With athletes like Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker (the Wide Boyz) accelerating regard for the discipline, crack climbing is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. The humble crack has re-emerged in popular climbing culture as a test of technical movement and strength and in this post, we’ll be exploring what all the fuss is about!
What is crack climbing?
Crack climbing is a style of traditional climbing that uses natural crack features in rock. For indoor climbing, cracks can be simulated using resin or wooden holds and have been increasing in popularity, even making their way into elite sport climbing and bouldering competitions in recent years. Whereas sport routes and boulder problems use the holds available on the wall, crack climbing uses the negative space in rock faces - the cracks and gullies where there are no holds to pull down on. As such, crack climbing requires a unique set of techniques and skills to master when compared with the more conventional disciplines.
Crack Climbing Techniques
The most fundamental technique in crack climbing is a technique called "jamming". When jamming, climbers position their hands, feet, fingers and sometimes their entire body inside crack features to scale routes. This style of climbing may sound cumbersome and uncomfortable, but professional climber Step Davis insists:
"Once you get the hang of handjams, they are the most solid, least strenuous hand hold imaginable, and they come along with giant, solid footjams, what could be better!
- Steph Davis
The body part used and how the climber will choose to position it is dependent on the characteristics of the crack. Some cracks require fingers to be jammed, whereas an ‘off width’ crack might require the whole body to be jammed.
When a crack feature is wider than a single hand or foot, the climber may choose to use a technique called "stacking". Using this method, limbs or digits are pressed against each other to fill the width of the crack and the climber appies opposing force to gain upwards momentum.
"Stemming" is a technique that’s used on cracks that are wider than the climber's body. Similarly to stacking, the stemming climber will make use of all four limbs in a wide gap to press outwards against the rock. Upwards progress is made slowly, by transferring weight between limbs, ensuring enough contact is maintained with the rock face. Climbers will typically use this technique when navigating any chimney features on a route.
What do you need to crack climb?
Using the right tools and equipment for crack climbing will help to make the process easier and the experience more enjoyable. Rock climbing shoes suited to crack climbing will help you to negotiate foot jams more easily and tape gloves will keep your hands in better condition.
Crack climbing is notoriously hard on skin, and a ‘crack-glove’ seems to be the preferred way to provide some protection from the rock face. Crack gloves make use of climbing tape to create a barrier between your skin an the rock, and there are a number of different designs to opt for depending on your needs:
Making a crack glove
Finger Loop Method.
This technique is great for making a durable climbing glove that won't need re-taping often. It won’t restrict movement or decrease friction on your palm, and can be reused if needed!
Step 1. Tear 5 strips of 7-8 inches long Psychi finger tape
Step 2. Stick one end of each strip on the outside of your wrist, below your wrist bone and lace each strop around each of your fingers and thumb.
Step 3. Wrap the base of the wrist a few times to secure the glove.
To reuse your glove, all you have to do is re-wrap the wrist strips with each use.
The X method is quicker and uses less tape, but isn’t as secure as the Finger Loop method mentioned above.
Step 1. Instead of tearing 5 strips, wrap a single strip of tape around your hand, starting with your wrist, then move the tape diagonally across the palm and finally directly across the palm in an X shape.
The future of crack climbing
As counterintuitive crack climbing may seem at first, it’s clear to see that this style of climbing is gaining traction in more mainstream climbing culture. As the WideBoyz would argue, “crack is back” and the ability to climb cracks effectively is a defining characteristic of any good all round climber. Fans of the Climbing World Cup would have looked on in awe as Adam Ondra took on a crack feature in competition at Meiringen in 2019 and we expect there’s plenty more crack action to be enjoyed in future climbing competitions. We look forward to it. But first, we have some crack gloves to make.