Rock Climbing, Abseiling & Canyoning

Rock Climbing & Abseiling Definitions: A Dictionary of Essential Terms

Do you know the difference between abseiling and rappelling?

Rock Climbing an abseiling can be a technical sport – there’s plenty of abseil specific gear you need and a ton of different abseiling techniques to master.

As a result there is plenty of jargon associated with it and abseiling definitions can seem very complicated to the uninitiated: From anchors and beeners to protection and loading. It’s helpful to know what the main terms mean because the last thing you want is to grab a bug instead of a chock in an emergency.

To help you navigate the abseiling lexicon, here are some of the key terms you should look out for when you’re dangling from a rope.


Abseil – meaning ‘to rope down’. Comes from the German word abseilen, and is used in the UK and Germany.

Abseiler – Somebody performing an abseil.

Active Protection – A form of mechanical protection that includes cams and sliding ball nuts.

Anchor – The place your rope is fixed to so that you can abseil from it.

Assisted Breaking Device – A belay device that has a built in mechanism which helps you to control the speed of the rope, for example a Gri-gri.

Australian Rappel – Abseiling while facing forwards with your body parallel to the ground.

Australian rappel – Photo:

Beener A nickname for carabiner

Belay – Controlling the speed of the rope for somebody else while they are abseiling. Belay can also be used in place of anchor to indicate the place where you attach your rope so that you can belay from it.

Belay Device/Plate – A piece of equipment used to control your speed while abseiling, which works by creating friction on the rope.

Belayer – The person belaying/controlling the rope for somebody who is abseiling.

Belay Device/Plate – A piece of equipment which the rope feeds through, creating friction and allowing you to control the speed of descent as you abseil or belay someone else.

Belay Loop – The tough loop on your harness that a belay device is attached to.

Bight – A section of the rope curved into a u-shape, often used for tying knots.

Bolt – A metal bolt fixed permanently into the rock face as protection for a climb, used commonly in belaying and top roping.

Bomber – Describes the placement of protection, meaning that it is very secure.

Bug – A common belay device made of a single piece of metal. A bight of rope is pushed through a narrow hole in the bug, pressing the two side of the bight together. The rope rubs against itself creating friction and helping you to control the speed of your abseil.

Cam – A form of active protection that uses spring loaded teeth to secure itself to the rock.

Carabiner – A metal loop with a spring loaded arm used to clip things together. Carabiners are commonly used to attach belay devices to your harness and the rope to pieces of protection on the wall.

Chock – Another term for the passive protection known as a nut.

Core – The inner part of a climbing rope.

Counter Balance Rappel An advanced form of abseilling, usually used to reach an injured belayer. Abseiling from one side of the rope, while the other end is attached to the belayer, the injured partner’s weight is used to counterbalance the abseiler.

Crater – Another word for decking out.

Dülfersitz – Photo:

Dead Rope – The slack rope that runs from the belay device to the ground when you are belaying someone.

Decking Out – To fall and hit the ground hard, usually causing injury to yourself.

Descender – A device that controls your rate of descent for you. Rope is wrapped around a drum attached to a set of large fan blades which use wind resistance to control how fast you drop. Descender is also commonly used to refer to belay devices in general.

Dülfersitz – A traditional abseiling technique that doesn’t use a harnessor a belay device, instead the rope is wrapped under the abseiler’s leg and around their body to cause friction.

Dynamic Rope – Rope that stretches when loaded, reducing stress on someone’s body if they fall suddenly.

Figure eight – A belay device, shaped like a figure eight, consisting of two metal loops

Figure Of Eight Knot – The most common form of knot for attaching an abseiler to the rope when they are going to be belayed. Twisting a loop into the rope the loose end is passed around the neck of the knot and then back through the loop to form an eight. The loose end then passes through the rope loops on the harness and is rethreaded back through the original figure of eight to form a tight and secure knot.

Flying Lesson – When a belayer’s feet come off the floor because they are belaying a heavy abseiler.

Gear – Collective term for all of your abseiling and climbing protection.

Gear Loop – A loop built into your harness to carry gear.

Gri-gri – Photo:

Gri-gri – A popular model of assisted breaking device that stops the rope if there is a sudden load applied to it, saving abseilers from falling.

Harness – A harness consisting usually of two leg loops, a waist band and a belay loop, which is used when belaying and abseiling.

Hex –A hexagonally shaped nut.

Karabiner – Alternative spelling for carabiner.

Live Rope – The rope that runs from a belayer to the abseiler.

Load – Weight applied to ropes or a system, usually in the form of somebody abseiling.

Nut – Photo:

Loading – Applying weight to a rope or system.

Locking Carabiner – Any model of carabiner which has an additional mechanism to lock the spring loaded arm in place. This is the only model of carabiner that should be used to attach a belay device to an abseiling harness.

Natural Anchor – A natural feature such as a tree or large rock, that is used to anchor your rope.

Nut – A wedge shaped piece of passive protection.

Nut Key – A tool used for removing nuts from cracks in the rock.

Passive Protection – A non mechanical type of abseiling and climbing protection, usually made from a single piece of metal, that is jammed into the rock to secure your rope from.

Piece – A single item of protection.

Placement – The exact position on the rock face etc. where you place your protection.

Protection – Metal tools that are inserted into rock to create anchor points for your rope.

Pro – An abbreviation of protection.

Prusik – A knot made by wrapping a loop of cord around the rope. The prusik is used as a backup to your belay device because it tightens, grabbing the rope, in the event of a fall.

Rap Jump in La Paz – Photo:

Rap JumpAn extreme form of Aussie rappel where you jump off the top of your chosen drop, descending in one or more giant leaps.

Rappel – The French word for abseiling, also used in America.

Rope Loops – Harness loops designed for tying the rope directly on to the abseiling harness. Usually one loop is positioned on the waist band while the second links the two leg loops together. The belay loop then links both of the rope loops together.

Sheath – The outer layer of a rope.

Shock Loading- Falling until you are caught by a your rope.

Simul Rappel – An advanced abseil technique where two people descend at the same time on opposite ends of the same rope, while it is hung through a piece of protection.

Static Rope – A rope that does not stretch when loaded, commonly used for abseiling.

Sticht Plate – The earliest model of belay device designed by Franz Sticht. Sticht plates consist of a single plate of metal with two holes for the rope to pass through and often a spring to keep the plate free of the carabiner, making it easier to run the rope smoothly through the device. The term Sticht plate is often used to refer to all plate style belay devices.

System – A collective term for all of the rope and gear working together which will hold your weight during an abseil.

Tandem Abseiling – An abseil where two people abseil at the same time from the same belay device.

Tactical headfirst rappel – Photo:

Tactical Rappel – Military term commonly used for headfirst abseiling but also used to refer to abseiling while equipped with weapons or to gain entrance into a building.

Tail – The loose end of a rope left over from tying a knot.

Walk In – The amount of time or the route you use to walk to an abseil from wherever you have parked your car.

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