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Practice Jamming to Climb Cracks

Learn How to Crack Climb


Heidi Knapp jams a crack in Indian Creek Canyon, Utah.

Find cracks on your local cliffs and boulders to practice your jamming technique and footwork and you'll quickly improve your climbing.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

If you learn to climb at an indoor gym, it’s hard to learn how to climb cracks. While some gyms have practice cracks, crack climbing is a skill that is best learned outside on real rock.

Crack Climbing is Learned

Crack climbing, unlike face climbing, is not a natural technique but rather a learned technique. Crack climbing is counter intuitive. When you are face climbing, you keep in balance and move upward by finding handholds and footholds. When you jam cracks, you have to “read” the crack and then figure out how to wedge your fingers or hands in it and where to place your feet. The technique to surmount a section of crack can sometimes be puzzling and experience goes a long way toward jamming a crack with an economy of effort.

Practice Jamming at a Local Cliff

Practice and improve your jamming skills at your local cliff. Set up top-ropes on various sized cracks and do laps on them. Practice all the different jams if possible—finger jams, hand jams, fist jams, off-width technique, and chimney moves. Figure out how to wedge your fingers and hands in cracks and see what body positions work best. Experiment with your foot placements. After you jam a crack to your top-rope anchor, down climb it to improve your crack technique.

Find a Jamming Mentor

By practicing your jamming skills, they will become second nature and you will be able to quickly assess and climb different sizes of cracks. You will also master the savage art of crack climbing if you find a more experienced climber that will be your jamming mentor.

Every Long Route Requires Crack Skills

Crack climbing is a lot of fun and is a necessary skill to climb any desert tower like Castleton Tower or any big wall like Yosemite’s El Capitan or Half Dome. Any long route has mandatory crack climbing on it so if you aspire to climb the classic American routes, you need to learn and perfect your crack techniques. Just remember—practice, practice, practice!

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