Bouldering Etiquette

The do’s and don’ts of bouldering outdoors…

Chris Tang delighting in the pleasures that outdoor bouldering can bring. Photo: Stuart Millis

I was going to save the following for the next guidebook but with so many people getting their first taste of outdoor bouldering due to the gym closures right now, this seems as good a time as any to put the following ‘rules’ out there (plus I’m getting tired of calling people out on Kung Hei Fat Boy for failing to realise that a sit start actually involves sitting down – affectionately known by those on the receiving end as getting the ‘Stuart Treatment’ (TM)… )

Using the Bouldering Guides on the Website

The following section provides some basic info on the use of the guidebook, although we hope for the most part it’s pretty self explanatory anyway.


The inclusion of an area within this guide is not a guarantee of the right to access it. That said, nearly all of the areas included are located within, and can be accessed via, freely accessible government land for which no access restrictions exist. Please treat the areas with appropriate respect to ensure it remains this way.  

Problem Descriptions

The following section provides information on how the problems in this guide have been described and presented. However, bear in mind that climbing is highly subjective so this information is really just a general guide, not absolute fact. 

Problem ‘Rules’

For the most part, a good boulder problem will present you with a relatively clear, obvious and unambiguous line that really doesn’t require too much description to be climbed the way it is intended. 

Starting Holds: Where a problem has well-defined and established start holds, these are indicated in the topo by white circles and generally also mentioned in descriptions too. If neither the topo nor description includes anything about where to start, your basically free to grab whatever you can reach and just go. For problems with a sit down start (sds), see extended discussion below as this opens up a whole new can of worms…

Off-route Holds: Some problems will intentionally ignore what may appear to be obvious holds off to the side of the main line (e.g. Predator at Chung Hom Kok and Seamless at Tsuen Wan). In such cases, the problem description will indicate where the line should go and which bits you should be avoiding.

Eliminates: A further extreme of the above is eliminates, which are problems that only use a series of defined holds, ignoring others that may well be between them and even right in front of your face. Fortunately Hong Kong doesn’t have too many of these and those that do exist tend to be dyno’s (e.g. Misty Rocket at Tai Mo Shan, Plumbline Direct at Shek O, etc.) where the start and end is pretty obvious. Again, problem descriptions will define what can and can’t be used for these lines.  

Sit Down Starts (sds)

No Sit, No Send: This one seems to be taking quite a bit of effort for some boulderers in Hong Kong to understand, hence the need for this section so please bear with us. Basically, if a problem includes (sds) in the title or states ‘sit start’ in the description then you should start fully seated on the floor (or atop one pad) and the very last thing to leave the floor should be your butt, i.e. after both feet are already on the rock, or for some problems, floating in the air. Any crouching, sneaky pressing of heels into the floor, trying to hide a foot by sitting on it and then using it to pressing off the floor, palming off the floor with hands, etc. is considered cheating and invokes a #nositnosend rule. What this means is that, for the most part, you’ve just made the stand start version of the problem a bit harder for yourself. 

(c) @betamonkeys

What about the shorties? The one exception to the ‘one pad beneath butt’ rule is those problems where the defined start holds (e.g. those little white circles in the topos) are completely out of reach. Under these circumstances it is generally considered acceptable to stack additional pad(s) beneath you to bring the start holds just into reach. However, a degree of honesty is required in these cases to make sure you don’t over elevate the bum with respect to the position of the feet (i.e. making it easier to transition weight on to them) or get higher on the holds than people doing the normal sit start can (i.e. making them easier to use). 

Examples of this include Kung Hei Fat Boy, where any more than two pads will basically put the bum above foot level, and Locked and Loaded, where three pads would basically place you in the same position as the crouching start anyway…

See the video below for some demonstrations of what is considered cheating:

This is what a sit down start looks like – one pad (or less), butt firmly on the floor, hands and feet already off the ground and on the rock!


A ‘dab’ can be defined as the release of the climbers weight from the rock through the [mostly] accidental contact with something other than the rock itself. Examples of this include the climbers feet brushing the floor or bouldering mats after they’ve started climbing, swinging into a spotter when they cut loose on a move, etc. Basically, it’s any form of contact between the climber and something other than the problem they’re trying. If this happens, the attempt on the boulder problem isn’t considered ‘clean’ and you’re expected to start all over again taking extra care next time to make sure you don’t dab this time…

Crag Behaviour

One of the things most of us love about climbing is that there’s pretty much no real well defined rules. Provided you behave with consideration, most things are down to personal preference and you can pretty much do what you want.  That being said, and with consideration to the fact there’s quite a few relatively inexperienced outdoor climbers in Hong Kong these days, there are a few basic considerations we’d ask you to abide by and take note of.

Hard & Fast Rules

#1 No Chipping:
We accept no compromises on this one. The beauty and challenge of bouldering lies in the ability to tackle the challenges Mother Nature has set out for us. If you can’t send a problem, go train and come back fitter, stronger and with more technique. Modify yourself to be able to climb the rock, not the other way around. Chances are, anyone caught chipping would be lynch mobbed by the climbing community.

#2 Pack In, Pack Out:
The ‘leave no trace ethic’ is a well established concept in climbing circles and one that should be fully adhered to. The bouldering areas covered by this guide are typically in very scenic and often ecologically sensitive area. Please help preserve the beauty of these location by minimsing the impacts of your visit as far as possible. This will typically mean:

Bathroom Breaks: In general, try to ‘go before you go’ so you can avoid the need for a trip to the bathroom whilst at the blocs. Numerous areas (Shek O etc.) have public toilets nearby so make the effort to walk 15-20 minutes if needed and do your business where it’s meant to be done. If you do get caught short in a remote spot (it happens), be considerate and do your business well away from the blocs and trails (and in the case of number two’s, it is essential that you either pack them out (take some dog poop bags with you) or at least have the decency to bury them (and the associated toilet paper) so that no-one would ever know you’ve been there. The last thing anyone wants is to unexpectedly step or land in your leftovers…

Use Pads: Your pad not only saves you from hurting yourself when falling, but also saves the ground beneath problems from erosion caused by repeated impacts.

Also if stashing pads, remember that they remain your property and responsibility to remove later on too. In the process of updating the guide i’ve found at least four highly degraded pads simply dumped as trash at various spot;

Don’t do this! If you stash a pad, remove it from the area when it’s life has ended

Trash: Take all rubbish (e.g. food wrappers, fruit skins, used finger tape, cigarette butts, toilet paper etc.) away with you when you leave;

Vegetation: Many of the areas in this guide are situated in densely vegetated hillsides, meaning blocs and problems will get overgrown if no one visits them for a while. For the most part, the vegetation you’ll find is secondary (e.g. not particularly natural and resulting from reforestation works) and of relatively low ecological value. Indeed, when the first edition of this guide was published you could walk quite freely between blocs in most sectors of Tsuen Wan without getting torn to pieces by branches. As such, a bit of vegetation clearance along access trails and beneath problems isn’t considered too big a deal. However, this should be done considerately and minimally, especially for those areas in Country Parks or Conservation Areas;

#3 No Open Fires:
The winter bouldering season in HK is typically very dry, meaning the risk of hill fires can be extreme (just look what happens during grave sweeping festivals). For everyone’s sake, avoid open fires (and smoking) whilst out at the blocs, go for a nice BBQ at the beach afterwards instead. 


Otherwise known as not coming across as a bit of a dick. Like we said, we love climbing due to the lack of rules so we don’t want to get caught laying down the law too much. The following are therefore some general considerations to make when climbing outdoors so that everyone else can have just as much fun as you are.

Volume: We understand that climbers get a little excitable sometimes and that ‘oh so close’ send attempt can prompt a somewhat emotional (and often explicit) response. However, please bear in mind that we’re not the only ones using these outdoor spaces and others may not appreciate your screams of frustration, joy, encouragement etc. Be considerate and keep noise levels reasonable;

Clean Your Feet: You spent a small fortune on those rock shoes to get some super sticky rubber that’ll help you stand on tiny edges and non-existent smears. That money was wasted if you don’t make sure your shoes are clean and free from dirt when you get on a climb. In addition to making life difficult for yourself, you’re also making the holds grubby for the next poor soul who tries the problem. Be sport, make sure your rock shoes are nice and clean before getting on a climb…

Tick Marks: We understand that many people these days are used to nice colour coded gym problems or even LED lights to remind them where holds are. We also understand that nature is often not so generous in gift wrapping directions for you. However, if you really can’t remember where a hold is and must use a tick mark, please pay particular attention to the nicety below.

Bloc Cleaning: Give the problems a brush once you’ve finished climbing them. Not everyone in the outdoors appreciates these big white splodges over the rocks.

Music: The objects in the image to the below are called headphones. If you must listen to music whilst climbing, wear them and leave the bluetooth speakers at home. Most people head outdoors to enjoy nature and the sound track that provides, not your questionable taste in tracks…

Remember, climbers aren’t the only ones n these areas and we don’t want a bad reputation from other users of the outdoors!.

Hopefully the above info gives a bit of a guide on the ‘accepted’ practices for outdoor bouldering. However, at the end of the day its all pretty meaningless fun so just get out there and enjoy yourself (but not at the expense of nature please…)

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