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Climbing Glossary: Text



Abseil - (pronounced AB-sail) When a climber descends from the top of a wall or rock by sliding down a fixed rope using a figure eight. It is another word for rappel that is typically used outside the United States.


Accessory cord - strong and very low stretch cord that is typically a smaller diameter than climbing rope with a range of different uses.  


Active protection - A piece of climbing equipment that has moving parts and sometimes springs.


Aid climbing - The opposite of free climbing. It is a type of climbing that uses bolts and pitons rather than a climber’s hands and feet on the rock itself to ascend. This was used almost exclusively before proper climbing shoes started becoming more popular.


Anchor - anything that holds the rope and climber to the rock. This could be a bolt with a bolt hanger, a protection piece on the climb, or a sling.


Approach - The trail to the start point of a climb.


Arete - A wall feature that looks like a vertical corner. For example the corner of a building.


Armbar - a climbing move used for climbing large cracks where the palm is placed on one side and the elbow is placed on the other.


ATC (Air Traffic Controller) - See Belay Device.


Auto-lock - the spring-loaded mechanism on some carabiner gates that locks the gate once it is closed.




Backclip - During lead climbing when the climber places the rope through a quickdraw backwards.  This is very dangerous because during a fall the rope can unclip itself.


Backstep - A climbing move where the climber uses the outside edge of the foot to stand on a hold.


Barn door - When a climber is unbalanced while climbing and their own body weight causes them to swing away from the rock face.


Belay - The act of controlling the rope for the climber and locking off the rope during a fall. In top-roping this involves pulling in extra slack in the rope as the climber ascends; in lead climbing this involves feeding rope through the ATC/belay device for the climber to clip into quickdraws as they climb.


Belay Loop - The loop in front of the harness to which the belayer clips the belay device and carabiner.


Belay/Rappel Device - A device used by someone on the ground or anchored in place [the belayer] to manage the rope while someone else climbs.  It helps to stop the rope if the climber falls and makes for a smoother descent when rappelling.


Belayer - Someone who manages the climber’s rope to ensure the climber may ascend freely and lock off the rope in the event of a fall.  A Belayer is required when top-roping or lead climbing.


Bent-gate carabiner - A carabiner used in sport-climbing that has a bent gate to allow for a larger opening for clipping in a rope.


Beta - Advice on how to do a climb usually by someone that has done it already.  If you watch someone send a climb, you are getting beta.


Bight - A bend or fold in a rope; A loop of rope where each end does not cross.  Ex: A bight of rope is placed into a belay device when setting up before a climb.


Big wall - A rock face that takes multiple pitches to climb and even multiple days to complete. Ex: Half Dome and El Capitan in Yosemite are big walls.


Biner - Short for "carabiner".


Bivouac - A temporary camp on a rock face during a multi-day climb.


Bivy - Short for “bivouac”.


Body belay - A technique for belaying without a belay device where the rope is passed around the belayer’s body.  It should only be used when a belay device is not available as it is not the most effective way to belay and can be painful to the belayer.


Bolted route - also known as a sport route; a route with permanent bolts and attachments already placed in the rock.


Bolts - Steel expansion anchors pounded into the rock face for use as protection on sport routes.


Bomber - same as “Bombproof”; refers to an anchor that is the least likely to fail. For example a loop around an enormous tree or boulder.


Bonking - When you are climbing and haven't eaten enough, so you run out of energy. 

Bottleneck - A crack that gradually gets smaller.


Bouldering - A type of climbing that is done usually within 20ft of the ground without a rope. Bouldering started as a way to practice technique and has evolved into a different form of climbing. When bouldering outside, it is especially important to have your own crash pads, helmet and spotter. In a gym, there is significantly more padding and near ideal falling conditions.


Bowline - A knot used to form a loop in a rope that does not slip. It is commonly used in rescue situations.


Brake Hand - The hand used to control the rope traveling through the belay device.  The brake hand never lets go of the rope.


Bridging - A climbing move where equal pressure is applied in opposing directions to create grip on the rock. It is commonly used when in a chimney.


Bucket - Same as a “jug”; A large hold that is easy to hold on to. they are a great place to rest while climbing.



Cam - a temporary climbing anchor that can retract and expand to lock inside of a crack.


Cambered sole - A sole of a climbing shoe that is curved to point the toe downward and improve foot placement.


Carabiner - Same as “biner”; A steel or aluminum loop with a spring loaded gate used for attaching loops of rope to each other or to the rock face.


CEN (European Committee for Standardization) - The organization that determines the minimum safety requirements for all climbing gear in Europe. A "CE" stamp appears on all European climbing equipment.


Chalk - A white powder called Magnesium Carbonate that is insoluble in water and helps to soak up sweat on a climber’s hands.


Chalk bag - A pouch that is worn by a climber to hold chalk. They come in all different sixes and designs.


Chimney - The name of a wall feature as well as a climbing move. It describes a large crack that a climber can fit their entire body inside. The move is done by applying opposing forces on the sides of the chimney to lift one’s self up the wall.


Chock - The term used to describe an artificial anchor in a rock; typically in the shape of a wedge that is placed in a crack.


Choss - Loose debris like sand, rock, or plants on a climbing route.


Climber - Anyone that enjoys the sport of rock climbing; The person holding onto rocks as opposed to the belayer or spotter(s).


Climbing - Movement using hands and feet to hold oneself onto a wall, rock, or anything from which they could fall.


Cordage - See “Accessory cord”.


Core - The fibers in the center of a climbing rope.


Counter Pressure - When a climber uses pushing and/or pulling in opposing directions to hold themselves onto the rock. The stronger the difference between the opposing forces, the stronger the hold.


Crab - Another word for a carabiner.


Crack - A gap in rock that can be as thin as a hair or large enough to fit your body into.


Crack Climbing - Using a crack in a wall to climb by using counter pressure and hand or foot jams.


Crag - A climbing area outside of a gym.


Crimp - A climbing hold that is only large enough to fit the tip of the fingers. A crimp can be up to around an inch wide or as small as the edge of a coin.


Crux - The part of a climbing route that is the hardest to get past and usually determines the difficulty of the route itself.




Daisy chain - a series of nylon loops that can be used as an adjustable anchor.


Deadpoint - a dynamic climbing move where the climber does not lose contact with the wall.


Deep water soloing - climbing or bouldering over deep water. That way if or when the climber falls, they can fall into the water.


Dihedral - A climbing feature that is the opposite of an arete. A climber can use counter pressure on each side to ascend.


Directional - an anchor that is placed to prevent a climber on an overhang or traverse from swinging if or when they fall.


Double runner - a piece of tubular nylon that is used to attach climbing rope to an anchor.


Drag - friction on the climbing rope created from pulling it through climbing protection.


Drop Knee - Also known as an Egyptian, a climbing move where the climber is positioned with their hip and the outside edge of their foot is placed against the rock face.


Dry-treated - a rope that has been treated with a water repelling chemical to keep it from getting wet and heavy.


Duodess - When different weaves are used on each half of a rope so that the center can be found quickly.


Dynamic - 1. A climbing move also known as a “Dyno" that involves quick movement usually involving jumping from one hold to another. 2. A climbing rope that is designed to stretch and absorb energy from a fall.




Edging - Using the sides of climbing shoes on very small footholds rather that smearing with the bottom.


Egyptian - See “Drop Knee”.


Equalized - When an anchor has been tied in such a way as to distribute its weight equally to each protection point on the rock.


Extender - See “quickdraw”.




Face - A portion of rock wall that is usually bordered by another portion of rock wall at a different plane. Also, another way to refer to a rock wall in general.


Face Climbing - A type of climbing that uses features like edges, slopers that can only be found on a slab of rock as opposed to crack climbing which requires counter pressure and using the crack to climb.


Fall Factor - A way to determine the amount of force exerted on a rope in a fall. Divide fall length by the amount of rope. If a climber falls 3 meters and there are 50 meters of rope between them and the belayer the fall factor is smaller than if there were only 10 meters of rope in play.


Figure 8 - A climbing knot used to attach the climbing rope to the climber’s harness; or the name of a piece of equipment used for belaying and rappelling.


Finger Crack - A gap in a rock face that is the size of a finger.


Fingerlock - A climbing move where a climber crams a finger in a crack in such a way as to hold themselves in place. Depending on the size of the crack, a finger lock can be achieved in a variety of different ways.


Fisherman's knot - A knot used to attach two pieces of rope together end to end in line with each other. When under tension, this knot tightens itself and becomes stronger.


Fist Jam - A climbing move similar to a fingerlock, where the climber crams their fist into a crack in such a way as to hold themselves in place.


Fixed Protection - A permanent attachment to a rock face, usually a bolt.


Flag - Swinging or holding out a leg in order to keep balance while climbing.


Flared - A way of describing a crack that diverges or converges getting larger or smaller.


Flash - When a climber completes a climbing route or bouldering problem on their first try with prior knowledge of the route.


Flapper - A piece of skin that has been torn off of a finger or hand but is still attached on ne side.


Follow - The climber that is the second one up a climb and collects the protection that was set by the lead climber.


Free climb - What we typically think of as rock climbing at this time. When a climber ascends a wall with only the use of hands and feet where the rope is only present to catch the climber in the event of a fall. Free climbing is the opposite of aid climbing.


Free rappel - A descent down a rock face where the rappeller is only sliding down a rope rather than walking backwards down a rock face.


Free solo - Climbing without a rope or protection of any kind. It is very dangerous and any mistakes can result in severe injury or death. 


Friction - The force exerted from one surface coming into contact with another. In climbing, it is a style where contact between the hands and soles of the climbing shoes are used instead of edges and cracks.



Gardening - When a climber cleans the vegetation off of a climb. Grabbing onto plants and shrubbery as a hold is a bad idea.


Gaston - A climbing move where the climber pushes on the rock sideways and away from their body with their thumb pointed downwards.


Gate - The moving part of a carabiner. It can be straight or bent and can have a locking sleeve as well.


Girth hitch - A knot that attaches a loop of rope to a bar or another rope perpendicularly.


Grigri - A belay device with an automatic locking mechanism for when a climber falls as well as a lever to help with lowering a climber smoothly.


Gripped - being really scared on a climb.


Guppy - A climbing hold where the climber cups their hand over the top of a hold and uses their palm to grip the hold rather than their palm.


Gym - An indoor climbing facility that uses walls made of plywood and individually bolted plastic or wooden pieces to mimic a real rock.




Half rope - A technique where two smaller ropes are used when lead climbing. One end of each rope is tied to the climber’s belay loop and the other end is controlled by the belayer using an ATC. One rope is used for protection points on the left and the other is on the right. The benefit of this system is that the rope does not zig-zag across the rock as a climber ascends.


Hand Crack - A gap in a rock face that is thicker than a finger, but smaller than a fist.


Hand jam - A climbing move similar to a fingerlock or Fist Jam, where the climber crams their hand into a crack in such a way as to hold themselves in place.


Hang dog - When a climber takes a break midway up a climb and puts their weight on the rope rather than their arms or legs.


Hanging belay - a belaying position where there is not a suitable place for the belayer to stand and therefore must be suspended by an anchor from the rock instead.


Harness - A high strength nylon belt system that wraps around a climber’s waist and legs. It is used to attach a climber to the end of a climbing or repelling rope.  A harness is essential for a safe climbing experience.

Headpoint - Rehearsing a climbing route with a top rope before lead climbing it.  Headpointing is usually done when there is a large gap between protection points on the climb and a fall between them could lead to a serious injury.


Heel hook - A climbing move where the climber uses their heel to hold onto the rock face.


Highball bouldering - A bouldering route that goes above 15-20ft making a fall very dangerous.


Hot aches - An intense “pins and needles” feeling when blood starts to recirculate through cold hands or feet.  If you have ever put a leg to sleep, it is a similar and more intense sensation.

Hueco Scale - A scale created by John “Vermin” Sherman to rate the physical difficulty of a bouldering route. The scale starts at VB, V0, V1, etc. all the way up to V17.




Jam - A climbing move where the climber uses a body part, usually a finger, hand or fist to create a wedge shape inside of a crack to hold them against the rock face.


Jug - Same as a “Bucket”, a climbing hold that is easy to hold onto.  It would be similar to grasping the lip of a large bowl.




Kernmantle - The specific style of rope construction that most climbing ropes use today.  In German it means core (kern) and a sheath (mantel).  The core has all of the strength and elasticity and the sheath protects the core from abrasion and dirt. 


Kevlar® - A type of fiber used in climbing due to its strong and lightweight properties.


Kilonewton (kN) - The metric unit for a force (mass x acceleration). One kN is equal to about 225 lbf. If a carabiner is rated at 10 kN, it has a capacity of 2,250 lb.


Kneebar - A climbing move where the climber uses the bottom of their foot and the top of their knee to hold them against the rock face.  Tom Cruise does a kneebar at the beginning of Mission Impossible 2.




Last - A wood or plastic tool shaped like a foot used to build a climbing shoe.


Layback - A climbing move where the climber pushes against the rock with their feet and pulls with their arms to create the counter pressure and friction necessary to hold them onto the wall.  It is used a lot when climbing a crack that is in a dihedral formation.


Leader - The climber that starts a lead climb.  In sport climbing, the leader sets the quickdraws and in trad climbing they set all of the protection.


Leg loops - The pieces of a harness that wrap around a climber’s upper legs. In a premade harness, they are usually attached to the waist belt.  If a climber uses a “Swiss Seat” harness, it is very important to make sure the leg loops do not cross between the legs or there could be serious injury in a fall.


Lockoff - A climbing move where the climber is holding onto the wall face with their arm or arms fully bent.  It is the same as when doing a pullup; the lock off is when the person is at the highest position in the exercise.


Lower - Typically in a gym, this is where the belayer slowly lets rope back out of the belay device to bring the climber safely back to the ground after a fall, multiple attempts, or completion.




Mantel - A climbing move where the climber uses the palm of their hand to push downward and lift their body high enough to get their foot to their hand; similar to climbing out a deep hole.


Mono - A climbing hold that can only fit one finger.


Multi-pitch - A type of climb that is longer than the rope being used.  During a multi-pitch climb, once the lead climber gets to the end of the rope or a good stopping point, they will then belay the second climber who will then climb to them and switch back to belaying or continue passed and become the lead climber.


Munter hitch - A knot used with a carabiner that can be used to belay a climber. It is a good knot to know in case a climber drops or loses their belay device.




Nut - A piece of steel or aluminum with a trapezoidal or wedge shaped profile that is attached to a wire.  It has no moving parts and is used as passive protection when trad climbing.


Nut tool - a long and flat piece of metal that is hooked at one end to help a climber remove passive protection from a climb.




Off-width - A crack with a width that is between the size of a fist and a person’s body.  Typical jams cannot be used because of its width.


On sight - When a climber completes a climb on their first try without any prior knowledge or mistakes on the way up.  In climbing competitions all climbers are kept in a separate room away from the climbing area to ensure every climber does an on-sight climb.




Passive protection - Climbing protection that does not have any moving parts.  These include, nuts, chocks and tricams.


PCD (passive camming device) - A piece of protection without moving parts, such as a hex or a nut.


Permadraw - a permanently placed quick draw. They are usually installed in heavily trafficked areas.


Pinch - A climbing hold that is very thin and is held with the tips of the fingers and thumb.


Pitch - Typically refers to the distance between belay and anchor points.  When a climbing route is longer than one rope length, it is referred to as a multi-pitch. In one pitch the lead climber goes to the top anchor and then belays the second climber up to themselves before repeating it again.


Piton - a wedge shaped piece of metal that was used in the early days of climbing to set protection points. They are no longer used today because they are very damaging to the rock face and are very difficult to remove.


Placement - A point on a climb that is used to set some protection such as a small crack.


Protection - Anything that is used to attach a rope to a rock to protect a climber from falling.


Prusik - A knot that is tied to a fixed rope and attached to the climber’s harness.  It is typically used for ascending and descending the rope. When the knot is held, it can slide along the rope, and when you let go, the knot tightens and stops the climber.


Pumped - The feeling felt in muscles after strenuous use. Usually it is felt in a climber’s forearms after performing a tough move or climb.



Quickdraw - A non-locking carabiner connected to another non-locking carabiner that is used to connect the climbing rope to protection points on a climb.  They are used when lead climbing.




Rack - The collection of gear that a climber brings with them on a lead climb.  A rack usually consists of nuts, chocks, cams, tricams, slings and quickdraws.


Rand - Any rubber on a climbing shoe that is above the sole.  It is the rubber used to toe hook or heel hook.


Rappel - The opposite of climbing; when a climber descends on a rope on a rock face. Typically, the climber walks backward down the rock face with the rope threaded through a figure eight that is used by the climber to control their own speed downwards.


Ratings - A letter or number or both that are applied to a climbing or bouldering route to determine its difficulty. 


Red point - When a climber completes a route without any mistakes after they have practiced it.  Prior to redpointing, a route is referred to as a project.


Redundant - Using multiple anchors in case one or more anchors fail.


Retire - When a piece of equipment is determined to be too beaten up to be used safely and is no longer used.


Ring bend - See “Water Knot”. A knot used to tie two pieces of tubular nylon together.


Rock-over - A climbing move where the foot is placed on a high hold and the climber’s center of gravity is shifted over the foot in order to gain height.


Rope Drag - The friction generated by the rope sliding through equipment and over rocks.


Route - The set of holds that lead to the top of a climb


RP - A very small climbing nut.


Runner - A loop of nylon used to attach a carabiner to a piece of protection. They are commonly used in quickdraws.


Runout - The length of rope between the climber and the last piece of protection. A lot of runout is unsafe.




Sandbag - A route or problem that is rated much lower than its actual difficulty.


Screamer - A name for a really long fall that induces a yell.


Screwlock - The collar on a carabiner that screws down to lock the gate.


Semi-flexed - When the sole of a climbing shoe is slightly bent to match the flex of the foot.


Send - When a climber completes a route without falling or resting on the rope or the term for completing a bouldering problem.


Sewing-machine leg - Also known as “Elvis Leg”; When a climber’s leg shakes from fear or exhaustion.


Sheath - The outer layer of a climbing rope.


Sidepull - A climbing hold that is held by applying force sideways.


SLCD (Spring-loaded camming device) - A piece of active climbing protection that can be manipulated with one hand to reduce its size so that it can fit inside of a crack and then automatically spring open to wedge itself within the crack. It is used when trad climbing.


Slingshot rand - A piece of rubber on a climbing shoe that completely wraps around the foot to prevent the shoe from stretching and the climber’s foot from sliding around in the shoe.


Slipper - A climbing shoe that does not have laces or straps and can be slipped on and off easily.


Sloper - A climbing hold that is large and very smooth. It is gripped using the friction of an open hand against the rock.


Shock Load - The load exerted on an anchor after a fall.

Slack - A command made by the climber to tell the belayer to let out some rope. Usually this is done to get rope around something it is caught on or to give the climber some flexiblity.


Smear - A method of griping the rock with the friction from the bottom of a climbing shoe against the rock.


Solo - To climb alone without protection.


Speed Climbing - A type of climbing usually done in a gym, where two climbers ascend identical routes and they are timed. Speed climbing is also performed outdoors where the goal is to climb a route as quickly as possible.


Sport climbing - Rock climbing where all of the protection has already been placed and all that is needed are quickdraws and a rope.  Sport climbing is mostly done indoors, but there are places where expansion anchors have been installed to sport climb outdoors.


SRENE - An acronym for checking the qualities of a good climbing anchor. It stands for Solid, Redundant, Equalized and No Extension.


Static - 1. A type of rope that does not stretch and is used mostly for rappelling and rescue.  Using a static rope when climbing would be dangerous because it cannot absorb the impact from the fall. 2. A form of climbing where the moves are slow and deliberate and there isn’t any swinging or jumping from hold to hold.


Stem - A climbing technique where upward movement is achieved by applying pressure against opposite walls; usually in a chimney or a dihedral.


Sticht plate - One of the original belay devices.  It acts similarly to an ATC, but is no longer used due to the effectiveness of ATCs and Gri-gris.


Stick Clip - A pole that is used to hook the first quickdraw with the climbing rope already threaded through it on a sport climb. This done so that the climber is on belay when they first start.


Stopper Knot - The knot tied at the end of a rope to keep it from coming out of the belay device while climbing.


Swami - The portion of a climbing harness that wraps around the waist.




Take - A command given to the belayer to tell them to pull in more rope.  Usually, a climber yells “take” when they are about to make a risky move.


TCU (three-cam unit) - A spring-loaded camming device with 3 moving cams instead of 4.


TDR (thermodynamic rubber) - The rubber used on the bottoms of climbing shoes.

Tension - A command given by the climber when they want the belayer to pull in any slack in the climbing rope.


Three-point suspension - The idea that when climbing there should always be three points of contact on the rock at all times.


Three-sigma rating system - A rating system that uses statistical analysis to ensure that 99.9% of all equipment is stronger than its rated strength.  3 sigma refers to 3 standard deviations from the mean on a bell curve of the strengths of a certain product.


Toe Hook - A climbing move where the top of the foot is used to wrap around and hold onto the rock. When buying shoes, it is important to note the amount of rubber on the top of the shoes for toe hooking.


Top roping - A type of climbing where the rope is looped through anchors at the top of a climb where one end is attached to the climber and the other is attached to the belayer. The benefit of top roping over lead climbing is that the climber does not need to worry about clipping in and if they fall, they will not fall very far.


Traditional or "trad" climbing - A type of rock climbing where the climber must place protection and clip in as they ascend a route as opposed to sport climbing where the protection has already been installed.  The protection is then removed by the second climber that climbs the route. This is the most advanced form of climbing with a rope.


Traverse - To move horizontally across a rock face rather than vertically.  A traverse close to the ground can serve as a good way to warm up safely.


Tube chock - A chock that is made from a cylindrical piece of aluminum that is used in very wide crack where a regular chock may be too small. Some tube chocks are expandable to fit in different shaped cracks.



Undercling - Also known as an “undercut”. A climbing hold that is grasped by pulling outward and upward.  An undercling is like a jug that has been flipped upside-down.




Water knot - A knot used to tie two pieces of flat tubular nylon together.


Webbing - Another term for tubular nylon rope used for tying anchors.


Whipper - A large fall that usually ends with the climber being spun around.




Yabo - The term used to describe a sit-start bouldering route in Joshua Tree.




Zipper - When a climber falls on a trad climb and a few pieces of protection pop out in sequence.


Z-Clipping - A mistake made when lead climbing where the climber accidentally clips the rope into protection in the wrong order.


Were there any definitions that you didn't agree with, wanted to add to, or even ones we completely missed? Comment below!

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