Onsight vs. Flash vs. Redpoint Climbing

Onsight vs. Flash vs. Redpoint Climbing are just three of the many different pieces of jargon you may hear a rock climber use. Each sport has its own vocabulary, and part of learning the sport is learning the lingo!

Unlike terms like sport, trad, or bouldering, which talk about the style in which you climb, onsight, flash, and redpoint refer to preparation and time spent on the route.

In this article, we’ll talk about the differences between onsight vs. flash vs. redpoint climbing by defining each. Then, we’ll dig deeper into redpoint climbing. It’s what this site was named after and the most common of the three!

Climbing Terms: Onsight vs. Flash vs. Redpoint Climbing

First thing’s first, let’s define each of the three climbing terms that we are focusing on. The difference between them will quickly become apparent!

What does Onsight Mean in Climbing?

Onsighting a route in climbing simply means climbing a route without any prior knowledge or falls. You are “as it were”, climbing the route for the first time. This is rare, and not often used in climbing, but it does happen!

Most routes have plenty of information online about them or you talk to a friend who has already climbed the route. In order to truly onsight a route you almost have to choose a route at random, discover a route, or make a mistake and climb a route you didn’t intend to.

In the purest form on onsighting, you should not even watch another climber attempt the route or belay a person doing it before you attempt to climb it!

What does Flash Mean in Climbing?

Flash climbing is similar to onsighting, but you will have a little prior knowledge of the route beforehand. Just like onsighting a route, flash climbers finish a route cleanly on the first attempt.

With the wealth of information available most first attempts completed these days are flash climbs rather than onsights. You can look at your guidebook, talk to friends, watch YouTube videos about the crux. Really anything goes as long as you finish the climb on your first attempt without any falls!

What does Redpoint Mean in Climbing?

Redpoint climbing is free-climbing after practicing it beforehand. Many redpoint climbs come from failed onsight or flash climb attempts. For a climb to be considered redpointed, you do need to lead it.

Practicing redpoint climbs can take a lot of meanings. You could have climbed it already while someone else led it, you could have rappelled down to practice certain moves or sections of the climb, or as we mentioned already, it could be a route that you tried to flash or onsight.

You may have heard a friend or fellow climber say they were “climbing near my redpoint”. This is a common term meaning someone is attempting a route that is near their personal best climb.

What is a Pinkpoint

This term, which has become more popular recently, is a type of redpoint where the quickdraws are already placed. Because this is not a traditional lead climb, the name was given to distinguish between the two.

This does make leading the route slightly easier but is a standard that is not frowned upon. In fact, many international climbing competitions are currently using this format.

Does it Matter How I finish a Route?

Really, it doesn’t. These terms are a way for climbers to distinguish between accomplishments. If anything, you should be proud that you’ve completed a climb regardless of how it was done.

Walking up to a route and onsighting or flash climbing it is impressive, but realistically this means the route was probably far under your skill level. Completing a redpoint climb often means you’ve conquered a route that is near the peak of your skill. Something you had to work and practice to get.

Either way, celebrate the climb, however it was done.

Where Did the Term Redpoint Come From?

The term ‘redpoint’ comes from the German word Rotpunkkt. Kurt Albert started to pain red “X”s on pieces of permanent protection (fixed pins, bolts, etc) that didn’t need to be used for a climb. Often, he had found a way to free climb around the fixed piece.

When he was able to free-climb an entire route, using only removable protection, he would paint a red dot at the bottom of the route. The ‘redpoint’ meant the route could be free-climbed.

Many consider this the start of modern climbing. There is a great documentary that is free to watch on YouTube detailing “The Agony and the Art of the Redpoint”.

What are the Rules for Repoint Climbing?

The rules for redpointing a climb are far less than those for onsight or flash climbs. Here is a checklist for things that qualify it as a redpoint:

  • Lead Climb
  • No Traditional Protection
  • No Top rope
  • Clean route (no falls)
  • No resting on the rope (resting on the wall is fine)
  • No pre-placed quickdraws (pinkpoint)

And that’s about it!

Redpoint climbing is all about working on a route, finding and practicing the most efficient way to the top, challenging yourself with moves that are right at the peak of your skill level, and spending time to accomplish a goal.

Many climbers consider the redpoint they are working on their ‘project’. Both The Dawn Wall and Free Solo movies were based on projects from well-known climbers in Yosemite National Park.

The Final Pitch

Redpoint climbing a route that has been challenging you for any length of time is an accomplishment for all climbers. Hopefully you now also understand the difference between onsight vs. flash vs. redpoint climbing.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how you finish a climb as long as you’re celebrating it!

  • Recent Posts

Growing up in Fresno, CA, Yosemite has always called to Robert. From camping trips as a kid, he quickly became a regular to the parks granite walls.

His favorite, and most difficult climb to date is Serenity Crack at the Royal Arches in Yosemite, rated a 5.10d. Robby spends most of his time bouldering these days, and loves the Camp 4 Boulder area.