Holds and Golds

Olympic Climbing Guide and Top Kit Picks

With interest in sport climbing set to boom on the back of its Olympic involvement in 2021, we take a look at what’s in store in Tokyo and ask our experts for some of this season’s top climbing kit picks.


This summer, for the first time ever, sport competition climbing will become an Olympic event when it makes its debut as part of the Tokyo Games. Olympic sport climbing takes the challenge of scaling steep ascents on indoor routes to a whole new level with skill, strength and nerve prerequisites. In a bit like climbing’s version of triathlon, some of the best climbers from around the world will compete in three different disciplines - speed climbing, bouldering, and lead climbing - for a single set of medals. But how does it work exactly? Our competiton guide has all you need to know.


Olympic Competition Guide


Speed climbing is contested on an IFSC-standard 15m-high speed wall, set at an angle of 95 degrees. Two climbers, on separate but identical routes, ascend the wall using secure top ropes with the fastest declared the winner. With climbers knowing the route in advance, be prepared for some serious speed here (around 5-6 secs for men, 7-8 secs for women) and a seriously explosive, and entertaining watch. Don’t think about jumping the gun though. A false start equals instant disqualification, which should make for a rich source of upset and heartbreak. Many UK climbing walls will have the Olympic speed route set up on their walls this summer, so you can have a go yourself and see how you match up against the sport’s elite.


Unlike speed climbing, in the bouldering category, climbers are not permitted to practice the routes in advance, instead encountering the problems for the first time on the day. Over 4 fixed routes of increasing difficulty, competitors get 4 mins to reach the top of as many of them as they can. There’s no rope on this one - the route’s set on a 4.5m-high wall, equipped with safety mats. Credit is given for securely reaching the top hold of a route in a controlled manner with both hands. If a competitor doesn’t reach the top of a given boulder, separate credit will be awarded if the competitor at least reaches a “zone hold” midway up a given route. Falling off is allowed but the number of attempts will also contribute to a competitor’s score, with the leader board weighted first by the number of tops, then attempts, and then zones. So, getting as many hard routes done, first time around, in the least time possible is the goal. The ability to carefully plan and execute moves, while being constantly aware of the time limit, adds to the stress levels of both competitor and viewer alike.


In the Lead category, climbers have 6 minutes to climb as high as they can on a wall measuring more than 15m in height. Like bouldering, climbers only get to see the route minutes before they climb it, but unlike bouldering, there are no re-climbs. So, if you succumb, you’re done. Climbers use holds, ropes and quickdraws to ascend, with their attained height (or hold number) recorded when they either fall off or run out of time. If two or more athletes complete the climb, or reach exactly the same height, the fastest to do so is declared the winner. Expect some demanding routes and some pretty exciting and dynamic climbing moves in order to reach the top.

You can watch the competition in Tokyo between 3rd - 6th August and there’s hope that its inclusion in the Games will see a surge of interest in the sport back home. With that in mind we asked Sam Nixon-Eckersall, one of our climbing equipment buyers, to put together a list of top kit picks and indoor climbing essentials. Who knows, maybe you’re the next GB contender in waiting for Paris 2024?

Top Climbing Kit Picks



Good: La Sportiva Tarantula 

Verdict: Our entry level branded shoe, comfortable fit on a wide range of feet. 


Best: Scarpa Veloce WMN 

Verdict: Specifically geared towards the indoor climbing style that many climbing gyms have, and will be emulating the Olympic style climbing set-ups/problems. Uses a new, very sticky rubber compound, making it great for volumes and smears. Bonus points for being vegan.


Good: Scarpa Velocity V. 

Verdict: Good all-rounder, will serve indoors and out, also vegan.


Best: La Sportiva Solution

Verdict: A long-time champion at the top of the shoe food chain, expect to see a lot of Olympians wearing these in the lead and possibly bouldering events. Vibram XS Grip rubber and drastically down-turned.



Good: Black Diamond Momentum Harness - W's package.

Verdict: Contains everything you’d need to start climbing, minus a rope/shoes/helmet. 


Best: Black Diamond Solution Women's

Verdict: BD’s Sport climbing harness, light and comfortable.


Good: Black Diamond Momentum Harness - M's package.

Verdict: As with the women’s version, covers everything you’d need to start.


Best: Mammut Sender FA

Verdict: Mammut’s lightest sport climbing harness, highly breathable, laser-cut fabric.


Good: Tendon Smart 10mm x 50m (ND). 

Verdict: A tough workhouse of a rope, great for getting started indoors and putting proper mileage on.


Best: Mammut 9.0mm Crag Sender Dry 70m. 

Verdict: Triple rated, meaning it can be used for multiple disciplines. Lightweight but durable.

Quickdraws and Carabiners

Good: Ocun Hawk QD Wire PA 16, 10cm 5-Pack. 

Verdict: Well-priced starter set, two of these and you’re good to go on most outdoor sport routes in the UK. 


Best: Black Diamond HotForge Screwgate 3 pack. 

Verdict: Climbers can never have enough of these carabiners. 

Chalk Bag

Black Diamond Repo

Verdict: Made from factory offcuts.


Montane Finger Jam. 

Verdict: Developed in conjunction with the BMC it provides hassle free access to chalk. 


Black Diamond Mondo Chalk Pot

Verdict: Large chalk bag ideal for bouldering, includes pockets for phone/wallet/etc. 

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