I started climbing 6 months ago and finally need to understand the climbing nomenclature when it comes to terrain angles. So, I would like to ask the climbers how the following angles would be called. I also state what I would guess:

  • 90 degrees: "vertical"
  • greater 90 degrees: "overhang"
  • ~180 degrees: "roof climbing"
  • <90 degrees: no idea (asked many people, no one knows)

Additional question: When a climbing shoe review mentions that a shoe is good in "steep terrain", and I read this phrase a lot, then what angle would that be? I guess it means overhang, but then why wouldn’t they simply say overhang? I would also be interested to know how this all would be called in German, which could be relevant for anyone who would like to climb in the Alps.

  • 2
    Maybe there's a translation error here, as I (BrEng) have never heard of a climbing shoe being described as good for any particular "terrain". I have never heard of "terrain" being used in any climbing context, except possibly when describing the approach to a crag.
    – Darren
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 15:55
  • 2
    PS. Less than 90 degs would usually be a "slab". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slab_climbing
    – Darren
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 15:56
  • 1
    Maybe that’s something specific to that particular website or writer then, because I’d argue it’s mis-used in the context of describing a climbing route.
    – Darren
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 16:01
  • 1
    Ok I get it. Thanks for the word „slab“. I also read that a lot and had the impression it refers to climbing on volumes that are quite slippery without holds for hands. It was about time that I ask this question, to finally understand those climbing videos and articles.
    – KaPy3141
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 16:09
  • 5
    Wikipedia has a dedicated Glossary of climbing terms which you might find useful
    – Didier L
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 18:00

2 Answers 2


Your descriptions of the first three angles are pretty spot on. Routes less than 90 degrees would usually be described as a slab.

Climbing shoes are usually described as being good for a particular technique, e.g. good for smearing on slabby routes, heel hooking on overhangs/roofs etc. They are usually also specified as being good for a particular ability - shoes for novices are usually less aggressively downturned, meaning they’re more comfortable for example - and sometimes climbing style (shoes for short bouldering routes will sacrifice comfort over those made for long trad routes). Likewise for indoor and outdoor climbing. Sometimes they are also listed as being better on particular types of rock.

Unless you are a professional or serious and good enough to be entering competitions, you will not need more than one or two pairs of all round rock shoes.

  • Uhh; it's slab vs crack. A vertical slab could exist and would probably be called unclimable.
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 20:01
  • 1
    @joshua, if it’s vertical it’s not a slab. From the Wikipedia article linked to above: “slab - A relatively low-angle (significantly less than vertical) section of rock, usually with few large features. Requires slab climbing”. It could have a crack, making it easier to protect with trad gear, or it could be relative you featureless meaning it would be a bolted route or top-roped (or a very high trad grade).
    – Darren
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 21:56
  • Seems like vertical slab would be referred to as a "face" on which you would do some "face climbing".
    – johnDanger
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 0:19
  • @johnDanger Basically, yes.
    – Darren
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 7:58

A note: terrain, at least in America, is generally described relative to its deviation from vertical, eg. you'd say something is 20 degrees overhung instead of 110 degrees.

Then, re:second question, steep refers to the severity of the overhang. These definitions will vary slightly between sources, but <10 degrees overhung is basically vertical, 10-30 degrees is slightly overhung, 30-60 degrees is steep, and >60 degrees is a roof.

  • Ok, now I understand. Immensely helpful!
    – KaPy3141
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 16:34
  • There's also a big difference between 45 and 70 and 70-90. But I usually use angle in 10 degree increments.
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 20:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.