How to Use the Smearing Technique: Rock Climbing Essentials

Today, I plan to talk about one of the most fundamental of all rock climbing techniques: smearing.

This common technique should be part of every rock climber’s toolkit. In fact, you’ll find it hard to make it up any rock face without it.

Best of all, smearing proves one of the easiest techniques to learn—and it can make your climbs safer and more effective in no time.

Ready to learn more about this powerful rock climbing technique? Join me below as I walk you through everything you need to know about this fundamental technique.

Smearing how to smear in climbing

What is Smearing?

Ultimately, smearing involves using your foot to gain traction with a rock before pushing off to get to the next hold.

As you can see, on its surface, smearing doesn’t appear to be very complicated. The only equipment you’ll need is your pair of climbing shoes—and you’ll have them already.

That being said, however, smearing will take some getting used to for beginning climbers. If you’re just starting out, make sure you take some time out at your local gym to get a hang on smearing.

Wet surfaces can make smearing difficult.

Is it Normal to Feel Scared? My Foot Doesn’t Feel Secure!

One of the most common sensations climbers experience while smearing is that their feet don’t feel secure.

If that’s the case for you, don’t worry. It’s perfectly normal.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m by no means suggesting that all footholds are safe or that you should recklessly apply weight to them.

However, make sure that you use your good judgment. Not every insecure-feeling foothold will collapse. Be developing a sense of what’s safe and what’s not, you’ll be better able to confidently use your smearing technique.

What you’ll likely realize the more you climb is that there are times when smearing feels perfectly natural and that there are others when you feel as if you’re in freefall.

Because of this, don’t automatically freak out if you still feel uncomfortable while smearing. Over time, you’ll get a better hang on the technique.

How Do You Smear?

With that in mind, let’s talk about what is perhaps the most important question:

How do you smear?

First, simply place your foot on the hold. Next, make sure to press your weight onto the hold and use it to push off as you reach for the next hand hold.

And there you have it—that’s a successful smear.

As you can tell, this incredibly-simple technique must be understood by all rock climbers if they intend to make any real progress.

Whether you’re climbing at the gym or going up a mountain, smearing must be incorporated you’re your approach.

That being said, not all kinds of smears are created equally. For example, you may find that smaller footholds require more weight and effort, meaning that you’re really going to have to dig your feet into the hold.

At times, this can mean that you will have to pull your body away from the rock so that you can put more weight on your toes.

With practice, you can develop a better feel for smearing. This will help you as you determine the appropriate amount of weight to put on each hold.

But while smearing remains a relatively-simple technique, you must keep in mind some other important considerations, such as the ones detailed below.

Do Certain Kinds of Shoes Work Better for Smearing?

The most important tool you can buy to influence your smearing is a quality pair of rock climbing shoes.

In this regard, one must note that not all shoes are equally effective for smearing. For example, though downturned shoes prove popular, they don’t provide as much leverage for smearing.

Generally speaking, when selecting a rock climbing shoe, you need to find one that maximizes the sole contact with the rock face. In other words, the more shoe space you can fit on the rock, the better.

This results from the fact that your shoe’s rubber provides most of the friction between you and the rock. The more rubber that you can expose, the better, as this will increase your overall grip strength.

As you can see from this, flatter shoes provide better coverage, as they place more rubber on the rock face. It must also be noted that softer shoes prove better than stiffer in this regard. Many climbers find that they can better mold their feet to the shape of softer shoes. This, in turn, allows for them to put more of their weight and shoes on the rock—increasing their grip.

How Can I Increase My Shoe’s Grip?

Those looking to make smearing even easier can routinely clean their shoes. This allows for better traction between the soles of one’s shoes and the rock face.

You may choose to wash them after every climb. To do so, simply use warm soapy water and a brush to clean the dirt from the bottom of your shoes.

You’ll find that with routine cleaning, you can keep your climbing shoes in tip-top condition. This will allow them to remain stickier, longer, and it will give you better traction as you practice the smearing technique.

Is Smearing Hard?

Finally, you may be wondering: is smearing hard?

Well, in my opinion, even beginner rock climbers can master this technique quite quickly with the right amount of practice!

The most important thing is to make sure that you’re putting in the right practice. Many of the problems you face while smearing will often be mental in nature. For example, you may have fear of falling or heights, or that your grip isn’t good enough.

Because of this, smearing often doesn’t pose as serious a challenge to one’s physical strength. As long as you have good balance and coordination, smearing shouldn’t pose too many physical problems for you.

For this reason, practice is the best antidote to your smearing problems. The more you practice, the more confidence you’ll gain—and the better you’ll get at executing the technique.

Climbing Blogger

Zealous boulderer, gear geek and editor. Typically has more flappers than fingers on his hands. Occasionally enjoys the feeling of being scared of heights. Mostly prevents looking down too much, though, and cheers at the invention of climbing chalk.

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