Thumbs Up!


Climbing holds are like snowflakes—no two are identical—and clever use of the thumbs adds important diversity to your gripping arsenal. Here are four “thumb” techniques that could make the difference during your next tough climb.


The thumb catch is the most basic of thumb tricks—it isn’t so much a grip as a supplement to many open-hand gripping positions. As you work a tricky hold in search of the best purchase, feel around for nubbins or divots for your thumb. This extra point of contact can make the difference between an edge or pocket being too small or sloping to use, and something you can really crank on. You may even find yourself using a worse part of the hold just to exploit the thumb.

Thumb friction shifts the workload away from overworked fingers and forearms onto fresh muscles. On pumpy vertical face routes, you can rest your normal gripping muscles by using thumb presses, thumb mantels, thumb hooks, and overhead “thumberclings” that keep the wrists and fingers straight.

The inverse crimp can be very effective on small cobbles and crystals. Pinching or crimping such one-finger-sized holds can be insecure. Instead, try using the pad of your thumb as the contact point and crimping your fingers over the thumbnail. This grip often provides more power and stability than trying to pinch a slick crystal.

The one-hand gaston is useful in offset finger cracks and dihedrals. Turn your hand thumb-down, side-pull the crack or seam with your fingers, and push the pad of your thumb against the offset. The opposing force and additional friction can turn a poor fingerlock into a powerful grip.