A Complete List of Climbing Terms

rock climbing terms

Maybe you found out about climbing after getting involved with the booming trend of indoor climbing.

Or maybe you have been studying the rosters of the IFSC and hoping to join the ranks of elite sports climbers.

Either way, you definitely came across more than a few technical terms and jargon related to climbing. Though understanding rock climbing terms may seem daunting at first, they get picked up soon enough through practice or reference.

We can’t do the practicing for you, but we can provide a reference. So read along and keep this one bookmarked to sling the ling like a pro.

Useful Rock Climbing Terms

We’ve broken down the terms into some general categories to help you out. We’re listing them alphabetically for quick reference. This list contains things needed to know but isn’t an exhaustive list of all rock climbing terms, that kind of list can be book-length.

Gear Terms

Rock climbing takes a lot of specialized gear to keep you safe and help you be your best. Looking for gear? Check out our fine list of retailers.

Auto-Lock

Devices, like carabiners, that have a spring-loaded gate that locks automatically without needing manual locking.

Belay Device

A device that catches a climber when falling. Locks to a rope in place and prevents falling further than a set belaying point.

Bolt

Strong metal closed rings drilled into a rock. They expand to be secure. Often used for sport climbing routes.

Bouldering Pad

Durable pads of dense foam placed in problem areas to provide a landing zone when bouldering. They often fold and have straps to carry in backpack form.

Camming Device

A device that rotates to wedge into pockets or cracks. Trad Climbing routes use these to protect climbers from falls.

Carabiner

A spring-loaded gate on one side assists this loop of metal in connecting climbing gear. Used in a variety of situations with ropes and other anchor types.

Chalk Bag

A bag containing chalk sued to dry hands while climbing. Often these attach to the back of a harness or a waist belt.

Dynamic Rope

A rope which stretches under tension. Used to absorb some impact when a climber falls.

Gri-Gri

A brand named auto-locking belay device.

Harness

Webbing and/or belts attached to legs and buckled securely. Worn by climbers with a rope tied through the harness. Belay devices and gear can be attached to a harness at various points.

Hex

A six-sided chock that is hollow, wired, or slung. Used for wide cracks in bigger sizes.

Nut

Small, wedge-shaped metal piece attached to a wire. Jammed in cracks to provide protection on trad routes.

Protection

Any of the range of equipment and devices attached to a rock. The intent of each is to reduce the distance a climber falls when they come off the rock.

Quickdraw

Non-locking carabiners joined by webbing. These attach ropes to protection.

Rack

A term for the collection of climbing gear needed for a specific route.

Sling

A runner clipped into protection. Often sewn shoulder-length nylon.

Static Rope

Used for climbing without the absorbing property of dynamic rope. Used commonly for abseiling, rescues, and caving.

Climbing Moves

Working with others makes climbing better (and safer). Knowing how to communicate quickly is essential. These are the rock climbing terms to yell at a partner when you don’t want to take a tumble.

Abseil (Rappel)

Descending from a rock on a fixed rope. Belay devices commonly are employed for better control.

Anchor

Points throughout a climb where rope is attached to the rock.

Armbar

The arm is inserted into a crack and the wrist or forearm placed flat against one wall and the elbow cammed against the other.

Backstep

Pressing of a shoe’s external edge onto a foothold with the knee dropped lightly. The purpose is to push from the position.

Barndoor

As a result of unbalanced positioning, the climber swings off the rock.

Belay

The method of rope control through anchor, belayer, and belay device.

Camming

Turning a body part or device to make a hold more secure.

Chicken-Wing

A placing of a creased elbow into a dihedral corner or an off-width.

Dyno

Short for a dynamic movement used to swap from one hold to another. This often involves a dead point where the rock is not being touched.

Edging

Using the edge of the foot instead of the sole to place weight on a small foothold.

Fingerlock

A hold that utilizes the fingers in a small crack and then twisting the weight across the lowest knuckle.

Fist Jam

Placing the whole fist in a crack to add stability or prepare for upwards movement.

Flag

Draping one leg across the other can be in front of our outside of, and the flagged leg’s toe gets pointed into the rock.

Gaston

A layback maneuver with the fingers faced inward, as if ready to pry open a door.

Hand Jam

A smaller fist jam where only the flat hand can fit.

Heel Hook

The heel hooks onto a foothold or edge to aid in securing a rock position.

High-Step

One foot is placed high and the climber pushes to reach up.

Kneebar

A leg-hold used against blocky or roofy features which cams the knee/thigh. Used to de-pump in some situations.

Layback

Weight gets shifted to one side to create tension between the back and feet. The climber then walks up the wall.

Mantel

Used to get onto a ledge, climbers press down with their hands and lift the body until the legs and feet can be placed on the ledge.

Pump

A swollen sensation in the forearms from climbing. A result of lactic acid and blood flow restriction.

Smear

Use of the foot sole to create friction on a rock and move upward.

Stem

Forcing the legs into an opposed leg splits position.

Step Through

Used to move sideways, this technique uses both feet one inside and one outside to move.

Undercling

Pulling on a downward facing handhold to create tension for an upward facing foothold.

Climbing Methods

These rock climbing terms define climbing concepts and climb types.

Approach

A route planned to get to the base of a climb.

Beta

Climb or route information that comes from a secondary source like word of mouth or a book.

Bolted Route

A route for sport climbing along pre-placed bolts and anchors. Quickdraws and rope usually preset to protect climbers.

Bomb-Proof

An anchor that is known to be secure and beyond reproach.

Bouldering

Low to the ground climbing done without ropes. Bouldering features ‘problems’ instead of routes. Spotters and pads are used for protection.

Clean

Removal of all protection placed during a climb. Cleaning can be done as the ascension procedes, or during the rappel after.

Deadpoint

The highest point achieved by a lunge right before weightlessness stops. Does not always include the body being separate from the rock.

Figure of 8 Knot

A knot that tightens under load. Used to secure climbers to ropes via a harness, resembles a figure 8.

Flash

The use of prior knowledge through beta to make a clean route from beginning to end on one attempt without falls.

Free Solo Climbing

A risky climb with no ropes or belay system. Normally done on routes that use ropes and protection for safety.

Lead Climbing

A lead climber attaches rope to bolts as they climb past. The goal is to attach rope before climbing beyond a piece of protection.

Multi-Pitch

A route that requires more than one length of rope. This can be done with multiple ropes or moving the second climber to belay from the top position of the first pitch.

On-Sight

A clean ascent from begging to end with no falls and no prior knowledge of the climb.

Pitch

A route which requires less than one full length of rope to climb.

Redpoint

A clean climb without falls after any amount of practice or attempts.

Runout

A place where the distance between protection creates an opportunity for big falls.

Send

A clean ascent from beginning to end without a fall or any rest from placed gear and ropes.

Sport Climbing

Climbing done using pre-placed bolts and protection where the climber anchors as they ascend.

Top Out

A climb where a climber walks back to the base via a trail without a need to rappel from the top.

Top Roping

Climb in which the rope gets anchored to the top of the route. One end of the rope is attached to the belayer and the other the top so that any fall from any point in the climb is covered.

Trad Climbing

Short for traditional climbing, this involves lead and second climbers that place protection along the route and clean once a top rope is anchored.

 

Terrain Features

The following rock climbing terms deal with the physical features of rock. Many of these terms get used in guidebooks.

Arete

A wall edge that stands at an acute angle.

Chimney

A verticle crack in rock into which you can fit your whole body. Often climbed with a layback.

Crag

An outdoor climbing area that can be climbed with one or more techniques or routes.

Crimp

A small or thin climbing hold.

Crux

A term representing the most difficult section of a climb.

Dihedral

A clean corner opened at 90 degrees.

Flare

A hole or crack where the mouth is wider than the back.

Jug

A secure and deep large handhold which is easy to use.

Off-Width

Smaller than a chimney but larger than a fist. A crack which offers challenges in which technique to best use.

Overhang

A steep protrusion that goes from verticle to hanging over the rock face.

Pocket

Small holes divets or hollows. These isolate finger tendons and can be difficult to manage.

Sloper

A shallow climbing hold. Friction and tension are used to make use of the hold.

Steep

Much like traditional use, a steep indicates an overhung route.

 

Climbing Roles

Lead

First climber on an ascent that places gear.

Second

Second climber that cleans on an ascent or follows the lead.

Spotter

A person working to break the fall of a boulderer or indicate the location of problems. They try to direct boulders to prevent sudden falls or to offer protection when one occurs.

Keep Reaching

Now that you have the rock climbing terms down, engage with other climbers as they share their tips and tricks on our blog.