When I first started climbing I was so engrossed by the intensity of the sport that I failed to even notice all the technical lingo and rock climbing terms that were apparently kicking around. My focus was on not freaking out each time I got above a certain height. Or on using my feet properly and not trying to use my weenie arms to get me to the top. But as I became more at ease on the rock and I started venturing out to local crags with ‘proper’ climbers, I found myself totally bombarded by what seemed like a foreign language. Terms that I’m sure must have been used at the climbing gym, but I was too preoccupied to notice.
Already feeling out of my depth in this new and exciting world of outdoor climbing, I desperately needed to catch up on this complex and scary language that I was expected to understand. Thankfully I found that most of the people I climbed with were (more than) happy to share their knowledge with me to help me learn the difference between my on-sights and off-widths! But there were certainly times when I was left trying (and failing) to figure things out for myself.
63 mega useful rock climbing terms
There is an inordinate amount of terms related to climbing. And believe it or not, most of them are actually used pretty often. There are certainly some less common words that haven’t made it onto this list, but you’ll find everything you really need to know to scrub up and learn the lingo and the most common rock climbing terms. So, hopefully you’ll not be left nodding dumbly next time someone asks you for some beta on that arete you just sent.
Abseil or rappel
When a climber descends the rock on a fixed rope. Usually a belay device is used to maintain full control.
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.
The route you take to walk/run/skip to the base of the climb. Some climbers wear specific shoes called “approach shoes” for this.
The edge of a wall that is at an acute angle like that of a corner of a building.
A mechanism or system that securely locks without having to manually lock it. Auto-locking carabiners have a spring-loaded gate that twists and locks when closed.
When a climber swings away from the rock as a result of being unbalanced.
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 climbing rope.
A mechanism used by a belayer that ‘catches’ a climber when they fall. The belay device, when used correctly, locks the rope in place and prevents the climber from falling any significant distance.
The person that controls the rope that is attached to the climber, ensuring that should they fall, they are protected.
Information about a climb or a route that is shared either verbally or in guide books.
A closed ring of very strong metal that is drilled into the rock to provide protection on sport 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.
A sport 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.
Protection offered by an anchor that is unquestionably secure.
A type of 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.
A durable pad filled with thick dense foam that is placed below a bouldering problem to provide a cushioned landing should the climber fall. The mats usually fold in half and have straps allowing them to be carried like a backpack.
A piece of equipment placed on a trad climbing route to protect the climber from falling far. It wedges into a pocket or crack by rotating.
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 climbing gear.
A small hand-sized bag that contains chalk used to keep your hands dry when climbing. It is usually closed with a drawstring and either clips onto the back of a climbing harness or is worn at the back of a waist belt.
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.
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.
The name used for an outdoor climbing area or the cliff/rock in which climbing can be done.
The name given to a very small or thin climbing hold.
The most technically difficult section of a climb.
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.
A slang term for a dynamic move from one climbing hold to another. A dyno requires explosive movement and often means that during the leap or lunge, the climber won’t be touching the rock at all.
A technique used to place weight on very small or thin footholds. The climber uses the edges of their feet instead of the soles.
A highly secure knot used to secure the climber to their climbing rope via the climbing harness. The knot tightens as it is loaded with weight and is woven in the shape of a figure of 8.
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 upwards movement.
When a climber uses prior knowledge and beta to ascend a route cleanly from start to finish on their first attempt, without falling.
Free solo climbing
A very high risk way of climbing. No protection from ropes and a belay system is used, and routes are often as high as routes that would usually require ropes for safety.
Made by Petzl, Gri-gri is the name given to an auto-locking belay device that acts to catch a climbers fall.
Like a fist jam, but used on smaller cracks when only a hand can fit in the crack.
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 of 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.
When a climber uses their heel to hook onto an edge or foothold to help secure their position on the rock.
A large handhold that is usually very secure and deep making it easy for the climber to hold onto it with confidence. A gift from the heavens!
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.
The first person to ascend a route by lead climbing and placing their own gear.
The first person to ascend 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.
A technique used by a 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.
A long route that needs more that one length of rope to complete. Once the lead climber reaches the top of a single 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.
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.
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.
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.
When the rock is so steep that it goes beyond vertical and hangs over the ground.
A route that can be climbed using the length of one climbing rope.
A piece of 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.
Two non-locking carabiners joined together by a length of reinforced webbing. Used to attach a rope to a bolt or piece of protection.
A collection of climbing gear needed to climb a route. This can include quickdraws, carabiners, nuts and camming devices.
When a climber ascends a route cleanly from start to finish without falling, after practising the climb over and over.
When the distance between your protection (bolts or placed gear) is further that you might feel comfortable with. Meaning a big fall would occur should you come off the rock at this point.
The second person to ascend a route, following a lead climber.
When a climber ascends a route cleanly from start to finish without falling or resting on any placed gear or ropes.
A very shallow 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.
When a climber places the sole of the foot on the relatively featureless rock and uses friction to create upward movement.
A type of 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.
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 areprotected from hitting the ground or nearby rocks.
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.
A term used to describe a climbing route that is overhung.
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.
When a climber reaches the top of a route and is able to 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.
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).
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.
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.
So, there you have it: a list of some of the most commonly used rock climbing terms you’ll come across in the climbing world. These terms will likely evolve over time and more terms will take their place. And although this list of rock climbing terms is certainly not definitive, it’s a good place to start.
If outdoor lingo is your thing, or you’re just getting in all sorts of outdoor activities, then these articles might help you get to grips with some key bits of slang and terminology to help you on your way: