Climbing Jargon You Need to Know
Updated: Oct 27
If you are new to climbing, you may find yourself in the climbing gym more often, but whenever you go, it feels like you've entered another country. Climber lingo and jargon fly all around, and you're left nodding 'uh-huh' while internally you're thinking 'what-the-heck are these people saying?' No worries, we've got you covered with your one-stop shop for essential climbing vocabulary dictionary so you can join in the next climbing convo without missing a beat.
Definitions and Contextual Examples of Climbing Jargon
Types of Climbing Holds:
Climbing walls contain a variety of holds, either natural rock (outdoors) or plastic/wood (indoors). As you progress onto more challenging climbs, you'll hear climbers refer to different types of holds with several names. Now, if someone beta-sprays you (aka shouts at you where to move while climbing), at least you'll know what they mean by 'that crimp!'
Definition: Very small hold, usually enough to get your fingertips on.
Example: "That route is pretty crimpy. I don't know if my fingers are warmed up enough for it."
Definition: Large hold that you can get a really good grip on
Example: "Dude, that hold is good! It's a big jug!"
Definition: A larger, rounded hold that is difficult to hold onto. (Keep your elbows tucked in and engage those biceps!)
Example: "Slopers suck."
Definition: A hold (can be of various sizes) that you literally have to pull from the side for the best leverage.
Example: "Grab that hold the other way! It's a side-pull!"
Definition: A hold in which the portion you grab onto is facing downward, thus forcing you to engage your biceps and pull upward against the hold.
Example: "Really stand up into that undercling! It'll get better the more you stand into it."
Definition: Hold that you pinch. Usually rectangular or blocky. Pinch it with your thumb on one side and fingers on the other and squeeze hard! (Beware of the pump!)
Example: "Commit to the move - that pinch is pretty solid."
Definition: A notably small foothold that can sometimes be used as an intermediate hold when making a larger reach. Jibs are traditionally too small for bolts and are screwed onto the wall.
Example: "You have a jib for your left foot that is right below your knee."
There are a variety of climbing disciplines that exist. Here are some of the most common you'll hear discussed among the climbing community:
Definition: A sequence of complicated moves on walls, usually about 15 feet. Climbs set on a boulder are called 'problems.'
Example: "You won't need your harness. We're bouldering today."
Definition: The rope is anchored at the top of the wall above the climbers. The climber ties into one end of the rope, and the belayer hooks into the other and takes up the excess rope (slack) while the climber moves up the wall. Climbs on top-rope are called 'routes.'
Example: "Hey! Do you want to be my top-rope partner today?"
Definition: The rope begins on the ground with the climber and belayer. The belayer feeds rope (aka gives slack) to the climber as they move up the wall, and the climber clips the rope into pre-bolted hanging carabiners (aka quickdraws) as they climb.
Example: "Hey! Do you want to lead today? I brought my rope with me."
Definition: Similar to lead climbing, but the climber must place their own gear into natural cracks in the wall to secure themselves as they climb. They are only done outside.
Example: "We climbed a 5.6 trad route yesterday."
Definition: Climbing a route without a rope or protection. Please do not do this.
Example: "Have you seen the movie Free Solo starring Alex Honnold? He didn't even have a rope! He free soloed El Cap!"
A slew of technical terms mainly refer to movement and body positioning on the wall.
Definition: Hooking your toe onto a hold and pulling against it to establish tension.
Example: "Your left foot will toe hook the hold at your waist, and then you'll reach left hand to the pinch."
Definition: Like a toe hook, but use your heel to create tension this time. Activate your hamstring and pull toward your body!
Example: "You have to heel hook on the right to make the last move of that climb."
Definition: Extend your leg and foot (the one not currently on hold) so that your weight is counterbalanced before making the next move
Example: "Flag your left foot really hard before reaching up!"
Definition: Pushing your foot off of the wall instead of on a hold, often done when there are no footholds nearby.
Example: "Now you have to smear your right foot until you can reach the next hold."
Definition: Placing both hands onto the same hold.
Example: "Match your right hand where your left hand is!"
Definition: Moving the same hand twice in a row.
Example: "Move your right hand to the low crimp and then bump to the higher crimp."
Definition: short for "dino-sore" (not really, but it should be)... Actually, it's a dynamic move when you jump for the next hold.
Example: "The first move on that boulder is a dyno!"
Definition: Rotating your hips and dropping the pivoting leg to a 90(ish) degree angle so you can increase your stability and tension.
Example: "Woah, that was a really impressive dropknee!"
A bunch of other terms you're guaranteed to hear around the climbing gym
Definition: To fall (or, more like, fly) off of a boulder problem you are trying.
Example: "Bro, did you just see me punt on that V6?"
Definition: Completing a climb on your very first try without any falls.
Example: "Yo, did you just flash that? That was sick!"
Definition: Completing a climb on your first try without prior beta or attempts on the route. In training terms, 'your onsight' means the climbing grade you can do 9-out-of-10 times on your first attempt.
Example: "Please don't beta-spray. I want to try for the onsight."
Definition: A not-fun, burning sensation in your forearms that occurs because of lactic acid buildup. Essentially, it's when you feel like you can't hold onto anything, and your forearms feel like a rock, literally.
Example: "Bro, I'm so pumped. Feel my forearm. They're shaking."
Definition: Completing a climb without falling or taking (weighting the rope). In other words, you sent the climb 'clean.'
Example: "Yo, I just sent my mega-project! I'm freaking stoked!!"
Definition: An outdoor rock climbing area
Example: "A bunch of us are headed out to the crag tomorrow if you want to come?"
Definition: A beginner climber, somewhat offensive, but everyone is a gumby at some point, so just embrace it. (Can also be used self-disparagingly by advanced climbers who are climbing poorly).
Example: "Bro, you just punted on that V0 - you're such a gumby."
Definition: The sequence of moves intended to be used to complete a climb.
Example: "Hey, do you know the beta for the last move? I cannot figure it out."
Definition: Giving another climber beta to a climb without them asking first (aka usually something most climbers find annoying). Avoid doing this!
Example: "Uggg, that guy loves to beta-spray."
Definition: Climbing using only your arms to pull you up the wall or a campus board. Often used as a training technique or when really strong climbers want to show off.
Example: "Is he actually campusing my project?!"
Definition: A project is a climb you are working on trying to do without any falls. When you are working on your project, you are 'projecting.'
Example: "Today's workout will start with 45 minutes of projecting before the endurance set."
Definition: The most challenging move, or sequence of moves, on the climb.
Example: "I've tried the crux move 20 times. It's so freaking hard!"
Definition: The edge/corner of the wall that makes a good handhold.
Example: "The arete is on for the 5.10."
The Grading System (U.S)
Tells you how freaking hard the climb is (or isn't).
The grading system for rope climbing is the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). It ranges from 5.0 (the easiest - walking on relatively flat ground) to 5.15 (the hardest - only 115 people have climbed it). Most indoor climbing gyms begin with difficulties around 5.7/5.8 (lots of jugs) and go up to 5.13 (lots of tiny crimps and awful slopers). When you hit the grade 5.10, the YDS scale further sub-grades into a,b,c, and d. However, some gyms opt for +/- instead of sub-grades. So, for example, a 5.10a is easier than 5.10d, and a 5.10- is easier than 5.10.
For bouldering, the grading scale is called the Vermin Scale (aka the V-Scale). The lowest is V0 (all jugs), and the hardest is V16. Some indoor climbing gyms also have VB or boulders (these are usually a straight line of good, juggy holds designed for beginner climbers). There's no shame in starting on a VB or boulder and working your way up!
Bookmark this page, email the link to yourself or study these words religiously, and you'll be an expert in climbing jargon in no time! Let us know if this was helpful in the comments below or if you have any questions about the climber lingo not discussed!