The short answer is yes but what is free climbing vs. sport climbing?
Well, it turns out whether you’re sport climbing, trad climbing, or bouldering, top roping or lead climbing, at your climbing gym or outside, you are free climbing.
Most of us cue first into that “free” part of free climbing and think “oh no, that’s not me…a) my mom would kill me and b) the very idea makes me break out into a cold sweat.”
You are, however, a free climber.
Two Kinds of Free
When your brain sees “free climbing,” these days it pulls up images of the daring feats of Alex Honnold on Free Solo (2018), scaling Yosemite multi-pitch routes.
You are actually envisioning a style of climbing called free soloing.
Free soloing is done without ropes or harnesses to protect the climber in the event of a fall.
A free soloist grabs their climbing shoes and their chalk bag and nothing else (not even a crash pad) when they head out for their chosen climbing routes.
Free climbing is very different.
It is a style of climbing that encompasses all climbing in which you are using the features of the rock to climb.
These features may be crimps, jugs, cracks in the rock, side pulls, lay backs on flakes, or even a blank slab to name just a few. So in exploring free climbing vs. sport climbing, we discover that sport climbing is simply one form of free climbing.
What free soloing and free climbing do have in common is that in both cases you are using the rock face to climb, which contrasts with a third style of climbing: aid climbing.
No, this is not when you’re top roping a climb that is super hard for you and you ask your belayer to make a few hops and takes so they’re hanging from the belay device and you don’t lose what little ground you’re gaining (it’s okay, we’ve all been there).
Can I Get a Little Help Up Here?
Aid climbing is required when sections of rock on the face are too difficult to climb and so you must progress up the route placing much of the same gear as one might find in traditional climbing, plus some specialized gear like web ladders and metal hooks, to ascend.
Free climbing vs. aid climbing
In order to understand free climbing vs. aid climbing better, we can look at another climbing documentary recently produced in the United States.
Also set in Yosemite, The Dawn Wall follows Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson as they attempt to find a route that would be possible in the free climbing style on a section of El Capitan known as the Dawn Wall.
Prior to this moment in climbing history, The Dawn Wall had only been ascended utilizing aid climbing techniques because it was considered too hard to free climb.
Now that you know it’s not a question of what free climbing is vs. sport climbing but rather how sport climbing is a version of free climbing, keep coming back for more.
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Jenny Nichols got her climbing start in Flagstaff, AZ in 2007. Today she lives in Seattle, WA where she works as a K-12 teacher. While she also dabbles in mountain biking, hiking, and kayaking, her passion is to combine climbing and international travel. To date she has climbed in thirteen different countries. She’s currently also learning how to woman a sailboat.