Rock Climbing Glossary, Climbing Dictionary

Climbing as a sport has a massive array of obscure and specialised 'lingo'. This list attempts to shed some light on what some of these terms mean.

If you have terms you think should be included in this list or have spotted mistakes, please contact us. We're also on the look out for any pictures that might better illustrate some of these terms, if you've got something you think might do the trick, let us know and we'll upload it with full credit given.


To descend a rope using a descender, belay device, figure eight or maybe with just the rope round your body (a classic abseil). Also "to ab", "to rappel", "to rap".

Aid Climbing

Climbing using gear for resting or getting past hard bits. Aid grades range from A0

Alpine Style

A style of climbing whereby all equipment (food, shelter, gear) is carried during an ascent.


An outward pointing bit of rock. E.g. the four sloping corners of a pyramid are all "arêtes".


A device for climbing a rope. May be a prusik or a more complicated mechanical device.

Barn Door

To swing round, away from the rock, when all your holds are on one side of your body.


(noun) A setup where the climber can attach them self the rock with climbing equipment, creating a belay so that they can bring their second up. A belay should be able to hold a shock load.


(verb) To protect another climber from falling by using a friction creating device. When the climber falls, friction prevents the rope running through the belay device and the belayer's weight prevents the climber falling.

Belay Device

Used while belaying, a belay device uses friction to slow down and stop a falling climber.

Belay Loop

The loop at the front of a harness that you attach a belay device to. For belaying off not for tying in.

Belly Traverse

A traverse that involves wriggling on your belly to get from one side of a shelf to the other often because the ledge is too small to stand/kneel on. Often results in the climber looking like a beached whale.


Any pre-knowledge of a climb. Having beta negates an onsite.

Body Belay

A method of belaying in which the rope is wrapped around the belayer's body to generate enough friction to stop a climber's fall.


Unprotected and run out. Often used in guidebooks to describe a route that is lacking in protection.


Used as protection on sport climbs or to protect unprotected stretches on mountain routes. Bolts are either held into a drilled hole with big metal raw plugs or resin.

Bomber or Bombproof

This refers to holds or gear placements. Used to describe as being highly unlikely to fail.


A knot often used to tie in as an alternative to a figure of eight. It is more complicated, but much quicker to tie than a figure of eight and so easier to get wrong. It has the advantages of being easier to untie and when it's been loaded and a knot cannot accidentally be left in, getting caught in carabiners and bolts.


A horizontal crack.


A useful technique for climbing grooves, chimneys and corners. A foot on either side provides a great rest or chance to have a look around.


A massive hold analogous to a... bucket.


A small rounded overhang.


A large protruding face or area of a crag.


A pile of rocks used to mark a route.


Short for Camming Device. It uses opposing and continually widening wheels (cams) that are spring loaded to full extension. These devices are squeezed to a smaller size by retracting the wheels and placed within CRACKS or BREAKS where the wheels are then extended to gain purchase against the rock. Generally fit a larger variety of placements than NUTS and are quicker to place but are considered less reliable. Classed as GEAR. Common brands are Technical FRIENDS, Camalots, and Aliens.

Campus Board

An overhung wall with horizontal wooden batons fixed to it. It's to be climbed with hands only (campusing) to increase finger and arm strength.


Ascending a route (usually overhung) using hands only.


A large crack wide enough to fit your whole body into.


A small lump of hard rock that protrudes from a softer rock. These are often found on slabs.


The adding or enlarging of holds to a route. Extremely unethical and frowned upon.


A piece of rock which is jammed immovably in a crack. Can be used as a hold or threaded.


Anything loose or likely (or inevitable) to fall off. A route with lots of loose debris is often called "chossy".


The removal of loose rock, plant life and gravel from a route which if left in situ would render the route unsafe for you, your second or both.

Clove Hitch

Two loops made in the rope, the second passed behind the first. This knot is great for belays and making yourself safe, one of the most useful knots around!


The inverse of an arête. Analogous to the corner of a room.


A split in the rock.


A stretch of rock/cliff with routes on.


A small hold onto which you can just get the ends of your fingers (usually the last joint) or toes.


The hardest move on a route


Whilst bouldering, dabbing is the touching of the floor with one's feet or any other body part. Strict/obsessive boulderers may extent this to anything attached to their body (clothes, chalk bag, hair).

Dead rope

The rope that has come through the belay device and is left to pile up on the floor. A firm hand must be kept on this at all times to prevent the climber falling.

Deep water soloing

Climbing without gear (hence soloing), but with deep water below you to soften the fall. Often abbreviated to DWS.


A device used for abseiling. Figure eights are descenders, and a belay device can be used as one.

Disco Leg

Shaky legs from standing on your toes too long. Dipping your heel or redistributing your weight sometimes helps.


Repeatedly falling off a route then using your gear/rope to get back up to where you fell from.

Dynamic rope

A rope that allows some stretch when loaded. This reduces the shock-loading to the system (and the climber), and therefore improves safety. As opposed to a static rope.


A dynamic move (jumping) for an out of reach hold. Moves where you move for a hold where missing it would result in falling off are also called dynamic.

Egyptian -


A route that doesn't take the most obvious line. Often a route between two obvious lines.


A route that has parts that remind you of how far up you are and with how little gear.


Two snap-gate carabiners connected by a dyneema sling. Used for protection when leading, it connects the rope to protection.

Fall Factor

This is the severity of a fall. It's calculated by dividing the distance fallen by the distance from the climber to their last piece of gear. The highest factor possible while lead climbing is 2.

Figure Eight

A descender/belay device that looks like an eight. Not so popular now-days.

Figure of Eight

A knot used to attach a climber to the rope. It's easy to tie and easy to see when it's wrong so is great for beginners and pros alike.

Figure Four

Used a lot in competition ice climbing, a figure of four involves putting one leg over the opposite elbow (while that arm grips a big hold) and pushing up on it to gain extra height.

Figure Nine

Similar to the Figure Four, the Figure Nine invloves putting one leg over the arm of the same side and pushing up to gain height/reach


A tea-tray sized piece of wood or plastic with varying sized holds for improving finger strength.


To stick a foot out sideways for balance. A foot that is flagging does not bear weight.

Flake (1)

A flake of slightly detached rock, it's usually thin with space behind it for hands, feet, gear and sometimes even you.

Flake (2)

To flake a rope is to uncoil it.


To climb a route first time without practice but with beta. Climbing it without beta would be an on sight.

Free Climbing

Climbing a route by using your body rather than the gear.


A Spring Loaded Camming Device (SLCD) made by Wild Country. "Friend" is widely used to describe any SLCD. See also: CAM.


Cleaning a potential route in such an aggressive manner that it verges on chipping. Can also refer to removal of green stuff to make use of more holds/gear placements.


See protection.

Gear Loop

The loops around the harness waist band used to store gear on while you are climbing. Different harnesses have different numbers depending on what they are designed for. Most gear loops are not rated.


How difficult a climb is. Worldwide there are many different grading systems; different ones are used for trad, sport and bouldering in the UK.


A "self-locking" belay device that works by way of an internal cam. It has a lever to release the cam and allow you to lower off.


A shallow CORNER


A traditional route which is lead after toproping it, with or without preplaced protection.

Heel Hook

The use of one's heel instead of a toe. Can be used to the side for balance or above your head to pull up on.


A hexagonal piece of gear for traditional climbing. From the size of a D type battery up to bigger than a fist. Usually on dyneema sling.


A term used to describe a tall bouldering problem


Any rock feature that will aid climbing


A HMS carabiner is a large pear-shaped carabiner which due to its wide top is great for belaying from and setting up belays on. HMS is short for Halbmastwurfsicherung.


A round hole in the rock.

In Situ

Gear already in place on a route. Examples of in situ gear are pitons and threads.

Italian Hitch

Knot used to belay or abseil, it is also known as a Münter hitch. It's a great knot to know in case you drop your belay device from a great height and need it to get down.


A huge handhold


The use of fingers, feet, arms or hands (or head?) in a crack to hold you to the rock.


A climbing technique whereby your hands are on a sidepull and you "layback" onto the hold with your feet out to the side.


The leader climbs the route first, placing protection as they go. When finished they will bring up their second. From this comes "to lead".

Live Rope

The rope going from the climber to the belay device. On the other side of the belay device is the dead rope.


Short for mantleshelf.


A climbing technique used to get onto a ledge whereby you pull up on your hands and get your body over the shelf, then pushing down until you can get your feet on it.


A small pocket big enough for one finger. Often very painful.


Used to describe a climb or move that is dependent on body shape/size. Often mistaken as meaning easy for the tall.


A wedge shaped metal piece of protection, usually on a wire to aid in placement in deep cracks. Brands of nuts include Wallnuts (DMM), Stoppers (Black Diamond) and Rocks (Wild Country)

Nut Key

A thin metal tool for the extraction of gear (nuts/cams/hexes).


A crack too narrow to chimney but too wide to jam.


To climb a route without falling and without beta.


An area of rock that is at less than 90° to the ground. The opposite of a slab.


A dark mineral accumulation on the rock.


A hold that can be "pinched" between thumb and fingers. Usually vertical.


To climb a bolted route after inspecting it, placing all of the quickdraws and maybe practicing on a toprope.


A distance climbed with one length of rope. Climbs can be single-pitch or multi-pitch.


A flat, pointed piece of protection with an eye in the end for clipping a carabiner to. Pitons are hammered into cracks too thin or the wrong shape to take other gear. Once in they're nigh on impossible to remove.


A place in the rockface that gear can be placed for protection.


A hole in the rock deep enough to get the last joint of fingers or more in.


Also known as gear, protection is anything placed on the rock to stop the climber hitting the floor if they fall.


(noun) A piece of static cord which is tied around the rope and grips when the tail's weighted and can be slid when moved by the head. Can be used as an ascender or to protect an abseil. There are three main prusik knots used: the classic prusik, the French prusik and the klemheist. To make a prusik loop from static cord, a double fisherman's knot is used.


(verb) To ascend/descend a rope using prusiks.


The tight, tired feeling in your arms during/after a route when pulling too hard.


Two snap-gate carabiners connected together by a short sling. Used to connect protection (bolts in sport or nuts/hexes/cams in trad) to the rope.


A collection of gear used for climbing. May be also known as sport rack or trad rack dependent upon what kind of gear it consists of.


The amount of force a piece of equipment is designed to take before failing. This is always written on the gear somewhere.


Leading a bolted route after inspecting it, and maybe after practising individual moves on a toprope. Originally, if the quickdraws were preplaced, this would be called a pinkpoint though the two words often mean the same thing now.


The action of moving one's weight over a foot by bringing your knee above it. Can be used very effectively to reach a higher hold previously out of reach.


A very steep overhang.


A vertical channel created by water.


A piece of protection through which the rope runs.

Run out

A stretch of a climb lacking in gear is said to be run out.


A wide sling sewn together in such a way that when fallen on with a force of more than 2kN the stitching will rip and the sling will lengthen. These are used instead of quickdraws with gear placements that are likely to fail if fallen on with the full force of a fall. The stitching absorbs some of the force on the gear and increases the likelihood that it will hold a fall. Examples of when you'd use one are when ice climbing or chalk climbing when a large fall would pull protection from the wall.


A second is the person that belays the leader then follows up after them removing the gear they placed.


A sideways facing hold, is usually great for laybacking.


A climbing technique whereby both climbers climb at the same time, tied to each end of the rope and separated by their gear. Falls are held by the gear between them and the weight of the other climber.


A rock face at greater than 90° to the ground. Slabs are often lacking protection but easier on the arms.


A very useful loop of rope, or more often now, dyneema tape. Slings can be used for racking gear, as threads for protection, slinging around rocks to set up belays, throwing over spikes of rock as protection, making you safe at the top of sport routes and many other uses as well.


A sloping hold which often requires the use of an open palm and a lot of hope to stay on it.


The technique of using shoes flat on the rock on very small or non-existent holds to progress up the rock.


Climbing without a rope.


Climbing routes which have pre-placed bolts for protection. These are most commonly held in by resin or expansion bolts

Stopper Knot

A knot used to stop rope slipping through another knot. A stopper knot is used when tying in.


Long, thin, flat and woven. It's used to make slings and harnesses and is very strong and durable.


A length of inexpensive or old rope which you don't mind leaving behind. Can be used as a thread or to ab off. Treat pre-placed tat with caution, it could have been there a while!


A gap in the rock through which a sling can be passed and used as protection. Chockstones make great threads (so long as they don't wobble) as do large piled boulders often found at the top of a climb.

Topping Out

Finishing a climb by climbing to the top of the cliff and walking off rather than finishing half way up and abseiling down.


To climb while being belayed from the top. Toproping is often confused with bottomroping, belaying someone from the bottom.


Short for traditional.


A type of climbing where the leader places protection in the rock as they go. Popular in the UK, the Europeans prefer to bolt everything.


The use of a quickdraw in sport to keep yourself to the rope when descending and cleaning the rope. The quickdraw is clipped between the belay device and the live end of the rope so that as you descend you're kept next to the line of bolts.


To climb sideways.


A hold which must be used by putting fingers into it from below. Often found on overhangs.


Climbing slang for nut, as nuts are now usually on wires not rope.


A deep and narrow sea inlet cut by the sea