Rock Climbing Terms: Essential Lingo Beginners Need to Know

There has been a rising buzz about rock climbing, with five million people reportedly participating in the sport. This sudden burst in interest towards the activity is said to have been spurred by its inclusion in the 2020 Olympics.

If you’re thinking of joining the bandwagon but jumbled by terms like ar?te, then you?re in good company. New to climbing? We reveal the top rock climbing terms every beginner needs to know in order to understand the sport better.

Types of Climbing

By now, there?s no doubt you already know the benefits, but do you know that there?re different types of rock climbing? If not, below is a detailed description of each type to help you choose well before you start climbing. However, keep in mind that there are two categories of climbing, indoor, and outdoor rock climbing.

Sports Climbing

In sports climbing also known as lead climbing, the climber relies on permanent anchors, usually drilled-in bolts, which are fixed to the rock on a predefined route for protection. To follow the route, the climber usually has a rope tied on their harness and clips into each anchor to ascend. This protects them from falling.

Even though lead climbing is relatively safe, it requires more commitment as it puts more emphasis on endurance and strength instead of adventure. It?s usually for more advanced climbers.

Therefore, if you are beginner, it might take you sometime before you get to the top. Also be ready to break a sweat!

Trad Climbing

Also known as traditional climbing, it’s also for experienced climbers. The primary difference between it and sports climbing is that it has no predetermined routes.

In other words, the climber is usually required to place and remove their anchors as they scale the rock. If there’s a second climber, the first one often puts the anchors, and the second one removes it as they go.

Due to this aspect, trad climbing creates room for adventure as you can explore any route you deem appealing. Also, since the anchors are not permanently bolted, traditional climbing is environmentally friendly as no changes are made to the natural features of the rock wall.

Nevertheless, while it?s fun and everything, trad climbing holds a potentially higher risk factor than the latter. It?s the most common form of rock climbing in Yosemite National Park.

Top Roping

In top roping, the rope is usually anchored at the top of the climb and attached to your harness. Since the rope is anchored on a stable point, top roping is excellent for beginners as the risk of slipping and falling is greatly minimized.

Top roping is different from sports and trad climbing in that there is no bolting used along the route. This makes it even more environment friendly and is the ideal form of climbing in an area where bolting isn’t allowed or where the rock quality isn’t sufficient for leader protection.


Bouldering is an excellent form of rock climbing for total beginners. It involves climbing small rock formations, usually between 12 and 30 ft. high without using any ropes or harnesses.

For this, you?ll only need climbing shoes and a crash pad just in case you slip and fall. Other than the minimized heights, bouldering is great for beginners as it helps them get used to heights and also requires minimal gear.

Free Climbing

As the name suggests, free climbing usually involves ascending while relying only on the natural features of the rock. In this case, the free climber typically uses the climbing gear for protection purposes and to provide a belay. Most forms of rock climbing are often categorized as free climbing.

Free Soloing

Most people, especially beginners, tend to interchange free climbing and free soloing. However, it?s vital to note that there?s a huge difference between the two.

In free climbing, you use climbing gear such as ropes and other protective equipment. However, free soloing is just as the name suggests; you scale a rock relying on nothing but your skills and ability!

Due to its nature, the risk of falling is incredibly high and as such is only done by rock climbing enthusiasts like Alex Honnold who boasts of years of experience. It?s similar to bouldering only that the climber goes to crazy and unsafe heights!

Climbing Tools

Now that you know about the different forms of rock climbing, here is a list of the climbing gear you?ll need during your first climb. Even though our list is not complete, it covers must-have gear.

Rock Climbing Shoes

Rock climbing shoes are the lifeline of any climb. No, your pair of sketchers won’t do! Climbing shoes are specially designed to serve this purpose, hence pack features which will serve the part.

For instance, they?re made of leather for durability purposes and a sticky rubber bottom to protect your feet and at the same time provide the much-needed grip while you ascend.

While all rock climbing shoes are designed to suit this purpose, they?re also designed based on the level of skill. For instance, a climbing shoe designed for a trad climber is not similar to that designed for bouldering. Therefore, pay close attention while choosing your footwear.

The Rope

The rope is yet another essential rock climbing gear. Its sole purpose is to catch you a few feet below in case you slip. Rock climbing ropes aren?t like normal ropes. They are usually much sturdier and have two main parts, the core, and the sheath.

The core as the name suggests is the stronger part of the rope. The sheath, on the other hand, covers and protects the core, making it easier for you to hold it as you ascend or descend. Similar to shoes, rock climbing ropes come in an array of types, lengths, and diameters.

They?re categorized into two main groups, namely; static and dynamic. Static ropes are mainly used to haul gear up or down a rock wall or for rappelling.

Dynamic ropes, on the other hand, are used for the sole purpose of climbing and protection. This is because they boast elasticity and absorb energy when you are falling, holding you in place.


While still on that note, the harness is the gear used to connect you to the rope. It?s made up of a padded, adjustable waist belt and two leg loops. Just like any other climbing gear, harnesses are available in an array of designs and features.

They?re customized to suit different forms of rock climbing. While choosing your first harness, go for one that is tailored to offer you comfort and then as you advance, switch to one that provides both comfort and an all-around performance.


When you take the necessary measures, chances of falling are usually minimized. However, they aren?t 100% eliminated, which means you could still fall. This is why you need a helmet. It protects you from impact against a rock in the event of a bad fall and also keeps your head safe from falling debris.


Carabiners are oval shaped connectors with spring-loaded gates. Depending on the climbing task at hand, you can use either a locking and non-locking carabiner.

Locking carabiners are used for important connections, for instance, attaching the climber to the middle of the rope as they prevent the gate from opening when in use. Non-locking carabiners, on the other hand, are used for simple connections such as attaching the climbing rope to a piece of protection.

Protection Equipment

Also known as pro devices, protection equipment refers to the pieces of hardware that a rope is hooked onto, creating temporary anchor points on the rock wall during ascent. They?re grouped into two, passive, and active pro devices.

When pulled on, passive devices utilize the shape of the rock to prevent the rope from falling out. When pulled on, active pro devices, convert the force of the pull into pressure locking the rope tighter in place hence enabling you to take the next step safely. Primary pro devices include nuts and cams.


If you?re going rock climbing, you?ll also need quality gloves. While you can always go without them, be assured you?ll go back home with a blistered hand. To save yourself the agony, invest in quality climbing gloves as they prevent rope burns and also come in handy during rappelling.

Climbing Terminology

Now that you know what you need and the different forms of rock climbing, below are some of the essential mountain climbing terms that will make it even easier for you to blend in with the climber community.


When a fellow climber tells you to abseil, they are telling you to descend. However, abseil is mostly used by Australians. The common term for this action is rappel.


The anchor is simply the point of attachment for your climbing rope. The anchor varies depending on the form of climbing you?re practicing. For instance, in sports climbing, the anchors are usually permanently bolted while in trad and top roping the anchor is temporary.


Ar?te refers to the edge or outside corner of the rock wall that you can hold on to during ascent.

Barn Door

This phrase is usually used when a climber loses balance and swings sideways without falling, the same way a barn door behaves when opened suddenly. Barn doors are common even among experienced climbers. The good news is that they?re usually harmless, so no need to freak out.


This is probably one of the first terms you?ll hear during your first climb. In a layman language, to belay is to safeguard or secure your partner in case of a fall. In other words, when you?re the belayer, your partner relies on you to catch them in the event of a fall or whenever the need arises. You can belay or be the belayer.


This refers to the step by step instructions given during a climb.


If you don?t want to be identified as a beginner, replace the term carabiner with biner. Biner is slang for carabiner in rock climbing.


If during the climb someone says ? I found some bootie” please get your mind out of the gutter as they?re simply talking about climbing gear, for instance, nuts and cams left behind by other climbers using the same route.


Bombproof is used to describe protection gear that is of top quality. In other words, it?s used to say that the equipment is secure and reliable. Bombproof is also used to describe a very good, or solid anchor.

Brain Bucket

Brain bucket is the cool word for helmet.


The act of rotating camming devices in place until they?re tight and safe to use.


Not your typical class teacher chalk but gymnast chalk and a must have gear. You’ll use it to absorb moisture from your hands during the climb. It comes in a chalk bag that you?ll be attaching to your harness.


When you hear chickenhead, don’t think someone is insulting you. Chickenhead refers to a spherical knob of a rock.


If someone elatedly screams ?chimney?, then know they’ve found a vertical crack wide enough for them to fit in.


If you hear “crab” don’t get excited about dinner as crab is yet another cool word for a carabiner.


Crag refers to the rock you?re about to climb or the one you?re already climbing.


When a leader in the climb says ?oh crux? brace yourself for the toughest part of the climb.


During your climb, the last thing you want is to deck out. To deck is to fall and hit the ground.


A dihedral refers to two planes of rock that join to form an inside edge. Dihedral is the opposite of Arete.

Dirt Me

When someone you?re belaying says dirt me, they?re asking you to lower them back to the ground for reasons best known to them.

Dry Fire

It refers to when one of your hands accidentally releases the rope when pulling hard, causing you to bash into the rock!

Elvis’ Leg

When another climber says you have an Elvis’ leg, they mean you’re either afraid, nervous, or fatigued and you have to be lowered.

Discover More Rock Climbing Terms

Even though the above list will help familiarize you with this world, there?re so many rock climbing terms that you should know. Ensure you check our definitive guide on rock climbing for more.

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