Learn How to Hand Jam

How to Climb Hand Cracks

A thumbs-up hand jam makes a solid and secure hold. Press your fingers against one wall and the back of your hand against the other to form a hand jam. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

If you’ve never jammed a crack before, start with the easiest and most solid jam—the hand jam. Hand jams are climbed by using basic crack climbing techniques. If you start your crack climbing career by learning how to jam hand cracks, you’ll have a solid base to begin learning how to jam cracks of other sizes like finger cracks.

Hand Jams are Secure

Hand jams are simply that—your hands wedged into a crack that they fit inside with the palms facing one wall of the crack and the back of your hand facing the other. Hand cracks are usually the most secure cracks to climb as well as the easiest. Hand jams often use little strength because you are usually hanging on your arm bones rather than your muscles. Your feet are also wedged securely into a hand crack.

How to Hand Jam

Jamming a hand crack is like climbing a ladder without the rungs. Here are three steps to doing a hand jam:

  1. To jam a hand crack, wedge your hand in the crack with the side of your hand with the thumb on top or what climbers call “thumbs up.”
  2. Next tuck your thumb into the palm of your hand and expand the hand so it exerts opposing pressure on the opposite sidewalls of the crack.
  3. Now hang your weight off your wedged hand—that’s a hand jam.

How to Jam Your Foot

Once your hands are jammed into the crack, lift a foot and push the front part of your climbing shoe into the crack. Let the rubber on the rand around the outside of your shoe grip the crack and hold you in place. Stand up on the jammed foot, then step the other foot up to calf level and jam it in the crack. Now you have four points of contact with the rock—two hands and two feet.

Shuffle Your Hands up the Crack

Move upward by shuffling your hands up the crack. You can move the top hand up first, then the lower one below it, or you can lift the bottom hand out of the crack and hand jam above your upper hand. Sometimes you will use both techniques to repetitively shuffle your hands up the crack. Now step your feet up with the same motion as your hand jams. Pull a foot out of the crack and lift and place it above your other foot. Wedge it in and keep moving.

Good Footwork is Key

Good footwork is the key to successful jamming. Learn how to use your feet in hand cracks and you will be able to transfer those techniques to other crack sizes. Your feet, as in face climbing, support you, take your body’s weight off your arms, and allow you to move upward with an economy of movement and strength.

Find a Rhythm with Hands and Feet

As you jam a hand crack, keep moving upward and jamming your hands. Find a rhythm with your hands and feet. Look for places where you can rest; maybe a face hold outside the crack allows you to stand with one foot in the crack and one on the face, taking the weight off your hands and arms. Rest from a single hand jam and shake out your other hand. Also, look and feel for small edges and holds inside the crack that you can grab with your fingers. Then chalk up and keep jamming to the anchor. Now lower down—and jam it again.