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What is a Dab in Rock Climbing?

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Rock climbing as a sport is jam-packed with jargon or words that only mean something within the climbing community. Some of this jargon, like holds or free solo, is more commonly understood and is easy to pick up when you start climbing. Other words, such as dab, can be more challenging to understand and use.

What is Dab in ClimbingWhat is Dab in Climbing?

If you have ever found yourself asking, “what is a dab in rock climbing?” you have come to the right place. A dab, in the simplest sense of the word, is touching something that is not considered to be a part of the route while you are climbing.

In a gym, this might mean accidentally touching a handhold or foothold that is not part of the route you are climbing. Outside, this could mean bumping a tree with your back or dragging your foot across your bouldering pad. The term can be hard to understand because it can have such a broad meaning.

Since figuring out what is and is not a dab can be challenging, here’s one way that many climbers like to think about it, if you touch something that is not on the route that could potentially help you get up the route, like a human or a tree trunk or the ground, that counts as a dab. If you touch something like a small bush or branch that can’t help you get up the route, that does not count as a dab.

What Causes DabbingWhat Causes Dabbing?

The easiest answer to what causes dabbing in climbing is a lack of core strength, but there really can be any number of answers. In terms of techniques, people usually find themselves dabbing because they are not focusing on keeping their core engaged or they lack the core strength necessary to maintain control of their limbs in awkward positions.

Other reasons that you might find yourself dabbing could be that the wind has blown a tree branch onto you or that your spotter has accidentally bumped into you. For some people, dabbing isn’t a big deal, so they are more likely to casually dab on a climb. They may make a big move, bump into a tree, keep climbing, and not really care.

Examples of Dabbing in ClimbingExamples of Dabbing in Climbing

Since the use of dab as a climbing term can be super varied, there are lots of examples of dabbing in climbing. Here are some of the most common, but keep in mind that these are by no means the only ways to dab while rock climbing:

1. Touching a hold that is off the route

Touching a hold that is off route is the most common way to dab while indoor climbing, but is less common outdoors since which holds are included in a specific route is less defined.

2. Dragging your foot across the bouldering pad or matt

This is especially common with boulder problems with a low start or a sit start and is also more common amongst climbers with long limbs.

3. Bumping into bushes or trees as you ascend your route

While often viewed as the most benign of all types of dabbing, bumping a tree branch or a bush while outdoor climbing is sometimes viewed as dabbing and sometimes viewed as just part of the experience.

With so many examples of dabbing in rock climbing, it’s worth talking about things that could be potential dabs but aren’t usually considered a true dab. For example, if your hair, a loose piece of clothing, or your chalk bag bumps something that is off-route, that’s not usually considered a dab.

Any intentional contact with another person, while you are on a route is also a gray area. If someone bumps into you, it might be a dap, but if someone hands you a chalk bag, it probably isn’t a dab. What is considered a dab and what isn’t considered a dab is a personal preference, and you’ll have to make that call for yourself.

Should You Worry About DabbingShould You Worry About Dabbing?

Figuring out if you should worry about dabbing is totally up to you. If you are a competitive climber or looking to become one, you should be worried about dabbing, but if you are a casual weekend warrior, dabbing might not matter at all to you.

In general, it is more clear-cut what is a dab and what is not a dab when indoor climbing. As a result, many climbers worry more about dabbing when indoor climbing than they do when outdoor climbing. Touching an off-route hold feels more consequential to them than bumping a tree branch.

Outdoor climbing is where the line between what is a dab and what isn’t a dab gets really blurry. Most of the time, climbers use the term dab as a funny way to poke fun at a friend. It is hardly ever used as a serious way to demean another climber. Often climbers will tell a friend that they dabbed on a climb as a way of messing around to say who did better on a climb.

Ultimately, if you want to worry about dabbing, you can, but if dabbing doesn’t bother you, then don’t worry about it. In a competition, dabbing matters, but in day-to-day climbing, the term holds little weight beyond a joke.

As an onlooker of climbing, knowing when to worry about dabbing and when to not worry about dabbing is also important. For example, if you know that a friend wants to get a super clean climb up a route, you should call out any dabs you may see. On the other hand, if you are just watching people climb a gym or cliff, calling out every dab you see can be seen as rude; you should avoid doing it.

Wrapping Things Up: What is Dab Rock Climbing?

Although a dab is a pretty simple concept, it can be hard to understand the nuance of what counts as a dab and what doesn’t when rock climbing. Ultimately, you get to decide what counts as a dab for your climbing practice, so whether you think that touching a tree branch or dragging your foot across the pad or brushing a hold that’s off-route counts is up to you.

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