Historically, climbing was never a sport with disciplines and variations such as “trad” climbing, “sport” climbing, and any other denomination that was invented in recent years. That quickly changed when people all over the world started taking climbing as a serious activity, thus creating the need for more categories. In this article, we are going to explore the differences between trad climbing and sport climbing—two of the major disciplines in the world of professional climbing.
What is Trad Climbing?
“Trad” is an abbreviation for traditional. This name has been given to what was once known as pure, pioneer climbing. In trad climbing, the “lead” installs climbing equipment necessary to ascend more securely as they climb. This activity involves mental strength paired with physical strength and know-how regarding climbing equipment and protection (also known as “pro”.)
What is Sport Climbing?
Sport climbing is the newer, more dynamic way to climbing walls. As the name might suggest, sport climbing has turned into an actual sport. It will debut as an Olympic sport at the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan (see official Olympic website). This activity involves climbing walls that already have various types of protection pre-installed, eliminating the need to do so yourself on tough surfaces.
What’s the Key Differentiator Between Trad and Sport Climbing?
The main reason why sport climbing went into full effect is that climbers increasingly felt the need to tackle harder and harder challenges, going up walls that would have been considered suicide for trad climbers. These walls usually involve what’s called “overhang” climbing, meaning that the wall (either real or artificial) goes beyond 90 degrees, with a platform to hang from at the top.
The key differentiator between trad and sport climbing though is its inception. Climbing was always just climbing. There was no other activity that could describe it. In other words, trad climbing is the original, unadulterated experience, while sport climbing is the hardcore, physical, get-it-done-fast alternative that has seen a massive gain in popularity in recent years.
Should You Practice Trad or Sport Climbing?
If you want to learn how to do any of these two, find a mentor. For sport climbing, the fastest, safest way to start your journey is by training at an indoor climbing facility (see the benefits at this link). On the other hand, learning how to trad climb can be a real challenge, especially in the beginning. Like any other skill in life, starting from the basics will ultimately yield better results, so sport climbing is the way to go.
Don’t be deceived by the fact that sport climbing evolved from trad climbing; it is actually a lot simpler. Getting used to handling the rope, using a belaying device and clipping quickdraws are all skills that can be learned while sport climbing, but that are used in trad climbing as well. So work yourself up from sport and only start trad climbing when you’re comfortable with all the sport climbing techniques. The skills and familiarity with gear of a sport climber will prove to be a solid foundation to novice trad climbers.