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Learn the Climbing Holds and How to Use Them

Cait Headshot
Written by: Cait Williams
Appalachian Outfitters Floor Associate
 
Photos by: Ekaterina Photography

Climbing Holds and How to Use Them

Climber on a rock face

     Whether climbing in a gym or outside, the holds will come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They will also come with an array of strange names. If you have never learned about them, they can be quite confusing. Like any sport, climbing has its own language. Your friends yell a bunch of words that you do not understand, telling you to, “Go for the crimp!” (Whatever that means). It is stressful, but it does not have to be. While there are endless hold names used in climbing, there are a select few for holds that every climber should know. When learning about holds there are a few things to keep in mind. A hold may be referred to as positive or negative. A positive hold simply implies that the hold has a solid area to grip, while a negative hold will be tougher to get a firm, secure grasp on. Despite having clear definitions for each type of hold, there can be a lot of overlap between holds. Some crimps may also be very slopy and some edges may be large enough to feel like a jug. Don’t worry, all those words will make sense in a few minutes. This article will discuss the various holds you will find in any beginner to advanced route, inside and out. 

Hold Types

Jugs

Jugs are large holds that you can get an entire hand around, sometimes two, with a solid grip. They are common on beginner routes, both inside and outside, because they are easy to grip. The best way to grab jugs is with a straight arm, so as not to exhaust your muscles by staying over engaged.

jug hold

Crimps

Crimps are tiny holds that only allow for the pads of your fingers to be used on them. They will commonly be flat or slightly in-cut, but not by much. They are typically found on more advanced routes for climbers who know how to properly use them and who have had the time to build up proper climbing strength. There are two ways to grab crimps, open or close handed. Knowing when and how to use both of those techniques will prevent injury and boost your climbing abilities. 

crimp hold

Edges

Edges are a broad category of holds. They can range from small inch wide ledges to three-foot-wide areas that you can take a break on during climbs. Because edges are relatively featureless and simply a flat edge, they are best used when you are hanging off them. Once you move above them you will generally lose any kind of good grip on them and be forced to move to the next hold. 

edge hold

Pinches

Pinches are used just like you would think, you pinch them! To use the hold, place your fingers on one side and your thumb on the other and squeeze. These holds require intense finger strength. Using your thumb on these holds adds an incredible amount of grip. They will commonly be found on more advanced routes, as they are good holds, but can be difficult to use properly. They are typically vertical on routes, but can be angled and occasionally horizontal.

pinch grip

Sloper

Slopers are large holds with virtually no positive surface. They are round and sloped, which requires the climber to get as much of their hand on the hold as possible. Depending on the size of the sloper, you will want to get your palm and fingers spread evenly across the surface of it. Slopers are the one hold where using a straight arm is not always beneficial. Body tension is key to using them to your full advantage. Like edges, they are only useful when you are hanging off them; once you get above a sloper it generally won’t do you much good.

sloper hold

Undercling

Underclings are commonly very positive holds. The key to getting the most benefit from them is all about body positioning. You should use them by applying force on them by pulling upward. These holds are best used when you are above them, underclings are one of the few holds that don’t need to be used above your head. 

undercling hold

Chips

Chips are frequently used as foot holds, but can sometimes be used as hand holds on routes for well experienced climbers. They are small bits of rock, typically smaller than a crimp.

chip hold

Pockets

Pockets are just as they sound. They are a small in-cut area that allows 1-3 fingers to be inserted in them. They most commonly have only enough room for two fingers and because of this require a great amount of tendon strength in your fingers. They are a hold that should be used with caution for new climbers as overloading the fingers can cause serious injury.

pocket hold

      The key to any climbing hold is knowing how to use it. On top of climbing holds, there are several different body positions that will help with climbing ability. For all the holds listed above, the distribution of your weight will affect the effectiveness of each hold the most. Remember that you must use your legs to climb the wall. You are not just pulling yourself up the wall with your arms, your legs give you a lot of power and strength to stand up on holds with. 

     There are endless terms you will hear used at climbing gyms and crags to describe the holds that are on the wall. Typically, in gyms you will hear some more interesting names than outside. Yesterday I heard the terms pancake, elephant ear, lily pad and turkey neck to describe different holds. Once you get comfortable with the basic shapes, have fun coming up with names yourself!