March 7, 2024


As we’re celebrating International Women’s day this week, we wanted to give you a quick insight into some of the amazing women we have working at Substation.

Our head setter at Substation Macclesfield, Alice Thompson, and one of our regular external freelance setters, Jen Wood, were kind enough to give us a quick interview about their experience as route setters. Alice and Jen recently set all of the finals blocs for our Subzero competition which was a huge success!

The interview was led by one of our regulars David Hudson, and offers an insightful look into the route setting world.

How did you get into route setting?

Alice: I’ve got a feeling that we got into setting in a very similar way; at Rock Over (a bouldering wall in central Manchester). That’s where I started working at a bouldering gym and then got into jet washing, stripping climbs and helping the setters. Then, eventually, I started setting full time.

Jen: Yeah, I was exactly the same. I started at Rock Over but I got to skip the jet washing [laughter]. Again, I eventually got onto setting with them and then started a little bit of setting at some of the other local walls as well.

What's your favourite style of climbing and does it match your setting style?

Alice: I think my favourite style of climbing is horrible volume slab climbing.

Jen: That is definitely what you end up setting!

Alice: I try not to set it too much because I feel like people hate me for it [laughs]

Jen: I like a bit of boshing you know. Big holds, moves with some fat pinches and yeah I reckon that is what I set too.

What are the main obstacles for female route setters?

Alice: I don’t know actually. That’s a really hard question to answer. How do I even start the sentence?

I think the main obstacles for women getting into route setting is probably just that there’s more men and that might seem more intimidating for women. I personally didn’t really find that because I came in from a trade job so for me it was quite easy which I sometimes feel a bit bad about [laughs].

Jen: Yeah I agree with Alice. The obstacles are based around it being a manual labour job and the stigma of it being a job for “men only”. But I found when you get stuck in, there aren’t that many obstacles really.

I mean, I find it hard lifting heavy boxes.

Alice: Yeah that’s really tiring.

Jen: But then again I think everyone finds lifting heavy things tiring.  Alice and I just like to moan about it a lot [laughter].

What advice would you give to women who want to get into setting?

Jen: my main advice for women wanting to get into route setting would be to, first of all, climb at loads of different walls. I think that will give you the experience of lots of different types of routes and holds.

Also, it’s about getting to know people at the walls. The main thing is just you've just got to go and ask setters about setting. Just be confident, go and ask around and see what happens.

Alice: Sometimes you just have to put that extra bit of hard work in and jet wash and strip holds for a while and deal with the extra manual labor and then one day you’ll make it on the wall.

What would you do if you had unlimited money for a set?

Alice:  Well, if I had all the money in the world, I would buy all the big holds and set something that looks really aesthetic and climbs great. That feels a bit lame…

Do you have a favourite brands of holds you like to use?

Alice: Oh yeah I quite like Blue Pill; I’d buy a lot more Blue Pill.

And Jen?

Jen: Ooh I'd get all the pretty Rockcity Climbing holds. And then I'd get someone else to put the holds  on the wall for me and I would just sit back and point.

Alice: I like this idea. I’d like to have someone to set the climbs for you and have someone to test them as well.

Jen: Well, no, I do like the testing. Although I do try to trick Alice to put the holds on the wall for me [laughter].

Alice: I feel like I know that you do that as well; it’s not really a trick anymore.

We're grateful to Alice and Jen for always setting top quality routes at our gyms and for taking the time to answer some of our questions about their experience as women in atypically male dominated industry. Head over to our instagram @substation.brixton and @substation.macclesfield to watch the girls in action!

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