Merriam-Webster defines a “crag” as: “a steep rugged rock or cliff”.
Which is a fine definition, if a little boring.
What’s a crag in rock climbing?
A ‘crag’ is a climbing destination. The crag is the place you go to climb, once you’ve gotten bored of the climbing gym. In climbing, the word ‘crag’ usually indicates a smaller, not-so-huge wall.
In other words: a crag is an ideal place for short sport climbs — exactly the type of climbing most gym climbers will transition to for their first few years climbing outdoors.
That’s Why We Say, “Gym to Crag”
We’ll admit, we’re not the first to use this terminology. In fact, many climbing gyms and outdoor companies around the U.S. offer “gym-to-crag” courses specifically designed to help teach gym climbers the skills for rock climbing outdoors.
Here are just a few examples:
- Evo Rock Louisville Gym to Crag
- Planet Rock Gym to Crag Class
- Alpenglow Expedition’s Gym to Crag Guided Trip
- And many, many more
A related term, as you begin to rock climb outside more often, you might hear people using “cragging” as a verb. For example: “Hey, the weather looks great on Saturday, we were thinking about grabbing some beers and going cragging. Want to join?”
Cragging, in this context, means doing a bunch of single-pitch sport climbs at a single crag. Cragging can be a very fun way to spend a day: listening to music, petting dogs, drinking beers, and climbing when you feel like it. “Cragging” is more of a lifestyle than an objective-focused climbing day.
It’s enjoyable – especially as a beginner. More “serious” climbers can find craggers annoying — but fuck those people.
We’re all here to have fun.
Does cragging HAVE to be sport climbing?
No, cragging doesn’t have to mean you’re climbing on bolts. In fact, especially in areas or countries where bolting isn’t commonly accepted (the UK, for instance), you could find a crag with no fixed hardware whatsoever. A crag is just an established location with known rock climbing routes. That’s all it is.
Some beginner crags can be accessed from the top of the cliff, which meakes them perfect for setting up top-ropes. These crags can be perfect for introductory rock climbing classes, or for climbers who want to climb outside, but haven’t yet learned to leade climb.
However, with the growing popularity of rock climbing, gym climbing, and sport climbing in particular — we do feel it’s pretty likely that most people who are “cragging”, these days are sport climbing.
Your mileage may vary.
Is a crag the same thing as a mountain?
No, a crag isn’t the same thing as a mountain! A crag is a short cliff, usually not very tall. Climbing at the crag doesn’t involve much objective hazard, if any. You don’t summit a crag, you usually just climb to the top of your route and lower down.
Climbing a mountain involves a lot, lot more knowledge, equipment, and ability than a day sport climbing at the crag does. This makes cragging a great starting point for beginner climbing, as you can get a taste of what it feels like to rock climb outdoors, without having to face the stressful environment of real alpinism, or mountain climbing.
Can a crag be ON a mountain?
Sure! Often you will find smaller cliffs located on or near mountains. But most climbing crags are located in more accessible places. No one wants to hike four hours to do single-pitch sport climbing, right? For this reason, the most popular climbing crags are located near roads, and are usually accessible with no more than a 15-30 minute hike.
Of course, as with everything, there are exceptions. But generally, it’s best to think of going to the crag as just a day trip, to an “outdoor climbing gym”, of sorts. Going to the mountains, to do mountaineering or longer, traditional climbing, is a different realm entirely.
After you have spent a good number of days cragging, meeting other climbers, and getting to know what a crag is, then you can start thinking and dreaming about climbing mountains. But it’s best to start small, and work your way up.
Need Help With Other Climbing Lingo??
Check out our list of Climbing Vocab, which contains a helpful glossary of some of the more useful words climbers like to use! Coming soon 🙂