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Pulling Down on Granite or Plastic? Better Master This

Whether you’re seeking out pods and pin scars in Yosemite, tackling the blissful parallels of Indian Creek, or just trying not to blow your chances in your next bouldering comp, we’ve compiled tricks of the trade that will open up a whole new world of crack climbing.

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Cruising the perfect hand crack is a joyous feeling. But when it narrows to fingers, the real battle begins—even hand-crack wizards might take the ride. The secret to floating up finger fissures is still in the feet, but you’ve got less to work with. Unless your feet are freakishly small, you’ll have to jam just your tippy toes, smear on the edges of the crack, or look for holds on the face. Then there’s the seemingly infinite ways to use your digits.


Easy: Fingerlocks


The cake of finger cracks; put your fingers straight in and drop them down, slotting them in the crack so they sink in to the second or third knuckles. Your knuckles act like nuts, wedging into constrictions. It takes very little muscle engagement, and you feel like you could hang on forever. Pin scars and pods provide wider spots directly above constrictions, which are excellent. Try thumb-up and thumb-down fingerlocks because your pinky and ring fingers might slot perfectly where your pointer and middle fingers are too large.

Hard: Ratchet


For cracks too wide for a fingerlock, stick as much of your hand as possible in the crack with pinky up, elbow out, and thumb tucked under your fingers. Pull your elbow down and in toward your ribs. This ratcheting motion will create torque that cams your fingers into the crack. These are useless if your hands are too low, so keep them face level or higher.

Hardest : Ringlocks


Fissures that are slightly small for a ratchet should fit a ringlock well. Place your pointer and middle fingers on the top portion of your thumb and insert that into the crack, pinky up and elbow out. Bring your elbow down and in, which will cam your fingers in place. Similar to the ratchet, these need to be at your face or higher to be effective. Good idea: Tape your fingers or your whole hand because these can be quite painful.


Easy: Face Holds

Face Hold

Look for bumps, edges, or dishes on the face outside the crack. Scout for them at all times, as they are the easiest to use. It’s like sport climbing, so remember your fancy footwork: step-throughs, back-stepping, etc. Finger-crack master Jean-Pierre Ouellet says, “The tiniest bumps will be good enough to get to the next jam.”

Hard: Toe Jams

Toe Jam

This is the same idea as foot jamming in a hand crack: With your knee sticking out to the side, raise your foot almost level with the knee you’re standing on, stick as much of your toes/foot in the crack as you can. Then cam your toes in by bringing your leg back in line with your body. You’ll probably only get the tip of your toe in, so really twisting and trusting will help it. Don’t keep your feet too low, which will make it difficult to make the next move.

Hardest: Crack Smears

Crack Smear

Point your foot straight at the crack, so your big toe lines up with the middle of the fissure. Bend your toes upward. You’re essentially smearing on the edges of the crack. Any flared spots or irregularities in the crack will make the best footholds. Soft, sensitive shoes that fit tightly are best, like thin-toed slippers.

Fine-tune Your crack technique

With Jean-Pierre “Peewee” Ouellet

Jean-Pierre \
  • Everyone’s hand, finger, and foot sizes are different. A perfect ringlock for you might be a fingerlock for someone else. Single pitches might require any or all of these techniques, so be open to trying each of them to find a Goldilocks fit.
  • Don’t place gear above your head; place it by your waist. It will be easier to clip, and it won’t take up valuable real estate where your fingers might need to go.
  • Relax those hands. Don’t over-grip. The jams won’t be as painful, and you won’t get as pumped.
  • Jamming thumb-down all the time is a rookie mistake. Sometimes thumb-up will give you that extra reach you need to get to the next jam.
  • Shuffling your hands, where one stays lower than the other, might be easier than alternating the high hand. This works well when you keep the lower hand thumb-up around chest level and the higher hand thumb-down.
  • Don’t be afraid to “cheat” by pushing your thumb against the edge of the crack, which will secure a rattly jam.
  • Keep your elbows in toward your rib cage at all times, no matter what type of finger jam you’re trying to do.
  • On straight-in cracks, try to oppose hands and feet in your movement sequence. This means that if you lead with your left hand, you need to lead with your right foot.
  • If the crack leans left, lead with your left hand (thumb-down) and follow with the right hand (thumb-up). Vice versa for a right-leaning crack.