What is a Tactic?

I was at the crag the other day and overheard someone talking about a project they were working on. They said something like “my tactics haven’t been that good, I need to start making things hard for myself earlier in the process—when I get to the crux I’m just not mentally prepared to try as hard as I need to.”

This got me thinking about what tactics are. Not as in ‘low pointing is a tactic,’ but what is the definition of a tactic? What is the goal of using tactics?

Where I’m at now is that tactics are a way of systematically controlling how you expose yourself to the difficulties of a route or Boulder problem in order to send it.

Before I might have defined tactics as the steps a climber takes to complete a climb, but rethinking this has caused me a lot of reflection on my own process and my own use of tactics.

He do you define what tactics are?

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For me a tactic is any intentional deviation from trying to just climb the route or boulder without falling. Could be anything from taking before falling and then lowering a bit to try a link, to intentionally limiting the rest period after a fall in order to simulate the pump you might feel in the upcoming section when trying from the ground. The goal of using tactics is to learn more faster and send quicker.


I like that! Sometimes I think people (myself included) get stuck using “tactics” to make things easier long past the point when they (I) could have sent if I had just tried harder.

I here that. Something I’ve found helps with this, is setting an intention out loud to my partner before I pull on. Like “this is a send go and I’m going to try hard and climb till I fall or send…” or “I’m going to take at the 3rd bolt and try to link through the crux to the chains…”, as opposed to just seeing what happens or how I feel when I get there.

In climbing, tactics and strategy are used totally different than what I’m used to. In most other fields strategy seems to be focussed around how you devote resources in a broad and long term sense and tactics to in the field decisions to get into a better position in order to succeed.

So that would mean that things like training plan or rest days could be considered strategy, while the decision to rest for x minutes at a rest could be considered a tactic.

However, that’s not how we use it, we tend to call everything a tactic. I’d suggest we use strategy to describe how you devote your resources (in any situation) and tactics as everything non-climbing related that changes the situation in your favor. This would make climbing bolt to bolt a strategy and using tick marks a tactic.

Curious what the distinction is there between bolt to bolt and a tick mark. Both are used while climbing, but decided on while not climbing. Where do you see the difference?

I guess it’s unimportant whether you call it a strategy or a tactic, but to me the difference is that you apply the tick mark from the ground or while hanging in the rope. It’s something you do while not climbing that puts you into a better position of succeeding when you are climbing. Kind of like extending a quick draw. A strategy is how you put your resources (energy) to use, like climbing bolt to bolt to figure out the moves while not getting as tired, how many minutes to rest mid route, climbing speed, or even the way you train for a season.

Again, probably not important, but this would be closer to how I’ve used strategy / tactics in other fields in the past so it somehow makes more sense to me :slight_smile:

Got it. I’ve always used (and heard used) strategy as an overarching view, while tactics are the smaller pieces put into play during the actions within the strategy.

I think the difference for climbing is hard to make precisely and doing so is not relevant for practical matters. It’s fun to think about, though.

To me, it seems that going bolt to bolt could be either. It’s a strategy for sussing out a climb that you plan to send second go. And it’s a tactic maybe for your send-day on your long term project, when you see it as one of the tools to accomplish your goal of sending.

And to explain to someone new-ish to climbing what a tactic is and why they should acquire them, I think these two definitions are perfect:

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For me what’s important is the objective. Whether you call it a strategy or a tactic, I don’t think really matters, but the thing I realized is that I had been using tactics to make sending easier not necessarily faster. That is using tactics to stay in my comfort zone.

I think it was a really important shift in my perspective about what the objective of using tactics are, and I wonder how many other people think of tactics as ways to take smaller steps in the sending process so that you are never uncomfortable as opposed to intentionally getting out of your comfort zone in order to send faster.

I noticed something similar; I’ve been practising tactics (climbing close to my limit is new to me) and as result I would apply tactics to make the route easier even if I had a decent chance of onsighting it. I decided this was worth it, as a I’m much better at red pointing tactics now, but I also decided at some point I’ll have to start onsighting just to learn from that process (and any specific onsighting tactics) as well.