take sharpie off your nails, however… it may be stained forever until your nails grow out.

As for pedicures (your feet), you can match the color of your toenails to whatever your fingernails look like. Keep in mind that people will only notice while you are barefoot. 

The length of your toenails is probably more important than the color. Short toenails will make ensure that they don’t interfere with the fit of your climbing shoes. If you need to cut your toenails, try cutting them a day in advance so you don’t have any sensitivity where the skin used to be covered by nail.

Stereotypical Climbers/Bouldering Look

Climbers stereotypically look like athletic hipsters. There are a few differences, but if you compared the two together, you’d probably think they are hipsters outside of the climbing gym / off-the-crag. 

However, unless the hipster matches your personality, there is no reason for trying to look like the stereotypical climber. In fact, climbers are usually more interested in the usability and practicality of your attire than the appearance. 

Below goes through everything from hair and hats to clothing and manicures.

Head/Hair For Stereotypical Climbers/Bouldering

You’ll see they have a baggie beanie covering a relaxed hairstyle. Sound familiar? They’d probably also wear rimmed hats too, but the rims would interrupt your climbing session since you need to keep your body (head included) as close to the wall as possible.

Tops For Stereotypical Climbers/Bouldering

Instead of wearing a nice t-shirt under a plaid long-sleeve like a hipster would, they a tank top under a plaid long-sleeve shirt. Sometimes, when the climb is really intense, they will tie the plaid long-sleeve shirt around their waist. 

Bottoms For Stereotypical Climbers/Bouldering

Pants look like your typical skinny jeans or skinny khakis, but they are really expensive stretchy athletic pants that are meant to look like khakis. 

Socks/Shoes For Stereotypical Climbers/Bouldering

Shoes are the most noticeably different from your typical hipster in that they are either approach shoes (a cross between hiking and tennis shoes) or climbing shoes. They also go barefoot in between climbs, so no shoes at all some times. If you want to know what bouldering shoes I recommend, check out this article Best Climbing Shoes for Bouldering.

As for socks… climbers typically don’t wear socks so if they take their shoes off in between climbs, they are usually walking around barefoot.

Manicures/Pedicures For Stereotypical Climbers/Bouldering

Depending on where you climb, you may see a lot of climbers with black fingernails. It usually isn’t fingernail polish, it is usually sharpie. In fact, many climbers keep a black sharpie in their climbing bag so they can touch up their nails after a climbing session. 

As for pedicures, toenails are typically clear or covered in black sharpie as well.

Additional Thoughts

Whether you are going on a date or bouldering with friends, what you wear may matter to you. Most climbers at the gym or on the crag are focused on their own thing and probably won’t notice what you are wearing. As for your friends or that cute date, you may want to find a happy medium between functionality and your personality. 

Men and women have common outfits in climbing with slight differences based on their needs. In general, if you can move all of your limbs freely in your outfit, then you will be fine. Just keep in mind that you are going to be above everyone else so keep hidden what needs to be hidden. As for your stereotypical climbing/bouldering outfit, you will see a lot of climbers that look like hipsters with athletic accents. However, rock climbers have a variety of styles and personalities so it is best to be yourself. 

What do you wear while bouldering? Comment below to help provide insight for other climbers.