climbing glossary image

Climbing term definitions

Ever felt like climbers speak another language? Here's our glossary to help you translate climber-talk.

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Descending a rope. Also, rappel.

active protection

Protection with moving parts. For example, a spring-loaded camming device.

alpine quickdraw

An extendable quickdraw made of two snap-gate carabiners and a long sling (say, 60cm). Usually, the sling is shortened by clipping both 'biners to the sling, passing one carabiner through the other, and clipping the passed-through 'biner through the loops of sling you created by passing one carabiner through the other.


A set-up - which can be comprised of a combination of bolts, protection, carabiners, slings and rope - that secures climbers or a load to a rock wall. A trad anchor utilises removable protection like nuts and cams, as opposed to only bolts or chains.


When a piece of metal is anodised, it's covered with an oxide film. That's achieved using an electrochemical conversion process. Most metal climbing equipment that is coloured is anodised. For example, the lock component on the Edelrid HMS Strike Triple, colour-coded Wild Country Wired Rocks and coloured lobes of a Wild Country New Friend.


The trail used to reach the start of a rock climb/route.


A ridge-like, outward-facing corner of rock.


A device used to ascend a rope. Here are some examples.


Backclipping is when a lead climber accidentally clips his/her rope into the wrong side of carabiner. When you backclip, you end up with the end of the rope that the climber is tied into lying against the rock face. See also Z-clip.


The wider end of the carabiner. This is where the rope, or gear, is intended to sit. For a diagram of a carabiner's parts, see our Climber's Guide to Carabiners.

belay (verb)

Holding a climber's rope - which is usually passed through a belay device - and arresting the climber's fall, in the event of one.

belay device

A device used for belaying. For example, a tubular device (e.g. DMM Mantis), assisted-braking device (e.g. Petzl GriGri 2), Sticht plate or figure-8. Read our guide to common types of belay devices used in climbing.

belay glasses

Special eye-glasses fitted with prisms instead of lenses. Belay glasses allow a belayer to watch a climber above without having to tilt his/her head back. YY Vertical makes several types of belay glasses, as well as clip-on prisms that can be attached to any glasses/spectacles.

belay loop

The loop of webbing on a climbing harness that's intended for clipping your belay device to and personal safety.


A non-locking carabiner (see snap-gate) with a solid, curved gate (as opposed to a straight gate). Example: DMM Aero Bent Gate Carabiner.


Short for carabiner (US spelling) or karabiner (UK spelling).

bolt (noun)

A metal protrusion that's hammered or glued into a rock wall. They're put in place by climbers so quickdraws can be clipped to them. Examples: glue-ins and fixed hangers. Bolts are also used to attach chains to a rock face.

bolt bracket, bolt plate

A metal hanger that fits over a carrot bolt, to allow the bolt to be clipped.

brass wire

A small nut with a head made of brass. Example: DMM HB Brass Offsets 2-4.

cam (noun)

Usually refers to a spring-loaded camming device, such as a DMM Dragon Cam, Wild Country New Friend or Black Diamond Camalot.

cam head

The part of a cam that connects to the rock - i.e. the end with the cam lobes.

cam lobe

The pieces of metal (that are kind of circular-shaped) that come in contact with the rock when the cam is placed. Most cams have four lobes.


The name of a type of Black Diamond cam. See it here.


A metal link with a gate for closure. See examples here.


A type of bolt. It's a hex-head machine bolt, filed down to a taper, then hammered into an undersized drilled hole in the rock. There is no hanger - climbers must carry their own bolt plates and slip it over the bolt.


Exploring caves.

chalk ball

A mesh ball filled with climber's chalk. These are placed in chalk bags to prevent loose chalk from being scattered everywhere.

chalk bucket

A large chalk bag used by boulderers. Example: Edelrid Boulder Bag.


Metal chains that are bolted to the top of a route. They're installed to provide a means for climbers to lower themselves to the ground using a rope.

chimney (noun)

A wide, vertical gap in a rock face.

chimney (verb)

A climbing technique used to climb chimneys. The climber braces against both sides of the chimney with his/her feet, back and arms, in order to move upward.

chicken head

A rock protrusion the shape of a chicken's head. Solid ones make good hand holds and features to sling for protection.


A stone that's sitting in a crack in the rock, jammed in.


A rock wall or crag that is comprised of loose, friable rock.

  1. When a lead climber "clips", he/she is passing his/her rope through the lower carabiner on a quickdraw - which is attached to placed protection or a bolt. Using one hand, the climber opens the carabiner's gate and drops the rope into the carabiner's basket. For diagram of a carabiner's parts, see our Climber's Guide to Carabiners.
  2. When a climber "clips" into an anchor, his/her safety is attached to the anchor using a locking carabiner.


Thin rope, essentially. Example: 7mm Edelrid Cord.


A length of cord that is used to set up anchors. Usually, the cord is made into a loop, using a double-fisherman's knot.


Where two rock faces meet, like opposite pages in an open book. Also called a dihedral in the United States.


A cliff face or rock climbing area.

crimp (noun)

A small edge on a rock face.

crimp (verb)

A method of holding small holds where a climber compresses his/her fingers, bent at the second knuckle.


Loading a carabiner on its short axis instead of its long axis.


The hardest section of a climb.


A device used to descend a rope. See examples here.


The way of returning to the base of a climb. This can involve walking, scrambling, abseiling or all three.

directional piece

A piece of protection - e.g. a nut - that is placed such that it will only hold a fall if it is loaded in a particular direction.

double ropes

When a climber leads a route on "double ropes", he/she is tied into and belayed on two ropes. Usually, when people talk about climbing on double ropes, they're referring to half ropes, as opposed to twin ropes.


Refers to two sets of equipment, e.g. "a double set of wires", "a double set of cams".


Refers to the downward curve in the toe of a climbing shoe.


Short for quickdraw.

dynamic rope

A special type of rope used for climbing that is designed to stretch under load. See also static rope.


A dynamic movement used to reach the next climbing hold.


An semi-automatic belay device made by Edelrid.

extender, extendable 'draw, extendable quickdraw

See alpine quickdraw.

face climbing, facey

A style of climbing that involves climbing rock faces that are vertical (as opposed to overhanging or slabby).

factor-2 fall

A fall where the lead climber falls past the belayer, twice the distance of rope length between them.

figure-8 (device)

A metal belay device shaped like the number 8. Example: Faders Figure-8 Large 650.

flake (noun)

A type of rock feature. A flake is a relatively thin plate of rock, attached to the rock face.

flake (verb)

When a climber "flakes" a rope, he/she is passing the rope through his/her hands, feeling for and smoothing out kinks and knots.


The name of a spring-loaded camming device made by Wild Country. See examples here.

gear loop

A loop on a climbing harness that is designed for carrying climbing equipment. Most climbing harnesses have four gear loops.


An assisted-braking belay device made by Petzl. See it here.

guide mode

Belaying a seconder with a device - such as the DMM Pivot - in manner that sets up the device to auto-lock.

half rope

Half ropes are a type of climbing rope. They have a couple of uses. Most commonly, climbers use a pair of half ropes to climb routes where the gear zigzags. By using two ropes, the climber can reduce rope drag. Half ropes can also be handy if you need to carry a second rope for a long abseil. See examples of half ropes here.


Made of webbing, a climbing harness usually consists of a waist belt and leg loops. Read our guide to harnesses used in climbing.

haul loop

A loop of webbing on the back of some harnesses. Designed for hauling a second rope. To see a diagram of a carabiner's parts, check out our Climber's Guide to Carabiners.

hex, hexentric

A large, hexagonally shaped nut. For example, DMM Torque Nuts.


HMS stands for Halbmastwurfsicherung - German for half clove hitch belay. Essentially, an HMS carabiner is a pear-shaped carabiner. For example, the DMM Boa HMS Screwgate Carabiner.


See carabiner.

keylock nose

A type of carabiner nose design. The nose is a special shape that fits into a corresponding gap in the carabiner's gate, like a jigsaw puzzle. The idea is that this nose design snags less than carabiners with a traditional hooked nose.


Kilonewtons. A unit of measurement used to measure force. Climbing equipment is rated in kilonewtons.


A mould that a climbing shoe (or any shoe, for that matter) is constructed on. Shoes that are a different shape from each other are constructed on different lasts.

lead climber

Unless you're top-roping, to climb a route, you need a lead climber and belayer. The belayer belays the lead climber. The lead climber has the rope tied to his/her harness and - depending on whether the route is a trad route or a sport route - either places protection and clips the rope, or clips (quickdraws on) bolts as he/she moves upward.

leg loop

Loops of webbing on a climbing harness that wrap around a climber's thighs.

locking carabiner

A carabiner with a gate that can be locked closed. There are several types of locking carabiners: ones using a screwing mechanism (like the DMM Boa HMS Screwgate), a twist-action (like the DMM Boa HMS Quicklock) or magnet (like the Black Diamond Magnetron), for example.


A piece of equipment used in climbing. Made of a piece of metal (historically, sometimes an engineering nut) that is connected to loop of wire (or, less commonly webbing or cord), to which a quickdraw can be clipped. See examples here.

opposing 'draws

Two quickdraws with their lower carabiners meeting at the same point, with their gates facing opposite directions.

passive protection

Protection that has no moving parts. For example, nuts, brass wires and hexes.

personal attachment sling

A sling that's girth-hitched to your belay loop, with a carabiner (usually, locking) attached. Used to clip into anchors.

protection, pro

Climbing equipment that is used to connect a climber to a rock wall. For instance, nuts, cams, slings, bolts - all these are types of protection. Generally, protection is categorised as active protection or passive protection.

prusik (noun)
  1. A length of cord used to tie prusik knots.
  2. A type of knot that slides, but locks under pressure.

prusik (verb)

Ascending a rope using prusik cords.


Two snap-gate carabiners connected by a length of webbing. See examples here.


A collection of climbing equipment - such as quickdraws, nuts, cams, slings and carabiners - used by a lead climber to protect himself/herself from a fall, while climbing a route.


See abseil.


Short for rappel, which is another term for abseil.


The rubber on a climbing shoe that wraps all the way around the shoe, around the toe box and heel.


A type of brass wire made by climber Roland Pauligk.

ring bolt

A type of bolt that is usually glued in. All that can be seen on the surface of the rock is a rounded ring of metal, which quickdraws are then clipped into.

rope drag

When a route wanders left and right, it can require that protection is placed left and right. This means that the climber's rope runs in a zigzag pattern beneath him/her. The friction created in the system can cause the rope to create resistance. To the lead climber, it can feel like the rope is pulling against his/her movement upward. This sensation is called rope drag.


A technical rock climb that has an established course, from a start point to an end point.


See sling.

safety (noun)

Refers to the equipment attaching a climber to an anchor. Commonly, this is a sling, connected to the harness' belay loop. Using a locking carabiner, this sling is then clipped to the anchor. Sometimes, daisy chains are used in place of a sling.


A route is a sandbag if it's harder than the grade implies. A climber is "sandbagged" when another climber suggests that they're capable of climbing a particular route, when in fact they are not.

second, seconder

As opposed to the "leader / lead climber". The "seconder" is the person who follows a lead climber up a route. Usually, the "second" retrieves gear - e.g. nuts, cams, quickdraws - that has been placed on the route.

(full) set (cams, nuts, hexes)

A "full set" of cams, nuts or hexes refers to having the full size range of a piece of equipment. For instance, a full set of DMM Dragon Cams would include a size 0, 00, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

set-up carabiner

A carabiner - usually a locking carabiner - used to set up an anchor.

scramble (verb)

Climbing on easy terrain, unroped.


A type of locking carabiner that is locked closed, using a screwing mechanism. Example: DMM Aero HMS Screwgate Keylock Carabiner.

single rope

A special type of rope used in climbing that's designed to be used on its own. (As opposed to doubles and twin ropes.)

slab (noun), slabby (adjective)

Climber's speak for gentle, low-angle (as opposed to overhanging) rock faces or climbs.

sling (noun)

A length of webbing that is sewn or tied into a loop. Example: Rock Empire Open Sling 60cm.

sling (verb)

The act of wrapping a feature (like a chicken head or flake) with a sling, to use it as protection.


A type of rock climbing shoe that doesn't have any type of closure (e.g. Velcro or lace). Usually, the upper is partly elasticated so that the climber can slip the shoe on.


A type of climbing hold that doesn't have a defined edge. Rather, it's rounded and sloping - hence the name.


A non-locking carabiner. See examples here.

splitter crack

A clean, parallel crack in rock.

spring-loaded cam, spring-loaded camming device

A piece of climbing equipment. It consists of, 1) a stem, 2) a "trigger" that controls the movement of the lobes, and 3) several lobes - usually, four. When it's placed in a crack, any pull (e.g. a climber's fall) causes the cam lobes to move outward, thereby creating more friction between the cam and the rock, helping it to stay in place and therby arrest a fall. DMM Dragon Cams, Wild Country New Friends, Fixe Aliens and Omega Pacific Link Cams are all examples of spring-loaded cams.


A "sport" route is one that is protected with bolts (as opposed to using gear, such as nuts, cams, hexes).

static rope

A rope that isn't designed to stretch under load. Usually used in top-rope set-ups. Also used in caving and vertical access. See examples here. See also dynamic rope.


Climber's speak for "overhanging". Also, slabs that are near-vertical can be described as "steep".

stem (verb)

A climbing technique whereby a climber has each foot on an opposing rock face, using the tension between both legs and friction to climb upward.

Sticht plate

A type of belay device. A Sticht plate is a piece of metal that's flat and circular, with two slots for ropes. Sometimes it has a wire spring on the underside. It's named after its designer, Fritz Sticht.

stopper knot

Any knot intended as a back-up or for neatening a length of tail. For instance, many climbers use a double-overhand knot as a stopper knot, when tying-in using a re-threaded figure-8 knot.


A non-locking carabiner (see snap-gate) with a solid, straight (as opposed to bent or wire) gate.


When you tie a knot near the end of a rope, the short bit of rope leftover that dangles from the knot is called the tail.


When climbers refer to tying-in, they're talking about tying the rope to their harness. Commonly, climbers use either a re-threaded figure-8 knot or a double-bowline.

  1. A set-up where the rope passes from the belayer (who is on the ground) through an anchor point at the top of the climb and back down to the climber.
  2. A seconder can be "on top-rope" when being belayed by a leader from above.

trad, traditional

A "trad" or "traditional" route is one that is protected using gear, such as nuts, cams, hexes (as opposed to bolts).


Climbing in a sideways direction, as opposed to upward.

triple-lock carabiner, triple-action carabiner

A type of locking carabiner that requires three actions to open the gate. For example, some carabiners can only be opened by first twisting the locking mechanism, then pushing the mechanism up, then pushing the gate open. An example of a triple-lock carabiner is the DMM Boa HMS Locksafe Carabiner.


A tower-like pillar of rock.

twin rope

A type of rope used in climbing. Twin ropes are two ropes that must be used together. Both must be clipped into each quickdraw on the route. Twin ropes are particularly useful in alpine climbing, where you might need two ropes for longer abseils. (Lighter than carrying two single ropes.)

twist-lock carabiner

A type of locking carabiner that requires two actions to open the gate. For example, a carabiner that can only be opened by first twisting the locking mechanism and then pushing the gate open. An example of a twist-lock carabiner is the DMM Boa HMS Quicklock Carabiner.


Bolts in a rock face that are glued-in lengths of U-shaped metal rods.

UIAA fall

Climbing ropes are rated for a number of "UIAA falls". The UIAA is the Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme, or International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation. It creates safety standards for climbing equipment - rope included. For ropes, there is a test (details here). The UIAA fall rating you see on rope packaging refers to the number of times the rope can undergo this test before it fails.


The material in a shoe that covers the entire top of the foot.


Climber's speak for a rock face that is neither overhanging nor slabby. Instead, it is pretty close to a 90-degree angle from a horizonal plane.


Woven fabric that's used to make belts and straps. Special, strong webbing is used in climbing equipment - for example, in climbing harnesses and slings.


Can refer to a nut.


A non-locking carabiner with a wire gate, as opposed to a solid gate. For example, the DMM Phantom and Wild Country Helium.


This is when a lead climber accidentally pulls rope from below the last clipped quickdraw and clips the quickdraw above it.

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