Foot Smears

Using your feet in the gym is usually as simple as picking a foothold and pushing off it. Indoors, nearly every foothold is a positive edge. Outdoors, the situation is much different. While there are lots of edges on many climbs, there are also many climbs without any discernible footholds at all. Friction slabs, smooth-walled corners, and many low-angle face climbs require footwork that relies on smearing ability and not edging.

Smearing sounds simple: Just paste the bottom of your shoe on the rock, keep the force pushing in toward the rock as much as possible, and step up. If only it were that simple. Smearing can be very secure, and it can be incredibly tenuous. Many a talented gym climber has had his or her eyes opened on a runout section of 5.8 smearing. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep the bottom of your shoes really clean. Brush loose dirt off them, wet the sole, and scrub with the palm of your hand until it squeaks.
  • Keep the force straight in. The more perpendicular the line of force is to the rock, the better the smear will stick; keep your heel low.
  • Look for any irregularity. Even the merest divot or scoop can improve things dramatically.
  • Shift your weight smoothly and slowly. Hurried or jumpy movements will cause your foot to skid off.