Rock Climbing Glossary: 217 Climbing Terms You May Not Have Heard


On paper, rock climbing sounds quite simple – climb up a rock face either with or without ropes and safety gear. And yet, there are so many different terms used in the climbing community to describe all sorts of different features to rock climbing.

During your time rock climbing you’ll be hearing a few terms that you may not understand at first but eventually you’ll catch on. However there might be that rock climbing term that seems to be passed around every now and then and you still wonder what it means. Well in this article I’ve got a list of 217 terms used when rock climbing including their definitions. I’ve also tried to include pictures/images where I can.

If you need to find a specific term on this page then press Ctrl+F if you’re on a PC or Command+F on a Mac to open up the “Find” tool. If you’re on a mobile device you can usually use the same sort of tool (it may be called “Find in page” or “Find on page”) on your web browser by searching through the options usually indicated by three vertical dots in the top right or left of your screen.

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Rock Climbing Terms for Ascents

Beta aka Sequence

The supposed “right way” to ascend a climbing route.

Flash aka On Sight

Climbing a route on your first attempt without beta.

Beta flash

Completing a climb on the first attempt with the supposed “right way” of ascending the route.

Top Out

Reaching the end of a bouldering problem and standing up on top of it. This usually happens outside or on specific top out boulders indoors.

Top Rope

Creating some form of anchor at the top of a climb for a rope to attach to so that climbers are safe.

Slab

An incline that isn’t as steep as a vertical climb. The angle is less than 90 degrees.

A slab

Overhang

A decline that is angled more than 90 degrees.

An overhang

Roof

A climb on a virtually horizontal climbing wall.

Overlap

 A small-ish roof.

An overlap

Vertical Climb

A climbing wall that’s pretty much 90 degrees straight up.

A vertical climb

Traverse

A climb that requires you to transition mostly sideways.

Circuit Board aka Systems Board

A vertical climb or overhang that includes many different types of holds laid out in a circular pattern so the climber can train endurance, grip work, and general technique.

Training Board aka Woodie

Usually an overhang that consists of many holds, usually with the intention for the climber to make up their own climbs suitable to their grade.

Lowball

A bouldering problem which is quite short or low.

Ground Up 

Requires, generally, that you use a sit down start so that you a climbing a route from the ground.

Morpho

A route that is difficult for someone because of their body weight, shape, height and/or size. For example the route may be harder for a short person to complete than a taller person.

Buttress

Prominent rock bulging out from a rock climbing wall.

Groove

A small corner.

Chimney

A part of the rock that is a hole big enough to fit your whole body in.

Descent Route

The best way to get down from a bouldering problem.

Landing Zone aka Fall Zone

The area in which a climber can land or fall into from a bouldering problem.

Down Climbing

Climbing down a bouldering problem.

Redpoint

Climb a route without aid (free-climbing) successfully without falling having already climbed it unsuccessfully.

Headpoint

Climb a route after you have the tried it beforehand using a top rope.

Deadpoint

A dynamic move that’s been doing in a controlled fashion. It involves grabbing a hold at the top of the body while moving – at least one foot and the other hand remain on the wall. Other dynamic movements such as dynos involve both feet leaving the wall to catch or fall into another hold.

Bulge

An overhang with a rounded edge.

Barrel

A rounded roof.

Arête/Arete

The edge of a mountain or boulder. Where two sides of a mountain or boulder meet. The arête is used often in bouldering and can be one of the easiest things to grab when on a route.

Prow

An overhanging arete.

Buildering

Bouldering on buildings. It’s the combination of the words bouldering and building.

First Ascent

The first ever time a route is climbed. This can be in general or for a specific climber.

Corner

The opposite of an arête. Where two sides,walls or edges meet.

Campus Board

A board that is usually vertical or on a slight overhang with wooden slats of different sizes. The purpose is to use no feet therefore strengthening the arms and fingers by jumping up the slats and climbing back down.

Feature Wall

An indoor wall that is designed to resemble real rock.

An artificial wall usually found in climbing gyms to mimic the look of an outdoor climb.

Rock Climbing Terms for Holds

Bucket aka Jug

An easily grabbed hold which contains a dip in the center.

Edge

A hold usually used by the feet which has a straight top pretty much parallel with the floor.

Pocket

A hand or foot hold that contains a small hole or space.

Crack

A line on the rock which has split. Crack climbing is quite popular.

Sloper

Rounded holds without any proper edge to grip.

Crimp

An edge that requires you to use the end of your fingers to grip onto it.

Volume

An artificial part of the wall that is usually the shape of a tetrahedron (3D triangle) or similar. Other holds can be mounted onto volumes, or volumes can be used as universal foot and hand holds on their own if they’re good enough.

Break

A crack that can be more circular than usual and is parallel to the floor.

Chicken Head aka Boss

A lump of rock bulging out from the wall commonly used as an anchor or as a hand/foot hold. Is called a boss if it is particularly good as a hand hold.

Flake

A partly removed, thin sliver of rock.

Undercling aka Undercut

A hold that faces towards the floor that usually requires you pull up on it to stabilize yourself.

Dual-Tex / Dual-Tec

An artificial hold designed to be slippery for the feet and hands on the majority of it and have slight friction on another part to be used be the climber. Simply means dual texture.

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Hueco

Exactly the same as a pocket but large and rounded.

Slot

A small pocket parallel to the floor.

Mono

A pocket that only has enough room for one finger.

Volcano Pocket

A hold that looks like a miniature volcano protruding from the wall.

Offwidth Crack

A crack that cannot be climbed inside as it is too narrow, however it cannot be jammed because it’s too wide.

Seam

A very narrow crack that is virtually shut.

Splitter

A long, vertical crack on a rock face.

P.O.S

Usually used when a climber isn’t very happy with a hand or foot hold. An abbreviation for “Piece of s***”.

Rock Climbing Terms for Moves

Dyno

A dynamic move that is typically used when a climber transitions from one set of holds (or one hold) to another set of holds (or one hold). This is done by jumping and both feet leave the wall to catch or fall into another hold.

Double Dyno

A type of dyno where one or more holds are grabbed at the same time by both of the climbers hands.

Half Crimp

A combination of crimping and using an open hand on a hold.

Matching aka Sharing

A technique used usually on bigger holds where the climber puts both hands simultaneously on one hold.

Gaston

Using a push rather than a pull motion, it’s a shoulder move, usually with the elbow out and thumb down. Imagine trying to open an elevator door. The hold is facing towards you and you utilize the shoulder.

Pinch

A sort of nipping technique on a hold with the thumb and fingers.

Sidepull

Similar to a Gaston however instead of a pushing motion, you pull. Gastons push away, sidepulls pull inward.

Hand Jam

Putting your hand in a crack to stop yourself from falling by packing it in there as much as you can. It can be quite painful.

Heel-toe Jam

Used in wide cracks where your foot is placed horizontally with your toe on one side and the heel on the other.

Hand Stacking

Hand jamming with both hands at the same time. Usually used in offwidth cracks.

Guppy aka Cup

A hold poking out of the wall is grasped by the palm and fingers.

Flag

The climber will use their leg to help them keep their center of gravity by free-hanging the foot.

Flared

A difficult to jam crack because the sides open up outwards.

Layback

This technique is done by pushing the feet into the wall, laying back a bit, and using the arms to pull into the hold.

Mantle

A technique that involves pulling on the hold and then as you transition it turns into a pushing motion.

Palming

Pushing down with the palm of your hand onto a rock on hold.

Figure Four

A technique used by more advanced climbers where a leg is used to hook over the arm that is grabbing onto a hold.

Rock-over

Shifting your center of gravity from one foot over towards to other by stepping on a high-ish foothold and transferring your weight over it onto your next set of holds.

Back and Foot

Placing the back on one side of a chimney and the feet push against the other side.

Stemming

Using both your feet to push on one side of a wall and both of your hands to push on the other.

Jamming

Packing a body part such as a foot or hand into a crack.

Edging

Putting your foot on an edge hold.

Finger Jam

Packing your fingers into a crack and rotating them until they become jammed into it.

Fist Jam

Putting your fist into a crack until it wedges itself in there.

Arm Bar

Putting an arm into a crack and pushing against one wall with your palm. The top of the arm pushes against the other wall.

Front Pointing

Using a big toe to stand on a hold.

Open Hand

Very slightly bending the fingers when gripping a hold.

Thumbcatch

Using the thumb to pinch the bottom of a hold.

Cross Through

A move where a hand will move above or below the other arm or hand to find the next hold.

Lock Off

Pulling on a hold until the arm bends, holding the position and then using the other hand to reach for the next hold.

Opposition

Creating tension either by pulling a pair of holds that face away from each other or pushing on a pair of holds that face each other.

Using two holds by either pulling on them if they face away from one another or by pushing on them if they face one another.

Bridging

Step on two different holds or smears on different wall angles and lean into the wall. This is a climbing technique used to climb corners and chimneys.

Drop-Knee aka Egyptian

Pull your body into the wall while twisting your foot and leg then dropping the knee.

Cutting Loose

Swinging both feet off the wall for a second or two, meaning all the weight is on the hands and arms in that time.

Bicycle

Used generally for roof climbing. Making use of two close together holds. One foot toe hooks a hold while the other foot pushes down on the other hold.

Frogging

Point the knees out to the side while getting the hips parallel and close to the wall.

Twist-locking

Twisting the top half of the body towards the wall to get maximum reach for the next hold.

Deadhang

Hanging on one or more holds with straight arms without using the feet.

No Hands Rest

Finding a position to rest so you don’t have to use your hands or arms.

Smear

Placing your shoe onto the wall for friction. Usually this is used when there are no foot holds available.

Chicken Wing

Jamming yourself into a crack by bending the arm and inserting the elbow while pressing the palm against one wall and pressing the top of the arms against the other. Quite similar to an arm bar.

Bump

Using one hold to gain more momentum to another hold by grabbing it with one hand and using the same hand to instantly grab the next hold.

Toe Hook

Used generally in roof climbing and on overhangs. Placing the toe behind a hold and pulling your foot towards you to gain strength on the hold.

Sprag

Used usually on an arête. The fingers grab a hold on one side of the arête while the thumb grabs a hold on the other side.

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Backstep

One side of the hip is closer to the wall than the other, and the knees point in the same lateral direction. This can turn into a drop knee if the climber decides they need to.

Belaying

Releasing or gathering in the rope while another climber climbs.

Campusing

No feet allowed. Can only be done roof climbing and on overhangs. Using no feet on slabs is pretty hard.

Jump

Both feet leave the wall.

Jump Start

Jumping from the ground to the starting holds of a problem. It is done on a problem in which the climb cannot be started in any other way.

French Start

Slightly different to the jump start. French starts can often be climbs that can be started in many ways but the French start is finding the easiest way to start a climb while including a sort of jump or swing. Usually there is a hand and toe on the wall and you use the foot to jump or swing to the next hand or foothold. This is frowned upon in many climbing circles but is apparently considered fine at Fontainebleu.

Run and Jump

A dynamic technique that involves running at the rock, kicking off one or more foot holds and jumping for the hand holds.

Heel Hook

Using your heel on a hold to pull your body towards the next hold, or it’s used to hold yourself in a position.

Foot Cam

Wedging the foot in a horizontal crack by rotating it.

Foot Jam

Putting your foot into a crack, toes first and wedging it in.

Foot Swap

Substituting one foot on a foothold for another.

Kipping

Using the legs to generate momentum by kicking them while hanging from the arms.

Kneebars

Using the knee or top of the thigh to push into a part of the wall while putting your foot on a hold.

Rock Climbing Terms for Equipment

Protection

The general term for nuts, cams, and the equipment the rope is clipped on for safety.

Rack

The protective equipment for an individual climber.

Climbing Brush

A brush used to clean holds usually covered in chalk that’s causing them to become slippery.

In situ

Means in the appropriate place – usually explaining equipment left in climbs like pegs.

Quickdraw aka Extender

A couple of carabiners connected to each other by a strong material which can be clipped onto the rope for safety.

Climbing Shoes

Shoes created for the purpose of rock climbing.

Lace Ups

Climbing shoes that are fastened with laces.

Velcros

Climbing shoes that are fastened with velcro straps.

Velcro climbing shoes

Slippers

Soft climbing shoes with no straps or laces.

Climbing Chalk

Climbing chalk is magnesium carbonate. It is used to absorb moisture from a climber’s hands so their hands are less likely to slip off a hold.

Liquid Chalk

Chalk mixed with alcohol as an alternative to normal chalk. Preferable when deep water soloing.

Chalk Bag

A small bag for holding chalk that can be attached to a belt.

Chalk Bucket

A large bag for holding chalk which should be left on the ground.

A chalk bucket

Chalk Ball

A small round ball filled with chalk.

Fingerboard aka Hangboard

A board made of wood or resin which is attached to a wall allowing the user to hang from it therefore strengthening the fingers.

Brachial Hang
Hanging from a fingerboard

RP

A brass nut used in climbing.

Finger Tape

Tape used on fingers (and some other parts of the body such as toes) that can be used to support and protect them.

Bolt On

A climbing hold seen in indoor climbing gyms that is bolted to the wall.

Crash Pad aka Bouldering Mat

A mat used when outdoor bouldering to protect a climber by cushioning their fall.

Launch Pad

A smaller bouldering mat that is used when starting a bouldering problem.

Taco

A foam bouldering pad that can be bent in the middle for ease of transportation.

Guidebook

A book to guide an explorer around the different climbing areas and rocks available, including other information such as maps and directions.

Bomber aka Bombproof

Used when explaining equipment that is very good and/or resilient.

Observational and Other Rock Climbing Terms

Arud

Means “A rat up a drainpipe”, simplified to Arud to use after someone completes a climb surprisingly quickly.

Chunking

Figuring out a climb by climbing it in smaller sections.

Nails

A climb that is very hard for most people in your group.

Glowing Hands

Usually a term used when the hands have that burning sensation due to the nerve endings being very sensitive.

Chalking Up

Putting chalk on the hands.

Tickmark

Putting chalk on the wall to pinpoint the whereabouts of a hold that is difficult to see.

Montée Absente (pronounced Mon-tay Ab-Saunt)

A hand or toe hold within the beta that is so bad that a climber may believe it should not even be a part of the climb. Means “absent climb” in French.

Spotting

Catching or safely guiding a climber who has fallen.

Barn-door

An involuntary swing away from the wall.

Soloing

Climbing a route without using a rope or other forms of aid.

Problem

A climbing route.

Project

A problem that a climber is working towards completing that has previously been attempted and failed.

Choss 

Dirt, chalk, moss or any other material on the rock wall that disrupts an ascent.

Find Your Feet

A term usually said by an on-looker when a climber isn’t using their feet correctly.

Crux

The hardest part of a climb.

Flapper

The bit of skin that flaps after it has been sliced on a hold or on the rock face.

Inside Edge

The edge on the inside of the big toe.

Sit Start aka Sit Down Start

Starting a climb by sitting down.

Cheatstone

A stone that’s used to help the climber reach the starting holds.

Sandbag 

A problem that is harder than it has been graded.

Ape Index

The difference between your height and the span of your arms from the tips of your fingers.

Power Endurance

How good the climber is at completely many hard transitions and moves continuously.

Red Herring

A hold that isn’t essential and/or is there to make the climber harder because it confuses the climber into thinking it has to be used.

V Grade

An American grading system used in rock climbing.

Conditions

The temperature, weather and humidity in the area you are about to climb in.

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Gardening

Cleaning greenery off the holds and/or rock face on a climb.

Powerspot

The spotter helps the climber by taking some of their weight so they can practise a move or transition with more ease.

Link Up

Creating a more difficult climb by taking different routes and combining parts of them.

Crag

An outdoor climbing or bouldering area.

Gripped

When you feel a lot of fear while climbing.

Arch

The middle part of the sole of the foot.

Aggressive Arch

When the middle part of the foot is very arched.

A slightly aggressive climbing shoe

Body Tension

Body tension requires the core to be engaged in order to keep the climbers feet on the foot holds of a steep route.

Over Gripping

Wasting energy in the hands and forearms by holding on too hard with the hands on a hold.

Hot aches

When blood returns into a body part that was previously very cold. Imagine throwing snow balls with bare hands for 20 minutes and then going back inside your warm house, then the blood rushes back into your hands and they feel painful. This is usually felt when climbing in the freezing cold.

Pumped

When a climber’s muscles are full of blood and lactic acid therefore making the body part feel quite heavy and weak.

Reading

Studying a route – trying to figure out how to complete it.

Working

Figuring out and going over the moves on a route or problem.

Ground Up

Starting from the ground on every attempt and trying a problem without previously inspecting or analyzing it from a rope.

Chipping

Making a climbing hold easier to hold onto or creating a whole new hold. Considered bad practise in most climbing communities.

Eliminate

A problem or move mainly used in bouldering where certain holds are made off limits in order to make it harder.

Wired aka Dialled

Being able to complete a problem 100% of the time.

Golfer’s Elbow

The pushing and pulling muscles in the elbow are out of balance which can cause pain on the inside of the elbow.

Tennis Elbow

The pushing and pulling muscles in the elbow are out of balance which can cause pain on the outside of the elbow.

Grades

A hint at how hard a problem is.

Center of Gravity

The center or point where the mass of the climber is equally balanced.

Front Lever

Hanging from a bar, then raising the legs and core so the body is horizontal and therefore parallel with the floor and holding the position.

Wad

A good climber.

Squeak

Completely clean the sole of your climbing shoe.

Bunion

A lump that forms of the side of the foot due to wearing shoes that are too small for you.

A bunion

Screw On

An hold used in indoor climbing gyms that is screwed on the wall rather than bolted on.

Callouses

Skin that has hardened or thickened due to being subjected to friction – usually appearing on the hands of a climber.

Fontainebleau aka Font

A very famous bouldering area in France.

Pof aka Resin

Pine resin that is used on outdoor hand and footholds to make it easier to climb. Considered damaging to rock but is used in some areas of Fontainebleau.

Send

Successfully completing a problem.

Turning the Lip

The transition from hanging on a lip to standing on it.

Terms Used for Different Types of Rock Climbing

Bouldering

Bouldering is a type of climbing that doesn’t require a rope and is a solo activity. Unlike lead climbing (or similar) there is no one else on the wall helping you through your climb in any way (other than words of encouragement).

Bouldering

Highballing

Highballing is exactly the same as bouldering; however it’s a lot more risky due to the fact that the maximum height of a bouldering wall is considered to be around 15 feet (or 4 meters). Climbing a wall or rock that’s between 15 and 40 feet high without a rope is considered highballing.

Free-Soloing

Bouldering turns to free-soloing when the climber is climbing without ropes at a height that’s above 40 feet; either that or it’s a highball climb (between 15 and 40 feet) that’s difficult and therefore more dangerous due to the route used and techniques that have to be administered.

Lead Climbing

Lead climbing requires a leader to set the route by clipping the rope into bolts and hooks that are set firmly into the wall or rock.

Lead climbing

Mountaineering aka Mountain Climbing aka Alpinism (in Europe)

Similar to hiking, except it’s more physically demanding due to the different techniques that need to be used in certain situations so that you can get through a route safely. While mountaineering, you may stumble across ice, snow, and different types of rock. Because of this, different techniques and technical equipment may need to be used.

A part of mountaineering

Sport Climbing

A type of lead climbing that focuses on technique, strength, cardiovascular activity, and gymnastics rather than some climbing methods which focus on adventure and risk as their major factors (for example free-soloing and mountaineering).

Traditional Climbing aka Trad Climbing

Trad climbing is another type of lead climbing. In traditional climbing, however, the anchors that are set into the wall are removed once the route has been climbed.

Aid Climbing

Aid climbing is any type of climbing that requires equipment or objects to be used into the rock which will help the climber progress up the wall or rock.

Free Climbing

Free climbing (also known as free from direct aid climbing) describes any type of climbing that does not use climbing equipment to help the climber progress in their climb; however with free climbing, equipment is allowed purely for safety reasons.

Rope Soloing

Rope soloing (also known as roped solo climbing) is a type of climbing which is done without a partner but a rope is used for protection.

Multi Pitch Climbing

Multi pitch climbing is any form of climbing that has belay stations for the climber to stop at on different areas of the climbing route.

Deep Water Climbing aka Deep Water Soloing aka Psicobloc

Deep water climbing is where the climber uses the water below as the “safety net” in case they fall.

Ice Climbing

Ice climbing usually uses picks, crampons, ropes and protective gear while the climber climbs frozen water falls, cliffs, frozen slabs and other similar terrains.

Ice climbing

Terms for Different Types of Rock Used When Climbing

Igneous Rock

Igneous rock is formed when liquid magma cools.

Sedimentary Rock

Sedimentary rock is created when the accumulation of tiny minerals and sediment is very tightly compacted.

Metamorphic Rock

A type of rock that was once very different and has been changed from its original igneous or sedimentary characteristics when a large amount of heat, pressure, or hot mineral-rich fluids (or a combination of the three) have been applied.

Gabbro

An igneous rock that’s coarse grained.

Basalt

A form of igneous rock and can either be very good to climb on or it can provide climbs that aren’t suitable and can actually be quite dangerous. The difference between the two is found in the chemical composition of the rock and/or the weathering that the rock has been through.

Granite

A rough, igneous rock popular with climbers.

Quartzite

When intense heat or pressure is applied to sandstone, quartzite is the outcome.

Gritstone

A type of sandstone that’s hard and coarse-grained.

Limestone

A sedimentary rock formed over many years from the build-up of shell, coral, algal, and fecal debris.

Sandstone

A sedimentary rock made up of sand-sized minerals, rock and/or organic material.

Monzonite

A granular igneous rock.

Syenite

A coarse-grained igneous rock.

Tufa

A type of limestone created when carbonate minerals precipitate out of ambient temperature water.

Paul

I'm the owner of Rock Climbing Central and I fell in love with climbing about 5 years ago as soon as my feet touched the wall. Since then all I've pretty much done is research about climbing and climb whenever possible.

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