Rock Climbing Dictionary: A Guide to Essential Terms and Slang

The climbing world is filled with terms that are undoubtedly foreign to the common ear. Use this guide to navigate the difficult lingo.

Abseil

To descend on a fixed climbing rope; another word for rappel.

Access Fund

The Access Fund is a national advocacy organization that keeps U.S. climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment.

Accessory cord

Cord that typically ranges in diameter from 2 to 8 millimeters and is typically fabricated from Kevlar, nylon, Dyneema, Spectra, Perlon, and/or polyester fibers.

Aiders assist the climber in his or her ability to ascend blank terrain.

Active protection

Gear which actively expands to fit cracks, pockets, etc.; cams are active protection because they place an active outward pressure on the rock.

Aid Climb

A style of rock climbing which involves the pulling and standing on pieces of gear to assist in ascending a route.

Aiders

Ladders made of webbing used by aid climbers to step up.

Alien

The brand name of a type of spring-loaded camming device (SLCD).

American Triangle

An anchor setup in which a piece of webbing or cord is threaded through two anchor points and then the ends tied together. This creates a triangle that increases the force on each anchor. This is dangerous when the anchors are not bomber and this setup is not redundant if only one piece of webbing or cord is used.

AMGA

The American Mountain Guides Association, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the American mountain guiding community.

Anchor

The secure attachment of the climbing system to the rock face. More information can be found in our guide, Climbing Anchors: Basic Principles.

Arete

A ridge-like corner of a rock face.

Arm bar

An arm-wedging technique for ascending a wide crack. Also called an arm lock.

Ascender

Device used to ascend a rope; also called a jumar.

ATC

Technically standing for air traffic controller, an ATC is a tube-style belay and rappel device. It enables the belayer or rappeller to create sharp angles in the rope which generate high friction and holding power.

Autolocking carabiner

A spring-loaded locking carabiner that automatically reverts into its locked position.

A bat hang on 1080 and the Letter G, Payne’s Ford, New Zealand.

Back-clip

When a leading climber clips the rope backward through a carabiner so that the rope runs toward the rock, instead of out and away from the rock. Back-clipping increases the chance of the carabiner unclipping upon a fall.

Backstep

A rock climbing footwork technique; placing the outside edge of one’s back foot on a foothold.

Bail

To give up on a climb or summit attempt.

Bashie

A malleable piece of hardware hammered into a rock seam.

Bat hang

rock_climbing_bat_hang
A hands-free bat hang!

A type of climbing move in which the climber locks his or her knees and/or feet in a manner that enables him to remove his hands and hang upside down while on an overhanging route.

Belay

To use a specialized belay device or hitch to protect a roped climber in the case of a fall.

Belay anchor

A multi-point anchor used to secure a belayer to a belay station.

Belay device

A specialized device—often an ATC or GriGri—which generates enough friction on the rope to hold a falling climber.

Beta

Information about the specific moves necessary for a climb or crux sequence.

Bight

A 180° turn or loop in the rope.

‘Biner

See carabiner.

Bivouac

A mid-route sleeping spot; also called a bivi.

Boinking

A technique used by a leading climber to get back on the wall when suspended in open air on steep overhanging routes. This technique involves the leader pulling on the rope to establish slack in the system; when the leader releases the rope the belayer pulls in the slack, thus bringing the leader closer to the wall.

Bomber

A commonly used term for an anchor or protection point that is absolutely fail-proof.

Bouldering

A very physical form of climbing which often involves a short sequence of very physical moves on boulders that are typically under twenty feet tall. All that is required for bouldering are shoes, chalk, and a crash pad.

Brake hand

The belayer’s hand holding the dead end of the rope to arrest a falling climber.

Carabiner

Multifunctional metal piece of hardware used for belaying, rappelling, attaching to an anchor, and much more.

Cam

This cam is securely placed into a crack, applying opposing pressure to both sides of the rock.

Technically called a spring-loaded camming device, cams are a type of protection placed into cracks. Usually comprised of either three or four lobes and one or two axles, cams convert the pulling force of a falling climber into an outward pressure on the rock. We have a short Two-Minute History of the Cam for further reading.

Campus

To climb on an overhang with only one’s hands and no feet.

Chicken head

A small horn extruding from the rock. These typically make good hand or footholds and can be tied off for protection by using a sling.

Chicken wing

A climbing move done in wide cracks where one’s hand is placed on one side of the crack and his or her elbow on the other; the opposing pressure provides stability.

Chimney

A crack wide enough for one’s entire body.

Chock

A removable piece of protection that wedges into a crack; also called a nut.

Chickenhead

An extruding knob in the rock that can sometimes be used as a protection point.

Chockstone

A rock wedged into a crack or between two rock walls.

Cleaning

The process of removing protection from a climb; oftentimes a seconding climber will clean the leaders placements.

Clove hitch

An easily-tied and easily-adjustable hitch often used to secure oneself to an anchor. Learn more about climbing hitches.

Cordelette

Cord, typically between 6-8mm, used for various applications such as equalizing anchors; cordelette used for anchors is often about 20 feet long and at least 7mm.

Crag

A generic term for a technical rock climbing area.

Crash pad

A piece of safety equipment used while bouldering. Crash pads are made of layered foam and soften the impact of a fall.

Crimp

1) The thinnest type of climbing hold, crimps provide only enough space for the tips or pads of one’s fingers. 2) To hold onto a crimp.

Cross-load

For a carabiner to be weighted across its horizontal—rather than vertical—axis. The strength capabilities of cross-loaded carabiners are significantly lower than when loaded in their proper orientation.

Crux

The most difficult section of a climb.

Daisy chain

A sling with sewn loops to facilitate various clip-in points; often used in aid climbing. These are available in nylon or dynex.

Dead end

The end of the climbing rope that goes from the belay device away from the climber; opposite of the live end.

Dihedral

Where two walls meet in a roughly right-angled inside corner.

Drag

See rope drag.

Dry tooling

To climb on exposed and ice-free rock with ice climbing equipment.

Dry treatment

A water-resistant coating often applied to either the sheath of a rope or both the sheath and the core. In addition to providing water resistance, these treatments make the rope slide slightly easier through belay devices and can help prevent tiny dirt particles from lodging into the rope.

Dynamic rope

All ropes used for climbing are dynamic ropes, meaning they slightly stretch when a climber falls. This stretching provides a softer catch for the climber and places less force on the anchors.

Dyno

A dynamic climbing move in which the climber leaps for a hold, completely releasing him or her from the rock face.

Edge

A type of climbing hold; a very small ledge.

Edging

Appropriately edging a foothold.

To place the outside or inside edge of the climbing shoe on a thin foothold.

Etriers

See aiders.

Equalization

The equal distribution of force across all protection in an anchor.

ERNEST

A method used to ensure proper anchor configuration; the acronym stands for equalized, redundant, non-extending, strong, timely.

European Death Knot (EDK)

This is simply another name for the offset overhand bendThe knot gained it’s name out of fear that it would roll and fail while rappelling, but if given a sufficient tail this is a very unlikely.

Extension

1) The elongation of anchor slings or webbing due to a failed piece of protection. An important consideration while anchor building is ensuring that the anchor doesn’t extend should any single component fail. Extension can be prevented by implementing a load-limiting knot. 2) To use extender slings on protection, thus reducing rope drag.

Fall factor

A measurement of a fall’s intensity; calculated by dividing the length of the fall by the amount of rope in the system (measurement of rope from the belay device to the climber).

Figure 8 (rewoven figure 8)

The foremost knot for tying into the rope. Learn to tie it here.

Finger lock

To wedge and lock fingers in a small, finger-size crack.

Fixed line

A rope anchored in a stationary spot.

Flag

A footwork technique in which the climber extends a leg for counterbalance.

Flake

1) A large piece of rock separated from the wall, creating a crack. 2) To uncoil a rope into an organized stack so that knots or snags do not develop while climbing.

Flash

To complete a route, without falling, on the first try with information (beta) about the necessary moves prior to climbing (as opposed to an on-site).

Follow

To climb a route (and typically remove any placed protection) after the leader; in these situations, the leader often belays from the upper anchor.

Free climb

A type of climbing in which the climber uses only his hands and feet to ascend the route; a rope and protection is still used, but the climber does not rest on the rope or pull on protection to assist in progress (as opposed to aid climbing).

Free solo

To free climb a route without the use of a rope or protection.

Friction hitch

A type of hitch that tightens onto the rope when loaded; often used for rappelling or in self-rescue situations.

Gaston

To grab a climbing hold that is beside the climber’s body in a thumb-down orientation; relies on an outward pressure to be effective.

Gate flutter

The undesirable opening of a carabiner gate when fallen upon.

Girth hitch

A common, simple hitch used in various situations. Check out our Guide to Rock Climbing Hitches to learn how to tie it.

GriGri

Made by Petzl, the GriGri is a form of auto-locking belay device. Learn more about belay devices here.

Groundfall

To hit the ground in the event of a fall; may be the result of falling before the first bolt/protection point, from protection popping out, or from significant runouts that do not adequately protect the climber.

Hand jam

A technique for locking one’s hands in a crack.

Hangdogging on a strenuous sport climb!

Half rope

A type of rope that is used in pairs where the climber typically alternates which rope clips into the protection; this technique reduces rope drag on winding routes.

Hangdogging

To take extensive rests on the rope while ascending a route.

Heel hook

To use the back of the heel on a large hold to gain leverage.

Hexes

A six-sided piece of metal protection placed in cracks; sometimes called a chock.

Highball

A very high, no-fall boulder problem.

HMS carabiner

From a German word, halbmastwurf sicherung (translates as “half-clove hitch belay”), an HMS carabiner is a large pear-shaped carabiner that works well for belaying and/or hitches such as the munter hitch.

Jam

To wedge one’s hand or foot into a crack; a standard technique for crack climbing.

Jug

A large, easily held hand hold.

Jugging

When the lead climber climbs back up the rope to return to the highest piece of protection after a fall.

Jumar

See ascender.

Kernmantle rope

The standard construction of modern climbing ropes; features an interior core (kern) surrounded by an outer sheath (mantle).

Kilonewton (kN)

The standard unit for measuring the strength of climbing equipment; one kilonewton equals approximately 225 pounds of force.

Knee-bar

To use the counter-pressure of one’s knee and foot on climbing features or holds for stability; also a common rest position.

Layback

A technique in which the climber pulls toward him/herself with her hands while pushing away from him/herself with her feet.

Lead climb

To be the first climber up a pitch, clipping bolts or placing protection while ascending. See our Overview of Lead Climbing to learn more.

Line

Another word for a rock climbing route; lines are often characterized by distinctive features in the rock.

Live end

The end of the climbing rope that goes from the belay device toward the climber; opposite of the dead end.

Load-limiting knots

Overhand knots tied into slings above the masterpoint of an anchor. They establish redundancy and limit the amount of extension should any component of the anchor fail.

Locking carabiner

A carabiner that locks and requires a decisive effort or technique to unlock; typically these feature screwgates or magnetic mechanisms.

Lock-off

Using a single handhold to support the weight of one’s body as he or she moves to another handhold.

Mantle

A climbing maneuver in which a climber lodges him/herself over a bulge; typically depends largely on friction without solid handholds.

Master point

The primary point of attachment in an anchor.

Multi-pitch

A climbing route that exceeds one full rope-length, requiring the climbers to set up belay stations and ascend in more than one pitch.

Munter hitch

A hitch that can be used for belaying or rappelling in the absence of a belay device.

Nut

A type of wedge-shaped passive protection placed in constrictions of a crack.

Off-widths serve as some of the burliest climbs out there!

Nut tool

A metal pick used to assist in the removal of protection from cracks.

Off-width

A crack that is too wide for a typical hand or foot jam, yet too thin for chimneying technique.

On-site

To complete a route, without falling, on the first try without any information (beta) about the necessary moves prior to climbing (as opposed to a flash).

Open hand crimp

A crimping technique in which the climber’s thumb is not wrapped on top of his or her fingers; the palm of the hand is generally flat against the wall.

Overhand bend

Used to attach two ropes for rappelling. Also called the European Death Knot.

Passive protection

Gear with no moving parts and—when placed in the correct orientation—holds against a fall; nuts and hexes are common forms examples.

Pitch

The distance between two belay stations or a belay station and the anchor; climbs are either single-pitch or multi-pitch.

Piton

A metal spike hammered into a crack seam to serve as an anchor point.

Pinch

A climbing hold, usually in a vertical orientation, that requires the pinching of the hold between one’s thumb and fingers.

Pinkpoint

A successful ascent of a route, without falling, but with pre-placed protection points and hanging carabiners (as opposed to a redpoint).

Positive

A measure of the amount of outward pull a hold can sustain. For example, large jugs are generally deemed to be very positive while slopers are not.

Pro

See protection.

Protection

Anchor points throughout a climb (such as cams, nuts, hexes, bolts, etc.) to which a climber attaches for security.

Prusik

A type of friction hitch that can be used to ascend a route.

Pumped

The state of having swollen forearms after a power-intensive climb.

Quickdraw

A short sewn runner with carabiners on each end; typically used to clip the rope to a bolt (one carabiner to the rope and one carabiner to the bolt).

Rack

A climber’s arsenal of equipment for a route (may include cams, carabiners, nuts, quickdraws, etc.).

Rail

A climbing hold in the shape of a small ledge.

A climber rappels in Arches National Park.

Rappel

To descend a fixed climbing rope; another word for abseil.

Redpoint

To complete a route, without falling, placing protection along the way and without resting on gear.

Runner

See sling.

Runout

A section of the climb where protection options are limited and their is large spacing between bolts and/or cracks to place gear.

Rope drag

The resistance of the rope as a leading climber ascends. This is caused by the clipped carabiners and can be reduced by using extension on winding routes.

Sand-bagging

Intentionally grading a route lower than deserved; can be dangerous for future climbers on the route.

Screwgate

A type of carabiner that screws shut, thus locking it and preventing accidental openings.

Second

See follow.

Sharp end

The end of the rope that the lead climber ties into.

Sheath

The outer part of a climbing rope that protects the core.

Shoulder-length sling/runner

A sling that easily fits over one’s shoulder, typically 60cm (24in) in diameter. A double shoulder-length sling is 120cm (48in) in diameter.

Simul-climbing

When two (or more) climbers climb simultaneously, tied together by opposite ends of the climbing rope. The protection between the climbers protects them in the case of a fall.

Slab

A rock face void of positive hand and footholds. Slabs rely predominantly on technique and delicacy, not power.

SLCD (spring-loaded camming device)

See cam.

Sliding x

A technique for establishing two-point self-equalization.

Sling

A loop of webbing used for a variety of attachment purposes. Materials include nylon, Dyneema, Spectra, and Dynex. While nylon is cheaper and slightly more dynamic, Dyneema, Spectra, and Dynex are lightweight and don’t absorb any water. A standard length is 60cm (24in) and this is also sometimes called “single shoulder-length.” Other common sizes are 30cm and 120cm.

Sloper

A type of climbing hold with few features and relies primarily on friction to be grasped.

Smearing

To use merely the friction of one’s climbing shoe on a poor or non-existent foothold; extensively used for slab climbing.

Sport climbing

A style of climbing which involves clipping to pre-drilled bolts.

Spot

To protect a boulderer in the case of falling; the aim of spotting is to guide a falling climber toward a safe landing on the crash pad.

static rope

A type of rope that does not stretch and is used for ascending, rappelling, and hauling loads; these ropes are not designed to be climbed on.

Stemming

To counter-press two widely spaced footholds.

Stick clip

To use a stick (or long rod) to pre-clip the first bolt on a route, thus preventing a ground fall should the climber fall before the first bolt.

Stopper

See nut.

Stopper knot

A knot tied at the end of the rope when rappelling so that the climber cannot rappel off the end of the rope; should also be tied into the end of the rope opposite the climber when top roping to prevent the end of the rope sliding through the belay device if the rope is not long enough.

TCU

Accronym for tri-cam unit, a spring-loaded camming device with three cam lobes instead of four; typically for very thin cracks.

Climbing in traditional fashion, this climber places a small cam into the crack.

Top-roping

A style of climbing where the rope runs from the climber, up through the anchors, and then down to the belayer. This setup is called a “slingshot” top rope and it enables the belayer to immediately catch the climber upon falling (as opposed to the large fall potential of lead climbing).

Trad climbing

Short for traditional, this is a style of climbing in which the climber places small pieces of gear (usually cams and nuts) to protect him or herself in the case of a fall. This is a very clean style of climbing due to its minimal impact on the rock.

Traverse

To climb horizontally rather than vertically.

Tri-axial loading

An undesirable situation in which a carabiner is loaded in three different directions.

Tricam

A type of camming device which features a lope-shaped edge; can be used in both passive and active orientations.

Tube-style belay device

The style of modern ATCs; tube-style devices are the evolution of the Sticht plate.

Twin ropes

Two thin ropes that are used together to clip each piece of protection; both ropes go through all quickdraws, cams, etc.

UIAA

The Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinism; the UIAA sets standards for climbing equipment strength and safety.

Undercling

A climbing hold that requires the climber to grasp it with a palm-up orientation, pulling up and/or toward him/herself.

Walking

The tendency for cams to move out of position as the leader climbs due to movement of the climbing rope; to reduce walking, add extension slings to each placement.

Webbing

Woven flat fibers (usually nylon, Dyneema, or Spectra) used to make slings.

Whipper

A very large fall.

Wiregate carabiner

A carabiner with a thin, wire-constructed gate; reduces weight.

X-rating

A rating given to climbs that have high groundfall or death potential.

Yosemite Decimal System (YDS)

The standard grading scaled used in the United States.

More from Sander DiAngelis

Climber Spotlight: Beth Rodden on Redpointing Tips, Training, and Nutrition

The subjective nature of rock climbing will never allow us to determine...
Read More