What’s the Difference Between “Free Climbing” and “Free Soloing?”

Written by Abree Murch of EVO Concord 

A frequently asked question among humans who are unfamiliar (or new) to climbing, might be: “What’s the difference between “free climbing” and “free soloing?” The mainstream media struggled hard with this during the coverage of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s Dawn Wall ascent, and most climbing gym staff will tell you that if they had a nickel for every time they hear these two terms confused, they’d easily be able to buy a brand new trad rack. Let’s set the record straight:

Free climbing is a term that was coined to describe any style of climbing that does not involve aids. Aids can range from ascenders to skyhooks to ladders, but their purpose is the same: the climber puts their full weight on the gear to directly assist in moving up the wall. In free climbing, the climber moves up the wall under their own power without using any special gear to help them move upward (excluding climbing shoes). However, most styles of climbing that are considered free climbing do use some sort of protection in case of a fall. Top roping, sport climbing, and trad climbing are all forms of free climbing that involve protective gear (a rope, cams, bolts, quickdraws, etc.), but, again, none of it directly helps the climber up the wall.

Free soloing is a type of free climbing that involves climbing routes with no aids or protection whatsoever – no trad gear, no bolts, no rope, nothing to catch a fall. Some consider it the purest form of climbing, but it is also extremely dangerous since a single mistake can mean almost certain death. This type of climbing has been pioneered most recently by Alex Honnold and the late Dean Potter.

Free soloing is strictly forbidden in gym settings, but if you’re curious about other forms of free climbing, stop by or check out our current program schedule – we offer classes for all ages and ability levels!

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