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Rock Climbing Jargon Buster

Don’t know your trad from your sport? What about your cams from your hexes? Our A-Z of the most common climbing terms is a great place to start learning all that jargon!


A point at the top of a climb where you can secure your ropes. This could be fixed bolts on a well used climb or a rope sling around a tree.


Useful inside knowledge about a route or problem. What are the moves like, what is the ‘gear’ like. Arguable spoils your ‘onsight’!


The hardest part of the route.


The inevitable and uncontrollable shaking of your leg when you least want it (i.e. when you’re scared and it’s getting hard!). Top-tip – drop your heals – this can help.


A route or problem that doesn’t follow the most obvious line. Often found to weave their way between other routes.

Free climbing

No, not that thing without ropes. That’s ‘free soloing’. Free climbing is progressing up a route without pulling on anything other than the rock.


Generally refers to climbing equipment that is placed in the rock and offers protection in the event of a fall, or anchors the climber to the rock to enable them to look after their second as they climb. Can be ‘good gear’ or ‘bad gear’!


A ‘trad’ route that is lead after practicing first on a top rope. Often associated with hard trad projects, but headpointing works well even at the lower grades. Afterall, difficulty is relative.


Gear that is semi-permanently in the rock. Think old pegs, or a piece of gear that another ascensionist has placed but then failed to retrieve. Always treat in-situ gear with caution and back it up as soon as possible.


Typically a climbers favourite feature. A jug a large and obvious hold that’s easy to use.


Sometimes spelt ‘carabiner’ – an oval, D-shaped or pear shaped piece of gear that is used as an attachment point between 2 pieces of equipment, ropes, climbers etc.

Lead a climb

To climb a route whilst taking the rope with you (i.e. it’s not already in place). Protection is found by placing and clipping ‘gear’ on the way.


A move that involves the climber having to get onto a ledge from below when there are no holds on the wall above to grab onto. Kind of like getting out of a swimming pool.


Sometimes called a ‘wire’ this is a passive piece of protection that’s attached to thin cable (aka wire) that sits in a crack of other feature and hopefully stays put. Called a nut as in the old days climbers actually used nuts from the local hardware store.


To climb a route with no falls, no pulling on gear, no resting and no prior knowledge of it – i.e. no ‘beta’ and no practicing. Some argue that even looking at a guidebook description ‘blows the onsight’. We really don’t care!


A section of the climb. Can be short, long or be the whole route (i.e. single-pitch). A multi-pitch climb is a series of many pitches, one on top of the other.


2 karabiners connected by a sling or dogbone (think stiff piece of nylon webbing). Used mainly to connect gear to the rope when leading.


Like a ‘headpoint’ but for the sport climbers.


A route that is harder than the grade suggests – “wow, that was a total sandbag”. To sandbag someone is to encourage them to get on a route of said grade, knowing it’s actually much harder and they’re going to struggle. Cruel, but sometimes amusing!

Trad Climbing

Short for ‘traditional’. Routes that are climbed using protection/gear that is placed in the rock and then removed by the second climber. Nothing is left and the rock isn’t damaged.


A hold that is used by grabbing it from underneath and usually pulling upwards.


A temporary feature on an indoor climbing wall that you have to climb around or over – i.e not a hold that’s actually part of the route, more the ‘shape’ of the actual wall.


To take a big fall – hopefully one that gets caught by your belayer!

X (as a climbing grading)

Used in the US as part of the Yosemite Decimal System, this refers to a climb that little or no protection (aka gear). A fall on a climb like this could mean serious injury, if not death.

Yosemite Decimal System

A walking, trekking, scrambling and climbing grading system developed in Yosemite and used mainly in the USA. Rock climbing starts at 5.0 (‘5th class terrain’) and is open ended, with climbs recorded up to 5.15 (i.e. really really really really hard!).


When your gear ‘un-zips’ from the wall as you fall. Not good. In fact really flippin’ dangerous and a bad place to be!


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