Climbing Route Setting

Hi guys, it’s Tiff here. I started climbing 10 years ago and started working with Chris, and the rest of the route setting team, when I joined Freeklime in September 2019. I thought it would be cool to share some of my top tips as Freeklime’s head route setter with you.

Tip 1: Have a plan and stick to it

Our goal is to deliver accessible, inclusive, challenging, and most importantly, fun climbing, so that there is something for everyone.

When setting routes, I find that the important things to consider are the following: Is the problem on grade? Is it fun? Does the problem flow? Is there a good variety of styles across the set? Its important that when performing a reset of a circuit that the new problems be distinctly different to the ones that have been taken down, otherwise what would be the point, right?

In practice, planning is key. You have to be constantly asking yourself; “which hold work best where? Have we got enough climbs at each grade within the circuit? Have we struck the right balance between accessibility and challenging climbing”.

Tip 2: Visualisation is key

There are an array of different techniques that route setters will deploy when setting a boulder/route. Personally, I like to start ground-up. As well as climbing well and flowing, it’s just as important that a problem looks inspiring and interesting, otherwise people won’t climb it. I begin a problem by selecting a type of hold that will suit the intended grade and wall type (slab/overhang etc.). Once I’m happy, I usually begin with the starting hand holds and progress through, visualizing the moves required as I add more and more holds. Another option is to have a particular move in mind that you want to set and add moves around it. The issue with this is that you often add disproportionately harder/easier moves around it and the problem does not flow as well as with a ground-up approach. At the heart of what we do is delivering an accessible set of climbs that which lie well within their intended grade. Additional feet is a great way of negating any reachy moves while retaining its difficulty.

Tip 3: Climb outdoors and at other centres

I like to get inspiration for my setting by climbing outdoors – sometimes attempting to recreate an outdoor boulder problem in the gym is huge fun. They will never be quite right, but I can usually get the general feel and the movement right. I also feel it is important to climb in as many other gyms as possible, especially to keep abreast of the current trends in modern style bouldering. These usually focus more on dynamic and co-ordination moves.

Route SettingTip 4: Use setters of all different shapes, sizes and climbing styles

This one is not as simple as it might initially seem. Women often get pigeonholed into those setters who specialize in crimpy/technical face climbing. One only has to tune into a bouldering world cup event to see that women are expected to climb just as dynamically as the men and this is reflected in the style of setting we are increasingly seeing from both male and female setters. Setters like Emma Twyford & Evie Cotrulia are a testament to this. Nevertheless, using a range of setters can bring a fresh pair of eyes to a wall/set. As head route setter, I am constantly on the look out for new freelance setters.

Tip 5: Listen to feedback and take it in

Lastly, taking listening to, taking on board and reflecting on feedback from customers and other route setters is key. It’s how I improve and ultimately, how we ensure the route setting continues to go from strength to strength.

Thanks for reading guys.



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