Are there any specifics about how to differentiate a Pass and a Col in terms of mountaineering?

For non-mountaineering and non-geographical interests it's all the same.

  • 16
    I can't say for English mountaineering, but in Switzerland there is a pretty easy distinction: A col is a saddle point in the francophone region, a Pass is a saddle point in the German speaking region :P
    – imsodin
    Jan 25 '17 at 13:43

Both words refer to the same topography, which is a saddle point. The land goes up in two opposite directions, and down in the two other opposite directions.

To me at least, a col is just this basic topography. However, a pass implies the saddle point is a reasonable travel connection between the two downhill directions. Since the two uphill directions of the saddle point form a ridge, a pass is a point that allows reasonable passage over that ridge.

So a pass is a col, but not all cols are passes.

  • 3
    I agree, it is in the name: pass-age. An additional element are regional customs. Where I live there are tons of names for a pass: Joch, Sattel, Tor, Egg, Scharte, ... There is some points to distinguish them, but often such explanations fall short and the only reason is: Because it was always named that way.
    – imsodin
    Jan 25 '17 at 13:51
  • Where you have both terms used in one place, "pass" is likely to refer to the area around the path/road, while finding the extent of the col would probably need a contour map.
    – Chris H
    Jan 25 '17 at 16:56
  • 2
    I think while this answer is probably etymologically sound, the two words are actually used rather interchangeably today. Thus the actual reasons why some saddle point is called Col and another Pass might just be based in who named them and where they came from.
    – fgysin
    Jan 26 '17 at 12:11

Pass and col are synonymous. Col is French whereas the word pass has entered the Germanic languages (German word is Pass). The word col entered English usage because of anglophone mountaineers in the French Alps.

  • 5
    Like Rappel and Abseil
    – user2766
    Jan 25 '17 at 15:16
  • @DavidRicherby the current word in French for a mountain pass is "passe" (fem.) (and col is "col" (masc.))
    – njzk2
    Jan 25 '17 at 18:18

I personally think of it this way: Passes are less steeper, and are something which are/were used by people commuting for any reason for that matter. Whereas Cols are something which are comparatively steeper and there may or may not be an established walk-able path/trail through it.

Consequently, a Pass can definitely be approached from both the sides. Thats not always true/applicable to a Col.

  • Do you have any sources for this distinction, or is it just your personal preference? Jan 25 '17 at 15:29
  • Its just my personal observation. I may be wrong globally, but this makes sense to the place where I live.
    – WedaPashi
    Jan 25 '17 at 16:36

A pass is a natural way or low point which facilitate moving across a mountain without clumbing its full height whereas a col is the lowest point of a mountain ridge between two peaks.


From my perspective a col is a dependent gap or linked space that divide the apex of a a hill while pass is a stretch of lowland dividing two independent or isolated hill. Its very possible for each of this two hill to have a col space dividing their apex!


Cols and passes serves the same purpose -- they are crossover from one valley into another. From geomorphological point of view, the Col is a saddle point between two peaks, whereas the pass is a saddle point between two valleys.

For example, Auden's Col is a saddle point between Gangotri III (6580 m) peak and Jogin I (6465 m) peak of the Garhwal Himalayas.

  • HI Pawan - welcome. Before posting, please read all existing answers to make sure you don't just repeat what one of them says.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jul 12 '21 at 8:40

I try to use some logics to define it:

A pass can always be a saddle, a col and a gap. But a gap, a saddle and a col aren't necessarily a pass.

  • 1
    Hi! Welcome to The Great Outdoors. While I appreciate your interest in contributing to the post, I would like to suggest you to avoid answering with a one-liner. You can/should expand/elaborate it, the reason being, there are some answer which add value to the post than this one. Please do not be discouraged if the answer gets deleted by community/moderators. To know how this place goes about answering, please take a look at our Help Center page.
    – WedaPashi
    Mar 14 '17 at 12:42
  • 2
    I don't vote to close yet. But can you please elaborate your answer? Why do you think it works like that? Give some examples please.
    – Wills
    Mar 14 '17 at 13:05

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