How to effectively Hand Jam a crack

Doug Williams
Hand crack - Author: Bill Selak - CC BY-ND 2.0

If you are new to jamming cracks, you need to start with what’s considered to be the easiest and most reliable jam of all, and that is the hand jam. The technique involves the use your hand to climb a crack, and by simply jamming your hand inside it you effectively create a solid support to pull your weight upwards.

Once you’ve got hand jamming down you can then move on to mastering other jamming techniques, including the art of using finger cracks – which is perhaps the hardest of the lot. So get the basics right and it’ll be much easier to tackle the harder aspects of crack climbing in the future.

Hand jams – solid and secure

Hand jam fun – Author:_T604 – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Hand jam fun – Author:_T604 – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The hand jams are really quite straightforward and, given a little time, it’s pretty easy to get a good technique. When you’re out climbing and encounter a crack, hand jams are your best bet to climbing it quickly and securely. You don’t need much in the way of specialist equipment, you just need two hands and two feet, and you are good to go. The key is to study the crack first. If the crack is so wide that even your fist can’t achieve a jam, then you’ll need another technique.

What’s involved in hand jamming

You start off by simply wedging your hand into the crack. You can extend your arm in as far as it suits you, however, up until the start of your wrist will usually do the trick. The next step is to tuck your thumb under your palm and expand your hand; this creates the lock, as the force from the thumb under the palm and knuckles creates an arch, locking your hand in the crack. It might sound like it’s easier said than done, but if you are reasonably fit, your hand jam should support your weight. Besides, over time you will develop better technique and strength for effective hand jamming.

Jamming with your foot

Drew foot jamming – Author: Richard Walker – CC BY-NC 2.0
Drew foot jamming – Author: Richard Walker – CC BY-NC 2.0

Although we’ve so far been focusing on hand jamming, don’t overlook the significance of your feet as they are going to make your hand jamming technique effective by providing a solid base support. Once you manage to wedge your hand inside the crack and your hand jam is well in place, it’s time to jam your foot. Lift your foot and push the front part of your climbing shoe into the crack, allowing the front of your shoe to find its grip. Swivel your foot around to find the perfect spot, and once you’ve found it, push a little bit further to ensure a secure jam. Now stand up on the foot, pulling yourself up with your jammed hand at the same time, and prepare the other foot for the same process.

Try not to go too high with the other foot, perhaps taking it as high as the calf, then repeat the foot jamming process. At the end of it you will have established four secure contact points, and a rhythmic repetition of the process will surely and securely take you to the end of the crack.

Shuffle those hands

This is where individual preference comes in. Experienced climbers deploy different variations of shuffling hands while moving up a crack using hand jams. For example, you can release the under-hand first and pull yourself up to jam it above the other, or you can it the other way round – it is entirely up to you, just make sure you are not straining yourself, as this could potentially cause a slip and fall.

Footwork is the key

Coyne Crack II – Author: Drew Brayshaw – CC BY-NC 2.0
Coyne Crack II – Author: Drew Brayshaw – CC BY-NC 2.0

So you can see how easily it is to learn to jam your hands in a crack and climb up it, and there is nothing too technical about this. However, your footwork is going to be what makes your jamming a success or not. Try to focus equally on your hands and feet while making jams in the cracks. Good footwork while hand jamming will result in the development of little tricks that will serve you well in mastering other jamming techniques and cracks.

It’s all about the rhythm

So, when jamming a hand crack, you’re looking to get into the swing of things, to achieve an effective rhythm between your feet and hands. Of course, if you find an appropriate place to rest your limbs, make the most of it. Hand jamming can be quite a strenuous task and every little helps. If you don’t find a resting place, give your hands and feet a little shake in between the jams to release any tension building up in them.

Dan goes for the lead – Author: Ian Ackerley – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Dan goes for the lead – Author: Ian Ackerley – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Keep it steady and keep it disciplined. Your hands and feet are working together like different parts of a machine for maximum efficiency – be mindful of this fact and find the perfect rhythm, thus avoiding haphazard pulling and jamming.

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fmssolution is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival