Route Setting - What is it?

July 22, 2022

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Route Setting - What is it?
Bouldering Blog

Route setting is the process of creating/making/designing the climbs on the wall. A route setter is the most important job in a climbing gym, they have the role of choosing the holds and placing them in the right positions to create the climbs for everyone, from beginners to professionals. 

Route setting is a more complex discipline than you might think! Below we will scratch the surface and dive into what route setting is and how it’s done.

A routesetter takes the wall as a blank canvas, they will thoughtfully place different holds on the wall, tweak as necessary and set climbs that all experience levels in the gym will enjoy. 

Routesetting takes years to master. It is a constant process of improvement, inspiration and innovation. A great routesetter is genuinely interested in the discipline and will constantly stay at the forefront of their field by keeping up with the latest developments from climbing gyms around the world and global competitions just like our route setters here at NOMAD. They have an in-depth understanding of different climbing holds, various wall layouts, body movement and body positioning - they then have to translate this into climbs by placing the right holds in the right position on the wall. 

How do we route set at NOMAD?

At NOMAD our route setting mantra is simple, but fundamentally different to how many bouldering gyms around the world and at home (in Australia) set climbs. At NOMAD we place as much sweat, effort and time into the lower grades and beginner lines as we do our high level professional lines. We constantly strive to improve, teach or benefit every one of our climbers, no matter the skill level.

Many other gyms focus on developing one king line, a climb they often spend hours setting, which will be at one of the highest grades and doable only by a few people. The problem with this is it leaves less time to set all the other climbs in the gym. Other climbs will then be filler, placed fast and with less consideration. This generally means the climbs will not allow for the development of beginner and intermediate climbing skills.

At NOMAD we pride ourselves in spending as much time on every level of climb from entry level to professional. You will find the team tweaking beginner climbs for hours until we ensure it flows well, is enjoyable and helps develop our newer climbers abilities. 

How often do we route set at NOMAD?

We route set at NOMAD twice a week. Currently we reset sections of the gym on both Monday and Wednesday, this starts in the morning at 8am and these problems will then be open for climbing that night. Once set, the problems are not always complete and our setters will watch and tweak the climbs where necessary over the next couple days to ensure the optimal setting experience and of course that everyone is enjoying them!

What does the route setting team think about when setting climbs?

With some of the most experienced routesetters in Australia, led by our head route setter Fabricio, NOMAD has developed a specialist process and plan when it comes to route setting. 

Three of the most important questions we think about when route setting at NOMAD are: 

  1. How will the route improve the climbing ability of our members and guests at all levels?

Whether it is isolating particular moves, implementing more flexibility, focusing on raw power or developing your route reading ability. All our route setters will have a specific idea in mind when setting a climb to help people develop new climbing skills, strength, flexibility, balance, and overall great technique. 

  1. Is there enough rock climbing variety in the gym?

It is very important for us to think about the gym as a whole. Having too much of one climbing style can inhibit a climbers development and become boring at times (especially for those who may not like that style). Our route setting team considers the gym as a whole and provides a quality variety for our members and guests (from powerful roof climbs or delicate crimpy slab climbs) . Our head setter Fabricio, keeps track of every climb currently up to ensure each time the team sets they know what to focus on. 

  1. Will the route look visually aesthetic in the context of the gym?  

The look of the climb is almost as important as the feel. Not many people will consider this aspect of route setting when entering a gym, but next time you come take time to look around. 

In modern day bouldering, live streaming of competitions, social media, the growth of the sport, and ensuring that bouldering is enticing to beginners, has created a focus on the artistic element to route setting. This is seen in the changes in climbing holds over the past few years as the purpose has shifted from solely practical to both visual and practical. The live streaming of competitions have been opportunities for companies to advertise their most aesthetic products and help make the climbs look more interesting and awe striking for viewers. 

Our setters will use design principles to ensure a climb looks amazing on the wall by itself and in contrast to the other climbs. The three most important principles we focus on are contrast in colour, creating dimension, and holistic design. By holistic design we mean focusing not only on how one climb looks, but ensuring all lines in a set and the gym look great and compliment each other.

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