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The Crushers Guide To…

Climbing Terminology

From the gym to the crag, climbers use lingo to communicate about techniques, gear, and experiences in a way that’s as fun and confusing as the sport itself. 

climbing grades icon

Mantle

Ape Index

Trad Rack

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Rock climbing is a sport filled with its own unique language, a collection of terms, slang, and jargon that can seem like a foreign language to the newbies. Not to mention all the strange climbing techniques climbers use (why is that climber hanging like a bat?!)

Whether you’re a seasoned climber or new to the vertical world, understanding climbing terminology and techniques can enhance your experience and help you connect with the climbing community. 

Below is an alphabetical compilation of rock climbing terms and techniques to get you from newbie level to pro. 

I have listed every term and technique under the sun, but if I have missed anything, give us as a shout in the comments box below or get in touch with us here!

Climbing Terminology & Techniques From A-Z

A

  • Abseil (Rappel): The process of descending a rock face using a rope.
  • Accessory Cord: A thin, strong cord used for a variety of climbing purposes, such as making prusik loops or tying off anchors.
  • Anchor: A secure point of attachment for a climbing rope, typically involving multiple pieces of protection.
  • Ape Index: A measure comparing an individual’s arm span relative to their height. A positive ape index (arm span greater than height) is often considered advantageous in climbing.
  • Approach: The path or route taken to reach the base of a climb.
  • Arete: A sharp ridge formed by two intersecting planes of rock.
  • Armbar: A technique where climbers use their arm to press between two rock surfaces for stability.
  • ATC: Air Traffic Controller. A type of tubular belay device manufactured by Black Diamond, commonly used for belaying and rappelling. The term is often used generically for similar devices.
  • Auto-lock: A feature of some belay devices and carabiners that automatically locks to prevent the rope or gate from opening under load.
Climber Abseiling in Tonsai, Thailand
Our Editor, Angel, abseiling down a multi-pitch in Tonsai, Thailand.

B

  • Backclip: Incorrectly clipping the rope into a quickdraw, which can lead to unclipping during a fall.
  • Backup: An additional piece of protection or safety measure added to a climbing system to increase redundancy and safety.
  • Ball Nut: A type of protection device used in climbing, especially useful in thin cracks where traditional cams and nuts won’t fit. It uses a sliding ball mechanism to create a secure placement.
  • Barndoor: A term used to describe the swinging motion that occurs when a climber loses balance on a vertical surface, with their body acting as the swinging “door” hinged at their points of contact with the rock.
  • Bat Hang: A climbing technique where the climber hangs upside down from their feet, using toe hooks or heel hooks on an overhead feature, freeing their hands for resting or reaching to the next holds. This move is often seen in roof climbing or bouldering problems with substantial overhangs.
  • Belay: The process of managing the rope to ensure the safety of the climber.
  • Belay Glasses: Specialized glasses that allow the belayer to watch the climber without having to crane their neck upwards.
  • Belayer: The person who manages the rope to protect the climber, controlling slack, catching falls, and lowering the climber when necessary.
  • Belay Device: A mechanical piece of climbing equipment used to control the rope during belaying, allowing the belayer to manage the climber’s falls and lower them safely.
  • Belay On: A command used by the belayer to indicate they are ready and attentive to the climber, prepared to catch a fall or provide tension.
  • Belay Off: A command given by the climber to indicate that they are secure and no longer need the belayer to control the rope.
  • Belay Station: A secure point on a climb, often at the end of a pitch, where the belayer sets up to manage the rope for the next section.
  • Beta: Information about a climb, including moves and gear placement.
  • Beta Break: Discovering an alternative method or sequence to complete a climbing route or problem, different from the commonly used beta.
  • Big Bro: A brand of expandable tube chocks designed for protecting wide cracks, larger than what traditional cams can accommodate.
  • Big Wall: A term used to describe long, multi-pitch climbs that often require several hours or days to complete, typically involving advanced planning, a variety of gear, and sometimes overnight stays on the wall.
  • Bight: A bend in the rope that doesn’t cross itself.
  • Bivouac (Bivy): An overnight stay in the outdoors without the use of a tent, often using a small, lightweight shelter or sleeping bag. In climbing, this can refer to spending the night on a ledge or suspended in a portaledge on a big wall.
  • Bolt: A permanent anchor fixed into the rock, used for protection.
  • Bolt Ladder: A series of closely spaced bolts placed in a vertical line on a rock face, used as a form of aid climbing. Climbers ascend a bolt ladder by clipping a ladder-like device called an etrier or aiders into each bolt and stepping up.
  • Bomber: A term used to describe protection or a hold that is extremely secure and reliable.
  • Bouldering: The practice of climbing short, challenging routes (called “problems”) close to the ground without the use of ropes.
  • Bouldering Mat: A thick mat used to soften a climbers fall in bouldering.
  • Bowline: A type of knot often used to tie the climbing rope to the climber’s harness. It’s known for its strength and ease of untying after being loaded.
  • Brush: A tool used by climbers to clean holds of dirt, chalk, and debris, improving grip.
  • Buildering: The act of climbing on buildings or man-made structures, often done without permission and considered illegal in many areas.
  • Buttress: A prominent feature on a cliff or mountain, often protruding outward and providing solid rock for climbing routes.
Robbie Philips buildering
Scottish urban climber, Robbie Philips, scaling some of the gnarliest bridge climbs around Edinburgh ©Nadir Khan

C

  • Cam: A spring-loaded device that can be placed in rock cracks for protection. When the trigger is pulled, the cam’s lobes retract, allowing it to be inserted into a crack; releasing the trigger allows the lobes to expand and secure the cam in place.
  • Campus Board: A training apparatus used in climbing gyms consisting of a series of horizontal rungs. Climbers use it to build finger strength and power without using their feet.
  • Campusing: Climbing without the use of feet, relying solely on arm strength. This technique is often practiced on a campus board.
  • Carabiner: A metal loop with a spring-loaded gate used to connect components of the climbing system, such as the rope to protection or the climber to a belay device.
  • Chalk: Magnesium carbonate used to dry hands for better grip. Climbers carry it in a chalk bag attached to their waist.
  • Chalk Bag: A small pouch that climbers attach to their waist to hold chalk, which they apply to their hands to reduce moisture and improve grip.
  • Chest Harness: A type of harness that wraps around the chest to provide additional support and safety, often used in conjunction with a sit harness or on younger kids.
  • Chimney: A wide crack that a climber can fit their body into. Climbing a chimney involves using opposing pressure with the back and feet or other body parts.
  • Chock: A metal wedge placed into a crack as a form of protection. Also known as a nut.
  • Choss: Loose or friable rock that is often unstable. Climbing on chossy rock can be dangerous due to the risk of holds or pieces of the rock breaking off.
  • Clean: The process of removing all gear from a route after it has been climbed, typically done by the last climber or the second climber in a party.
  • Climber: A person who engages in the activity of climbing.
  • Climbing: The act of ascending vertical or near-vertical natural rock formations or artificial rock walls.
  • Climbing Gym: An indoor facility equipped with artificial rock walls designed for climbing.
  • Climbing Shoes: Specialized footwear designed for rock climbing. They have a close fit and a smooth, sticky rubber sole to maximize grip on the rock.
  • Climbing Wall: An artificially constructed wall with grips for hands and feet, used for climbing. Found both outdoors and in climbing gyms.
  • Clip In: The act of attaching a rope or personal anchor system to a piece of protection or anchor point.
  • Clipstick: A tool used to pre-clip the first bolt on a sport climb to reduce the risk of a ground fall. Also known as a stick clip.
  • Clovehitch: A type of knot that is easy to tie and untie, often used for attaching the rope to a carabiner as part of an anchor system.
  • Cordalette: A length of cord tied into a loop, used to tie together multiple anchor points into a single central point.
  • Crack Climbing: A style of climbing that involves ascending cracks and using specialized techniques to wedge body parts into the crack for grip.
  • Crag: A term used to describe a cliff or area of rock that is suitable for climbing.
  • Crimp: A small edge or hold that is grasped with the fingertips, often requiring precise body positioning to use effectively.
  • Crash Pad (bouldering mat): A portable, cushioned mat that boulderers place on the ground to help protect them from falls.
  • Crux: The most difficult section of a climb, often requiring the most physical and mental effort to overcome.
  • Cut-Loose: A move where a climber momentarily loses all contact with the rock or wall with their feet, typically to swing or reposition their body.
Alex Megos Action Directe 9a
Alex Megos cutting loosing on Action Directe

D

  • Dab: An accidental touch of the ground or a pad with the body or foot while bouldering. In competitions or strict climbing ethics, a dab can invalidate an attempt.
  • Daisy Chain: A specialized strap used in climbing for a variety of purposes, including attaching gear to harnesses, extending anchor points, or as a personal anchor system. It consists of a series of loops stitched together at intervals.
  • Deadpoint: A climbing technique where the climber reaches for a hold at the apex of upward motion. This minimizes the energy used and reduces the chance of peeling off the wall.
  • Deep Water Solo: Climbing above water without the use of ropes or harnesses, where the water below serves as the protection in case of a fall. Also known as psicobloc.
  • Dihedral: An inside corner where two rock faces meet, often requiring specific techniques to navigate. Climbers use both sides of the corner for balance and progression.
  • Dirtbag: A term of endearment within the climbing community to describe climbers who dedicate their lives to climbing, often living a minimalist lifestyle to maximize their time on the rock.
  • Downclimb: The act of descending a route or problem that has been climbed up. Downclimbing is often used when bouldering or to safely return to the ground or a previous position on a route.
  • Drag: The resistance felt by a climber when the rope runs through protection points or around corners. High drag can make climbing and rope management more difficult.
  • Drop Knee: A technique used to increase reach and improve leverage on steep terrain. The climber drops one knee towards the wall, rotating the hip and allowing for a greater range of motion.
  • Dynamic Belaying: A belaying technique that involves giving a controlled amount of slack and moving in coordination with a climber’s fall to soften the impact of the stop.
  • Dynamic Rope: A type of climbing rope designed to stretch under load, absorbing the energy of a fall and reducing the force on the climber and gear. This elasticity is crucial for lead climbing.
  • Dyno: A dynamic move where the climber jumps or lunges to reach a hold that is too far away to grasp from a static position. Dynos require precise timing and power.
Jakob Shcubert on Es Pontas
Jakob Schubert on Es Pontas – ©instagram.com/jakob.schubert/

E

  • Edge: A technique similar to edging, but also refers to the sharp or distinct part of a rock or hold that can be used for grip.
  • Edging: Standing on a small foothold with the edge of the climbing shoe to maximize contact and grip. This technique allows climbers to support their weight on very small features.
  • Elvis Legs: Also known as “sewing machine leg,” this term describes the involuntary shaking of a climber’s leg caused by muscle fatigue, tension, or fear. It’s humorously named after Elvis Presley’s leg-shaking performance style.
  • Equalized: Refers to an anchor setup where the load is evenly distributed among all anchor points. This is crucial for safety, ensuring that no single point bears too much of the load.
  • ERNEST (acronym): A mnemonic device used to remember the key components of a safe climbing anchor. It stands for Equalized, Redundant, No Extension, Solid (points), and Timely (efficiently built).
  • Etrier: A webbing ladder used in aid climbing to ascend steep pitches where free climbing is not possible. Climbers clip the etrier to a piece of protection and then step into the loops to make upward progress.
  • Exposure: The sensation of being high off the ground or in a precarious position while climbing, which can be exhilarating or intimidating. Exposure often increases the psychological challenge of a climb.

F

  • Face Climbing: Climbing on vertical faces using small holds for hands and feet rather than cracks.
  • Figure 4: A climbing move used in ice climbing and mixed climbing where one leg is hooked over the opposite arm, creating a “4” shape, to reach higher holds.
  • Figure 8 Belay Device: A belay device shaped like an 8, used for belaying or rappelling. Its design allows for smooth control of the rope but requires proper technique to prevent accidents (very old-school belay device).
  • Figure 8 Knot: A common knot used in climbing to tie the rope to the climber’s harness. It’s known for its strength and ease of inspection.
  • Figure 9: Also used in ice climbing where the leg is hooked over the same arm.
  • Finger Jam: Inserting fingers into a crack and then twisting or clenching them to create a secure grip.
  • Fingerboard (Hangboard): A training device with various grips, used to strengthen fingers and arms by hanging or performing pull-ups.
  • Fisherman’s Knot: A knot used to tie two ends of a rope or two ropes together, often used for tying off a belay loop or creating a prusik loop.
  • First Ascent: The initial successful, documented climb of a route or mountain.
  • First Free Ascent: The first ascent of a route without the use of aid climbing techniques, using only natural rock features for progression.
  • Fist Jam: A technique where the climber inserts their fist into a crack and then expands it to create friction and hold their weight.
  • Fixed Rope: A rope that is anchored to the rock or route for the purpose of aiding climbers or providing a safety line.
  • Flag (Flagging): A technique where a climber extends one leg out to the side to counterbalance or reach a new position. It’s used to maintain balance or to position the body more efficiently.
  • Flake: A feature on the rock that protrudes outward, which can be used as a hold or for protection placement.
  • Flapper: A type of climbing injury where a piece of skin peels back from the hand or finger, often caused by friction against the rock.
  • Flash: Successfully climbing a route on the first attempt with prior knowledge of the route from watching others or receiving beta.
  • Flash Pump: The rapid onset of muscle fatigue and lactic acid buildup in the forearms after beginning to climb, often experienced when a climber attempts a route without adequate warm-up.
  • Font Grade: A bouldering grading system originating from Fontainebleau, France. It uses a combination of letters and numbers to indicate difficulty.
  • Foot Jam: A technique where the climber wedges their foot into a crack for support.
  • Free Climbing: Climbing using only the natural features of the rock for progression, with ropes and protection used only to prevent injury in case of a fall.
  • Free Rappel: Rappelling without being belayed or without using an anchor for assistance, relying solely on the friction of the rappel device and the climber’s control.
  • Free Solo: Climbing without the use of ropes, harnesses, or protective gear, relying entirely on the climber’s ability to prevent a fall.
  • FreeBASE: Pioneered by Dean Potter, a combination of free solo climbing and BASE jumping, where a climber ascends without ropes and then parachutes down from the top.
  • Frenchies: A pull-up variation used in training, where the climber pulls up, locks off at various angles, then lowers slowly to increase arm strength and endurance.
  • Friend: A brand name often used generically to refer to spring-loaded camming devices (SLCDs) used for protection in cracks.
  • Friction: The resistance that allows climbers to grip holds and stand on sloping surfaces, crucial for both handholds and footholds.
  • Full Crimp: A grip technique where the fingers are bent sharply at the knuckles and the thumb is placed over the index finger, creating a powerful but potentially injurious position.
Dean Potter free soloing the Eiger
Dean Potter free soloing the Eiger with his freeBASE parachute

G

  • Gate: The part of a carabiner that opens and closes to allow the rope or other devices to be clipped in. Gates can be straight, bent, wire, or locking, each serving different purposes in climbing.
  • Gaston: A move where a climber presses outward against holds with their hands, effectively pushing against one hold while their feet push against another, allowing upward movement or balance.
  • Grade: A system used to rate the difficulty of climbs. Different systems are used for bouldering, sport climbing, and traditional climbing, such as the V-scale for bouldering and the Yosemite Decimal System for sport/trad climbing.
  • GriGri: A brand of assisted braking belay device manufactured by Petzl. It uses a camming mechanism to automatically lock the rope in the event of a fall, making it popular for sport climbing.
  • Gripped: A term used to describe a climber who is feeling scared or anxious while climbing, which can lead to a tightening grip on the holds and potentially faster fatigue.
  • Ground Fall: A fall that results in the climber hitting the ground, often due to insufficient protection, belay error, or gear failure. Ground falls are particularly dangerous and can result in serious injury.
  • Ground Up: An approach to climbing a route where attempts start from the bottom and progress as high as possible without prior practice or inspection from above. Each subsequent attempt begins again from the ground, as opposed to “top-down” or “headpoint” tactics.
  • Girth Hitch: A simple yet versatile knot used to attach a sling or loop of webbing to a harness, piece of gear, or anchor. It’s created by passing one end of the sling through the other.
  • Gumby: A colloquial term, sometimes used affectionately or humorously, to describe a novice or inexperienced climber. It can also refer to climbers who lack awareness of climbing etiquette or safety practices.
  • Gym: Short for climbing gym, an indoor facility equipped with artificial climbing walls, bouldering areas, and sometimes training equipment like campus boards or hangboards. Climbing gyms offer a controlled environment for learning, training, and community building among climbers.
Climber gaston climbing
Rock Climber Gastoning

H

  • Half Crimp: A grip technique that is less aggressive than a full crimp, with the fingers bent at the knuckles but the thumb not placed over the fingers, reducing the risk of injury.
  • Hand Jam: A technique where the climber inserts their hand into a crack and then expands it to create friction and hold their weight.
  • Handhold: Any feature on the rock or climbing wall that can be gripped with the hands.
  • Hanging Belay: A belay station where the belayer is suspended off the ground, typically used on multi-pitch climbs where no suitable ledge is available.
  • Harness: A piece of safety equipment worn by climbers around the waist and thighs to secure them to the rope or anchor points.
  • Haul Bag: A durable bag used in big wall climbing to carry equipment, food, water, and clothing up the climb.
  • Headpoint: The practice of working a route on top-rope with the specific aim of later climbing it lead without falling.
  • Headwall: The steep upper section of a climb or mountain, often the most challenging part.
  • Heel Hook: Using the heel to hook a hold, often to maintain balance or leverage.
  • Heel-Toe Cam: A technique where the climber places their foot in a crack in such a way that the heel and toe press against opposite sides, creating a camming action for stability.
  • Hexentric (Hex): A type of passive protection that is hexagonal in shape and can be placed in constrictions in the rock to arrest a fall.
  • Highball: A tall boulder problem where a fall could result in serious injury, blurring the line between bouldering and solo climbing.
  • Hold: Any part of the rock or artificial feature that can be used for progress up a climb.
  • Hook: A small piece of climbing gear designed to catch on small rock features, used in aid climbing.
  • Hueco: A Spanish word meaning “hole,” used to describe large pockets in the rock. Also, a famous bouldering destination in Texas.
Alex Megos climbing The Finnish Line
Alex on The Finnish Line (highball boulder)

I

  • Ice Axe: A tool used in ice climbing and mountaineering to gain purchase in the ice.
  • Ice Climbing: Climbing on ice formations with specialized equipment like ice axes and crampons.
  • Ice Screw: A screw-like device used in ice climbing to create an anchor point in the ice.
  • IFSC: International Federation of Sport Climbing, the governing body for competitive climbing worldwide.
  • Indoor Climbing: Climbing on artificial walls inside a gym, used for training, recreation, and competition.
Climber on ice with ice axes

J

  • Jamming: A technique used in crack climbing where the climber wedges a body part (hand, foot, etc.) into the crack to create friction and support.
  • Jib: A very small foothold or handhold, often used in indoor climbing.
  • Jug: A large, easily gripped hold.
  • Jumar: A device used for ascending on a fixed rope, named after the brand that popularized it.

K

  • Kilonewton (kN): A unit of force measurement used to rate the strength of climbing equipment.
  • Kilter Board: A brand of adjustable-angle training board with symmetrical holds and LED-guided problems, allowing for a wide range of training exercises and route settings.
  • Knee Pad: Protective gear worn on the knees to protect them during climbing, especially useful in crack climbing and knee-barring.
  • Kneebar: A technique where the climber traps a leg between the rock and their body for support, often used to take weight off the arms.
kilter board training
The KilterBoard Illuminates the route you are climbing

L

  • Last (Shoes): The mold around which a climbing shoe is built, determining its overall shape and fit.
  • Layback: Climbing a feature by leaning back and pulling with the arms while pushing with the feet.
  • Lead Climber: The climber who ascends the route first, placing protection and clipping the rope as they go.
  • Lead Climbing: Climbing where the climber ascends with the rope below them, clipping into protection placed on the route to arrest a fall.
  • Lead Fall: A fall taken by the lead climber before clipping into the next point of protection.
  • Ledge: A flat or nearly flat horizontal surface on a climb, often providing a rest point or used as a belay station.
  • Leg Loops: Part of a climbing harness that wraps around the climber’s thighs.
  • Liquid Chalk: A liquid form of climbing chalk that dries on the hands, providing a base layer of friction.
  • Lock-Off: A technique where the climber pulls down on a hold and locks their arm to hold their body in position, often to reach for another hold.
  • Lower: To descend or to be descended by controlled release of the rope by the belayer.
climber taking huge whip while climbing

M

  • Mantel: A technique used to surmount a ledge, similar to climbing out of a swimming pool.
  • Mixed Climbing: Climbing that involves both ice and rock surfaces, requiring a variety of techniques and equipment.
  • Mono Pocket: A small hold that only fits one finger, requiring significant finger strength to use.
  • Moonboard: A standardized climbing wall used for training, with holds set in a fixed pattern and connected to an app for problems.
  • Multi-Pitch: Climbing routes that are longer than a single rope length, requiring climbers to set up intermediate belay stations along the route.
  • Munter Hitch: A knot used for belaying or rappelling that can be easily tied with a single carabiner.

N

  • No Hand Rest: A position on a climb where a climber can rest without using their hands, often by wedging their body or using a knee bar.
  • Nut: A small metal device placed into cracks for protection.
  • Nut Key: A tool used to remove nuts and other protection that has become stuck in the rock.

O

  • Off Belay: A command indicating that the belayer can stop belaying, as the climber is secure.
  • Ohm: A resistance device used in climbing to increase rope friction and reduce the force of a fall, especially useful in situations where there is a significant weight difference between the climber and belayer.
  • On Belay: A command indicating that the belayer is ready and attentive to the climber.
  • Onsight: Successfully climbing a route on the first attempt without prior knowledge of the route.
  • Open Crimp: A hand position where the fingers are bent over a hold but the thumb is not wrapped over the fingers, reducing stress on the tendons.
  • Open Project: A climbing route that has been attempted but not yet successfully climbed, open for anyone to attempt the first ascent.
  • Overhang: A section of rock that leans outward over the climber, often requiring more strength and technique to navigate.
  • Offwidth: A crack too wide for effective hand or fist jams but too narrow to chimney.
Kalymnos climbing
Climber on super overhanging route in Kalymnos, Greece

P

  • Paddling: A technique used in slab climbing where the climber uses open hands to balance and move up the rock.
  • Passive Protection: Gear that does not have moving parts, such as nuts and hexes, used to protect a climber in case of a fall.
  • Pendulum: A swing that occurs when a climber falls off a traverse and is left hanging from the rope.
  • Permadraw: A permanently fixed quickdraw on a route, typically found on sport climbs.
  • Personal Anchor System (PAS): A series of loops connected by a single, strong piece of webbing used by climbers to securely attach themselves to an anchor.
  • Pinch: A type of hold that is grasped with the thumb opposing the fingers.
  • Piton: A metal spike that is hammered into cracks as a form of protection.
  • Pitch: A section of a climb between two belay points.
  • Pocket: A hole or depression in the rock that can be used as a hold, varying in size from one that accommodates a single finger (mono) to one that can fit an entire hand.
  • Placement: The act of inserting protection into the rock.
  • Portaledge: A portable platform used by climbers on multi-day big wall climbs to sleep and rest.
  • Positive (Hold): A hold that offers good grip, often jutting out or providing a good edge for the climber’s fingers.
  • Problem (in Bouldering): A short, challenging route on a boulder.
  • Project: A climb that a climber has not yet completed and is working on.
  • Prusik: A friction hitch that can slide when not under tension but tightens under load, used for ascending a rope.
  • Pumped: A feeling of fatigue and lactic acid buildup in the forearms, leading to a loss of grip strength.
Climber on portaledge
Climber enjoying a cuppa in his portaledge

Q

  • Quickdraw: A set of two carabiners connected by a short sling, used to clip the rope to protection.

R

  • Rack: The collection of gear a climber carries, including protection devices, slings, and carabiners.
  • Rappel: The process of descending a route using a rope.
  • Rating: A system used to describe the difficulty of a climb.
  • Rand: The rubber strip that runs around the edge of a climbing shoe, providing durability and aiding in toe hooks.
  • Redpoint: Successfully climbing a route after having practiced it.
  • Redundant: A safety principle in climbing that involves using multiple protection points or systems to ensure no single point of failure.
  • Roof: A horizontal or near-horizontal section of rock that requires climbers to navigate upside down.
  • Rope Bag: A bag designed to store and transport a climbing rope.
  • Rope Drag: Friction on the rope caused by its path through protection points.
  • Rope Jumping: An extreme form of climbing where the climber intentionally falls from a high point.
  • Route: A path up a rock face or climbing wall.
  • Runout: A section of a climb where there is a significant distance between protection points.
  • Runner: A piece of webbing or sling used to extend protection points or create anchors.
  • Rails: Long, narrow holds that can be gripped with the hand fully extended, often used for traversing.
climber rope jumping
Daniel Bosch on his first rope swing at Taft Point. ©Justin Olsen

S

  • Sandbag: A climb that is significantly harder than its given rating suggests.
  • Scramble: Easy climbing or moving over rock, using hands for balance, not usually considered technical climbing.
  • Screw On: Small holds that are screwed directly onto a climbing wall, often used for foot placements.
  • Seconding: Following the lead climber, usually removing protection placed by the leader.
  • Self Belay: A method of belaying yourself, often used in solo climbing.
  • SERENE (acronym): A mnemonic for the ideal qualities of a climbing anchor: Solid, Equalized, Redundant, Efficient, No Extension.
  • Send: To complete a climb without falling.
  • SERENE: An acronym used to describe the ideal qualities of a climbing anchor: Solid, Equalized, Redundant, Efficient, No Extension.
  • Sheath: The outer layer of a climbing rope, protecting the core strands and providing durability.
  • Shock Load: The sudden force applied to an anchor or protection point when a fall is arrested.
  • Sidepull: A hold that is grasped with a sideways pull towards the body.
  • Single Rope: A rope designed for use by itself for belaying and rappelling, as opposed to half or twin ropes.
  • Single Runner: A single length of webbing or sling used as a runner.
  • Sit Start: Beginning a boulder problem from a seated position.
  • Sky Hook: A small hook used for aid climbing, placed on tiny rock features.
  • Slab Climbing: Climbing on low-angle, smooth rock faces where friction is key.
  • Slack: The loose portion of the rope, needing to be managed to prevent excessive fall distances.
  • Slackline: A practice involving walking, balancing, and performing acrobatics on a suspended length of flat webbing that is tensioned between two anchors. While not exclusively a climbing term, slacklining is popular among climbers for improving balance, core strength, and focus, skills that are beneficial for rock climbing.
  • Sling: A loop of webbing used in creating anchors or extending protection points.
  • Slopers: Rounded holds that require an open-handed grip and rely heavily on friction and body positioning to maintain contact.
  • Smear: Using the rubber of the shoe to gain traction on the rock without a defined foothold, pressing the foot against the rock to create friction.
  • Solo Climbing: Climbing alone without a belay partner, which can include free soloing (without any protective gear) or solo aid climbing (with gear).
  • Speed Climbing: A discipline where climbers race up a wall on identical routes, either against a clock or head-to-head in competition.
  • Sport Climbing: Climbing routes that are protected with pre-placed bolts and anchors, requiring climbers to clip in as they ascend.
  • Spotting: The act of providing a measure of safety for a climber on a boulder problem by positioning oneself to redirect the climber’s fall away from hazards.
  • Spraying Beta: Offering unsolicited advice or information about a climb, often considered poor etiquette unless requested.
  • Static Rope: A rope with very little stretch, used primarily for rappelling, top-roping, or as a fixed line, but not suitable for lead climbing due to its lack of dynamic properties.
  • Stemming: A technique where a climber uses opposing forces with legs and/or arms between two surfaces to maintain balance and support.
  • Stickclip: A tool used to clip the first bolt from the ground on a sport climb to reduce the risk of a ground fall before the climber is protected.
  • Stopper Knot: A knot tied at the end of a rope to prevent it from passing through a belay device, ensuring the climber cannot fall off the end of the rope.
  • Simul Climbing: A technique where two climbers move at the same time while roped together, placing gear and clipping in as they go, used to speed up long routes.
Dean Potter Moonwalk slackline
Dean Potter slacklining with a full moon. This is one of the most iconic slacklining photos. ©Mikey Schaefer for Natgeo

T

  • Take: A command given by the climber to the belayer requesting tension on the rope, usually indicating the climber wishes to rest or is about to fall.
  • Tape: Adhesive tape used for protecting climbers’ fingers and hands from cuts, abrasions, and skin wear.
  • Tension Board: An adjustable-angle training board with symmetrical holds, allowing for a wide range of training exercises.
  • Testpiece: A climb that represents the pinnacle of difficulty for its grade or style, often a benchmark for climbers.
  • Toe Hook: Using the top of the toe or the toe box of the climbing shoe to hook onto a hold or feature.
  • Top Out: Completing a climb by physically climbing over the top edge of the rock or boulder.
  • Toprope: Climbing with the rope anchored at the top of the climb, minimizing the distance a climber can fall.
  • Trad Climbing: Traditional climbing, where climbers place all necessary protection (cams, nuts) as they ascend and remove it when descending or after completion.
  • Traverse: Climbing horizontally across a rock face or climbing wall.
  • Tricam: A piece of climbing protection that can act as both passive and active gear, useful in a variety of crack shapes.
  • Tubular Belay Device: A belay device with a tubular shape that allows the rope to be easily fed through and controlled, suitable for belaying and rappelling.
  • Tufa: A rock formation found in limestone areas, characterized by its long, tube-like structures that climbers can grip.
First Round First Minute Climb
Alex Megos tufa wresting on Frist Round, First Minute

U

  • UIAA: Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme, the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation, which sets safety standards for climbing and mountaineering equipment.
  • Undercling: Gripping a hold from beneath and pulling upwards, often used to leverage moves to higher holds.

V

  • V-Grade: A grading system for bouldering problems, starting from V0 and increasing in difficulty. Currently, the hardest grade is a V17.

W

  • Webbing: Flat or tubular nylon or dyneema material used for making slings, anchors, and other climbing equipment.
  • Whipper: A long, often dramatic fall, especially on lead climbs, where the climber falls a significant distance before being caught by the rope.

Z

Z Clipping: A mistake made while lead climbing, where the climber clips the rope into a protection point with a section of rope from below the previous clip, creating a potentially dangerous situation.

Climbing Terminology FAQs

The Climbing Terminology Library

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