A Guide to Rock Climbing Terms and Jargon

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If you’re new to climbing or hang around people who enjoy the sport, you’ve probably heard some words that make you scratch your head in confusion. Flashing a route? Sounds inappropriate. Sending a project? Probably something better left for your day job.

As a climber myself, I know how difficult it can be to understand these climbing terms when you’re first starting out. You want to know what’s going on, but you also feel a little embarrassed to ask what a certain word means. I’ve been there and totally get it.

That’s why I put together a list of the climbing terms that I hear most often when I’m in the gym or out at the crag. Check it out and impress your friends the next time you decide to enjoy an evening of climbing!

A-B

woman sport climbing

Abseil: Another word for “rappel.” To lower oneself on a rope, usually with a belay device for a slow, smooth descent. 

Accessory Cord: Static cord, usually smaller in size and diameter than climbing rope. Used for anchor building, slings, emergency tie offs, and prusiks. 

Active protection: Pieces of protection that have a moving part, like a spring, such as tube chocks and certain camming devices. 

Aid Climbing: To ascend a rock face using only the rope, bolts, foot slings, and other pieces of gear, instead of the rock features. Opposite of free climbing.

Anchor: A point of attachment for the climbing rope. Can be in the form of quickdraws on bolts to make a top rope anchor, accessory cord, or equipment placed anywhere on a route.

Approach: The route leading to the base of a climb. Depending on where someone is climbing, this can be anywhere from a few hundred feet to several miles long.

Ascender: A mechanical device used to climb a fixed rope. It’s possible to slide it up, but it won’t slide back down.

ATC: Short for “Air Traffic Control,” an ATC is one of the most common belay devices, especially for beginners. Used for belaying and rappelling, ATCs are a good one stop shop for those climbing on a budget.

Barndoor: Swinging out sideways from the rock face. Usually due to being off balance, and can often be prevented by flagging.

Bolts: Expansion metal drilled into the rock to be used for protection in sport and aid climbing. Hangers are attached to the bolt, allowing the climber to place protection. 

Belay: The system that stops a fall. Made up of ropes and various tools, a belayer uses the system to apply friction on the rope to catch a climber’s fall.

Beta: Information on a route. 

Bight: A bend or fold in the rope.

Bottleneck: The place in a crack where the sides converge. Good for placing passive protection.

C

Camelot: A piece of active protection developed by Black Diamond.

Carabiner: A carabiner is a metal loop designed to attach various parts of the climbing system together. Has a spring loaded gate that comes in a few different formats, such as screwgate, wire gate, straight gate, and bent gate.

Chalk: Magnesium carbonate, or gymnast’s chalk, is a substance used to keep a climber’s hands dry to aid with grip.

Clean: To retrieve all of one’s gear while being lowered down a route. Also refers to a follower taking back all of the gear that the leader placed.

Clove hitch: An easy knot to do with one or both hands to secure the climbing rope to an anchor.

Cordalette: A long section of 6mm cord used to build a 3 point anchor system.

Core: The inner fibers of a rope. See sheath. 

Crack: Any fissure in the rock face. They come in various sizes, and can be used as hand and foot holds.

Crag: A commonly used term to refer to any climbing area.

Crash pad: A crash pad is a portable mat designed to cushion your fall while bouldering.

Crimp: A type of climbing hold. Characterized by small edges that one can barely hang onto.

Crux: The hardest part of a route. Can be a single move or a series of moves. 

D-E

man trad climbing a crack

Daisy Chain: Multiple loops of a runner linked together. Often used by aid climbers and anchor builders.

Dihedral: The place where two rock faces intersect, often allowing the climber to put counter pressure on both sides in order to climb. 

Double Figure 8: The most common knot used to secure the climbing rope to your harness.

Drag: Friction created by the rope passing through protection. Usually refers to the rope creating a zigzag pattern, causing multiple bends to form, making it harder for the rope to slide through. 

Drop Knee: A climbing technique in which the climber places their foot and then twists their leg until the knee is pointed down. Helps keep one’s hips close to the wall, and lowers their center of gravity.

Dynamic: Ropes that stretch in order to absorb kinetic force, and the only type of rope someone should climb on.

Dyno: A dynamic movement that involves the climber releasing both of their hands in order to jump to a different hold. Can be done vertically or horizontally. 

Edging: Using the edge of one’s climbing shoes to stand on tiny chips and ledges. 

F

Face: The smooth part of the wall, as opposed to areas with cracks.

Flag: A way to stay balanced on the wall, flagging allows you to counterbalance yourself by sticking your free leg out. Depending on how much balance you need, the angle of your leg can be adjusted.

Flash: To ascend a route without taking a break or falling, usually after prior inspection or receiving beta.

Follow: To come after the first climber – to second the climb. This person usually retrieves all of the gear placed by the lead climber.

Free Climb: Climbing while only using your hands and feet. The rope is used for protection, not to help your scale the wall.

Free Solo: Climbing without a belay, usually far above the ground. Can be extremely dangerous.

Friction: A type of climbing that relies on technique and footwork to climb a smooth wall with few positive edges. By spreading out the surface area of the shoe soles on the rock, it’s possible to “stick” to the wall and climb.

G-J

person climbing with a rack of camelots

Gaston: A type of climbing hold. The climber turns their palm away from them with their thumb pointing down, pushing against a rock feature. 

Gate: The opening of a carabiner.

Girth Hitch: A knot made by wrapping a rope around a fixed object and looping it back through itself.

GriGri: An assisted braking belay device designed by Petzl.

Hanger: A metal loop attached to a bolt. Used to clip quickdraws into for protection.

Hanging belay: To belay while being suspended in the air by one’s harness. Usually done on multipitch routes.

Harness: A leg loop and belt system designed to secure the climber to a rope.

Helmet: A rock climbing helmet protects your head from falling rocks, or a nose dive into the ground.

Jam: To wedge a finger, hand, or foot into a crack in order to create resistance and pull oneself upward.

Jug: Loved by all rock climbers, beginners especially, a jug is a hold that’s easy to grip. 

K-O

Kilonewton: A unit to measure force equivalent to 224.8 lbs. You’ll find that climbing equipment is rated using the symbol kN to determine how much force it can withstand during a fall.

Lead: Typically referring to sport or trad climbing, the first person to climb a route is the leader.

Lower: The act of a belayer bringing the climber back to the ground, by letting the rope slide through the belay device.

Mantel: A climbing technique in which the climber pushes down on a ledge in order to get their feet on the same ledge.

Multipitch: A route that’s longer than the length of a rope.

Munter Hitch: A useful knot that allows someone to belay, when used with a carabiner. Helpful if a belay device isn’t available. 

Nut: A piece of passive protection in the shape of a piece of metal attached to a wire.

Off-width: A type of crack, too large for one’s hands but too small for a climber to chimney.

On sight: To climb a route without falling or taking a rest, with no prior information on it before climbing.

P

Pinch: As the name implies, this is a way to grab certain types of holds. With 4 fingers on one side, and your thumb on the other, it can be very secure.

Pitch: A climb that can be protected by the length of one rope. Can vary depending on the length of one’s rope.

Piton: A wedge-like piece of metal that is pounded into the rock and clipped to the rope for protection.

Placement: Putting a piece of protection in an opening in the rock.

Pocket: A type of hold. Has an opening large enough to fit 1-3 fingers, and can be shallow or deep.

Problem: A bouldering route. Called a “problem” because it usually takes some time to stare at it and figure it out.

Project: A route or series of moves that is worked on for a long period of time. Generally something that the individual can’t climb at first, so they train on it until they’re able to climb it.

Protection: All devices used to connect the climbing rope to the rock face to prevent the climber from falling to the ground.

Prusik: A type of friction knot used in rappelling and ascending. 

Pumped: Usually referring to the forearms – feeling weak or in pain from overuse of the muscles. 

Q-R

man rappelling down a rock face

Quickdraw: A quickdraw is a piece of protection found in sport climbing. Characterized by two carabiners joined together by a sling.

Rack: A sling full of gear, or the protection that will be used on a climb.

Rappel: The art of lowering oneself down a fixed line. See abseil.

Ratings: A rating is a numerical value denoting the relative difficulty of a route.

Redpoint: To climb a route without falling or putting weight on the rope. Doesn’t matter how many attempts have been made.

Redundant: To have more than a single anchor. If one anchor pulls out or breaks, it’s important to have a backup.

Retire: Getting rid of old, worn out gear that is no longer safe to use.

Route: The series of moves up a particular climb.

Runner: Nylon webbing sewn or tied into a loop to be used for anchor building or attaching the rope to protection.

Runout: The distance between a climber and the last piece of protection.

S-W

Screamer: Taking a huge fall on a rope – unsurprisingly, it’s often accompanied by screaming.

Screwgate: A type of locking carabiner.

Second: To come after the leader.

Send: Slang for “ascend,” usually referring to a climber making it all the way to the top of a route.

Sheath: The outer fibers of a rope, surrounding the core.

Slab: A type of rock face characterized by a smooth, flat wall.

Sloper: A type of climbing hold. Characterized by a smooth, rounded surface that’s difficult to grip. Requires pressure and friction to use properly.

Smear: To place one’s feet against the wall, using friction and surface area to climb instead of edges on the rock face. Usually used on slab.

Static: Ropes that don’t stretch. Good for rappelling and anchor building, but can be dangerous if used for climbing.

Stemming: Climbing technique where an individual pushes out against the wall on either side of them, as in a chimney or dihedral. 

Undercling: A type of hold. Pressure is applied on the underside of a hold as a climber pulls on it.

Webbing: Nylon tape used to make a variety of climbing accessories, such as slings.

Whipper: A very long fall.

Want to Learn More About Rock Climbing?

What is Rock Climbing? Types and Ratings
How to Take Care of Your Climbing Shoes

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Spencer Yeomans

Spencer Yeomans

A lover of the outdoors, and especially the mountains, Spencer has always enjoyed pushing people to step outside their comfort zones. His mission is to help others get out of their homes to have fun and stay active in nature.

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