A Glossary of Bouldering

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Bouldering is a style of rock climbing that usually consists of short, challenging problems sans harness/ropes on boulders that are low enough (5-25 ft.) to fall from safely (kind of).

“So uhhh…how do I start this errr, climb?”
“You want the beta?”
“Beta? Uh, sure.”
“So you’re wanna go at this problem ground-up, starting with that undercut using a layback motion and dyno-ing to the next jug over there. Once you get your foot up, rock-over to the next hold and flag your other foot out.”

Feeling a little lost in translation while bouldering at your neighborhood indoor climbing gym? Here’s an abbreviated glossary of general rock climbing terms you should probably familiarize yourself with:


• Crash Pad/Mat – that soft cushion you fall on, time and time again.
• Chalk Bag – will save your sweaty digits from slipping off the holds.
• Rock-climbing shoes – toe-numbing, tight, and absolutely necessary.

Rock Climbing Terms – Ascents

Beta – Information about the climb passed on from another climber. Kind of a given blueprint of the climb. A super helpful way to familiarize yourself with routes and climbs, and a good way to socialize.

Flash – Climbing a route clean with some prior knowledge and/or equipment in place. No one has to show you the “ropes”. (Climbing a route for the first time with beta)

Ground Up – To climb a route from the ground up. You usually start from a floor sit.

On Sight – To climb a route clean the first time ‘round from bottom to top in one continuous flow – no rests or falls. (Climbing a route for the first time without beta)

Rock Climbing Terms – Holds and Grips

Bucket or a Jug – true to its name, one of these babies will fill your grasp (and then some).

Crimp – a lot like that early 90s hairstyle, a mountain of work with nothing to show for it. A small edge held onto by the tips of your curled fingertips (C-shape grip).

Gaston – named after the infamous Frenchie, alpinist Gaston Rébuffat. Imagine the grip you take when opening a sliding glass door – Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Hand Jam – Quite literally the act of jamming your hand into a crack and simultaneous widening your grip and squeezing. You’re basically using your entire hand like a cam (SLCD camming device) and leveraging your weight into that grip to pull yourself up. Ouch.

Pinch – You’re basically pinching the hold between your thumb and fingers for grip.

Undercling – This is usually a downward-facing (or upside down) hold that is taken while pulling upwards. It requires good body tension, leverage, and bicep strength.

Rock Climbing Terms – Moves

Bouldering usually involves a lot of dynamic, sprint-like moves that engage your maximum strength and grip potential quickly. It’s usually advisable to ask around for the beta of a particularly dynamic or difficult route. No one wants to be that goon who falls off the face trying to show off while ignorantly tackling a problem. Ask for help. Make friends. Have fun.

Deadpoint – A kind of semi-dynamic move where the climber finally hits the hold they’re moving towards at the end of their movement arc.

Dyno – Refers to the dynamic move or jump climbers can take from one hold to another. Literally spider monkey moves. (Cue YouTube videos of North Face bouldering competitions.)

Flag – Flagging refers to sticking one of your legs out in order to improve balance while climbing. Almost like having a tail. Almost.

Heel Hook – A hook grip you make with your heel to pull your body towards the rock. Pretty self-explanatory.

Layback – A counter-intuitive motion while climbing. Using a lot of leverage, you essentially lay back, pushing your feet out into the wall and simultaneously pulling into the grip with your arms.

Mantling – Imagine how you get yourself out of a swimming pool, or onto a bar counter you’re about to start dancing on. Party on.

Rock-over – Using a rocking motion to get yourself onto a higher foothold. Thanks gravity!

Stemming – You’re basically bridging the gap between opposing rock faces with your body. Push out with your hands on one side and feet on the other.

Experiential Terms

Every sport has its “lingo”. Bouldering is no exception. It’s only advisable to use these rock climbing terms after you’ve heard someone else use them (only so that you don’t make a fool of yourself by using terms people don’t actually use).

Choss – Any kind of impeding debris that gets in the way of good, clean rock (e.g., dirt, rubble, vegetation, etc.).

Crux – The gauntlet part of the climb AKA the hardest part of the route.

Flapper – Not the Roaring ‘20s kind. It’s that flappy bit of skin that hangs off your finger after slicing it on some rock.

Sandbag – A route that is deceptively tougher than advertised and graded.

You may feel less intimidated now that you are equipped with some lingo. Although you shouldn’t have felt intimidated in the first place. Indoor climbing is a great way to make new friends, seasoned climbers or novices. More than sharing knowledge of technical terms, bouldering is about sharing passion. And if you fall short when it comes to solving a problem, there will be someone to catch you.

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