You may have heard a climber say something like “the pinch wants you to barn-door so you need to flag” and wondered what they were talking about or what language they were speaking. Like every sport, climbing has its own unique jargon/language. It is common for you to go out to the cliffside or climbing gym and hear fellow climbers throwing around a bunch of terms. But what do each of these terms mean and when is the proper time to use them? No worries, I got you covered!
Here is a dictionary of climbing terms for various types of climbing (Bouldering, Top Rope, and Sports Climbing) so you know what other climbers are saying and how to join in on the conversation.
- Anchor: A device or method for securing a climber to the rock/wall for their safety to prevent a fall.
- Approach: The walk or hike to get to your designated climbing area/route.
- Arete: Corner of two intersecting rocks that you are able to use as a hold. An example is the corner of a climbing wall, similar to the corner of a brick building.
- Ascender: A mechanical device that assists climbers moving up on the rope while requiring minimal effort.
- ATC: A belay device that is typically comprised of two holes (sometimes one hole) and a loop at the bottom. To use the device, you feed a loop of rope through one of the holes and hook a carabiner through the rope and loop. It is one of the most common and affordable belay devices used in climbing.
- Auto-lock: Spring-loaded mechanism on a carabiner gate that twists and locks automatically when the carabiner gate is closed.
- Backclip: When you are lead climbing, you may accidentally clip the rope into the quickdraw with the belayer’s end of your rope going away from the rock instead of going toward the rock. This is unsafe and should be avoided.
- Backstep: Standing on a hold using the outer edge of your foot while your hips are facing away from the foothold.
- Backup: Additional protection added to an anchor to provide more safety.
- Barn Door: When you swing out sideways away from the rock. Often stopped by placing one leg behind the other so your foot can catch you (flagging). For example, if you are swinging out to the right, you can prevent this by placing your left leg behind your right leg and use the left foot to prevent your body from swinging away from the wall.
- Belay: The set-up/action that holds a rope in place to secure the climber if they fall. The set-up includes the rope, anchors, belay device, climber and belayer.
- Belayer: The person that controls the rope using a belay device to minimize the distance a climber falls. This person also controls the speed of a climber descending after finishing a route to ensure the climber’s safety.
- Belay Loop: A loop on the front of your harness that is sewn in for you to clip in a belay device for belaying or rappelling.
- Belay/Rappel Device: A device where the rope passes through and is clipped to a harness with a locking carabiner. It creates friction on the rope to make a more manageable belay for both the belayer and climber.
- Bent-gate Carabiner: A carabiner designed for lead climbing that is used on the rope-clipping side of a quick draw. The bent gate provides a larger opening for being able to clip into the rope.
- Beta: Tips or suggestions given to a climber while they are working a problem/route. Example: You have a foothold to your left.
- Bicolor: Different patterns and colors on a climbing rope to help in finding the center quickly.
- Bight: A small loop or section of rope
- Big Wall: A large, tall rock with multi-pitches that takes several days to climb.
- Bivouac (Bivy): A temporary sleeping setup on the side of a wall used during a multi-day climb.
- Bolted Route: A Bolted route is a route that is primarily used for sport climbing and has anchors bolted into the cliff/rock wall every few feet throughout the climbing problem/route.
- Bolts: Circular metal expansion pieces drilled into rocks/walls to provide protection during a climb. The bolts are used to anchor the rope to the wall using quickdraws while sports climbing.
- Bomber or Bomb Proof: Hold or anchor that is thought to be extremely strong and steady. With it being such a good hold/anchor, you may think it is bombproof.
- Bouldering: Type of climbing where you do not use a rope and climb close to the ground. Most bouldering is typically done on rocks no higher than 15 feet.
- Brake Hand: Primary hand used to control a belay/rappel. This hand always stays on the rope and can control the speed of the rope.
- Burn: A term often used to indicate another attempt on a route without necessarily making it to the top.
- Carabiner: a metal aluminum loop with a spring-loaded gate used to connect various pieces of climbing equipment. They come in many different colors and various sizes and shapes. Carabiners are most commonly seen in belaying, connecting ropes to anchors and sometimes even to secure a chalk bag around your harness.
- Chalk: Magnesium carbonate powder in various forms for climbers to use in order to keep their hands dry and provide a better grip during a climb. Chalk can be purchased in either a loose form or in a chalk ball. It also comes in forms ranging from very fine to chunky.
- Chalk Bag: A small pouch used to hold loose chalk or a chalk ball. Most commonly secured around the waist of the climber with a drawstring closure.
- Chalk Bucket: A large pouch or bucket that holds primarily loose chalk and is most commonly used in bouldering.
- Chest Harness: A harness that is used in addition to a seat harness to provide additional support for keeping the body upright in case of a fall.
- Chimney: Named after the classic piece of a fireplace, a chimney is a section of rock that has a vertical crack large enough to fit a whole body inside and be able to climb. It is climbed using opposing force from both hands, body and both feet.
- Climber: An individual that participates in the act/sport of climbing.
- Climbing: The act of moving upwards/across an area of rock, ice or a mixture of the two.
- Clove Hitch: Type of knot used to secure a rope to an anchor. This is used to set up a belayer.
- Crag: Slang for climbing area/wall/mountain.
- Crimper or Crimp: Type of hold that is only big enough for fingertips.
- Crux: Most difficult section or move(s) of a route/problem/climb.
- Dihedral: Opposite of an arete, this is an open book formation created by two planes intersecting.
- Directional: A piece of protection placed on a route to help guide the rope and climber from swinging out on a climb with a traverse or overhang.
- Drag: Friction on a rope. The more protection the rope passes through, the more friction that occurs on the rope.
- Drop Knee: A climbing position where you place your foot on a hold out to the side, twist your hips in the opposite direction and point your knee down.
- Dyno or Dynamic: A move where you jump or leap to reach the next hold.
- Edging: Using the edges of climbing shoes to stand on small ledges.
- Equalized: Setting up an anchor to evenly distribute weight to each of the protection points.
- Face: Front side of a cliff or wall. A face is climbed using various holds and edges.
- Figure 8: A type of knot in the shape of an 8 used to attach a climbing rope to a harness.
- Fisherman’s Knot: A type of knot used to attach two ends of a rope together.
- Fixed Protection: A permanent fixture like a nut or bolt used for an anchor.
- Flash: Completing a route or problem on the first try after discussing the climb and gathering information 9Discussing beta, watching another climber complete the climb, etc) on how to complete it.
- Follow: To be the follow is to be the second one up the climb that removes the quickdraws/other protections that the lead climber placed. This is most common in multi-pitch climbs.
- Free Climb: To climb a route without relying on the rope and only using your hands and feet. Note, you are still attached to a rope and not to be confused with free soloing.
- Free Solo: To climb a long route without a rope and belay. Often extremely dangerous and not done by many climbers.
- Gaston: A move where you use a side pull one way and pushing your feet in the opposite direction.
- Gate: The spring-loaded opening piece of a carabiner.
- Girth Hitch: A type of knot where you secure the rope around a stable object and then loop it through itself.
- Grigri: An auto-locking belay device designed by Petzl to catch a climber falling. While on the more expensive side of belay devices, the Grigri has become an extremely popular and favored device in the climbing community for its ease of you and safety features.
- Gripped: To be stuck due to fear and/or confusion
- Gym: An indoor climbing place often designed to boulder, top-rope or lead climb on artificial walls with a wide variety of holds. Great place to work on technique, skill and improve your climbing if you are unable to go outside or prefer being indoors.
- Hang Dog: Resting on the rope or the protection during a lead climb placing your weight on the rope instead of the rock.
- Hanging Belay: A hanging belay is when you attach your harness to an anchor when you do not have anywhere to stand while belaying. This is often done on multi-pitch and difficult climbs.
- Harness: A climbing system comprised of belts and loops that goes around the waist and legs of a climber/belayer and connects them to a rope.
- Heel Hook: A move where you place the heel of your foot on a hold to help pull you up or stabilize yourself on a route/problem.
- Highball: A boulder problem that is very high and dangerous.
- Hueco Scale: Scale or rating system to determine the difficulty of a boulder problem. Most commonly known as the “V-scale” which ranges from V0-V17, with V0 being the easiest and V16 being the hardest.
- Jug: A large, easy to grab climbing hold.
- Kilonewton (kN): The measurement and scale in which climbing gear is rated based on how much force the gear can sustain in a fall.
- Kneebar: A move where you wedge your knee between a climbing hold and the wall/rock.
- Lead: The first climber on a route that clips their rope into quickdraws or protection.
- Lead Climbing: A type of climbing where a climber ascends the rock/wall while clipping in their rope to anchors/protection along the route and being belayed from the bottom.
- Leg Loops: Two loops on the bottom of a harness to provide support for the legs and allow you to sit in the harness.
- Lie-back: A climbing move where you pull with straightened arms and push with your feet to create an opposing force in order to move up on the rock/wall.
- Lockoff: A move used to support your body by bending one arm and hanging onto a hold in order to use your other arm to clip into an anchor, quickdraw or protection.
- Lower: The action of slowly bringing down a climber.
- Mantel: A ledge that you press your hands down and push in order to bring your feet onto the same ledge. Typically used when there is no other holds available.
- Mono: A type of hold that is just big enough for a single finger.
- Multi-pitch: A climb that has various routes/pitches along the way requiring more than one rope and can take up to multiple days to climb.
- Munter Hitch: A simple, adjustable friction knot that you tie to a carabiner and can be used to belay a climber if you do not have a belay device.
- On-sight: Climbing a route on the first try without any prior information, beta or witness of how to complete it.
- On-sight Difficulty: A test in a climbing competition to see how far a climber can get on the route/problem with no prior knowledge, information or witness of how to complete it.
- Passive Protection: Climbing protection with no moving parts such as nuts, chocks or hexes.
- Permadraw: A permanently fixed quickdraw often placed in higher traffic climbing areas.
- Pitch: A route that is only 1 rope length long typically lead by a lead climber and followed by a second.
- Piton: While rare on lead climbs, a piton is a piece of metal that is pounded into a crack for a climbing rope to clip into for protection.
- Placement: Any crack or hole in the rock that protection can fit. It is also the word used to describe placing a piece of protection.
- Protection or Pro: A device that was placed along the route to use for securing the rope in order to prevent a large fall.
- Pumped: A buildup of lactic acid in the forearms usually occurring during or after a strenuous climb or move.
- Quickdraw: Two carabiners connected by a short runner used to clip a rope to a bolted anchor.
- Rack: All of the gear you are taking and using during a climb.
- Red Point: Completing a climb without resting on the rope or relying on gear after trying multiple times.
- Redundant: Adding extra anchors to a climb to provide back-up and extra safety.
- Retire: To no longer use a piece of climbing equipment or gear. Things are often retired after long years of use or due to an accident making them no longer safe.
- Route: A path on a rock/wall to climb consisting of various moves, holds and length.
- Runner: Strong webbing material that is used to connect carabiners or rope to protection. An example is the piece of webbing connecting two carabiners in a quickdraw.
- Runout: The distance for a climber between their last quickdraw and their next quickdraw. The longer the distance, the greater the length of a fall. Most often distinguished in lead climbing.
- Screwlock: A type of lock on the gate of a carabiner that screws up and down to lock and unlock it.
- Second: The belayer and second climber during a lead climb. Often the person that cleans up the quickdraw and any additional protection along a route.
- Send: Completing a route.
- Sewing-machine Leg: Sewing-machine leg or Elvis leg is when a climber does not place enough of their weight in their feet due to fear, exhaustion or inexperience causing their legs to shake.
- Shock Load: Weight or force unexpectedly dropped on an anchor.
- Sidepull: A move in climbing where you pull on a hold with your hand and pushing with your feet.
- Sloper: A type of climbing hold that is large and uses the whole hand to grip. Typically they do not have any indents or holes making it extremely difficult to use.
- Smear: A move in climbing where you place your foot on the rock/wall and not on a hold to help balance and progress in a climb.
- Snaplink: Another name for Carabiner. Primarily used in the military
- Speed Climbing: A type of climbing where the goal is to complete a route in the fastest time. Often done against an opponent and on specific routes found in climbing gyms and at climbing competitions.
- SRENE (Solid, Redundant, Equalized, No-Extension): Characteristics that define a good, solid climbing anchor.
- Static: Little stretch in a climbing rope.
- Stemming or Stem: A common move in a chimney, it is the act of outstretching your arms and legs with opposing pressure in order to ascend upwards.
- Stick Clip: A pole with the rope and first quickdraw attached on one end in order to secure a climber before they begin a lead climb. Most people either create their own or buy them if they feel it is necessary. It can provide extra safety if the first anchor of the climb is high up and you want to reduce the risk of falling or injury.
- Stopper Knot: A type of knot on the end of a rope to provide safety for the belayer in order to not drop the climber. It is usually large enough so it cannot pass through a belay device thus preventing the climber from falling/being dropped.
- Swami: The waist portion of a climbing harness. Swami’s can be sold on their own when they are custom made or custom-fitted. It can also be webbing tied around the waist to create a harness.
- Take: Term for the climber to tell their belayer to remove any slack in the rope.
- Three-Point Suspension: A type of movement where only one limb leaves the rock at a time in order to provide balance during the route/problem.
- Toe Hook: A common foot movement of placing a toe under a hold or in a hold in order to provide a strong balance and more leverage on a climb.
- Top Rope: A rope that is secured through an anchor at the top of a climb.
- Top Roping: A type of climbing where the rope is secured above the climber and belayer. This is a safer form of climbing compared to lead climbing as the climber typically does not fall as large of a distance. It is a great way to learn how to climb as it is more controlled and has lower risks of getting hurt.
- Undercling: A downward-facing hold that is often overcome by pulling up on it.
- Whipper: A very big fall that occurs most often while lead climbing and results in swinging or being whipped toward or away from the wall.
- Z-Clipping: A mistake in lead climbing where the climber pulls the rope from below their last quickdraw and clips it in.
Did I miss anything?
There are a lot of terms specific to climbing. Some terms are more popular or well-known compared to others just depending on who you are talking to and what type of climbing discipline you are referring to. Hopefully, this is a helpful guide for learning the lingo and understanding what other climbers are talking about. Let me know if you think of any terms that should be on this list in the comments below and I will be more than happy to add them.