Crack climbing may sound like a daredevil type of sports activity, but if you learn a proper technique and how to do it safely it will soon become one of those activities you’ll enjoy the most.
In this article, we’ll show you how to crack climb and all the other crack climbing techniques, tips, and tricks so you can fully enjoy it, along with all the rock climbing health benefits.
What Is Crack Climbing?
Simply described, crack climbing is a form of rock climbing that exploits cracks in the rock using special techniques. There are a few different types of cracks and each of them has its name:
1. Finger Cracks
These cracks are wide enough so you can put your fingers or parts of them in them.
2. Off-finger Or Off-hand Cracks
Wider than finger cracks, off-finger cracks are wide enough to put a bit more than your fingers, but still not big enough to fit your whole hand inside. Because they don’t allow you to have a solid grip, they are not as secure as the rest of the cracks.
3. Hand Cracks
If you can shove your entire hand in the crack, then it is a hand crack, one of the most secure types of cracks you’ll run into.
4. Off-width Cracks
Wider than a hand crack, an off-width crack is still not big enough so you can fit your upper body or your legs in it. Mastering off-width cracks is one of the most complicated aspects of crack climbing, as it also requires a bit of awkward and uncomfortable movements.
5. Chimney Crack
This term is used to describe cracks large enough to fit your whole body.
What makes this sport especially dynamic is the fact that a finger cracks for some may be off-finger or even a hand cracks for the other.
Jamming – Essential Part Of Crack Climbing
The most important part of crack climbing is so-called jamming. This means you’ll have to put your hands, feet, or limbs when possible into a crack so you can expand and find something you could hold on to. It may sound hard and it can be difficult to learn, but once you manage to master this technique, you’ll see how easy and fun this sport is.
How To Jam
For successful crack climbing, you’ll have to learn how to do certain things, but it all starts with one specific activity – preparation
Crack Climbing Preparation
Proper preparation means you’ll be ready to start climbing without any interference, and here are some of the main steps to help you with it:
- Take off any jewelry. If you have any rings, bracelets, or even watches on your hands or body during your climb, you risk serious damage not only to it but also to your fingers or hands, if they get caught between rough rocks.
- Tape your hands with athletic tape. This way you’ll protect your hand from any bigger scratches, and it will also allow you to jam your hand a bit harder in a crack, which is especially useful for beginners.
- Workout. It is good to get your body in as good shape as possible before you decide to start climbing.
- Warm-up. Your regular, pre-workout warm-up routine will do the trick. The goal is to make your joints and muscles as flexible as possible.
- Learn about your route. This may take some time and experience, but you’ll eventually learn how to read your route and more-less know what to expect.
Hand Jam Crack Climbing Technique
Hand jams are not only the easiest types of jams but they are also among the most secure ones. The perfect crack for a hand jam is usually about 2 inches, but it can vary depending on your hand size.
Hand jam means you’ll put your hand in a crack, expand it, and rotate it to lock it. It may feel a bit awkward and even painful when you begin doing it, but as you practice, it will become easier and easier and you’ll see for yourself how secure it is. Hand jam is done by performing the following routine:
- Put your hand in the crack.
- Cup your hand.
- Squeeze your thumb into the palm, or, if the crack is tight, press it into the side of the index finger.
- This should result in your fingertips, heel of the palm, and the backside of your hand contacting the rock and providing you with a jam.
If the crack is wider than you should turn your hand to fill the space up.
Best Place To Jam Your Hand
To get the most out of your jam, find the narrow place in the crack, so to get your palm to rest on the top of that narrow part. This will give you enough grip to secure the jam, and if you squeeze your thumb and cup your hand, it will increase even further. Once you’ve achieved a good jam, make sure it doesn’t move around in the crack or you may lose the grip.
Foot Jam Crack Climbing Technique
Most cracks that are good for your hands will also serve well for a foot jam. Here is how to perform it:
- Start by bending your knee and turning it so your pinkie faces down, toward the ground, and the inside of your foot faces up, towards the sky.
- Put your toes into the crack. The sole of the shoe should be touching the side of the crack.
- Move your knee back so it comes in line with your body.
- Smear the foot into the crack.
This will provide you with a very secure jam. Be careful when you do it, though, as if you rotate your foot too much it can be quite painful and even lead to an injury. If not necessary, you even don’t have to use your whole foot.
Avoid placing your foot horizontally to avoid getting stuck.
Finger Jam Crack Climbing Technique
If you run into a small crack, too narrow for your whole hand, it is time to use your fingers. This is how to perform a finger jam:
- Put all or some of your fingers in the crack.
- If possible, shove them to the second or third knuckle.
- Rotate your elbow down to lock them in place.
Finger cracks can also be used for your foot jams. If the crack is wide enough to let your toes in, rotate your knee so your big toe faces the sky, and push to get your toes in. Once secure, look for additional holds outside the crack.
Fist Jam Crack Climbing Technique
Sometimes you’ll have to use your fist instead of the palm for jam, and here is how to do it:
- Turn the hand so the palm faces either sky or ground and make the fist.
- Insert the fist into the crack.
- Rotate the fist until you start to touch the rock on the outside edge of your index finger and thumb from one, and the outside edge of your pinkie from the other side. For additional strength, clench your fist.
Do this technique only in places where you can place your whole wrist in the crack.
These cracks are also great for footwork because most of the time you’ll be able to simply place your foot in and stand up with ease. For additional friction, you could rotate your foot.
What To Do With Off-Width Cracks
Off-width cracks are regarded as probably the most challenging part of crack climbing, and lots of climbers prefer to avoid it. However, as you learn how to crack climb and as you master all the techniques, you’ll become more comfortable with knee jams, heel-toe jams, hand stacking, and all the other advanced techniques, so when you decide to give it a try, it may become quite a pleasant experience.
How To Crack Climb
Now when you know how to jam your limbs in the cracks, it is time to learn how to use them to climb up:
Straight Crack Climbing
This is the easiest way to climb. All you have to do is to catch a foot-hand rhythm – right foot, right hand, left foot, left hand. When you reach out for the crack, swing your arm like a windmill, and insert your hand in a crack with your thumb facing up.
Curved Crack Climbing
Curved cracks can be right and left-curving. If you face a right-curving crack, place your right hand, thumb-down, above your left hand that is thumb-up, and use it as the lead hand. If the crack is left-curved, then simply reverse the technique.
Crack Climbing Equipment
Besides regular rock climbing gear and equipment, some parts will make your climb significantly more efficient, comfortable, and fun.
Crack Climbing Shoes
Remember, during crack climbing, you’ll be shoving your foot in the cracks all the time, so you’ll need as endurable crack climbing shoes as possible. Here are some features you should look out for:
- Low profile, slim shoes are the way to go. Look for the lace-up ones instead of the hook-and-loops, because they are slimmer. Your toes should lay flat.
- Look for padding. This may sound silly, but every way to improve your comfort should be exploited.
- The stiffness of the shoe is also one of the most important factors. Remember, if the shoe is too soft and you feel any sharp edge you place your foot against, which may make your overall experience unbearable. However, if you choose shoes that are too stiff, you’ll lose sensitivity and it will be much harder to stand on small edges. The key is to find balance, some middle value that will keep you protected and comfortable while you maintain the sense in your feet.
- Low-cut ankle shoes will do the trick for regular climbs, however, if you plan to go on a climb with wider cracks, then you should think about the ones that cover the anklebones.
Crack Climbing Gloves
The main aspect of crack climbing is friction, and if it happens between the rock and bare skin, it doesn’t take much time or power to tear the skin off. That’s why you should learn how to make climbing gloves.
There are two options you can go with – gloves made out of thin, sticky rubber, or gloves made out of climbing tape.
- Sticky rubber gloves will give you two advantages – your hands will be protected while the friction between the hand and the rock will be increased.
- Climbing tape gloves will protect your skin, they are lighter and also provide some additional friction.
If you’re about to face some sharp finger cracks, take a thin piece of tape and move it around the first knuckles of your index and middle fingers. This will keep your skin away from friction.
To protect yourself from falling, regular climbing gear with quickdraws placed on it will do. Also, you should wear your helmet every time you go out. Most often, camming devices are the best choice for crack climbing.
Additional Tips And Tricks
There are also some additional tips and tricks that will make learning how to crack climb way easier:
- Learn every movement, jam, and technique. The more you know, the easier it will be to overcome any possible obstacle. Remember, every rock and every crack is a story for itself.
- Practice and don’t give up! It may take some time to fully master some movement, but once you do, you’ll be able to fully enjoy the time you spend out, on the rock. The practice is the easiest way to overcome discomfort.
- Besides your hands, pay special attention to your footwork.
- Don’t push too hard. If you go over your limits, you may end up hurting yourself. That’s why don’t skip breaks, rest when possible, and be patient.
- Slow down and don’t rush anything. You’re not in the race, the only goal is to complete the track. Take your time, plan the route, and take it easy.
- Ask for advice. Look for local climbing societies and ask whether you could take a lesson or two, or the whole crack climbing course, if possible. People who love climbing are most often quite open and would love to share their knowledge and give you a piece of advice, so don’t be shy to ask any of them.
- Focus on the strategy. Besides learning how to properly jam, it is equally important to learn how to make a good strategy for every path.
- Don’t do it alone. If possible, go with a friend. If you don’t have one that is interested, check for online groups or local societies to find someone to go with you.
- Safety first! If you’re hurt or if you feel like it is too complicated, stop. If you don’t feel well, stop. Don’t try to be a hero, feel free to say that you can’t do it anymore, and get back to the ground. Also, always follow all the safety procedures. There is no point in climbing if you end up in the hospital.
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about crack climbing.
Q: Is crack climbing dangerous?
If you don’t take it seriously and you ignore your training and general safety measures, then yes, it can be dangerous. There is also a possibility that something will go south simply because you’ll be climbing rocks and it is considered to be an extreme sport. However, if you simply follow the safety rules, your training, listen to your body and respect nature, the chances that something bad will happen are really low.
Q: How do you start crack climbing?
If you live anywhere near some rocky area, there probably is some kind of society that gathers all the crack climbing enthusiasts. This is probably the best place to make your first steps. Google the address, contact them and before you know it, you’ll be jamming your hand in your first crack.
Q: How do you climb off-width cracks?
Sooner or later, you’ll run into off-width cracks. If you’ve mastered all the regular techniques, then you’ll be able to try some additional, specified for off-width cracks. The most important part of off-width crack climbing is your footwork and your footwear. Just remain calm, patient and slowly work your way up.
Q: What is an off-width crack?
Off-width cracks are cracks that are too big for hand or fist jam, but too small for you to fit in it completely so you can perform chimney climb. Most of the time they require a massive effort and can feel really awkward, and they can lead to some unusual situations and positions.
Globo Surf Overview
Crack climbing is one of the most popular rock-climbing types. It requires a bit of patience and willingness to succeed, but once you learn the basics of how to crack climb, you’re in for many hours of fun, thrill, and joy.