Do you have a friend, spouse, or family member who seems to speak in tongues?

Maybe they’ve been doing this for years. Maybe they’ve become super obsessed about “risking their lives” with ropes and tiny shoes?

Well, my friend, you might have yourself a rock climber.

In this post, I’m going to give you the cliff notes for speaking to your dirtbag climber spouse, partner or friend.

And build your credibility with them using these common rock climbing terms.


Most climbers share a basic set of terms that cross all disciplines of climbing.

Think of this a bit like Spanish. There are variations of the language depending on whether you are in Mexico, Spain, or Chile.

For you, it is important to do some detective work to determine what type of climber you’ve got on your hands.


You don’t want to scare them or give any kind of sign the language isn’t coming naturally to you.

So don’t use the scripts below too often at first.

I recommend once or twice per week in casual conversations. At least until your climber believes you have become one of them.

Basic Terms

First, you should have a basic familiarity with the different types of climbing.

There is Bouldering, Sport Climbing, Traditional(Trad) Climbing, Mountaineering and Alpinism.

For now, I won’t get into Mountaineering, Alpinism, Ice Climbing or Buildering. Plus there’s no communicating with these folks.

The Boulderer

Bouldering: Is a form of climbing where the person congregates with others. They climb large boulders in the woods or fake ones at a climbing gym.

It is very social and often there are many people arm-chair quarterbacking. The spectators will yell things like “get it”, “get after it”, or “you got this” at the person doing the climbing. This continues until they fall off the rock.

Bouldering doesn’t require ropes or most of the other equipment you might see someone carry in other climbing disciplines.

If you think you might have a boulderer living with you, look for the following signs.

Boulderer Clues

  • Does your partner carry what looks like a mini futon on their back and disappear into the forest?
  • Does your partner say “spot me” before they climb a ladder to paint the ceiling?
  • Do they wear the same stretchy jeans everywhere?
  • Do they have white stuff all over their stretchy jeans? Note: They aren’t masonry workers. This is climbers chalk.

If any of the above are true, you’ve likely got yourself someone who is into bouldering.

How to talk to them

  • Boulderer: I climbed this sick highball earlier today with no pads.
  • You: What’d the down climb look like? Was it choss?
  • Boulderer: Totally dude. It was choss city

  • Boulderer: I was super pumped when I hit the top out. I went into scramble mode.
  • You: The mantle must have been wicked after that V10.
  • Boulderer: Wow you really get me.

The Sport Climber

Sport climbing is a type of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors called bolts. These have been drilled into the rock by someone much trickier and more dedicated than most.

The person who installs the bolts often carries a big-ass drill up the route.

Drills holes in the rock then insert the bolts for other people to stay safe. This is done for the goodwill of the climbing community and so other people can climb the route safely.

A climber then attaches quickdraws and their rope to each of the bolts as they climb in order to protect themselves from falling.

Most new climbers start with sport climbing. Many people believe its an easier barrier of entry. It doesn’t require as much expensive equipment and most of the climbing in gyms is sport climbing.

Sport Climber Clues

  • Does your family member use any of the following terms: “crag, pitch, draw, bolt, redpoint or biner”?
  • Have they purchased a plastic milk crate to store all of their climbing equipment?
  • Do you constantly have to move rope and climbing shoes out of the front seat to drive with them?
  • Is there a rope on the couch where they practice tying their knots while watching TV at night?
  • Have you ever heard them say “on belay”, “clip the bolt” or “figure eight
  • Do they suddenly have six pack abs and over-developed back muscles?

If you’ve seen anything like this in your family member. You likely have a sport climber. Don’t be afraid.

How to talk to them

  • Sport Climber: “I redpointed that project at the gym last night…”
  • You: Congrats. Was it the 12c you’ve been talking about?
  • Sport Climber: Yeah, my climbing game is on point.

  • Sport Climber: “That was a really pumpy route, but I clipped the chains in the end.”
  • You: Thankfully the pump train didn’t ruin your send dude (Note: dude can be used reliably for male and female climbers.)
  • Sport Climber: I hate the pump train.

  • Sport Climber: “It was jugs until I got to the crux then it was crimpers to the top.
  • You: Right on! Did you have good beta to get through the crux sequence?
  • Sport Climber: I love that you are so into climbing.

The Traditional or Trad Climber

Traditional climbing, or trad, differs from sport climbing. It relies on non-permanent gear. Rather than bolts that are pre-drilled into the rock face. A trad climber instead places gear, called protection, as she ascends.

Some of the most common examples of protection include: cams, nuts, hexes, or tricams.

The trad climber is the biggest dirtbag of them all. They eat canned food, live in vans, and spend all their money on their “rack”.

They’re also pretty cool and have awesome stories to tell about their adventures.

Want to know where the best places to car camp are? The trad climber always knows.

These climbers are the MacGyver of the climbing world. Their sense of adventure and need to be more badass turned them into what they are.

Here are some clues to help you spot them.

Trad Climber Clues

  • If they’ve ever used the words: “Runout, Sketchy, Cam, Nuts, Oval, Runner, Dogbone, or Hexes.”
  • They are fast at tying things to the top of your car.
  • They suggest car camping over staying at a hotel for your family reunion.
  • The car already has a “sleeping platform” in the back.
  • To them, the word “rack” doesn’t have anything to with wine, storage, or anatomy.
  • They don’t own pay for a climbing gym membership because they are purists.
  • They’ve ever mentioned “climbing ethics”.

How to talk to them

  • Trad Climber: “That third pitch was really runout. Thankfully my nuts held.”
  • You: Did those new Curve Nut’s come in handy?
  • Trad Climber: Totally! I had some good placements before I had to run it out.

  • Trad Climber: The guidebook said the route was 5.9, but it was more like 5.10x.
  • You: That guidebook was written 20 years ago. Those guys were always hardmen.
  • Trad Climber: Yeah good point.

  • Trad Climber: The line was so aesthetic.
  • You: Did it have an amazing arete?
  • Trad Climber: Better, the arete had amazing sunshine, and it looked like a unicorn horn.

  • Trad Climber: We ran out of water on the third pitch.
  • You: You didn’t really need it though because you had so much PBR the night before right?
  • Trad Climber: Exactly, that was the best decision ever.


Please share this with other non-climber fluent people in your life.

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