Crack Climbing Technique


A hand crack is a perfect starting point for any aspiring crack aficionado. This size is often the most straightforward, and the technique required can be learned relatively quickly.  An ideal hand-crack or “perfect hands” will vary on the individual’s hand size, but is usually somewhere between 1.5 – 2.5 inches in width.  At this size, your hand will slot comfortably into the crack with little complication.  To form the jam, cup your hand and expand it against the inside walls of the crack.  Your thumb and thumb muscles are great points of contact and should be tucked into the palm to secure the jam, or dramatically change the width of your hand. 

You can place your hands into the crack either thumb up, or thumb down, depending on a few variables.  For “perfect hands” I tend to alternate the top jamming hand, and stick to thumbs up orientation.  As the crack narrows a little to “tight hands” I tend to place my top hand thumbs down, and my bottom hand thumbs up.  In this orientation the hand sequence doesn’t alternate, but rather shuffles up the crack, keeping the same hand on top for several moves.  This shuffle technique is often the most comfortable option if the crack treads, or traverses, off of straight vertical.  It’s helpful to follow these general guidelines, but also be prepared to improvise and be adaptive with your movements.

Jamming your feet can be uncomfortable at first, but don’t let that discourage you.  Like all forms of climbing, good footwork is essential.  To have a more enjoyable experience, wear a climbing shoe with a relaxed fit that isn’t too aggressive or downturned.  A flat lasted shoe is generally the best option for comfortable jamming in hand cracks.  To use the jam, insert your foot into the crack with your pinky-toe towards the ground.  Secure the jam by twisting your knee back up towards your waist and stand up on your foot to lock it in place.  Try not to place your foot too deep into the crack, because it can occasionally become difficult to remove, wasting precious energy.  A slipper or moccasin style shoe is often preferred on this terrain, and will save you the headache of shredding your shoelaces.  When searching for the best placement for your foot, keep an eye out for small constrictions, or pinches, in the crack that will accept your foot most securely.

While it’s easy to be totally honed in on the perfect dream splitter you are climbing, it might be to your disadvantage.  Always keep in mind there might be other features near and around the crack that will help your efforts.  Keep a soft focus and avoid “tunnel vision” by only thinking about the crack.  By always looking around you will be able to spot additional edges and features outside the crack to ease your efforts.  Using these outside features will help relieve your body from the fatigue and pains of constantly jamming.  As an example, while climbing a vertical corner crack, a small foot edge and a good smear on each wall of the corner can often allow you to stem and reap the benefits of a no-hands rest.  Voilà!  You’ve sent it!