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Climbing Lingo

Climbing is more than just an activity or sport— it’s what brings our incredible community together. It also can come with a lot of new vocabulary. To get familiar with what you’ll see and hear while climbing, check out this quick list of basic climbing lingo:


Bouldering is a style of climbing that doesn’t require a rope or a harness, and it usually means you won’t be climbing more than 15 feet above the ground. Here at Brooklyn Boulders, all of our designated bouldering areas have custom-cut crash pads to soften falls. Bouldering can also be a social way to climb because multiple people can work to figure out a climb together. Bouldering problems (problems = the set route) can range in difficulty to accommodate various levels of experience and skill.

Top Roping

Two people, a rope, and climbing harnesses are involved when top rope climbing. There is the climber, who is tied in on one end of the rope, and a belayer, who manages the rope system and removes excess slack (called “belaying”). The rope is set up beforehand on an anchor at the top of the climb. Top roping requires more endurance than bouldering, but it is a fun and accessible way to get into the sport! Plus, you get to enjoy the view at the top of the wall.

Belaying / Belayer

Belaying is a necessary skill for top rope or lead climbing to manage a rope system for a climber to minimize their potential falls. A belayer will use a device, such as a GriGri or ATC, to increase friction on the rope to stop a climber’s fall. You can learn all the skills you’ll need to pass our belay certification test by taking a Learn the Ropes course with us!

Lead or Sport Climbing

Like top roping, lead (or sport) climbing requires harnesses and two people. Leading is a more advanced style of rope climbing that requires more training and experience than top roping, but it’s also a great gateway into outdoor climbing. Unlike top roping, where the rope is pre-set at the top of the wall, a lead climber starts with the rope on the ground and brings it up with them as they go by clipping into quickdraws. If the climber falls above the last quickdraw, they take a long fall, also known as a whip or whipper.

Free Solo

When free soloing, a climber will climb a tall cliff face or rock formation without a rope or harness. (Should go without saying, but you cannot free solo at any of our facilities.) Unlike bouldering, free soloing goes to extreme heights and can have severe consequences if the climber falls. Free soloing is also different from free climbing, which means that the climber uses gear to protect possible falls rather than using the gear itself to ascend the route.


Beta includes any advice or feedback on how to successfully complete a climb. This includes letting a climber know how good a hold is or telling them about a specific sequence for technical moves. Before giving someone beta, it’s best practice to make sure a climber wants help. Some climbers want to figure out the solution on their own. Always ask first before providing beta.


When a climber is close to the ground, while either bouldering or climbing on lead, a spotter will watch the climber with outstretched arms. If the climber falls, the spotter ensures that they fall properly and helps the climber avoid landing on their head or neck. In most situations, you don’t need to spot when bouldering in our facilities, but it’s a great skill to have when climbing outside.


The most difficult sequence or move in a climb. Some problems or routes may have multiple cruxes. If you climb in New York City, there is also a climbing group called CRUX that works to increase outdoor and climbing access for members of the LGBTQ+ community.


Unlike the meme-able dance move, a dab in climbing is when you touch a hold or section that is off-route. Touching a crash pad with any body part after starting a problem is also considered dabbing.


You send a route when you climb start to finish without falling or touching the ground. Also known as a redpoint. If you send on the first attempt of a climb without watching someone else’s beta, that’s known as an onsight.


Smearing happens when, instead of using a designated foot hold, you press your climbing shoe directly on to the wall and using the friction as an improvised foothold.


You can climb using either static or dynamic movement. Dynamic moves require using more explosive power to throw or jump to a hold. A dyno is a full jump that results in air time with zero points of contact on the wall until you reach the next hold. It also looks super rad in photos.

If you have any questions or terms that weren’t covered in this list, our Experience Guides are happy to help. If you’re feeling stoked and are ready to start climbing outside, check out our awesome trips at BKB Wild!

Anne is a climbing instructor at Brooklyn Boulders Queensbridge. When she’s not in the gym, she’s most likely exploring a bookshop or planning her next sport climbing adventure.

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