Skip to main content

Common Rock Climbing Terms and Slang: Climb Like a Crusher!

Stephanie has been addicted to sport climbing for eight years and works closely with the Western Mass Climber's Coalition.

Confused by all the jargon you're hearing at the gym? Check out this guide.

Confused by all the jargon you're hearing at the gym? Check out this guide.

Rock Climbing Lingo for Noobs

If you’ve been to the rock gym once or twice already, you know that climbers have quite colorful vocabularies. In the past few decades, climbing has exploded and a distinct climbing subculture has formed, complete with its own unique jargon. Here is a cheat sheet to help you translate some common climber terms and keep you from looking like a noob.

Approach: Any amount of foot travel from the car to the base of the cliff.

Arête: The outside corner of the rock. Can be sharp or rounded.

Back Clipped: When the leader places the rope through the carabiner on a point of protection in a way that the rope may unclip itself if the climber falls.

Belay: To control the amount of slack in the rope system and catch the climber if he or she falls.

Belayer: The person on the ground who is controlling the rope.

Beta: 1) Written information about the climb. 2) Verbal suggestions on how to climb a route from fellow climbers.

Bight: A fold in the rope—used when making knots.

Biner: Slang for carabiner

Boink (Bounce): A technique employed by sport climbers after falling on an overhanging route. The climber climbs part way up the rope, creating a small amount of slack. When the climber lets go, the belayer is able to take some of the slack out of the system. This process is repeated until the climber is close enough to reach the wall and begin the climb once again.

Bomb: Awesome.

Booty: Found gear that has clearly been abandoned.

Bouldering: Unroped climbing on boulders or a boulder sized wall.

Bucket: 1) Helmet. 2) A very large jug.

Bump: To move from an intermediary hold to a further hold with the same hand.

Cam: A kind of protection which expands within a crack or constriction, increasing the force exerted on the rock as more force is exerted on a protection.

Campus: 1) To train finger strength on a campus board. 2) To climb a route or problem without feet.

Clean: The job of the second climber on a lead pitch. The cleaner must collect all of the protection that the leader placed.

Crack: A continuous break in the rock, often perfect for trad climbers because it provides both holds and areas to place protection.

Crag: A general term used to describe an outdoor climbing venue.

Crimp: A type of small hold which only supports the finger pads.

Crux: The most difficult part of the route (there may be several cruxes on a climb).

Doubled Back: The tail end of the harness straps are threaded back through the buckle for safety.

Drag: The result of multiple points of friction on a rope.

Dyno: Short for “to perform a dynamic move,” or jump to the next hold.

Exposure: A combination of factors such as height, open space, and overall risk.

Flag: To use a leg for balance or even as a pivot point.

Flash: To send a climb on the first try without falling or going off route.

Fixed Protection: Bolts or pitons permanently placed in the rock.

Heel Hook: A move made by placing the heel on top of or on the side of a hold in order to gain leverage.

Jug: A type of hold which is easily grasped with an open hand and curled fingers.

Layback: A move in which the climber puts all of his or her weight against a large side pull and leverage against a foot hold in order to gain height.

Lead Climbing: A type of rock climbing in which the climber pulls the rope up with him or her and clips into protection as he or she moves along the route. Both sport climbing and traditional climbing are types of lead climbing.

Match: To place both hands on the same hold at the same time.

Multi-Pitch: A climb that is too long for the leader’s rope and is therefore split into separate pitches, or individual, shorter climbs.

Noob (Newbie): A new climber who demonstrates an ignorance of rock climbing etiquette or culture.

On-sight: To send a lead route cleanly without taking any falls, without going off route, and without any prior knowledge of the route, the first time you climb it.

Overhanging: A rock face, or a section of the rock, that is angled more than 90 degrees.

Pinch: A type of hold that must be squeezed between the thumb and other fingers.

Pitch: A single roped climb, usually about 30-100 ft.

Problem: A bouldering route. Bouldering problems are generally shorter with a series of more difficult moves than you might find in longer roped climbs.

Protection: Any fixed or placed gear on a lead climb that will potentially stop the climber’s fall.

Pumped: When the climber’s muscles (usually forearms) are full of lactic acid, making it difficult to hold on to holds.

Rack: The set of protection a trad climber carries on a climb, including cams, slings, hexes, and stoppers.

Rappel: To self belay down a cliff face on both sides of the rope.

Red point: When a climber places his or her own quickdraws on a sport climb and completes the route without falling or going off route.

Roof: A section of horizontal rock, which hangs back over the route.

Sandbag: To grade a route lower than it actually is.

Second: The climber who follows the leader and usually cleans any gear placed by the leader.

Send: To finish the problem or route.

Slab: A rock face that is less than 90 degrees.

Slack: Extra rope in the rope system.

Sloper: A rounded hold requiring the friction of the climber’s entire palm and fingers.

Smear: To rely on the rubber and surface area of the climbing shoe to push off against flat rock without any distinguishable foot hold.

Solo (Free Solo): To climb above 15 ft. without a partner, rope, or other protection.

Stoppers (Nuts): A type of passive protection used in trad climbing. Stoppers are a metal wedge placed into constrictions or cracks.

Sport Climbing: Lead climbing on established bolted routes.

Take: A request from the climber to the belayer to take out any slack in the rope system so that he or she can rest.

Trad Climbing (Traditional Climbing): A type of climbing in which the leader places his or her own protection (cams, stoppers, etc.).

Top Rope: When the rope is attached to an anchor system at the top of the wall.

Undercling: A type of hold meant to be gripped from underneath. An undercling allows you to utilize your entire arm span when reaching for the next hold.

V-scale: The difficulty rating system used for boulder problems.

Whipper: A big lead fall that gains significant momentum or sideways motion.

Z-Clip: When the leader takes the rope from below his or her last clip to clip into the next point of protection.

Chris Sharma and Dreamcatcher

Want to hear a real climber describing a route? Check out the videos below for some incredible climbing and rock climbing jargon in action.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Stephanie Giguere (author) from Worcester, MA on October 11, 2012:

Thanks e Healer!

Deborah from Las Vegas on October 11, 2012:

Great hub Sgiguere, this is great when I want to impress my friends with my new rock climbing terms! Just kidding, this is an important hub to understand an instructor or to get information from experts. Great and voted up!

Stephanie Giguere (author) from Worcester, MA on October 11, 2012:

Haha-- the first step to not being a noob is knowing what a noob is!

Written Up from Oklahoma City, OK on October 10, 2012:

great information about rock climbing. I'm a total noob.