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Climbing Handholds: What Can I Hold On To?

When walking into an indoor climbing gym, one of the first things a person might notice is the different shaped handholds on the walls and boulders. As odd or funny as some of these may look, they actually serve a purpose to help you become a better climber.

Big boulder in center of Climb Up

Climbing handholds or holds are grips attached to a wall or boulder so climbers can grab or step on it. On most walls, holds are arranged in paths, called routes, by specially trained route setters. These are bolted or screwed in. Also, they come in a large array of sizes and shapes to provide different challenges for climbers.

Types of Holds

According to University of Oregon’s Outdoor Pursuits Program webpage author Chuck Woodward, there are 6 types holds used for climbing routes. To describe them, Woodward uses term positivity. He states positivity refers to the relative ease of maintaining contact with a hold. Woodard adds that there’s an inverse relationship between the positivity of a hold and the force required for adherence to it (the more positive the hold, the less energy necessary to hold on). For example, if a hold has a deep incut, a well-defined edge or is easy to grab, it is considered very positive.

Those holds are:

Blue-colored easy to grab handhold is called a jug


Jugs are traditionally large, incut holds with space for both hands to fit on the hold. To help visualize, think of the handle of a gallon sized milk jug. This kind of hold should be easily and comfortably gripped. The word jug can also mean a hold's awesome positivity. One would find many of this type of hold on beginner routes and problems because they’re easy to grab onto. In my opinion, they’re the favorite holds to have when climbing.

Hunter green-colored hold with little to no edges, usually rounded is called a sloper


Slopers are very rounded and lack a definite edge or lip to grip. Usually larger in size, friction and strength are your friends when it comes to holding on to these. I have a tough time with slopers because friction is the main factor when tackling it. What I have found is to spend as little time on the hold as possible. It does help though to practice climbing on these. Once one can move above it, a descent move could be to push off from the top. Slopers are the most positive when your weight is distributed directly below the hold with your arms straight. (I think that’s the only time they are positive.)

Edges and Crimps

Pink-colored hold with mostly a straight edge is called an edge

An edge is a flat face that meets the wall at around a 90° angle. This type of hold can have an outside rim or lip, and can also be slightly rounded. There are 2 kinds of edges.

  1. Crimp or crimper is a small, shallow edge. An edge is considered a crimp when there is only enough room to place about one knuckle, or one pad, of your finger(s) on it. If it’s big enough to have two pads on it, then it’s considered an edge. Crimps usually force the hands into a distinctive “crimp” shape resulting in the knuckles just behind the fingernails settling into a collapsed position. Crimps can be difficult to hang on to, especially if there’s no finger strength because you’re holding on to such a small area.
  2. Sidepull is an edge that is either vertically or diagonally oriented with the face pointing away from you. Thus, you pull sideways instead of straight down, hence the name. Sidepulls are positive when you are pulling towards yourself while maintaining an oppositional force. You oppose the pulling force that your hand and arm exert on the hold with your opposite hand or your legs and feet. For example, if the sidepull is to your left, then lean and push with your legs to the right. Sidepulls can be tricky to get used to.
Black-colored hold with shallow or deep opening that allows a few finger to hold on is called a pocket


Pockets are holds that have an opening, shallow or deep, that allows one to hold them with only one to four fingers. One needs a lot of finger strength for these. Pockets that are only large enough for one finger are called monos. When using one- and two-finger pockets, use the strongest fingers—the middle finger for monos and the middle and ring fingers for two finger pockets. It’s best to use as many fingers as possible to increase surface area and friction if possible because these holds could be strenuous on the fingers.

Orange-colored hold one uses the fingers on one side and the thumb on the other is called an pinch


Pinches are holds with two opposing faces which must be pinched (usually by the entire hand, with fingers on one side and thumb on the other) to grip. Technically, any hold in which uses the thumb in opposition improves the hold's positivity is a pinch. Pinches do require good hand strength and are usually used on more challenging routes plus boulder problems. These also vary in size.

Orange-colored hold with an incut facing downward is called an undercling

Flakes and Underclings

Flakes are thin slabs detached from the main face of the wall or rock. An undercling is a flake with the incut facing down. These require oppositional force and become more positive as you move your feet up. With the palm facing up, pull up and out on the undercling while maintaining downward pressure against the wall below with your legs and feet to move. Holds like these are also awkward to get used to.

How Do I Grab That?

At this moment, I gather you now have a better understanding of what climbing holds are. The next step is how to efficiently grab and hold them. Some of that information has been mentioned but I’ll go more in-depth on why particular holds should be grabbed a certain way. This is so that when climbing, it’s safer for your body and hopefully one doesn’t struggle as much when trying to ascend.