Six Basic Finger Grips for Face Climbing

How to Use Climbing Handholds

Use a full crimp on edges at Shelf Road. The thumb placed above the index fingers increases the strength of the grip. Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

Using your hands and feet and making four points of contact with the rock surface is the basis of all rock climbing movement. How you use your fingers, hands, and feet--your handholds and footholds--to attach yourself to the rock is fundamental to climbing effectively and efficiently.

Keep Your Weight Over Your Feet

One of the basic techniques of climbing movement is to rely on your feet and legs to propel you up a vertical rock face.

Your legs are stronger than your arms so if you keep most of your body weight over your feet, your arms are less likely to get tired and you’re less likely to get pumped and fall off a route. Read Use Your Feet to Climb Better to learn more about good footwork and tips that help you climb better.

Learn to Use Your Hands

As you advance and grow as a rock climber, you need to use your hands and arms to progress and to climb harder routes. On steep rock faces, you can’t always rely on your feet to support most of your weight. You have to use your hands and arms to support your body's weight. You just can’t reach up and grab big holds every time you move. Many handholds just are not that good or very big so you have to learn specialized hand positions to effectively use those holds.

Different Types of Handholds

If you don’t know how to grip various kinds of handholds with your fingers and hands, you’re not going to have a lot of success as a climber.

Every rock face offers a variety of different handholds or grips. There are flat edges, rounded slopers, pockets that fit one finger or your whole hand, vertical flake edges, upside-down holds, and projecting blocks. How you use these handholds is key to your climbing success.

Six Basic Hand and Finger Grips

Here are the six basic finger and hand grips used on handholds:

Full Crimps and Half Crimps

Crimping is grabbing small edges with the fingers bent at the middle knuckle. The thumb is then wrapped over the top of the index finger for added pulling power. Crimps are the most popular finger grip position for small incut edges and flakes. Crimping is extremely hard on the fingers. Of all of the finger grips, crimping places the most stress on finger joints and tendons, leading to finger injuries.

Open Hand Grips

Open-hand gripping is when the climber uses a handhold with his fingers stretched out and the middle knuckle straight. This is the least stressful grip position since the joints are straight. The open-hand grip is used for grabbing slopers since the open hand grip allows more surface area of the fingers to contact the sloping edge. While the open-hand grip may feel the weakest of the finger grips, with regular training at a gym and outside, it will become your strongest and most used grip style.

Pinch Grips

The pinch grip is the most common grip, occurring on almost every climb. To do a pinch grab, a hold is held with a half-crimp or open-hand grip; the thumb then pinches the opposing edge.

Pinches are often found at indoor climbing gyms, which makes a gym a great place to increase your pinch strength. Pinches are also common on outdoor routes, including ribs of rock, side pulls with a thumb catch and large brick-type pinches. Make the pinch grip part of your regular training regimen.

Friction Grips

The friction grip, also called palming, is similar to the open hand grip since it involves draping your open palm over a handhold and using the friction of your palm skin to hang onto the hold. Although it is not often used, except on slab routes, the friction grip is important to learn since it is used when climbing arêtes, dihedrals, and bouldering. Practice the friction grip outside by grabbing features by wrapping your hand on smooth pieces of rock. Palming is often used when climbing a dihedral or chimney; the climber puts her palm on the opposite wall to push with hands on one wall and feet on the opposite wall.

Palming is one of the most important but overlooked finger grips in climbing.

Learn Grips in a Climbing Gym

If you’re new to rock climbing, practice all these grips at an indoor rock gym. Many of the artificial handholds used in a climbing gym are ideal for learning each of the different hand grips. Learn and practice those techniques inside the gym then take those skills outside to a real cliff.