From belaying to bouldering, and holds to harnesses, rock-climbing has so much lingo it can often feel like its own language. To help you navigate the jargon, Discovery Climbing has put together a climbing glossary of terms.

Automatic belay

The advent of automatic belaying systems (auto belay) not only removed the need to have a second person involved in each climb, but in doing so also removed the capacity for human error. Auto belays automatically keep the climber’s rope taut. When the climber is ready to descend, the auto belay will automatically feed rope back, allowing for a smooth, safe descent. With auto belay, a pair of climbers could both be climbing at the same time, rather than needing to take turns belaying one another.


Belaying is the most important part of rock climbing because it ensures the safety of the climber. The belayer remains at the bottom of the wall, attached to the same rope as the climber. Both are attached to the rope via harness, and the belayer is responsible for keeping that rope taut. Once the climber has reached the top, it is then the belayer’s job to gradually feed out rope, allowing the climber to descend safely.


Bouldering is a subcategory of rock climbing that has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. A bouldering wall is much lower – maxing out at three to four metres. As such, bouldering doesn’t use ropes and harnesses. Instead, boulderers who fall from the wall will land on thick, soft mats called safety matting. Because the climbs are shorter, bouldering tends to involve more explosive strength moves and more difficult holds.

Climbing hold

A climbing hold, or simply a hold, is what climbers grip on to when ascending a rock wall. Hand-made holds are usually made from plastic or wood, and can vary in texture, shape, size and difficulty. Easier holds allow the climber to grip with their entire hand, while more advanced holds might only have space for fingertips. There are various names for the many types of holds, such as jugs, crimps, slopers, rails, pinches, footholds, and more.


The harness is crucial to the safety of all climbers. It secures the hips and both legs, and it’s via the harness that climbers and belayers are attached to the rope.

Safety matting

Safety matting is thick, soft matting used to increase the safety of rock climbing. In bouldering where no ropes are used, the safety matting is very thick, and can be fallen onto from a height of four or even five metres. Rope climbing walls tend to be thinner and firmer, because the chances of falling from significant height are slim to none – thanks to the rope and belayer. The thinner mats provide a more stable platform for the belayer to stand on.

Top rope

The rope is attached to the floor at the belay station, then travels up to the climbing anchor at the top of the rock wall, and then back down the wall to the climber. With this method, climbing upwards creates slack, which the belayer then takes up by pulling the rope taut from the bottom.

Traverse wall

While the majority of rock-climbing routes will have the climber travel up the wall, a traverse wall is designed for climbers to travel across the wall. Traverse walls are particularly good for younger climbers and beginners because the fear of falling is greatly reduced. On a traverse wall, a climber may never be more than a couple of feet from the ground. Another benefit to traverse walls is that multiple climbers can be on the wall simultaneously, without fear of collisions.