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Slopers are rounded climbing holds, usually big and blobby. Many beginner climbers will not know how to climb slopers or even what they are—and once they learn, they might avoid them, but slopers have their own satisfactions, and knowing how to use them is part of being a well-rounded climber.
These holds lack sharp or square edges, or the security of the incuts and flake surfaces that give real, wraparound purchase. Instead, they are likely to be bulges or cobbles, about orange to melon size, maybe just as large, and seem as slick as volleyballs. They may also be gently angled, such as found on the squarish side of an arete. They may be harder to use than edges, but a climber can learn and practice how to use slopers, and the knowledge is part of being versatile and able to climb anywhere.
In general, you only encounter slopers on advanced climbs, indoors and out. They are usually more difficult to read than more sharply angled holds, they take a lot of muscle energy, and climbers often feel as if they will slowly slip from them. But they have their plusses: what is a slick sloper for a hand maybe, once passed, a great foothold that even allows a rest.
Any climber is bound to find them sooner or later, but most climbers today go to climbing gyms at least occasionally and can practice handily there.
Moreover, a great advantage of slopers for any level of experience is that a climber can use them with less risk of injury than some other types of holds, while improving strength and endurance. One common training injury is to a finger pulley when the climber slips from a foothold while reflexively still hanging onto a narrow “crimp” handhold. For this reason, climbers are often advised to minimize the optional use of crimps in the gym, saving that for outdoor routes, and practice more on slopers.
Good Technique for Climbing Slopers
The main tricks for climbing slopers:
- Use a wide-open hand, to distribute as much of the surface as possible.
- Consider wrapping your hand on a sloper rather than using a straight-on grip. Your pinky would be into the wall, your thumb out; or if the hold is off to the side, your pinky pointing upward, thumb down.
- Read the direction of the best way to hold a sloper, to position the body properly. Often that means hanging or sinking below it, with your weight low and hips sucked into the wall yet open, so you can adjust weight side to side. Yet if the hold is angled, you will usually lean away, in the opposite direction, from it.
- Engage not just your forearm muscles, but those from bicep to shoulder to back and core.
- Understand that this kind of climbing is pumpy, and that you want to address it efficiently and with relative speed.
Be strategic, trust your hand placements and feet, and pay attention. Slight changes in weight and angle can make all the difference, between sticking and moving on … or slip sliding away.
Slopers in the Wild
Slopers can make up the majority of holds on certain routes, and they are common in certain areas, such as:
- Maple Canyon, Utah
- El Rito, New Mexico
- Horse Pens 40, Steele, Alabama, bouldering
- Joe’s Valley, Utah, bouldering
- Joshua Tree, California, bouldering
- Squamish, British Columbia, bouldering
- Morrison, Colorado, bouldering
- Fontainebleau, France, bouldering
- Margalef, Spain
From Climbing Techniques: How to Climb Slopers
This article on climbing.com gives the following advice as to how to approach and practice on slopers.
The author, JP Whitehead, says: “Unlike other holds, such as crimps or edges, where one can usually just pull down harder, slopers require more finesse than brute strength.” The keys, Whitehead says, are body position and hand contact.
This is the primary and most crucial component to improving sloper-climbing technique. Analyze the hold and the subsequent movement required to get to the next hold. Consider what direction your hand will pull most effectively against it—down, sideways, out, etc.—and where the rest of your body will be when you make first contact. Imagine a line going from that direction of pull through your hips to one of your lower extremities. Use this line to orient your body so that you’re maximizing opposition against the hold. Keep everything—feet, legs, back, core, shoulders, and arms—as tight as possible, from first contact to moving off, to maintain your position and keep your torso as close to the wall as possible. Heel and toe hooks can be crucial to staying in close, too.
Examine the holds closely to identify the most textured areas (small dimples and edges) and how you want your hand on them to make the most of those features. Try slightly angling your wrist left or right to make it feel more positive; meat hooks can maximize friction and employ larger muscle groups. Often on large, rounded slopers, it’s advantageous to spread your fingers as wide as possible, like you’re palming a basketball. In this case, use your palm and fingertips to press and squeeze the entire hold while maximizing surface contact. On flatter ledges, the best hand position might be fingers together, pressing down by bending at the base of the fingers. Since slopers are generally large features, there can be numerous ways to hold them, so experiment to find the best grip.
Slabs: Think about holding your body in place while moving your feet up. Trust in the friction, move slowly, and step up. Once your weight is even with or above the sloper, use it as a mantel by pushing downward.
Vertical to slightly overhanging: Keep arms straight and hips low and sucked into the wall. Once your core sags, you will lose opposition and be forced to rely on pure finger strength. It might help to limit breathing during these short moves.
Steeps: Bend your arms to engage your shoulders, back, and biceps. This also gets your core more involved. Cup your hands and press with your fingertips. These might require more dynamic movement than lower angles, so focus on contact strength by going in strong and holding on tight once you hit it.
The same article includes these tips from the top climber and longtime competitor Meagan Martin, who under “Confidence” addresses the above-mentioned need for quick application and commitment—which can seem counterintuitive, on a relatively insecure surface—as key to success on these holds.
Squeezing the life out of slopers
With Meagan Martin
Know you’re going to exert a lot of big-muscle energy. Move quickly and efficiently by being fluid and static—avoid dynoing and campusing. The same applies to routes: Tackle slopers quickly and utilize rests. Staying calm is important; focus on slow, deliberate breathing. You might feel less comfortable and solid, and knowing the beta might not make the hold feel any better, but it will help your confidence. Relax and don’t get flustered.
Try hard! Squeeze with your hands and maximize opposition between holds by engaging your big muscles: shoulders, back, biceps, and core. If one holding method isn’t working, rethink it and experiment. Every little change in grip could matter. Try fingers together, apart, Spock grip, crimp, and pinch. For bigger slopers, relocate your entire hand. Some are blocky, so use the edge as an open-hand crimp. Others are shallow, so use body tension to stay close to the wall.
Simulate every size, shape, and movement in the gym, focusing on footwork and body tension. The latter is important: It keeps your feet on and maintains that imaginary line. Climbing on overhangs is great for your core; every day spent on steep walls is a day spent improving tension. In addition to just climbing, I like to do core-specific exercises like V-ups, leg lifts, hollow body rocks, and plank variations.
This is key; hesitation opens the door to failure. When I go for a sloper, I do just that—I go for it! I don’t hesitate. I am 100% committed.
Some problems just will not go in hot, humid conditions. Dry hands and cold temps maximize friction and can be the solution. If you’re greasing off in the middle of July, wait and come back in colder months. Read more about the science of friction.
Chris Schulte, who has been climbing for 29 years and developing boulder problems for 26 years, has written about the specifics of climbing compression problems. Compression climbing means leaning, palming and squeezing, if not slapping, on sideways slopers (vertically oriented holds are called sidepulls) up aretes. Picture: hugging a refrigerator, as pictured below (and here) in the Preseli Hills, North Wales.
See Schulte’s article, “Never Fall Off Slopers Again—Expert Tips For Perfecting Compression Moves,” here.
Many climbers like to include slopers in their hangboard routines, to become familiar with and comfortable on those holds. A basic method would be to hang on slopers for 30 seconds and then do 5 pullups.
Shown is the Metolius Wood Grips Deluxe II, an all-around wooden board with two sizes of slopers.
A discussion of sloper strength begins at 10:15 on this training video.