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The Absolute Must-Have Glossary of Common Rock Climbing Terms

By Edited Aug 3, 2016 0 2

Rock Climbing Terms: Deconstructed for the Newbie Rock Climber

Every sport, rock climbing included, has its own terminology to learn, if you're interested in gaining any traction in learning the sport. And like every sport, unless you have some grasp on what the jargon means, it's tough to understand what your fellow climbers are talking about. This is true not only telling stories, but especially so when learning techniques, motions, and maneuvers unique to the sport of rock climbing. 

More Bouldering!

Climbing Terms


Anchor: a reference to any solid, immovable device or object a climber can rely on for support in the event of a fall. This could be a tree, rock, or permanent bolt in the rock or wall.

Aretea hold used during an ascent, usually a corner or ridge

Back Step: pertaining to footwork, instead of using your big toe, you'd instead use the outside edge of your foot. Also can be used in reference to entangling your foot in rope, likely causing a subsequent upside-down fall.

Belay: (verb) the act of taking in the rope by the belayer (the guy anchored securely to the ground) to minimize risk in the event the lead climber takes a fall. (noun) the location where the belayer is anchored. 

Betathe stuff your friends are supposed to give you before you climb based on their attempts of a route to help with your climb.

El Capitan Climbing

Betaflashsuccessfully completing a route or problem on the first try after having been given beta.

Boulder, bouldering(noun) reference to a rock or section of a larger wall that can be climbed without using rope for support. Usually falls are controlled and cushioned by a crashpad. (verb) An increasingly popular climbing style that doesn't require the use of ropes, as the climb focuses on short, highly technical climbing routes. 

Bump: a climbing maneuver in which one hand moves to another hold and the other hand follows the same sequence. 

Campus: the act of climbing without the use of feet, letting them hang free. It's an excellent form of strength training. Can be done on a climbing wall or campusing board.

Campus boarda vertical or angled board outfitted with horizontal slats to practice campusing.

 Cave: a climbing structure consisting of an accessible overhead, as well as two vertical walls. 

Chalk: used to increase traction and absorb sweat from hands during a climb. Today, most compounds are magnesium carbonate. Also has mild anaesthetic qualities. 

Chickenhead: a knobby hold that can be used by either hands or feet. Usually very effective.

Crank: climbing at highest level of strength or ability.

Crimper: a grip method that primarily allows only the use of fingertips, causing the knuckles to be raised. Crimp can also refer to the hold itself.

Cross through: a maneuver in which one limb cross over or under another limb. For example, left hand reaching over your right hand or left hand reaching under your right foot. 

Cruxrefers to the most difficult part of a route or problem. Cruxy is a descriptive extension of the word, in which a climb has many challenging parts.

Disco leg, Elvis leg: usually occurs in new climbers or at the end of a long day of climbing, where one supporting leg is so exhausted it begins to shake or twitch involuntarily from exhaustion.

Dyno: shortened permutation of "dynamic". A climbing technique involving a very aggressive jump or motion to make it to the next hold in a problem or route.

Edge: (noun) a crimpy, small hold, usually running laterally. (verb) Applied to footwork, where a climber applies weight to a small part of the outside edge of his or her shoe on an edge surface for support.

High Bouldering

Fingerjam: A very challenging technique requiring tremendous finger strength in which one or more fingers are inserted into a crack, and the climber ascends to the next hold using fingers locked in the crack as a hold. 

Flag: letting your leg hang free in a way that reinforces your balance. 

Flappera common, superficial breaking of the skin that usually happens after dyno-ing or after the skin has been worn thin from a long climbing session. Named for the flap of skin barely still attached to the hand or finger.

Free solo: a climb in which no ropes, harnesses or crash pads are used. In reference to climbing high without the use of any safety measures in which a fall will usually result in serious injury and/or death. Ill-advised on all counts. 

Gaston: a maneuver in which a climber pulls laterally, causing the elbow point outward.

Grade: the estimated difficulty level of a climb or problem.

Hand Jamsimilar to a fingerjam, in which a hand is inserted into a crack, locked in place and used as a hold. Considered to be a moderately advanced technique.

Heel Hook: a technique in which the leg is brought high enough to wrap your heel around a hold in order to rely on it for support or propulsion to the next hold. A common, and cool looking technique commonly seen in bouldering. aka: "hooking"

High Bouldersimilar to free soloing, in reference to a high climb without safety gear where a fall would likely result in serious injury, though less likely in death. Still ill advised, but at lower heights than that of free soloing.

Hueco: named for their prominence at Hueco Tanks, TX. Refers to a hold, a large indentation in a climbing surface providing a pocket to grip.

Jug: a very positive, very stable hold. Usually very large. 

Mantel: an impressive maneuver in which you'd pull yourself onto and above a horizontal surface, then resulting in a pushing motion, allowing you to stand on top of the hold, if necessary. Similar to the upper body motion of climbing a fence. 

Match: putting both hands or feet on the same hold. 

Onsight: clearing a problem or route on the first attempt, without any beta.

Open hand: a gripping technique where your hand is open and you're trying to make as much contact with the hold as possible. A common technique used on slopers and other holds allowing very little grip.

Pocket: similar to a jam. Any hold that demands you insert a finger, hand, or foot into to use as support or propulsion.

Problem: usually in reference to a short bouldering route.

Pumped: another common occurrence in new climbers or at the end of a long session. The state the forearms reach in which they are inflamed and no longer responsive.

Sandbag: when a problem or route's difficulty is considerably higher than the grade or difficulty rating implies.

Send: simply the successful completion of a problem or route.

Slab: any climbing surface that is less than vertical.

Sloper: a hold that provides poor grip, requiring the use of open hand techniques and connecting as much of the hand to the surface as possible for optimized grip. 

Smear: using the wall itself as a foothold by placing a large part of the shoe on it for traction.


Spotting: not unlike that in weight lifting. Where a second person helps to minimize damage in the event of a mishap, or in the case of climbing, a fall.

Tape up: the act of applying zinc oxide tape around the hand to prevent flappers and other injuries, as well as provide tendon support. 

Undercling: holds that demand that your palms face up instead of down in order to gripped effectively.

V-rating: the common method of grading the difficulty of bouldering problems. 

Yosemite Decimal Systemmost common difficulty rating applying to any climbing other than bouldering. 5.0 being very easy and rating as high as 5.14. 

Although far from being an extensive list, this glossary will give you a much better idea as to what your climbing buddies are talking about during a session! There are infinitely more climbing terms being added to the sport as it evolves, but these are among the most commonly used at your local climbing gym or what you'll likely hear if you were to join a group of climbers on a trip to an outdoor site. 




Jun 5, 2012 12:13am
WOW! Great photos and great information. Thumbs up!
Jun 5, 2012 12:16am
Thanks! Much appreciated!
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