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Rock climbing terms and lingo for beginners

Martina Russo, CEO & founder
January 4, 2024

If you’ve ever topped out a tricky bouldering problem or traveled around to conquer the world’s highest peaks, you’ll know that the climbing, bouldering and mountaineering lifestyle extends far beyond the crag. More than just a sport, it’s a community of people who like to push their limits and climb ever higher. 

But becoming part of this climbing crew is about more than scaling the wall. It’s about connecting with fellow climbers, too, using lingo they understand. If you’re looking to get in on the action but don’t know what some of those strange phrases you hear at the crag actually mean, here are 40+ rock climbing terms that you should have on your radar.

47 rock climbing terms for beginners that you should know

Learn these rock climbing terms to sound like an in-the-know pro.

A climber taking a breather near the top of the wall while looking out over the clouds below.

Abseil

Most commonly used in Europe and North America, the term abseil means to descend a vertical cliff or rock face using a rope wrapped around your body and fastened to the top of the slope.

Adaptive climbing

Also known as paraclimbing, adaptive climbing makes rock climbing more accessible for people with physical disabilities. Some adaptative climbers use chair harnesses, while others use ascenders and/or prosthetics. Adaptive climbing takes the focus away from a person’s disability and encourages people – whoever they are – to give climbing a go.

Inclusive language matters, too, which means adapting terminology as well as your gear. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe in; everyone should have a chance to enjoy their favorite extreme sports.

Aid climbing

Aid climbing is the most common type of climbing, where you use rope, pegs, aiders and other mechanical devices to ascend the rock. 

Approach

The approach refers to the trail or hike to the base of a wall.

Ascender

Mostly used on big walls, high mountains or in caving, an ascender is a mechanical device that slides upwards when attached to a rope and catches when weight is applied, allowing climbers to ascend rock faces or lug heavy gear up the wall.

Belay 

Belaying is a technique where the person on the ground (the belayer) pulls a rope through a belay device to catch the climber if they slip or lose their grip on the wall. Belaying is super important as it keeps climbers safe and allows them to explore challenging routes with confidence.

Beta

Beta is a really useful term for beginners to know. Getting beta on a climb means getting advice from another climber. If you’re stuck on a tricky move or need help from someone with more experience, you can ask for beta to help complete a challenging climb. Climbers exchange beta to help each other tackle the toughest routes. 

Bomber

If you’re a bomber, it means your hold is so good, even a bomb wouldn’t dislodge it. You could say the same thing about equipment that doesn’t budge when planted into the wall.

Bouldering

Bouldering is a type of free climbing where you climb boulders instead of rock faces and cliffs. Bouldering is closer to the ground, so you don’t need ropes and harnesses. Instead, you’ll need a crash pad: a mattress designed specifically for bouldering, which will prevent you from hurting yourself when you (inevitably) fall to the ground.

A boulderer tackling a boulder problem above a crash pad while their partner looks on.

Carabiner

A carabiner is every rock climber’s best friend. Also known as a clip, a carabiner is a D-shaped metal ring with a locking mechanism. It attaches to ropes, wires, chains and straps. It can hold a huge amount of weight and connect gear and accessories to help you stay more agile.

A harness with a locked carabiner hanging on one of its rings, holding some climbing gear.

Choss

Choss is unstable, crumbly or loose rock that’s unsafe to climb. Seriously – avoid it if you can. It won’t end well.

Crag

A crag is a steep, rugged cliff or rock face found in hilly, mountainous regions. In a nutshell, it’s what climbers use for rock climbing.

Crash pad

Used in bouldering, a crash pad is basically a foam layer of protection between you and the ground. If you fall from a boulder, a crash pad will soften the blow.

Crimp

A crimp is a narrow edge on the rock surface that’s just deep enough for the tips of your fingers.  

Crux

A crux is the most technically challenging or dangerous part of a climbing route or boulder problem. Not to be dramatic, but a crux will make or break your climb.

Dyno

Slang for dynamic, a dyno is an impressive move where you use momentum to get to the next hold.

Flapper

Brace yourself… The infamous flapper is a chunk of torn skin that hangs from your hand by a thread. If you get one, don’t panic. They tend to heal pretty quickly, and your skin will toughen over time.

Flash 

If you flash a climb, it means you’ve conquered it on your first go after getting some beta, learning a bit about the route beforehand, or watching another climber complete it.

Free climbing

Free climbing is a style of climbing where you only use the rock’s natural features (such as hand- and footholds) to ascend the wall. You only use equipment for protection – like a rope, harness and chalk bag – so getting to the top is all on you.

A climber free climbing up a rugged rock face with only a rope, harness and chalk bag.

Free soloing

Even though they sound similar, free climbing and free soloing are two very different things. Free soloing is an extremely high-risk and advanced form of rock climbing where the climber ascends a route without any form of protection or safety equipment. You need to rely solely on your climbing skill, strength and mental focus to complete the climb, making it incredibly challenging both mentally and physically. Falling will most likely have fatal consequences, so this is best left to the pros.

Highball

A highball is a boulder with tall, imposing lines. They’re usually around 15 feet high, but they can be taller. Because you don’t use ropes in bouldering, falling from a highball can cause serious injuries. Highball climbers have to truly believe in their ability to get to the top without falling. 

Jug

Inspired by the term ‘jug-handle’, a jug is a type of large hold that’s easy to grip. You’ll be relieved to find one of these in the middle of a tough climb.

Lead 

Unlike top rope climbing, lead climbing is where a climber ascends a route carrying the rope, which is attached to their harness ring through a locked carabiner, clipping it onto bolts, pitons and other anchor points along the way to protect them from a fall. 

On-sight

On-sight means to finish a climb without knowing the route, receiving beta or watching someone climb it beforehand. 

Overhang

An overhang is a rock face at an angle greater than 90 degrees. Overhangs that are particularly steep or even completely horizontal are called roofs.

A climber tackling an overhang in an indoor climbing wall.

Pinch

This one’s exactly like it sounds. A pinch is a handhold accomplished by pinching the hold with the thumb and fingers.

Pinkpoint

Pinkpoint is similar to a redpoint (see further down), but it’s where you send a route on any attempt after your first. Pinkpoint allows climbers to refine their technique before moving on to a trickier redpoint ascent.

Pocket

Pockets are small, circular handholds that can only fit two or three fingers. Micro-pockets can only hold one finger.

Project

Project is a term you’ll hear quite a lot in the rock climbing community. It’s basically a route or climb that a climber dedicates a lot of time and energy to. A project is usually a little bit above their average skill level, so it will take them a few tries to complete it (or “send” it). 

Pumped

In rock climbing, pumped is when your forearms feel tight and sore after a tricky or strenuous move or climb because of all the blood flowing to them for grip. You’ll know it when you feel it.

Quickdraw

A quickdraw is a piece of equipment consisting of two carabiners connected by a short textile sling. Quickdraws attach rope to bolts and other protection points, keeping climbers safe and secure on the wall.

Rack

Your rack is the gear you need – like nuts, draw and carabiners – on the wall. But it’s not just about what you carry – it’s about how you carry it. Most racks are organized on a harness or sling.

Rappel

Rappel is another word for abseil. Fun fact: the terms ‘rappel’ and ‘abseil’ are used interchangeably in Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Redpoint

Redpoint is where you complete a route after practicing it first. You might have attempted it and failed before, or you might be attempting to lead climb the route after top-roping it. If you hear a climber say they’re climbing near their redpoint, they mean they’re climbing a route that’s at the top end of their ability.

Send

To send a route means to finish a climb by reaching the top. If you’re about to get to the top (topping out a boulder or clipping the chains on a sport climbing route), someone might shout, “Send it!” as encouragement. You might also hear this phrase if someone sees you’re too scared to make the next move.

Sidepull

A sidepull is a vertical hold that faces away from the body. To tackle one, lean to the side, use your feet to generate pressure and pull across the wall.

Slack

Slack means reducing tension in the rope, allowing you to move more freely. If a climber asks for slack, they need extra rope to make a move or finish the climb.

Sloper

Slopers are handholds with smooth, rounded or – you guessed it – sloping surfaces. Here’s a tip: when using a sloper, you’ll want to keep your hips in a balanced position while you move as stealthily as possible. 

Sport climbing 

Sport climbing is a type of rock climbing where you ascend a natural or artificial rock wall that has fixed protection points that you can clip quickdraws into.

Spotting

A spotter is a person who stands below the climber with their arms raised to help guide them towards the crash pad if they fall. Spotting is super important in preventing a climber from falling head-first or backwards.

Take

‘Take’ is a command or instruction given to the belayer by the climber. It’s basically the opposite of slack. When a climber asks for ‘take,’ they’re essentially requesting that the belayer to take in or remove slack from the rope, reducing the amount of rope between the climber and the belayer.

Top rope

Top rope climbing is where the climber is securely attached to a rope that runs up to an anchor at the top of the climbing route and then back down to a belayer. The belayer manages the slack in the rope and provides a controlled belay to protect the climber from falling.

Top-out

If you’re tackling an outdoor boulder, you complete the problem by topping out. This means climbing up and over the boulder until you can stand up on it.

Trad climbing

Short for traditional climbing, trad climbing sees climbers placing nuts, cramming devices and slings into cracks, fissures and other natural features to protect themselves in case they fall. Once the climber reaches the top, the belayer cleans the route by removing any gear left in the wall.

Undercut/undercling

Undercut and undercling are essentially the same thing – an upside-down jug or crimp. These types of holds are challenging because they require climbers to engage their core and use balance, body positioning and upper-body strength to stay on the rock. 

Whipper

A whipper describes a long, hard or unexpected fall where you’re whipped around by the rope that breaks your fall.

Ready to take your translations to new heights?

Head to any crag and you’re sure to hear English-speaking climbers rock this lingo. But other languages have their own lexicon when it comes to climbing, too. Whether you’re tackling overhangs or conquering challenging slabs, embracing the local lingo is the key to feeling like a true pro, whatever language is being used on the wall.

If you’re a climbing and mountaineering brand who wants to scale the international market as hard as you scale walls, getting your translations right is a must. As avid climbers, we’ll help you snag the top spot in your customers’ minds with climbing and mountaineering translations that are sure to take you to new heights. Ready to belay on?

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