How to Use Rock Climbing Holds

Search for climbing holds online and you find page after page of strange and colorful shapes for climbing gyms. On an outdoor crag your search is for their real-world inspirations, which subtly blend into the rock face before you.

Learning the names of holds and how to spot each one is fundamental to your progress as a climber. This article provides that overview and, more importantly, explains how to use each hold.

Two techniques help you get the most out of any hold:

  • Squeeze only as hard as you need to stay on a hold. Squeezing as hard as you can exhausts forearms prematurely and you’ll feel “pumped” because so much blood flow is directed to arms when they’re tensed.
  • Focus on the direction you want to pull. To get the strongest and easiest grip, pull perpendicular to the hold. Line your weight up with that direction of pull and you’ll be less likely to come off the rock.

Types of Climbing Holds

Jug/Bucket

climbing jug hold

Jugs are big, open holds that you can get your whole hand around. Jugs are most people’s favorite because they’re so easy to grip and they provide an excellent rest.

Edge/Ledge

climbing ledge or edge hold

Edges are the most common holds you find. They can be tiny dime edges (barely wide enough for the toe of your shoe), long cuts in the wall (room for both hands) or huge ledges (big enough to boost your whole body onto at the top of a climb).

Edges can face any direction on the wall, so make sure you nail the direction of pull.

Crimp

climbing crimp hold

A crimp is a very small edge that’s only big enough for the pads of your fingers. By getting your body weight closer to the wall, you can get a better angle on this tiny hold and you’ll have a better chance of staying connected to it.

You can hold a crimp in two ways:

  • Full crimp or closed crimp: You have sharp angles in your knuckles and your thumb is tucked over your fingers for extra power. This position is stressful on finger tendons, so be careful.
  • Open grip: Your fingertips are on the edge and the rest of your hand is draped onto the wall. This grip places less strain on your tendons, so it should be your go-to grip unless you need the power of a full crimp.

Pinch

climbing pinch hold

A pinch is exactly what it sounds like—any piece of rock that you can pinch with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other. Because your thumb adds so much gripping power, use it any time you can get it on a hold.

Sloper

climbing sloper hold

Slopers are big bulges with no positive angle for your hands to grip. They can be tricky, but good technique will have you climbing slopey routes in no time:

  • Body position is key: Keep your weight directly opposed to the direction of pull, strive for a low center of gravity and maintain body tension to stay balanced as you make your move.
  • Feel for features that offer a little extra grip: Dimples or small bulges are helpful. Once you find your position, get your whole hand in contact to maximize friction, and keep it still as you move through to the next hold.

Pocket

climbing pocket hold

Pockets are holes in the rock. They can be so small that you can barely fit one finger, or wide enough to fit your whole hand. Your middle finger is strongest; so make sure you use it if you only have room for one or two fingers.

A pocket can take pretty much any direction of pull, so you can use whatever technique you want. Just be careful not to over-strain the tendons in your fingers.

Undercling

climbing undercling hold

Like the name implies, an undercling is any hold you grip from the bottom so you can pull up. One key to a good undercling is to find good, high footholds so you can maintain body tension as you reach for the next hold.

Flake

climbing flake hold

A flake is a piece of rock that has detached from the wall, leaving a crack between it and the bigger rock. You can jam some flakes just like a crack, but it’s often easier to just to wrap your hands around it and lay back off the edge.

Horn

climbing horn hold

Horns are protrusions of rock that you can get your hand behind. They’re great holds because they’re usually very easy to grip. Sometimes you can even throw a sling around them to use as protection.

Safety is your responsibility. No article or video can replace proper instruction and experience. Make sure you practice proper techniques and safety guidelines before you climb.