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The Ultimate Guide to Rock Climbing Slang and Terminology

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When you first start climbing, it can feel like there are hundreds of climbing and bouldering terms to learn, and, unfortunately for you, there are a lot. From learning all the names of the gear to the terms used to describe different moves to all the safety terms, learning to rock climb can be like trying to learn a new language, but we’ve got you covered in this article. 

We’ve broken down tons of essential rock-climbing slang and terminology into easy-to-understand categories to help you become more comfortable with the terms. It will take time, but here are our top terms you should know when starting out in rock climbing. 

The Growing Popularity of Rock ClimbingThe Growing Popularity of Rock Climbing

Although rock climbing in its many forms has been around for years, it didn’t really start gaining popularity in the US until the 1970s and 1980s. With the age of the stonemasters of Yosemite Valley being the start, rock climbing has only increased in popularity since then. As more and more climbing gyms have opened and new cliffs have been developed, the sport has continued to grow at a rapid pace. 

Rock climbing has been gaining popularity for years across the US, with 2021 seeing the most new climbing gyms opening in years. As rock climbing made its Olympic debut, the number of people interested in the sport continued to grow, with gyms reporting major increases in visitors around that time. The Climbing Business Journal has been tracking the growth of the sport for years and will continue to do so. 

Rock climbing is just one aspect of the massive industry that is outdoor sports in the US, and both rock climbing and outdoor sports as a whole are growing. Indoor rock climbing typically sees a growth rate of around 6-7% every year. It’s easy to understand why rock climbing is so popular when you look at the mental, physical, and social benefits that the sport can bring to its participants. 

Rock Climbing Lingo Common Rock Climbing Slang & TerminologiesRock Climbing Lingo: Common Rock Climbing Slang & Terminologies

With so much rock climbing slang and funny climbing terms, it can be hard to understand anything that a climber says at first. Understanding the lingo can help make the sport feel more approachable, but it is also essential to your safety in many situations. 

Here is our rock climbing slang dictionary, complete with different types of climbing, types of holds, safety terms, gym terms, and so much more! 

Types of Climbing

Here is a basic rundown of the different types of climbing. Keep in mind that multiple terms can often be used to describe one route. 

  • Top Rope Climbing: Top rope climbing is a common style of roped climbing where the anchor and rope are both already set at the top of the climb. As you climb up, the belayer takes in the rope, so if you fall off the wall, you won’t fall more than a foot or so, depending on the rope stretch. 
  • Lead Climbing: Unlike top rope climbing where the rope is already set at the top of the climb, in lead climbing, the climber who is leading, or climbing first, brings the rope up the climb with them. 


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  • Sport Climbing: Sport climbing is where the climber brings the rope up the wall with them as they climb and attach the rope to fixed bolts on the wall to protect them from falls. That being said if you fall while sport climbing, you will fall the distance from you to your last bolt, times two. 
  • Trad Climbing: Similar to sport climbing, trad climbing is another style where the climber brings the rope up the wall with them. The difference is that instead of clipping into fixed bolts, the climber places their own protection in trad climbing. Trad is short for traditional since this is one of the older styles of climbing. 


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  • Bouldering: Bouldering is climbing low to the ground and without ropes. You are protected by a mat or pad on the ground below you when you fall. 
  • Ice Climbing: Ice climbing is climbing up ice using ice axes and crampons to help you maneuver up the ice. This style of climbing is vastly different from the others on this list and can be done both as top rope climbing or as lead climbing. 
  • Free Soloing: Made famous by Alex Honnold, free soloing is an incredibly dangerous form of climbing that involves climbing with no protection. If you fall, you will either be seriously injured or die. 
  • Deep Water Soloing: Deep water soloing is free soloing that takes place over water. It is most famous in Mallorca, Spain, but can be done anywhere with large, overhanging cliffs over deep water. 
  • Free Climbing: Free climbing is a term that describes most of the styles of climbing we have talked about so far. It involves climbing up a rock using only the features or holds on the rock to help you move up the rock. 
  • Aid Climbing: Aid climbing is the opposite of free climbing and is where you use added pieces of gear, such as ascenders or ladders, to help you get up the wall. 
  • Speed Climbing: This is a relatively new form of climbing and involves climbing a set route as fast as possible. 


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Knots and Hitches

Tons of knots and hitches can be used when climbing, but these are some of the most commonly used knots and hitches. In order to know these, you’ll need to know that a knot is something tied into a rope that can exist on its own. In order for a hitch to exist, it needs to be around something like a rope, carabiner, or tree. 

  • Figure 8 Follow Through: The Figure 8 follow through is the knot that is used to tie a climber into the climbing rope. It includes tying a figure 8 knot, feeding the tail of the knot through the tie-in points on your harness, and then tracing the knot back through. This is an essential knot to know when climbing. 



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  • Bowline: A bowline knot is often used to attach a static rope or a cordelette onto a fixed place, like a tree or large rock when building a trad anchor. 

  • Clove Hitch: A clove hitch is a non-moving hitch that is frequently used to attach a leg of an anchor onto a carabiner to aid in equalization, although it can have other uses as well.  


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  • Munter Hitch: A munter is a moveable hitch that can be used to rappel if you drop your device. It is also used in many rescue scenarios but is not commonly used by most climbers. 


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The last three hitches are the three most commonly used friction hitches. It is essential that you learn and are comfortable with at least one of these hitches. 


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  • Prusik: The prusik is the first of the three main friction hitches used as a backup or third hand while rappelling and in rescue scenarios. It is multidirectional and is super grippy. 
  • Autoblock: The autoblock is the easiest to tie of the three main friction hitches and is simply tied by wrapping your third hand around the climbing rope and laying the strands nicely next to one another before clipping both ends into a carabiner. It is also multidirectional but not quite as grippy as a prusik.  
  • Klemheist: The klemheist is the least used of the three main friction hitches and is the most unidirectional of the hitches. It is only typically used in rescue scenarios. 

Types of Climbing Holds

Here are some of the most common climbing holds you will find when you are out climbing. You can find these holds both outdoor and indoor climbing, so keep your eyes peeled for these types of holds next time you go climbing. 


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  • Jug: A type of hold that allows the climber to put their fingers in the hold as if it were the edge of a jug. 
  • Sloper: A sloped hold that must be held with an open hand. The grip here is all created by the friction between the climber’s hand and the hold. 


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  • Crimp: A small hold that often looks like a little rail that only fits your fingertips. 



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  • Side pull: A hold that is pulled from the side with the climber’s body weight pulling away from the hold. 
  • Undercling: A type of hold where the climber cups their hand under the hold and pushes up with their body to create opposing pressure. 
  • Pocket: A pocket in the rock that can usually only fit a finger or two into it. 
  • Pinch: A chunk of rock that sticks out and must be pinched in order to get a grip on it. 


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Climbing Styles and Techniques

  • Slab Climbing: Slab refers to the angle of the rock. Slab climbing is the opposite of overhanging climbing, so the rock face is tilted away from the climber. While this is often easier since you can stand on holds without the rock pushing you away, it is painful to fall on slab since you will slide down the rock instead of falling into the air. 
  • Overhanging Climbing: An overhanging climb is one where the rock is tilted towards the climber. A climb can be a little bit or a lot overhanging, but both are challenging and hard on the abs. 


  • Crack Climbing: Crack climbing is a distinct style of climbing that involves climbing up a single crack. The cracks can be small finger-sized cracks, large cracks that fit your whole body, and anything in between. 


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Climbing Grades and Ratings

With so many different climbing rating systems out there, it can be hard to understand. These are the most commonly used systems across the US and a few in Europe, although there are plenty more used in other parts of the world. 


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  • Yosemite Decimal System (YDS): The YDS is the rating system that is commonly used in the US to rate the difficulty of roped climbs, including both top-rope and lead climbs. It consists of two numbers and can also include a letter. Vertical climbing is rated as 5.X, with the X being replaced by a number to indicate the difficulty. For example, an easy climb might be rated 5.4, while a harder climb might be rated 5.11a. The letter is just another way to add differentiation between climbs. 
  • Font Scale: The Font scale is used across Europe to rate the difficulty of boulder problems. It was developed in Fontainebleau and is named after the area. It uses numbers with plus or minus signs to indicate how hard or easy something is. 
  • V Scale: The V scale is used across the US to rate boulder problems. Like the Font scale, it is numerical, but each grade has a V in front of it, like V4 or V7. 

Climbing Lingo for Safety

Knowing what other climbers mean when they talk about safety-related concerns is essential. Here are a few commonly used terms, but please ask your fellow climbers if something is confusing you, as understanding it may help keep you safe. 

  • EARNEST: EARNEST stands for equalized, angle, redundant, no extensions, solid, and timely. It is an acronym used in anchor building to ensure that your anchor is safe. There are other acronyms that are used, but this is one of the most common.  
  • Tail: The tail of a knot or hitch is the loose end of the rope that sticks out. Some hitches and knots need a backup knot or hitch tied onto the tail, while others just need a tail that is at least six inches in order to be safe. 
  • Dressed: The term dressed refers to knots and hitches. It means that the strands of the knot or hitch are all in line with one another and are not crossed. A well-dressed knot will roll less and hold better than a poorly dressed one. 

Climbing Etiquette Lingo

Climbing etiquette can seem like a lot, but much of it relates to safety. There is less lingo here than in other areas of climbing, but it is essential to understand this lingo to ensure your success in climbing. 

  • “Rock!”: In climbing, it doesn’t matter what you drop; you always yell, “Rock!”. This means that instead of listening to whatever object was yelled, like “sunglasses” or “water bottle”, you can instead spend that time moving to safety. You always yell “rock” at a volume that correlates to the size of the object dropped. If you drop your sunglasses, for example, you might say, “rock”, but if you dropped your whole backpack, you would yell, “ROCK!”. 
  • Beta/Beta Spraying: Beta is the name for the moves of a climb. Beta spraying is when you tell the climber the moves for the climb, thus spraying them with beta while they climb. This is often something that is viewed as bad since unwanted beta spraying can take away a lot of the fun of problem-solving in climbing. 

Rock Climbing Moves

With so many climbing moves, it can be hard to understand what anything is, but here is our list of some of the most common climbing moves that you’ll come across when climbing. 

  • Dyno: A dyno, or dynamic move, is a move where you jump from one hold on the wall to another. 

  • Smear: Smearing is pushing your foot against the wall to get enough friction to use nothing as a foothold.  
  • Barn Door: A barn door is when your body gets off balance, and you swing sideways off the wall, like a barn door. 
  • Heel/Toe Hook: Hooking either your heel or toe onto or underneath a hold is considered a heel or toe hook and is a great way to create stability and opposing pressure. 


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  • Flag: Flagging is using a non-weighted foot to help maintain balance during a move. 
  • Gaston: Think of a gaston as trying to pry open a sliding door. With your thumbs facing down and the backs of your hands together, you are pushing out with your hands. 

Rock Climbing Terms to Describe Experience

Many times, when climbers describe a climb they did or a day they spent climbing, they will use terms that make no sense to a non-climber. Here are some of the most common words that climbers might use to describe their day out climbing: 

  • Crux: The crux is the hardest part of a climb. This is typically the sequence of moves that give the climb the rating it has. 
  • Gumby: The climbing slang gumby is used to describe a new or inexperienced climber in a negative way. 
  • Pumped: Pumped is a term that describes a feeling you may get in your arms from climbing a lot. It happens when your arms are feeling fatigued, and the blood is pumping really hard, giving your arms the feeling of having their own heartbeat.  
  • Sandbagged: Sandbagged is a term that describes the rating of a climb. It means that the climb feels harder than the rating it was given. For example, a 5.9 that is sandbagged may feel like a 5.10b. 
  • Chossy: A chossy climb is one that is particularly dirty. It likely has loose rocks and maybe some patches with vegetation or dirt that could fall on the climbers below you. 
  • Run Out: A route that is run out is a route where the bolts or places to put gear are really far apart. This means that any slip will result in a longer fall since the protection is spaced out or run out. 
  • Flapper: A flapper is an open wound where the skin is flapping and is only attached to one area. These typically happen on your fingers but can happen anywhere. 
  • Onsite: To onsite a climb means that you have completed the climb cleanly, or without any falls, on your first attempt with no previous knowledge of the route. 
  • Flash: Flashing a route is similar to onsiting it in that you have completed the route the first time, but you had previous knowledge like you might have read in a guidebook or received advice on the route before attempting it. 
  • Red-point: Red-pointing is the next step down from flashing a route. It means that you successfully completed the route, but only after practising it a few times. 
  • Red-point grade: A climber’s red-point grade is the grade of climb that they can consistently complete with some practice. This is the grade that is at the edge of their climbing limit. 

Gym Climbing Vocabulary

  • Route: A route is a set roped climb. It can refer to both a top rope or a lead climb. 
  • Problem: A problem is what a bouldering route is called. 
  • Setter: The setter is the person who decides where the holds on the wall are going to go and thus sets the route.  

Climbing Communication Terminology

There are a few standard phrases that are used to communicate when climbing. Here are the three essential phrases dues that you should know: 

  • “On belay”/” Off belay”: These are the first things that the climber and belayer will say to one another before the climber leaves the ground. When you say either of these things, you should be checking both your harness and gear as well as your partners to make sure everything looks right before you respond. 
  • “Climbing”/” Climb On”: These are the commands that communicate between the climber and the belayer, indicating that the climber is leaving the ground now, and the belayer needs to be paying attention. 
  • “Ready to lower”/” Lowering”: These are the standard commands used at the top of a climb to let your belayer know that you are ready to be lowered to the ground. 

Wrapping Things Up: The Ultimate Guide to Rock Climbing Slang and Terminology

Understanding the lingo of rock climbing can be hard, but with easy-to-use lists like this article provides, we know that you’ll be able to master all the terms in no time. Just remember that while it can seem overwhelming at first, the more time you spend climbing and talking with climbers, the more second nature the words will seem. Start learning the terms that feel the most essential to your climbing, and then just keep learning from there!

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