Bonus vs. Zones, is there a difference?

If you watched bouldering live streams lately, you may have noticed that nobody talks about bonuses anymore. Now they all refer to that special, tie-breaking hold, as the zone. Why is that?


  1. For me, bonus (hold) was clear and logical name — if you reach that hold, you get a bonus ‘points’ (compared to other climbers who don’t reach it).
    The zone is confusing. We already have all kinds of zones (isolation, observation, transit, call, competing…). And more importantly, the zone means *an area*, not a point (a single hold), so this is confusing. I would understand the name if there was a hold which marks the entrance in the (upper) area of a boulder problem and you would get an ‘extra point’ if you just enter that area (climb past/higher) even if you skip that “zone” hold. But you are NOT — even if you fall from the top(!) you have not entered the zone(?).

    • AngelPalacio says:

      Good point about “zone” perhaps being confusing if mixed with, for instance, isolation area. Perhaps there some other word out there that’s better than zone.

      • Yes, there surely is: a bonus hold! :D
        I just can’t understand why they need to change sth that was clear for 10 years, replacing it with a word which is simply not logical. Bonus hold is a hold–point, not a zone!

        • AngelPalacio says:

          I think it is hard to put ourselves in the place of someone new to the sport. For us that have been watching for years a bonus is pretty obvious, but for someone new not so much. Just check some of the questions people ask. From why there aren’t comps on real rock to why there aren’t sitting starts or why there are two qualifying groups. Things that seem obvious to climbing fans may be confusing or simply unclear to newcomers. The real debate to me is whether or not the IFSC should care so much about newcomers or if the IFSC should let newcomers learn the sport at their own pace.

          • I believe for everyone, newcomers or not calling hold a zone is simply wrong. It does not bring any less confusion in understanding the rules — on the contrary.

    • Michael says:

      As someone who’s recently started to watch boulder competition videos: I was really confused by the bonus hold at first. Initially I thought you get more points if you use it, then I thought you get more points if you *don’t* use it, then I looked up the rules. I don’t like “zone” either for the reasons you mentioned, but at least it’s not the complete opposite of the usual meaning.

      • AngelPalacio says:

        That’s the kind of confusion that is hard to imagine for people that have been following the sport for years. For instance, the idea of getting more points if you don’t use a hold is reasonable but sounds really weird to me (without getting into the details of why it would/wouldn’t work).

  2. I thought bonus was perfectly understandable. It’s a bonus for those who fail to complete the problem, irrelevant to those who do. If the IFSC actually want to keep things simple it would be better if they didn’t keep changing the rules or names of things every year. I sometimes wonder how fans of bigger sports like football or tennis would react if the rules of those sports were changed each season.

    The biggest issue for non-climbers watching is the scoring. It’s pretty complicated and not at all obvious who will win and when. Here good commentary can really help. Sometimes they get things just right but sometimes they miss completely, someone takes the win and they haven’t even noticed.

    I also thought that along with the name change there was some change in scoring too, like the zone hold counts for more now in some way?

    • AngelPalacio says:

      I think “bonus” was very obvious for those of us who have been watching comps for a while. But not so much for new people. And I think the reason why rules change so often in climbing is simply because the sport is basically 20 years old while, say, football (soccer) is more than a century old. Formula 1, for instance, changes the rules every year. I’m not saying that I like changing the rules often, I’m just saying that I understand why they do it.

    • AngelPalacio says:

      Oh, I forgot. Yes, there has been a change in the scoring. Now the order is Tops > Zones > Attempts to Top > Attempts to Zone (previously it was Tops > Attempts to Top > Bonus > Attempts to Bonus).

    • Steve, I’ve got nothing to add other than to say you have covered it perfectly.
      The scoring isn’t THAT hard to understand if it’s explained adequately. Changing the rules (the time, the name of the bonus) will do nothing for clarity. Explaining the strengths, weaknesses and form of individual climbers, the angle of the wall, the approximate grade of difficulty of the problems, and a running commentary on how well one climber or the other is doing on the wall would be really helpful.
      If you compare it to MMA which is hugely popular – you might not necessarily understand how the fights are scored (and it is sometimes up t debate) if you don’t know the sport that well, but as a fight sport it is engaging to watch and the commentary offers great insight.

      • AngelPalacio says:

        ReetH that’s a very valid point. It is obvious that the IFSC wants to make the sport as easy to understand as possible (they will always have a hard time with bouldering). But I don’t if it is really important. I watch a lot of sports that I don’t fully understand (MMA, like you said, is a good example). I think most people watch bouldering without caring too much about the technical aspect so perhaps the IFSC’s efforts should be focus somewhere else. I really don’t know.

  3. Chris Aquino says:

    My name is Chris and I need help…. specifically with the BONUS hold. I recently opened a gym and kicked it off with a bouldering comp. I then added these so called BONUS HOLDS. but it became a nightmare when it came to scoring. how do they GET THE POINTS??? i checked the rule book and it says USE the HOLD… what does that mean????? you have both hands???? have full control????

    • AngelPalacio says:

      It will depend on the exact rules of that comp, but if they are using IFSC rules (or, I think, USA Climbing rules), “using” the bonus means achieving a new position with the use of the hold. For instance, you can use it to change you balance or pull on it to move your body upwards. Pretty much anything that changes your body position counts as using the bonus. But, for instance, if you simply reach and touch it, that’s not enough. Makes sense?

  4. Chris Aquino says:

    Thank you for your help!!!! Conflict solved!!!!! =)

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