What is Dabbing? | Climbing Vocabulary and Culture

If you’ve been in a climbing gym or out at the crag lately, you may have heard someone yell “dab” or “dabbing” and wonder what that means. If you are anything like me, you saw groups of people yelling it to their friends on the wall in a means that made you wonder if it was good or bad or a climbing joke or something like that.

In this article, I outline everything you need to know about dabbing and how/when to use dabbing in your climbing vocabulary. If you don’t like reading, here is a one-sentence definition.

What does dabbing mean? Dabbing is when a climber mistakenly touches something that isn’t meant to be used on that route.

If you want more in-depth information about dabbing, keep reading.

What Is Dabbing?

Dabbing is an action a climber makes (usually by accident) that results in touching something that isn’t part of a climb. For example, if you are at the crag, you may accidentally touch a pad, tree branch or something like that. If you are at the gym, you may accidentally touch a foothold that isn’t part of the intended climbing route.

What Causes Dabbing?

The biggest cause of dabbing is a lack of core strength or lack of focus on the core while climbing, which may result in dropping your foot or hips while moving and thus touch something that isn’t meant to be used.

Most dabbing happens at the crag because climbs start so low to the ground

In addition, people with longer limbs seem to have more issues with this because as they move from one part of the boulder to the next, their foot may graze a pad or something like that. Even if you have longer limbs, the core is still what you need to focus on to maintain keeping everything in control. 

Does Dabbing Matter?

For some climbers, dabbing is a key indicator of the “integrity” that a climber has when it comes to climbing. This is because if you dabbed while climbing, that could have affected your assent and helped you, thus it wasn’t a clean climb.

However, for the most part, dabbing is a passive-aggressive way for climbers to tell their friends to stop celebrating because they didn’t really do a clean climb.

If you review any forums about dabbing, you’ll likely find many sarcastic comments about dabbing because it is more humorous than it is of consequence.

One of my favorite comments that I found is this one from an article on Climbing Narcissist.

“Personally I don’t count any send under 7,000 feet because I consider the atmospheric density of low altitude problems a “full body dab”. While I recognize this is a bit strict, I also believe it exemplifies a divine no-dab ethos. Because at the end of the day we all have to look ourselves in the mirror and come to grips with our dabbiness. And who amongst us really wants to be a “tree dabs count” person?”

When Should You Yell “Dab” At Someone?

In general, climbers don’t like being yelled at, especially if it’s about dabbing. Mostly, because dabbing suggests that the achievement of your climb is doubtful and not worthy praise because it wasn’t a clean send. However, yelling dab at friends in jest can be acceptable. 

Avoid yelling dab at strangers or people you don’t know well. If, for some reason, you think you are getting along with someone enough to yell dab at them, here are some general instances that are applicable for yelling dab.

  • Getting a power spot thru a move
  • If your toe, hand, butt or anything else touches a ledge, adjacent boulder, tree, etc
  • When your spotter accidentally bumps you (yup, that’s a dab)
  • Kicking a spotter in the face

What’s Not Dabbing?

So now that you know what is a clear ‘dab,’ it is worth understanding what doesn’t count as a dab so you don’t get caught miss-calling it out or frustrating your friends for embarrassing them when they didn’t dab.

  • When a beanie or chalk bag falls mid-climb
  • If you toss something out of your pockets such as chapstick or something like that while climbing
  • A butterfly lands on your hand while you are climbing

Questionable Dabs

With dab being a very minimal consequence, but still, a popular part of climbing, it is worth considering that not everything is black and white.

Here is a list of things you may want to consider for food of thought:

  • When your hair touches the ground
  • If your chalk bag grazes the ground
  • If someone gives you a chalk ball while you are climbing
  • What if you fist-bump someone before topping out?
  • If your feet swing out while climbing and they brush against a bush


Dabbing is when you touch something that isn’t meant to be touched while climbing. Because it is an accident and usually doesn’t change how you ascend the climb, it doesn’t matter much. However, since purposefully using things that aren’t meant to be used in climbing is considered cheating, dabbing is the line between a clean assent and cheating to get up a climb.

With that line being important to some climbers, calling someone out on dabbing has become a passive-aggressive and sarcastic means to say they didn’t do a clean climb and may not deserve praise or celebration.

This is mostly used to sarcastically bring someone down when they are high-on-life from getting through a climb.

In general, if you don’t know the person, it isn’t ideal to call dab on them, however, if you are friends and they are tough-skinned, then calling them out for dabbing may be appropriate.

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