If you love adventure as much as we do, then consider studying up on these rock climbing terms every climber should know.
Quick! It’s time for a pop quiz. Tell me, what is the difference between bouldering and soloing? Can you distinguish your gaston from your guppy? If I asked you to demonstrate the heel hook and layback positions, could you do it? Alright, alright – maybe you don’t need to know all of these rock climbing terms to be a rock star climber. But if you’re going to climb the rock, you’ll need to talk the talk.
As with many activities, rock climbing has a language of it own with terms that describe all of the sub-genres of the sport, including climbing styles, body movements, ways to hold the rock, and other various pieces of equipment climbers use. Whether you’re a seasoned climber or just getting your feet wet (and hands chalked) for the first time at your local climbing gym, there are a handful of rock climbing terms that every great outdoorsman and women should know.
There is a lot of climbing jargon to take in, but don’t get discouraged just yet! Read on to get acquainted with some basic rock climbing terms that will help you start climbing like a pro in no time.
Different types of rock climbing
Rock climbing is a diverse and multi-faceted sport, and the technique a climber uses often depends on the environment they’re climbing in. For example, a climber won’t implement the same style of climbing on an indoor rock wall as they would while scaling up the side of a cliff.
We’ll start with the basics:
This is the style of rock climbing that anyone who has visited a rock gym just once or twice in their lifetime are accustomed to. When belaying, the climber will securely attach themselves to a partner who stays planted on the ground. The partner acts as the base for the climber scaling the wall and assists them in coming down by provided slack or creating tension in the rope that keeps them connected. Though this is considered one of the simpler styles of rock climbing, the job of the belayer is not to be taken lightly as they are to be relied on to catch a fall every time the need arises.
To make things more complicated, there are three different types of belaying climbers can attempt and multiple belay devices a climber can use.
2. Traditional Climbing
Often also referred to as “trad climbing,” traditional climbing is a style of rock climbing in which the climber will place all of the gear necessary to stay protecting against falls or other possible injuries during the climb. Once the climb is complete, the climber will remove the equipment placed before the climb on their way back down.
Fun fact: until recently, traditional climbing was the most common style of rock climbing! In fact, up through the 1980s, trad climbing was simply called “climbing” and it was only until after the sport became so popular that more styles of climbing were introduced.
3. Sport Climbing
This is one of those rock climbing terms better known by more seasoned climbers. Sport climbing involves higher intensity climbs on shorter routes. To sport climb, climbers need to pre-position bolts into the rocks. Those interested in sport climbing tend to be more interested in the physical aspect of the sport that the destination of the climb.
Be forewarned: it’s easy (and expected!) that you’ll fall many times while sport climbing as this style requires more complex movements, making it a method of climbing for the more seasoned climber.
If you frequent the rock gym, this is bound to be a rock climbing term you already know! Bouldering refers to the style of climbing that requires no ropes, no harnesses, no hardware – really no rock climbing equipment whatsoever. There are a lot of differences that distinguish bouldering from traditional rock climbing, but one of the main differences is that it requires the climber to do short stints on smaller rock formations (aka “boulders”) or artificial rock climbing walls.
Have you ever wondered what that guy at your rock climbing gym is doing when he’s scaling a wall from left to right just a few feet off the ground? Yup, that’s called bouldering. The big brother to bouldering is called “highball bouldering” – and that comes with its own slew of complications.
This style of rock climbing is more or less exactly how it sounds. While soloing, the rock climber climbs alone without the assistance of ropes, harnesses, or a belay buddy down below. Soloing is risky business, to say the list, and definitely not something to try if you’re just starting out!
These are just five styles of rock climbing to start you out. We suggest doing your own research on other styles of climbing and set some goals on which style you want to attempt next and catching yourself on useful tips to keep you safe while scaling that next mountain or rock wall!
A Few Styles of Ascent
Let the tutoring of rock climbing terms continue! Next up: different styles of ascent when scaling a mountain or rock wall. As with styles of rock climbing, there are a lot to know, and different styles of ascent can (and should) be used in different situations.
Top-rope climbing is a style in which the climber is securely attached to a rope through an anchor system that is set up at the top of the wall and attached to the belayer down below. Therefore, top-rope ascent is when the climber let’s themselves down a wall – almost in step-by-step fashion – until they safely reach the bottom, with their belayer’s help!
2. On site
Here’s a new term to add to your rock climbing dictionary: on sight ascent is when the climber scales a wall “clean” – or without equipment – and places the necessary equipment that they’ll need as they go. Then, with the nuts, screws, and bolts already in place, the climber is able to ascend the wall. On sight ascending is on the list of rock climbing terms that newer climbers may not know, as it is definitely not recommended that beginners try this out! For the more advanced climber, however, it can be a great thrill and really get your adrenaline pumping.
3. Flash climbing
Flash climbing is when a climber climbs a route clean with the necessary equipment already in place. In a way, this is what climbers do when climbing walls at any level of difficulty at their local rock gym! The rocks that you’ll be placing your hands and feet on are already in place, therefore there is no preparation required for this ascent. Simply place one foot after another and start climbing.
Flash climbing is definitely a good option for climbers who don’t want to take too much time placing gear into the wall and want to get their activity started ASAP. The biggest bit of homework a climber should do before attempting flash climbing, however, may be to know what type of rock you’re about to climb and how the type of rock impacts your climbing style.
4. Red point
This falls into that risky biz category of soloing. Red point climbing is for true rock climbing rebels: it requires the rock climber to climb a route quickly and with no rests. In order to climb so quickly, however, the climbing must rehearse the moves necessary to make the climb over and over again, so a good bit of homework is required on the climber’s behalf before starting up the wall.
This style of rock climbing ascent is truly a team effort and requires a climber to put a LOT of trust in their partner. Beta ascent is the term used when a climber imparts information onto another climber on how to ascend from their route while they’re climbing. It requires both climbers to be extremely brushed up on their rock climbing terms, because with beta ascending, knowing proper rock climbing terms could literally be a matter of life or death.
We know we’re throwing a lot of information at you… but we’re just getting started! Besides, you know you secretly love learning all this rock climbing jargon. It’s part of the fun of getting better at this sport.
Let’s talk rock climbing equipment
In case you haven’t already noticed, there are a whole bunch of rock climbing terms to know – and we’re only giving you a small handful of them! And as you may have guessed, with all of the rock climbing styles and types of ascent that you’ve already been given, there comes a variety of different types of equipment for a climber to use.
The types of equipment used varies depending on the style of the climb. We’ll try to keep it simple and introduce you to rock climbing equipment you’ll likely need at any level. Ready? We’re about to throw five more rock climbing terms your way!
Climbing ropes is on the list of rock climbing terms climbers should know at all levels. There are two different classes of ropes used while climbing: dynamic ropes and low elongation ropes, sometimes referred to as “static” ropes. Dynamic ropes are designed in a way that helps to absorb the force of a falling climber and therefore are usually used as belaying ropes. Here’s how a dynamic rope works: when the climber begins to fall, the rope starts to stretch and reducing the force of the fall experienced by the climber and the belayer below.
Elongation or static ropes, on the other hand, have a lot less stretch to them and are typically used in anchoring systems. Traditional climbing is one style that typically uses elongation ropes. This style of rope is also used a a fixed rope for certain types of ascending.
If you’re a climber just starting out, don’t stress too much over the differences between these ropes styles. For now, it’s more likely that you’ll be using a dynamic rope, so no need to stress about elongation ropes and other advanced rock climbing terms until the time comes!
You’ve probably seen these in the past on backpacks and keychains, but a good, strong carabiner is something that every climber should have in their knapsack. Carabiners are metal loops that can be clipped on to a rope and other types of climbing equipment. A carabiner – especially a strong one – is typically made of steel, though many carabiners used for recreational climbing purposes are now often being made using a light weight aluminum.
Steel carabiners are heavier, which makes them feel sturdier, but they are harder to wear and can often weigh down and exhaust the climber. Rock climbing is definitely one of those sports where it’s easier to stay as light on your feet as possible, so steel carabiners are most often used by instructors working with groups or by your belaying partner staying firmly planted on the ground.
This is definitely one of those rock climbing terms you knew even before you began your rock climbing journey! To summarize, a harness is a ropes system that the climber slips on to the lower half of their body (specifically the pelvis) that allows for the rope to be connected to the climber. Typically there are two loops at the front of the harness where the climber attaches the rope. Ropes are most often attached to the harness using a carabiner (as you can tell at this point, the carabiner is probably one of the most used pieces of equipment a rock climber can have!)
There are many different types of harnesses a climber can use. For example, sport climbers prefer a more minimal, lighter harness to allow them to climb quickly, whereas big wall climbers tend to prefer heavier, more padded harnesses. At the end of the day, the type of harness you use is all up to the preference of the climber. We suggest you try out a bunch of harnesses and do your research before purchasing any of your own. There are a lot of subcategories to this style of equipment which just adds more to your list of rock climbing terms to know. We know researching can be stressful, but it will be worth it in the long run and ensure you’ll have the safest climb possible!
This is one of those overarching rock climbing terms that can include a whole bunch of different types of equipment! To put it simply, “protection” refers to the type of hardware that a rope clips into before a climber starts their journey. Different types of protection include nuts, cams, and bolts, all of which are pieces of equipment the climber can put into the wall before starting their ascent.
Another term that goes hand-in-hand with protection is “rack,” which simply refers to a climber’s personal collection of protection equipment. As you can see, not too many of these rock climbing terms stand alone, and most pieces of equipment are used together. So once you get their individual definitions down, the next step is to learn how to use them all together!
5. Belay Devices
Considering there are so many different styles of belaying, there are also many different types of belaying devices. In general a belaying device acts as a “brake” on the rope that attaches the climber to their partner on the ground below. The main purpose of a belay device is to the rope to be locked off to stop a climber’s fall.
Phew – that’s a whole bunch of equipment and rock climbing terms we just threw at you! Don’t worry – though this may seem like a lot to get to know now, but once you start climbing more regularly, a lot of these rock climbing terms will come to you naturally.
Ready, set, climb!
Now that you’re more familiar with all these new rock climbing terms, it’s time to go test your knowledge! Visit the nearest REI and play around with different types of ropes and carabiners. Pay a visit to your local climbing gym and ask one of the workers to go over the different types of ascents and belaying a climber can do. While reading up on these rock climbing terms will certainly help you get to know them better, at the end of the day the only way to master all of this new information is by giving it a shot!
What are some rock climbing terms that helped you out the most when you first started out? Drop us a line and let us know. After all, we’re still learning ourselves – we know there are hundreds of more rock climbing terms out there waiting to be learned!
Related Article: 7 Best Climbing Harnesses For Your Next Adventure