October 10, 2021

What Is Smearing in Rock Climbing

There are multiple different techniques involved in rock climbing, and for climbers to master these techniques, they need the proper equipment. The most vital and powerful tool is the climbing shoes. 

Smearing is one of the rock climbing techniques, though traditional. It requires one to press the shoe sole into the rock and push oneself up using the friction from the climbing pair of shoes. It looks terrifying but wearing the right shoes will help you propel up the cliff without tripping or falling.

Are you ready to dive in and learn more information about the smearing rock climbing technique? Let’s walk through all the details you need to know in regards to this fundamental technique. 

What Is Smearing in Rock Climbing?

Smearing Technique

Smearing is when you use your foot while rock climbing to gain traction before moving up to the next hold. It’s a foot movement whereby one directly presses the sole of the climbing shoe on a slab and uses the friction to move forward. 

On the surface, smearing is not as complicated as you might think; grab a good pair of climbing shoes and the journey will be easy. Here, the boots are the most imperative aspect. 

With that said, a beginner should first get used to the techniques. If you are beginning, it’s essential to take some time practicing in the local gym before heading for the more significant challenge. 

How Do You Smear?

At times, you might not be in a position to get the correct foothold in each step as you climb a challenging route. More often than not, you might approach massive vertical rock slabs or walls that lack any support for the feet. However, do not fret as to how to tackle such instances. 

The only technique that will save you in such a case is the smearing technique. When it comes to smearing, the method is more of a technical challenge than a physical one. 

With a natural sense of balance and flexibility, you can advance quickly despite how strong you might be. Also, it’s a mental challenge since you need to have trust in your body and shoes to push yourself upwards with a foot that holds onto nothing.

To maneuver past those more enormous vertical rock slabs that lack a foothold, you first need to position your foot correctly and press the rubber of the climbing shoes onto the flat surface to gain the suitable friction to propel upwards. You successfully manage to smear through the rock.

What Is Smearing

However, it’s a technique that calls for balance, natural creativity, and flexibility. It’s only easily achievable on sticky and rough rocks or walls, such as coarse sandstone or granite. 

Most new climbers feel terrific when it comes to this technique. They think that sticking to the walls using just the friction of the rubber of their climbing shoes doesn’t seem like a firm grip. But fortunately, the technique is not difficult to master; all you need to learn is a pair of climbing shoes to prepare you for the challenge. 

If the terrain is steeper, you will need to exert more pressure on the toes. It means that you have to push the waist and body away from the wall to direct the weight to the feet. Since it calls for more technique and creativity, it’s a better approach for beginners to balance and develop an excellent footwork technique.

What Type of Climbing Shoes Is Best for Smearing?

Of course, a flat shoe will do the task accordingly. It keeps your toes moderately flattened, unlike in a hammered position while wearing the downturned shoe. 

The shoe should have more rubber since the more rubber contacts the rock surface, the better friction you get and minimal chances of slipping and falling. A quality climbing pair of shoes is an essential tool that can positively influence your smearing. 

Remember that not all types of climbing shoes will equally be effective for the technique; for instance, the downturned shoes might be popular, but they don’t offer the much-needed leverage for smearing. 

Generally, as you choose a pair of climbing shoes, look for one that maximizes the sole contact with a rock surface. In short, the more shoe space that can fit on a wall, the better. 

What Is Smearing Technique

Therefore, the more sole contact you can expose, the better the overall grip strength. With that, you can see that the flatter shoes will offer better coverage as they will position more rubber on the rock’s surface.

Also, you should note that a softer pair of shoes is better than the stiffer one in this regard. Most climbers realize that they can easily mold the feet in more delicate shoes, allowing them to put more shoes and weight on the rock, thus increasing the grip.

Their most sensational experience with climbers while they smear is that they don’t feel secure or safe. If it happens, know that it is perfectly normal! 

What Is the Importance of Smearing in Rock Climbing? 

Smearing is a basic footwork technique mandatory in each climber’s repertoire, as it opens up multiple new possibilities on the wall or rock.

It’s critically essential because:

  • It helps climbers tackle massive vertical routes that lack a foothold, or rather, the footholds might be far apart. So, mastering this technique will help one to maneuver this challenging portion.
  • It significantly improves the footwork technique, and you tend to stop depending on the strength of your upper body and learn to use more of your foot. 
  • It’s a powerful and effective technique when it comes to tackling slabs. Therefore, you will manage to climb various types of problems and routes. 
  • The smearing approach will improve your balance, control, and flexibility. These skills are needed to be a great rock climber. 
  • Also, mastering this technique makes your feet much more sensitive to the grip limit. It gives a better understanding of the underneath shoe rubber and the kind of surfaces to stick.
  • A great footwork technique will save you more energy.
  • It improves your quality of observation as you begin to make calculations on the rock surface you need to climb. 
  • It helps you to learn how to trust your feet to improve the overall climbing. 

How to Improve Your Climbing Smearing Technique

What Is Smearing Technique in Rock Climbing

No one is perfect; even the experts in climbing work on their skills every day. Each climber has a poor habit that they need to change for better improvements. The reason people train is to fix those bad habits and perfect some new techniques. 

Note that climbing is among the skill sports that depend heavily on muscle memory. The muscle memory could either work against or for you as it’s challenging to out-train a poor habit. 

To get better at rock climbing techniques, you should first understand your weaknesses and strengths. Here is how to be better at smearing rock climbing technique: 

1) Footwork

Smearing is an art of footwork! It’s always about the feet. Most people tend to overlook this aspect and focus more on upper body strength.

 However, learning the ideal place and weight of the feet will lower the strain on the forearms. It helps the body to be at a more efficient angle to get to the next handhold.

2) Consistency

The more you practice, the better you become. Even though you go for short sessions, training several days a week improves body awareness and muscle memory.

Some climbers will go for weeks without climbing or fail to train consistently. At this point, they start to feel as if their progress has hit rock bottom. To avoid such, you should always practice remaining at the top. 

The best approach to improving on this technique is to be consistent, especially in the first years of training; it helps you quickly develop your muscle memory.

3) Pressure and engagement 

As you smear, you should apply adequate pressure on the toes to stick to the rock. The pressure should be steady and balanced, even while in motion. 

However, you should note that it’s not advisable to press the whole shoe sole on the rock face; only use the toe’s base to apply pressure on the surface area. The big toes offer the full push that you need to stick on the rock. 

Smearing

4) Speed

As you leave the smearing position, you should make confident and brisk movements. Moving hesitantly and slowly could make you slip.

5) Balance

It’s critically essential to position the feet and body well while smearing. Before you throw the feet on the rock, the toes should remain stiff. 

Also, ensure that the toes are facing upwards and vertically align the heels in one direction. Additionally, you should take small precise steps. 

6) Confidence and Mental Strength 

For the smearing technique to be successful, you should trust the footwork and build mental strength. 

Building your confidence will help you master the art of smearing technique. 

Common Mistakes Made in Smearing

There are various common mistakes that climbers make while trying to use the smearing technique:

They fail to understand that they should learn to be confident rather than competent. It would be best to push yourself to be a better rock climber and get to know the risks and how to assess and mitigate them. 

Another mistake that people commit is failure to maintain their climbing shoes. Some starters don’t know the value of clean climbing shoes. 

Some will attempt the technique with dirty shoes, and in such a case, one might lose contact and slip. Remember, you should scrub the dirt off before stepping on the wall.

It’s vital to ensure the shoes are nice and neat. You can wash with soap and water after a session to keep them sticky and lovely. 

Smearing is often intense on your forearms; therefore, only use your arms if necessary. Some beginners will use their arm strength to try the technique. Using arm strength intensifies the tension in your arms. 

Climber on a steep crag

Lack of confidence is yet another common mistake that people make. Failure to trust the footwork makes you lose body position and balance. 

You will mostly come across climbers who lack confidence, leaning towards the wall and limiting shoes-to-rock contact. Therefore, it’s advisable to overcome the fear and remain confident before heading to the rock and attempting to smear through.

Placing the feet lower than the hips is a mistake people make; not maintaining the contact between the shoe and wall properly and failure to evenly distribute the body weight will make you lose friction and slip off the rock. Always keep the feet vertical to the hips and evenly distribute the importance to maintain the clutch. 

Smearing needs creativity. Honestly, it’s not often okay to use your toes and expect to gain traction every time. In exceptionally flat areas that don’t include pockets, one might have to lower the heel to add more surface contact with the shoes. You will find most people using just one technique to nail it; that’s a big mistake. 

There are so many mistakes that climbers make during rock climbing. Remember that the sport incorporates various techniques and moves, and smearing is among the climbing techniques. 

These techniques include how climbers use their feet or hands to control and maintain balance while they climb. So, to do different styles, it’s advisable to master the footwork, grips, deliberate moves, and handwork. 

The most significant thing to know is to put in enough effort while practicing. Most problems that rock climbers face during smearing are naturally mental, for instance, fear of heights or falling, or probably the feeling that your grip is not great enough. 

Final Thoughts on Smearing in Rock Climbing

So, this guide is crucial and relevant for anyone who seeks to start using the smearing technique in rock climbing. 

Though it’s an old-school technique, it’s among the essential footwork techniques during climbing. It’s a simple way of tackling the routes and problems that look difficult to maneuver. 

The most significant factor is to have a decent pair of shoes for smearing. You should have susceptible and flat-profile shoes as you train; it’s a type of shoe that maximizes the toe to rock contact and enhances friction.

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About the author 

Bernice

Bernice often jokes that she is better at climbing than walking. With avid parents of climbing, her first encounter with the high vertical rock walls was at the age of one. Her favorite style of climbing is bouldering.

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