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The 11 Types of Climbing Holds: How to Use & Master Them
As a beginner climber, you might walk into your local climbing gym and gasp at all the different holds on the wall. At first, they all look and feel completely different. But over time, you’ll start to notice patterns about how to grip certainholds or how to shift your body weight around others.
That’s because while every hold is unique, there are only so many different categories of climbing holds. Knowing what type of hold is above you in a climb and how to approach it can make a huge difference in your rock climbing technique.
That’s why in this guide, I’m going to break down the 11 most common types of climbing holds for you to learn and master.
The 11 Types of Climbing Holds
Most of the climbing holds I’m going to cover are found both in the climbing gym and outside on real rock. However, some are exclusively gym holds.
In any case, I’d recommend starting in a climbing gym to practice on a variety of holds and improve your grip.
Jugs are most climbers’ favorite type of hold. A jug is any big, open hold that you can get your fingers all the way around and hold with your entire hand.
There’s not much to master about jugs. Instead, these are great places to rest mid-climb and shake out your free arm or chalk up your free hand. Just remember to keep the arm that’s on the hold fully extended while you’re resting so you don’t burn out the muscles in your forearm.
A crimp is like the opposite of a jug. It’s a tiny ledge that offers just enough depth to get the tips of your fingers on it.
A crimp grip is tough and requires a lot of finger strength. You’ll often run into crimps on advanced climbing routes both in the gym and outside.
There are two ways to hold a crimp. If you’re about to make a powerful move, you can bend your knuckles and bear your force directly onto the top of the crimp. This is called a closed-hand grip.
If you don’t need as much power, an open-hand grip is better. You’ll still put your fingertips on the crimp, but also press your palm against the bottom of the hold and the wall. This puts a lot less strain on your finger tendons.
With either grip, it’s important to keep your body weight as close to the wall as possible when holding a crimp. Good footwork is key.
An edge is a very common type of flat-topped hold that offers more real estate to grab than a crimp. You might be able to get your fingers onto an edge up to the second knuckle or even beyond.
The catch is that some edges vary in width. Some are wide enough to put both hands on, while others are so narrow that there’s only enough room for a pointed toe or a single finger.
Another thing to keep in mind is that edges aren’t necessarily horizontal. If you find an edge at an angle, it’s important to position your body weight so that you’re pulling against the flat edge of the hold.
A crack is exactly what it sounds like—a long split in the wall. Cracks are very common outside. Most trad climbing routes center around cracks since they offer good places to put climbing gear like cams and nuts. Some gyms also offer cracks to practice on.
Crack climbing is a climbing discipline unto itself and it takes many years to master. In short, you’re going to need to jam your hand into the crack.
Depending on how wide the crack is, you might be able to get your hand in vertically with your fingers extended or you might need to make a fist. In really wide cracks, also known as off-widths, you might even need to stick a shoulder or your whole body in the crack.
If you’re trying crack climbing for the first time, I’d recommend investing in a pair of crack climbing gloves. These sticky rubber gloves make holds feel much more secure and can save you from scraping off a lot of skin.
A flake is a type of hold you’ll mostly encounter outside. It forms when a big piece of rock is detached from the main wall, leaving a gap. You can grab the edge of the detached rock, which often makes for an excellent hold if it’s not too wide to wrap your hand around.
If a flake is too big to grab, try thinking about it as a crack. The gap between the detached rock and the wall might offer enough room for a hand or fist.
As you move up the wall, keep in mind that flakes can also make great footholds. You can stand on the top of a flake or even walk your feet up it if the rock is at a gentle enough angle.
Slopers are rounded holds that don’t provide any edges for your fingertips to grab. In addition, they’re usually angled downward so that your hand wants to slide off. You’re fully relying on the friction that the hold or rock surface creates as you press onto it.
Slopers are probably my least favorite type of hold because no matter what you do, they’re going to feel insecure. However, you can get really good at them with practice.
The trick is to get as much surface area of your hand onto the hold as possible. Press your fingers together so there are no gaps and use all of your fingers, not just the tips, to grab a sloper. Keep your center of gravity low and close to the wall, and play around with different grips to see what position gives the most positive angle.
A pinch is a type of hold that requires you to put your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other. I usually call them bread loafs because pinch holds in the gym often resemble a loaf of bread.
While you need a fair amount of finger strength to grip a pinch, most of the effort comes from your forearm. There’s no big secret to these holds—they just take a lot of pinch strength!
Pockets are little holes in a hold or in a rock wall that you can hook a couple of fingers into. More difficult pockets, known as monos, may only offer enough space to sink a single finger into the hole.
I’d recommend using your strongest fingers on a pocket grip. For me, I feel like that’s my middle finger, but you might feel more confident in your index or ring finger. Use your thumb on the outside of the pocket to squeeze and add a little more grip.
Be careful when practicing pockets because they put a huge amount of strain on the tendons in your fingers. Going too hard, too fast on pockets is an easy way to rupture a pulley ligament.
An undercling is a type of hold that opens facing down. To use it, you’ll generally have to reach down and pull up.
Underclings can be great holds, but they’re also tricky because you have to be very mindful of where your body position is. If you’re too low, the undercling won’t provide enough positive tension to hold you in place. If you’re too high, your body will want to collapse to reach the undercling.
What I recommend is putting one foot high and leaning your body into the wall as much as possible. Once you’re balanced, reach up quickly to the next hold.
I’ve found that bouldering gyms in particular use a lot of underclings because they make for interesting bouldering problems.
A horn is any protruding hold or rock that sticks out from the wall. You might be able to get your whole hand around it and use it like a jug. In some cases, you can even wrap your arm around it and take a quick rest.
Volumes are specifically found at indoor climbing walls. They’re usually polygon-shaped features that stick out from the wall and may be covered in other holds. Volumes make a climb more interesting because they transform the wall from a uniform face into one with protrusions that you need to work your way around.
While volumes often have other holds on them, you can also use the volume itself as a hold. They usually don’t offer many edges to grip, so try pushing against them with your palm or fingertips for balance. Alternatively, you can use the edge of the volume where it meets the wall as a very tiny crimp.
Climbing Footwork & Holds
Any holds you find for your hands also become potential footholds as you move up the wall. In general, it’s good technique for beginner climbers to put the front of your toe on a hold no matter what type of hold it is.
However, there are a few instances when you need to use different footwork.
Edging involves putting the side of your foot on a hold like an edge or crimp. You won’t be able to pivot your foot from this position, but it can feel a lot more secure than placing just the tip of your climbing shoe on a crimp.
Smearing involves pressing your feet against the wall itself rather than a specific hold. How well this works depends on how much texture the wall or rock surface provides.
Generally, smearing is best for balancing while making a quick move. Don’t expect to push downward with your foot or it will slide right off the wall.
Climbing Hold Materials
Outdoor climbing holds are of course made of rock. But at the gym, most holds are made from either polyester resin, polyurethane resin, or fiberglass.
There isn’t much practical difference between these different materials as far as climbers are concerned. They all provide a grippy, rough surface and feel similar when you grab them.
Now that you know how to identify and approach the 11 most common types of climbing holds, it’s time to get after it. You’ll find almost all of these holds at your local gym and many routes are designed around one type of hold to make it easier to practice. Then when you head outside, you’ll be ready to take on whatever types of hold the rock gives you.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.