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Home Wall Primer: Part 3—Route Setting

This is part three of our three part Home Wall Primer series.

• To find tips for building a home wall, check out Part 1: Planning and Construction.

• For advice on buying holds, see Part 2: Choosing Holds.

The majority of climbers can agree that a tall, freestanding block with a solitary line and unique feature can set the table for a five-star classic. Unfortunately, home walls rarely have any of that. Comparing a home-wall problem even to a commercial gym problem can be disappointing. Here are a few tips to keep the problems fresh and engaging in a crammed and contrived venue.

Where to begin

You can never have too many jugs. A blank wall can be overwhelming for an amateur route setter, so start by making a large “X” of jugs from the top corners to the bottom corners of your wall. This tactic spreads the large holds throughout your woody and provides an easy way to inspire movement in and out of the X. A circular V0 jug haul can also be an easy starting point. Try setting 25 moves that start and finish on the same hold. Climbing a few circles is a tendon-friendly way to start each session.


Without an abundance of holds, it’s not worth wasting valuable handholds by setting them as feet. Home-wall routes tend to include a lot of traversing. If you place a lot of footholds below waist level, you can’t also use them as handholds on other routes. Instead, try buying a couple dozen screw-on jibs, ask your local gym for polished foot chips, or make your own out of wood or rocks. Permanently scatter theses evenly throughout the lower section of your entire woody. To open up more foot options, you can implement the following rules:

• Open feet: Exactly what is sounds like: Use anything on the wall.

• Open jibs: Your hands can only follow the marked route, but your feet can also use the randomly placed jibs.

• Natural tracking: You feet must follow the marked route, but you can stem or heel hook against the walls.

• Tracking: Your feet must stay on the marked route, just like your hand.


Photo: Rich Crowder

Keep route intensity sustained when possible. Problems are often short, so try and pack in a punch. Avoid defined cruxes. Keep the difficulty consistent for your training routes. Occasionally, you’ll want a tricky high crux or two, but you’ll want to spend the majority of your time on consistently challenging moves.


Not all your routes need to be masterpieces. Each route should have a propose: open-handed friendly warm-up, half-pad crimpfest, learn to toe-hook, balancy footwork, lockoff strength, or the long, circular trad-like route. Not all problems needs to be everything to everyone.

Forced movement

The secret to success is forcing a climber into an exact sequence. You don’t want your buddy to bump and match? Turn the holds to force his hand placements, or use tracking feet to keep his hips to one side.

Splatter the rest

At some point your wall will start to fill up. When setting new, independent routes becomes a search for empty T-nut holes, it’ll feel contrived. Instead, splatter the rest of your favorite holds in the empty spaces. Get an idea of the most common movements for each area and place accordingly.

Trad is rad

Photo: Rich Crowder

Woodies are associated with power and precision for bouldering. Don’t be afraid to use your wall for traditional multi-pitch training as well. Set insecure stemming movements, or an intricate no-hands rest midroute. Treat the moves like you would on a 200-foot Yosemite corner. It will be a nice break from the punchy, power finger training. Can you stay on the wall for 10 minutes straight?


Take the time to revisit the flow and movement of a problem after it’s “done.” Have multiple people try your work of art and see if it makes sense to them. Don’t be afraid to tweak, rotate, or swap holds.

Strip it

When all the routes are feeling stale or you simply haven’t climbed in a while, don’t be afraid to strip the entire woodie and start fresh. This renewed excitement can go a long way in your training. If you are out of shape, the physical act of route-setting can be a great way to warm your body back up and feel strong again.

Setting parties

The big lesson from the first article in this series was to keep the psyche level high! Invite a few of your best buds over to set routes over beverages. It can be a rewarding experience, and a great way to spend a rainy weekend. Diverse climbing styles will emerge. It will make you a better climber than if you always set your own way.

House rules

This is not the climbing gym. Climbing on a woodie will rarely ever feel that way. Like beer pong, all woodies should have house rules: e.g., all footholds on the kicker are on. Stemming is off. No skipping holds. Etc.


To keep your training sessions from feeling stale, try a few of these climbing games to mix things up.

Target practice

Photo: Rich Crowder

Create a circle with rope in the middle of the room. Place little bean bags or similar items on your holds. The act of grabbing the bags and throwing them into the rope circle will lengthen your time on the wall. It will really make you appreciate good body positioning. Ikea has a dart game that is perfect for this.


The first climber does a couple moves on the wall. The next climber does the first climber’s moves, then adds a few of her own. Take turns adding a couple moves at a time until one person can’t complete the sequence. This game is great when you’ve got a crowd in your garage.

Laser pointer

Get on the wall and have a partner use a laser pointer to create a sequence as you go. It’s perfect for endurance and onsight training.

No Thumbs

Climb your routes with open feet and without using your thumbs. Your footwork will shine.


Your wall angles can get stale. Maybe you built your wall when you were a V2 climber and now you’re crushing V7. Volumes are a great way to temporarily change the way your wall climbs. Placed high on a route, they can make it feel steep. Volumes low to the ground can make steep walls more approachable. Maybe you’ve been looking to learn how to kneebar but none of your holds are big enough? Volumes can be homemade and do wonders for renewing the psych.

Naming board

Photo: Rich Crowder

Adventurers love to name things. It’s one of the best parts of being a first ascentionist: You get to name your route. The same goes for home-wall creations. Hang a whiteboard near your wall and list the routes, allowing guests to name them if they claim the first ascent. It’s a fun way to keep the atmosphere light and social, and provides a nice bit of competitive motivation.

Route-setting is an art

I compare it to watercolor painting. Every once in awhile you can surprise yourself with a beautiful, flowing line through dumb luck. In reality, consistency comes with practice. The most distinguished artists constantly critique themselves. They do not master their method without continually creating. Keep trying and don’t get frustrated. When in doubt, lure in your local gym pro with the promise of a tasty six pack.

Check out the rest of our Home Wall Primer series:

Film: How Matt Cornell Free Soloed One of America’s Classic Hard Mixed Routes

"The Nutcracker" explores the mental challenges of solo climbing and the tactics Cornell used to help him send the route.