The Climbing Dictionary

10251914-a-boy-climbing-the-books-as-symbol-of-education-step--milestoneIt can be easy to be bamboozled by the seemingly impenetrable climbing-babble you sometimes hear at the crag or climbing wall. Like many activities, climbing has a language of its own with terms to describe sub-genres of the sport, body movements, ways of holding on to the rock and styles of ascent.

This was initially compiled by Will Harris at the BMC.

Types of climbing

Rock climbing is a diverse and multi-faceted sport, with variations all involving climbing from the bottom to the top of a piece of rock without falling off or weighting the rope for an ascent to be considered successful.

Traditional climbing
Climbing routes outside where the lead climber places protection such as hexes, cams and nuts as they go up. Often shortened to Trad climbing.

Sport climbing
Climbing on routes which use bolts. Often shortened to Sport.

Climbing short, challenging problems without a rope on boulders that are low enough to fall from safely.

Highball bouldering
Boulder problems that take the climbing higher than normal bouldering height and into the fear zone.

To climb without a rope. A risky business.

Deep water soloing
Soloing above deep water, often referred to as DWS. Seen as a safe, fun activity, but care is needed.

Style of ascent

How you get from the bottom to the top of a route is often considered as important as getting to the top at all.

On Sight
To climb a route clean first time from bottom to top in one continual flow, placing your own equipment or clipping the bolts with no falls and no resting on the rope.

Climbing a route clean with prior knowledge and/or equipment already in place.

Ground up
To climb a route, starting at the bottom, and working your way up. You might take some falls, return to the bottom and start again.climbing books

To climb a route, usually a sport route, with no rests, after having spent some time on it rehearsing the moves.

Leading a climb, usually a dangerous one, after rehearsing the moves beforehand on a top-rope.

This is what other climbers give you when imparting information about a route such as any trick moves or equipment placements.


The hardware that a rope is clipped into to make a climb safe. There is natural protection in the form of nuts and cams; alternatively, bolts. Also known as gear.

A climber’s personal collection of protection.

In situ
Literally, in place. Usually refers to protection from ascent to ascent that is left in a climb, such as a peg.

Two Karabiners linked together by a length of sown cord. Used to clip the rope to protection.

Another word for a quickdraw.

A very small, brass, climbing nut.

Hold types

A wide range of terms are used to describe what a particular hold looks like, or how it is best used. Most often heard when climbers are recounting the moves on a recent route, or giving advice to others about how to complete a difficult section.

A huge hold (often referred to as a jug), which the whole hand can grasp.

A small edge that is held with fingertips, with the fingers bent to bring the hand closer to the rock. Larger holds can be crimped by using the same hand shape.

Imagine opening a pair of lift doors with your hands; this is the way to place your hands on the climbing holds when doing a gaston. Named after the famous French mountain guide and author Gaston Rebuffat.

The climber’s hand is turned sideways and grips a hold by cupping it with the little-finger side of the hand.

Hand jam
Inserting the hand into a crack and squeezing it so that it grips.

A hold that is squeezed between the thumb and fingers for grip. 

A downward-facing hold that is pulled upwards by the climber. Needs good body tension and strong biceps.


The body shapes assumed and movements enacted when ascending a route have descriptive names, used when describing a route to other climbers.

Applying equal pressure with the feet and hands in opposite directions on opposing pieces of the rock face.

A semi-dynamic move where the climber hits the hold she is moving to at the end of her arc of movement.

A climbing move in which the climber jumps or moves dynamically from one hold to another.

A move used on steep rock to take the weight off your arms. The feet are placed on two separate footholds and one leg is rotated so the knee is pointing towards the other leg.

Dangling or sticking a leg out to improve balance when climbing.

Heel hook
Using the heel to grip and pull the body towards the rock.

Climbing up by pushing the feet away from the body and pulling the hands towards the body.

A climbing move whose name originated from how one would get stood on a mantelpiece. How you get out of a swimming pool without using the steps.

To gain height by placing the foot on a high hold and rocking the centre of gravity onto it.

Experiential terms

There is also a rich language used to describe the experience of climbing rock.

Bombproof. Used when referring to equipment or holds. Means very good.

A feature of the rock; a crack wide enough to fit your whole body in to.

Soil, dirt, rubble, stones, vegetation; in fact, anything other than good, clean stable rock.

The most difficult move on a climb or the hardest part of the route

A piece of skin that hangs off your finger. Usually sustained on sharp rock or rough holds.

Cleaning vegetation off a climb.

Consumed with fear when on a climb.

Hot aches
An exquisite pain felt in the hands when blood returns to chilled fingers. Usually experienced in ice climbing, winter bouldering or when throwing snowballs with no gloves on.

A crack that is not the size of any particular body part. Usually wider than a fist and smaller than a body.

When the muscles fill with lactic acid and become bloated with blood resulting in a worrying loss of strength. Often combined with being gripped.

Run out
The distance the climber is above their last protection. A route can be described as run out if there are large gaps between the gear placements.

A route or boulder problem that is notoriously tougher than the advertised grade/information given.

A cool cat. A term used to describe a good climber.


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