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Unraveling The Lingo Of Rock Climbing – 92 Need To Know Terms

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Want to go down to the local crag and try to flash that chossy top out? Er…was that English? If you’re new to the climbing world, it can be overwhelming trying to learn all the climbing terms and colloquialisms. 

Don’t worry, we got your back! 

It may seem like a new language, but in no time at all, you’ll sound like a local dirtbag who’s been climbing for years.

Below, we have all the rock climbing terms or slang and their respective definitions so you’ll know exactly what someone means when they say they’ve got a flapper or have to start on an arete.

Whether you’re new to climbing or an experienced climber, our article on the Differences of Bouldering, Sport Climbing, and Trad Climbing is a must-read to enhance your understanding of the sport.

This post includes affiliate links, but rest assured that we only recommend items we would use ourselves. And if you choose to make a purchase, we receive a small commission. No sponsorships, just the truth about our favorite finds.

A

  • Abseil: (pronounced AB-sail) To make a controlled descent on a fixed rope. The term is typically used in Europe and Australia.
  • Active protection: Any piece of climbing protection that has moving parts, typically with springs. Some examples include spring-loaded camming devices, sliding wedges, and tube chocks.
  • Anchor – A point on a climb where the rope is attached to the rock. It is usually at the top of the route, but it can also be mid-route or at the bottom of the route to secure the belayer and can be chains, bolts, ropes, or slings.
  • Approach – The route you take to walk/run/skip to the base of the climb.
mountains, rocks, landscape, approach, rock climbing terms
  • Arete – The edge of a wall that is at an acute angle like that of a corner of a building.
  • Auto-Lock – A mechanism or system that securely locks without having to manually lock it. For example, auto-locking carabiners have a spring-loaded gate that twists and locks when closed.

B

  • Barn door – When a climber swings away from the rock as a result of being unbalanced.
  • Bat Hang – Hanging while only using two toe hooks.
  • Belay – A method of controlling the climbing rope that is used to prevent a climber from falling to the ground should they come off the rock. A belay system relies on an anchor, belay device, belayer, and rope.
  • Belay Device – A mechanism used by a belayer that ‘catches’ a climber when they fall. The device, when used correctly, locks the rope in place and prevents the climber from falling any significant distance.
  • Belayer – The person that controls the rope that is attached to the climber, ensuring that should they fall, they are protected.
rock climbing, ropes, rock climber
  • Beta – Information about a climb or a route that is shared either verbally or in guidebooks.
  • Bicycle – a move often used on steep overhangs where one foot is toe-hooking the rock while the other is pressing against the rock to create a stabilizing effect, much like how you would pedal a bicycle
  • Bolt – A closed ring of very strong metal that is drilled into the rock to provide protection on sport rock climbing routes. The bolts expand in the rock and are extremely secure. Quickdraws are clipped onto the bolts to provide an anchor to run a rope through.
  • Bolted route – A sport rock climbing route that is protected with pre-placed bolts that are secured into the wall and act as anchors. Quickdraws are clipped onto the bolts and the climbing rope is clipped onto the quickdraws to provide protection for the climber.
  • Bomb-proof – Protection offered by an extremely secure anchor.
  • Bouldering – A type of rock climbing that is usually low enough to the ground to be done without the use of ropes for safety. It can be done on the base of high climbs or on boulders. Boulderers climb ‘problems’ instead of routes and use a pad on the ground for protection, as well as a spotter on higher-risk problems.

C

  • Camming device – A piece of equipment placed on a trad climbing route to protect the climber from falling. It wedges into a pocket or a crack by rotating.
  • Campusing – Rock climbing without feet on the wall, as if the holds are monkey bars; frequently used for showing off, but also a useful skill.
  • Carabiner – A loop of metal (oval, D-shaped, or pear-shaped) that has a spring-loaded gate on one side. Used to connect various items of rock climbing gear.
  • Chalk bag – A small hand-sized bag that contains chalk used to keep your hands dry when rock climbing. It is usually closed with a drawstring and either clipped onto the back of a climbing harness or worn at the back of a waist belt.
  • Chimney – A vertical crack on a wall of rock that is wide enough to fit your whole body into. Climbers ascend chimneys by applying opposing force to the sides of the chimney with their feet on one side and body on the other.
  • Chossy – Used to describe unsuitable rock. For example, it may be crumbly, washed out, overgrown, or unstable.
  • Clean – To ‘clean’ a route is to remove all the protection that has been placed by the lead climber. The climber that seconds or follows the lead climber will clean the route either as they climb or as they rappel back down.
  • Crag – The name used for an outdoor rock climbing area or the cliff/rock in which rock climbing can be done.
The crag at Clear Creek Canyon in Colorado
  • Crimp – The name given to a very small or thin rock climbing hold that uses only your fingertips. There are three different kinds of crimps:
    • Open Crimp – when your hand is open and only your fingertips are making contact with the small grip
    • Half Crimp – your finger is bent 90 degrees and the thumb is not wrapped around the top of the fingers
    • Full Crimp – When you are holding only a thin hold and the thumb is wrapped over the top of your fingers for better strength
  • Crux – The most technically difficult section of a climb.

D

  • Drop Knee – a mechanism for bringing one hip closer to the wall to reach further with the arm of the same side. Drop-knees can also help to stabilize the body and keep it closer to the wall so that certain moves can be done statically, or more delicately. Drop-knees can also be used as rests on particularly crazy climbs.
  • Dynamic rope – A rope that has a certain amount of stretch in it when force is applied. When a climber falls, a dynamic rope absorbs the impact of the fall by stretching slightly.
  • Dyno – A slang term for a dynamic move from one rock climbing hold to another. A dyno requires explosive movement which often means that during the leap or lunge, the climber won’t be touching the rock at all.

E

  • Edging – A technique used to place weight on very small or thin footholds. The climber uses the edges of their feet instead of the soles.

F

  • A figure-eight knot – A highly secure knot used to secure the climber to their climbing rope via the rock climbing harness. The knot tightens as it is loaded with weight and is woven in the shape of a figure 8. Learn more about the top 5 essential knots!
  • First Ascent (FA) – When someone becomes the first person ever to successfully climb a particular route or boulder problem. It’s like blazing a trail and leaving your mark on the rock, while also earning the right to name it and rate its difficulty.
  • Fist jam – A technique used when crack climbing where the crack is wide enough for a whole fist to be placed in it and used for stability or for upward movement.
  • Flapper – an injury to the finger where a flap of skin is cut off by a sharp hold. Related to “gym flapper” where a callus is ripped off whole
  • Flash – When a climber uses prior knowledge and beta to ascend a route cleanly from start to finish on their first attempt, without falling.
  • Foot Chip – A very small feature on the rock where you can only place the tip of your foot. Sometimes just called a ‘chip.’
  • Free Climbing – any type of rock climbing that relies purely on the climber’s body and the rock. When Lynn Hill “freed” the Nose on El Cap for the first time, that means she was the first person ever to climb the entire route using only the natural features of the rock itself to ascend. This is the opposite of aid climbing.
  • Free solo climbing – A very high-risk way of rock climbing. Ropes and a belay system are not used, and routes are often as high as routes that would require ropes for safety.

G

  • Gaston – a type of handhold where the palms face away from the body, how your hands would be if you were trying to pry open elevator doors. Opposite of a side pull.
  • Gri-gri – Made by Petzl, Gri-gri is the name given to an auto-locking belay device that acts to catch a climber’s fall.
  • Gumby – A climber who partakes in a particularly silly behavior deemed by the rock climbing community. Examples include bouldering with your sport harness on, and campusing with your shirt off in front of the new climbers at the gym.

H

  • Hand jam – Like a fist jam, but used on smaller cracks when only a hand can fit in the crack.
Climber with gear including harness and protection.
  • Harness – A strong belt made of webbing that has attached leg loops and a secure buckle. Climbers wear a harness and attach themselves to the rope using a figure 8 knot that is tied through the harness. Belayers also need to wear a harness to secure the belay device, with the rope running through it, to themselves. Check out Black Diamond Harnesses.
  • Heel hook – When a climber uses their heel to hook onto an edge or foothold to help secure their position on the rock.
  • Highball – a boulder that is very tall and, if not dangerous, at least very scary at the top. Highballs are usually 20 feet or higher

J

  • Jug – A large handhold that is very secure and deep making it easy for the climber to hold onto with confidence. A gift from the rock climbing gods!

L

  • Layback– When a climber shifts their weight to one side to create enough tension to use a vertical hold or crack for upwards movement. The climber will walk their feet up the crack by pushing away from the weight of their body.
  • Lead – The first person to go up a route and placing their own gear.
  • Lead climbing – The first person to go up a route is the lead climber and does so by placing their own gear as they climb up a route or by clipping onto pre-placed bolts as they climb. The climber attaches the rope to the gear or bolt at the earliest opportunity before climbing up beyond the last piece of protection and placing another piece/clipping onto another bolt, and securing the rope at that point.

M

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  • Mantel – A technique used by a rock climber to get onto a ledge. The climber applies downward pressure onto the ledge with their hands to lift their body high enough to get their feet up onto the ledge too.
  • Match hands/feet– putting both hands or feet on the same hold, sometimes just to switch them out.
  • Multi-pitch – A long route that needs more than one length of rope to complete. Once the lead climber reaches the top of a pitch, they will anchor themselves there and belay the second climber to join them at the top. The same rope is then used to ascend the second pitch with the belayer anchored at the top of the first pitch.

N

  • Nut – A small piece of metal that is wedge-shaped and attached to the end of a wire. Used to jam in cracks as a piece of protection on a trad route.

O

  • Off-width – A crack that is usually between 4 and 10 inches wide and is too narrow to fit your body into (a chimney) but too wide to fit your fist into.
  • On-sight – When a climber ascends a route cleanly from start to finish on their very first attempt, without falling and with no prior knowledge of how to ascend the climb successfully.
  • Overhang – When the rock is so steep that it goes beyond vertical and hangs over the ground.

P

  • Pinch – a type of handhold grasped between fingers and thumb. Kind of self-explanatory
  • Pitch – A route that can be climbed using the length of one rock climbing rope.
  • Pocket – a type of handhold where 1-3 fingers go into a hole in the rock.
  • Protection – A piece of rock climbing equipment or device that is attached to the rock. It enables the climber to secure their climbing rope to it preventing the climber from falling any significant distance should they come off the rock. Examples include quickdraws, cams, nuts, and hexes.
  • Problem – any climb (or route) on a boulder. This alludes to the math-like property of bouldering wherein each “problem” has a specific solution.
  • Pumped – the feeling of extreme fatigue in the forearm muscles. Pumpy is used to describe a climb that is tiring for the fingers

Q

  • Quickdraw – Two non-locking carabiners joined together by a length of reinforced webbing, called a dog bone, used to attach a rope to a bolt or piece of protection.

R

  • Rack – A collection of rock climbing gear needed to climb a route. This can include quickdraws, carabiners, nuts, and camming devices.
  • Rappel – When a climber descends the rock on a fixed rope. Usually, a belay device is used to maintain full control
  • Redpoint – When a climber ascends a route cleanly from start to finish without falling, after practicing the climb over and over.
  • Runout – When the distance between your protection (bolts or placed gear) is further than you might feel comfortable with. Meaning a big fall would occur should you come off the rock at this point.

S

  • Sandbagged – when a problem or route is hard for the grade. This can refer to entire rock climbing areas, Joshua Tree is notoriously sandbagged for example, and it mainly happens to older crags, after more generations of bro-y climbers have downgraded problems over the years.
  • Second – The second person to ascend a route, following a lead climber.
  • Send – When a climber ascends a route cleanly from start to finish without falling or resting on any placed gear or ropes. A send can also just mean finishing a route. 
  • Sit Start – To start a problem off with your butt planted on the ground. Typically found on bouldering problems, and would be notated at the gym or in the guidebook of a particular route.
  • Sidepull – a type of handhold that is facing away from the climber. Opposite of gaston
  • Sloper – A very shallow rock climbing hold that offers very little natural form to hold onto. The climber uses friction and tension (and sometimes sheer desperation) to make use of it.
  • Slab – a wall that is slightly less than vertical and as a result much smaller holds can be used if one has good balance, technique, and trusts their footholds. Lead falls on this terrain result in a cheese-grater-type experience.
  • Smear – When a climber places the sole of the foot on a relatively featureless rock and uses friction to create upward movement.
  • Soft – when a problem or route is easy for the grade, or in competitions, easy for how many points it is worth.
  • Sport climbing – A type of rock climbing that uses pre-placed bolts that are drilled into the rock to provide protection on which the climber can attach or anchor their rope.
  • Spotter – A person who is there at the ready to break the fall of a climber on a boulder problem. Their job is to direct them towards the safety of the bouldering mat and make sure that should they fall awkwardly or suddenly, they are protected from hitting the ground or nearby rocks.
adult, adventure, climb, spotter, bouldering
  • Spray or Spray Beta – any way in which a climber brags whether it be yelling beta at someone climbing, posting videos of themselves climbing, etc….basically, this website is a Spray Factory!
  • Static – reaching in a controlled fashion for a handhold as opposed to throwing or jumping to it. This generally takes more strength to do certain moves statically, but dynos look cooler and can be more fun at times.
  • Static rope – A rope that has little or no stretch in it. A static rope should not be used for climbing as there is no give to help absorb the impact of a fall but is often used for abseiling, rescues, or caving. Check out Black Diamond Ropes.
  • Steep – A term used to describe an overhang climbing route.
  • Step through – A technique used to move sideways on the rock where both feet point in the same direction placing weight on the inside of one foot and the outside of the other.

T

  • Toe Hook – using the top of the foot to pull against the rock. The basic element of bicycles and bat hangs.
  • Top out – When a climber reaches the top of a route and can climb right over the top and walk back to the base of the climb via a trail instead of rappelling back down on the rope they climbed on.
  • Top roping – A type of climbing where the rope runs through an anchor at the very top of a climbing route. One end of the rope is attached to the climber and the other to the belayer. Should the climber fall at any time, this setup ensures that they won’t fall very far (assuming that the belayer is attentive and exercising safe practice).
  • Trad climbing – Also known as traditional climbing, trad is a type of climbing that requires the natural form of the rock (cracks and pockets) for the placement of protection by the climber as they ascend the route. The protection is then removed from the rock by the second climber, once the rope is anchored at the top of the climb.
  • Traverse – A lateral move or route when climbing or descending, going mainly sideways rather than up or down.

U

  • Undercling – When a climber pulls up on a downward-facing handhold to create opposing tension against their feet that are pushing down on an upward-facing foothold.

W

  • Whaling – Alright, this one isn’t official but we use it all the time. Whaling is when you throw your body unceremoniously and with little shame, like a whale, onto a ledge or a top-out because you’re out of strength or it’s the only way to get up the route.

Rock Climbing 101

With rock climbing growing in popularity, and reaching mainstream audiences, more terms and slang will appear, it’s only a matter of time. This is only a guide from my experiences. If you have any other terms you would like added, let us know!

Want to get into rock climbing, here are some items you need to start rock climbing for yourself.

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