Smearing Technique in Rock Climbing: How to Use it

Great climbers never power their way up the walls or the rocks. While maneuvering through technical terrains, climbers often use a different set of moves to tackle the specific holds.

Rock climbing incorporates different sets of moves and techniques. Climbing techniques are the way a climber uses his/her hands or feet to maintain balance and control during the climb. To perform different techniques, you must master your grips, footwork, handwork, and deliberate moves.

One such technique is the smearing technique. In this article, we’ll be going in detail about everything you need to know about this fundamental climbing technique. Learning the fundamentals is vital for any beginner climber as well as for experienced climbers.

If you’re willing to become a better climber, you should always focus on improving your techniques and movements, rather than strength. Although strength is essential for rock climbers, climbing techniques and movements make climbing easier, even on the routes that look impossible to climb at first glance.

Without further ado, let’s dig into it!

What is Smearing Technique in Rock Climbing?

Smearing is a foot movement in climbing where you use the sole of your climbing shoes to stick to the flat walls before pushing for the next hold. In this footwork, you directly press the sole of your climbing shoes to the slab to gain traction using friction.

You’re not likely to get a proper foothold for each step while climbing a challenging route. Often, you’ll come across massive vertical walls or rock slabs that do not include any support for your feet.

So, how do you tackle these walls or slabs?

Yes. The answer is by using the smearing technique. To maneuver your way past the vertical walls that have no footholds, you need to press the rubber of your climbing shoes to the flat surface of the rock and gain proper friction to push yourself upwards. However, this technique requires a natural sense of creativity, flexibility, and balance.

At times, this technique may seem terrifying for beginners because sticking to the rocks using only the friction of the rubber of your shoes does not seem like a sturdy grip. Fortunately, mastering this technique is not as complicated as it seems. All it takes to learn the smearing technique is a pair of climbing shoes — and you’re ready to go!

However, you should not take this technique for granted. If you’re a beginner, it might take a few months to get used to this footwork. So, make sure to take your time to practice this technique at every opportunity you get.

Why is it Important to Use Smearing Technique While Climbing?

While still a beginner, most climbers tend to think that they’ll be using different types of holds to climb the rock. However, not every section of challenging terrains will include footholds for you to step on. Some portions of the routes may only have flat rock slabs or vertical surfaces for you to tackle.

So, what do you do when you discover flat surfaces with no footholds?

Honestly, the smearing technique will make a significant difference on such occasions. If you’re aware of this technique, you’ll quickly be able to advance through such terrains and climb your way up top.

So, here are a few reasons why you need to master this technique in rock climbing:

  • Smearing is one of the best techniques to tackle vertical routes where there are no footholds, or the footholds are too far apart. If you’ve mastered this technique, you can easily maneuver over such a challenging portion.
  • Smearing will significantly improve your footwork technique in rock climbing. With this technique, you will stop relying on the upper body strength and learn to climb with your foot.
  • When it comes to tackling over slabs, there is no better technique. Therefore, this technique will help you climb different types of routes and problems.
  • The smearing technique improves your flexibility, balance, and control. These skills are essential for you to become a great climber.
  • Once you master this technique, your feet will become much more sensitive to the limit of your grip. You’ll have a better understanding of the rubber underneath your shoes and the types of surfaces where they can stick.
  • It’ll also improve the quality of your observation as you start to calculate the surface of the rock to climb on.

How to Use Smearing Technique While Rock Climbing?

Unlike other climbing techniques, smearing is an entirely technical movement rather than a physical one. For beginners, it might take a while to get used to this technique, but it is not the most challenging technique to master.

So, how do you use the smearing technique while climbing?

It’s fairly simple. It is often used in slabs and vertical routes. If you come across a flat surface without any footholds, press the rubber of your shoes directly on the rock or slab to gain traction. Push yourself up the rocks using this friction and reach out to the next hold.

There you go! That’s how you use the smearing technique while climbing.

Honestly, smearing is one of the most simple and straightforward footwork techniques in rock climbing. If you have a better sense of flexibility and balance, you’ll be able to advance much quicker with this technique. You do not require the physical strength to master this technique.

However, you need to be mentally prepared to perform this technique. Unless you’re confident about pressing your shoes on the surface, you will not be able to master it. You need the balance of concentration and stability to master and execute smearing correctly.

It is also essential to remember that you need to apply more pressure to your toes on the steeper terrains. It means you should naturally push your waist and body away from the wall to direct the entire weight on your feet. It is undoubtedly one of the best movements to learn balance and stability, especially for novice climbers.

How Difficult is Smearing Technique?

Like we’ve already said, the smearing technique is one of the most simple and straightforward methods to master, even for beginners and intermediate climbers. All you have to do is dedicate the right amount of time to practice this footwork.

The confidence of the climb is a significant factor that makes or breaks this technique. Having excellent foot control and balance is not enough for smearing. If you’re not confident enough to press the sole on the surface properly, you will not be able to get the grip that is required to nail this technique.

As long as you are confident enough and mentally prepared, this technique does not demand any serious physical challenges. You only need proper coordination, control, and balance of your body.

So, whether you are a beginner or a much-experienced climber, you can nail the smearing technique with proper practice.

How to Practice Smearing Technique Effectively?


As we’ve discussed, the smearing technique is mostly used in the vertical surfaces and flat slabs. If you’re climbing outdoors, this technique is much easier to nail on sandstone and granite terrains as these surfaces tend to be rough and jagged.

While you are practicing this technique, make sure your arms are always straight on the handholds. Then, gently push the toes of your feet on the wall and keep your hips away from the wall to create traction. You also need to distribute your body weight equally to maintain the balance. Now, push yourself upwards using the grip of your toe gradually and smear through the wall.

There are three important things that you need to consider to nail this technique successfully:

  • Confidence
  • Accuracy and Positioning
  • Engagement and Pressure

Honestly, as obvious as it may sound, trust and confidence is the key to successful smearing. If you are not confident enough to smear through a vertical wall, you are never likely to do it. Initially, it may be slightly difficult to overcome your fear of slipping off the walls. However, the more you practice, the more you’re likely to build your confidence.

Likewise, you also need to position your body and your feet properly while smearing. Before throwing your feet on the walls, try to keep your toes as stiff as possible. Also, make sure your toes are pointed upwards, and your heels are vertically aligned in the same direction. In addition to that, take small steps and make them precise.

Finally, engage your foot while placing them against the wall. You need to put enough pressure to create that friction. If your toes are not stiff enough and you do not put enough weight on them, you’ll most likely slip off the walls.

Starting the Smear

While practicing the smear technique on a flat and uniform surface, you need to make sure that your heels are low. Lowering the position of your heel will maximize the area that is in contact with the surface of the wall, which helps to maximize your grip and friction while smearing.

Similarly, if you’re smearing on tiny edges and pockets, try to keep your toes pointed. Pointed toes help to push as much rubber as possible in the small pockets. Also, lift your heels to a similar position of the toes to apply more pressure and gain momentum.

Ending the Smear

You should be moving slowly while smearing! However, it should not be the case while ending the smear. Instead of ending the smear with gradual movement, it should end with a sudden move.

With slow movements, while ending this technique, you’ll most likely slip off the wall. While you’re on the wall, your foot should be pushing the wall with full force. You should practice in a much easier route to overcome your fears before you use this technique.

What Kind of Climbing Shoes are More Suitable for Smearing Technique?

The smearing technique entirely depends on the sole, sensitivity, and stickiness of your shoes. Therefore, the shoes that are soft, flat, and more sensitive are excellent for smearing as opposed to stiffer shoes.

Flat and sensitive shoes are more versatile and can easily adapt to any shape of the surface. To get better friction, the sole of your footwear needs to be in proper contact with the surface of the rock. If you one a pair of stiff shoes that do not bend well, your shoes will have less contact with the surface, hence less friction and stability.

Although aggressive and downturned climbing shoes have been the top choice for professional climbers, they aren’t ideal for smearing. Downturned shoes have a sharp toe that is rigid and does not bend on the wall.

Moreover, you should always keep your climbing shoes clean. Even if you have a pair of flat profile shoes, it will not stick well on the wall if your shoes are dirty. Therefore, washing your shoes every once in a while is essential. Likewise, make sure to scrub the mud and dirt off your shoes before every climb.

Smearing Technique Tips for Beginners

The smearing technique is all about concentration, balance, confidence, and creativity. However, as a beginner, it might be slightly bewildering to use this technique while climbing.To lock the smearing method, you need to focus on three essential things — your foot placement, the amount of pressure, and mental strength.

In this section, we’ll give you some tips and tricks to master the smearing technique quickly.

Tips on Foot Placement

  • Make sure your toes are stiff and pointed upwards while attempting this technique. Likewise, keep your heels vertically aligned in the same direction.
  • Never place your feet randomly on the flat surface while smearing. Always study the route and look for tiny bumps or protrusions to place your foot on.
  • Always remember to keep your steps small and sturdy while smearing. Make sure you have the proper control of the movement and proceed gradually. Do not rush or take long steps to find a better hold.
  • Positioning is the key while smearing. It offers you more control, precision, and pressure for nailing the technique. Make sure to keep your feet as wide as your shoulder levels.
  • It is also important to work on the weight of your body. If you manage to distribute the weight of your body properly, it will help you stay on the rocks for a long time.
  • As a learner or beginner, you do not need to find the most complicated slab to practice smearing. Always smear through the rocks that look comfortable and convenient.

Tips on Engagement and Pressure

  • While smearing, make sure you apply enough pressure down the toes to stick to the walls. Also, keep the pressure balanced and steady, even while you’re moving.
  • Do not use the entire sole of the shoes while pressing on the flat surface of the rock. You must only use the base of your toes to apply enough pressure on the surface. Your big toes will offer the maximum push that is required to stick on the walls.
  • On steeper slabs or terrains, you need to apply more foot pressure while smearing. You’ll most likely lose the balance if the pressure is not enough.
  • In addition to that, you’ll also need to strengthen your core and foot muscles for improved control and stability. So, make sure to work out in these sections while you’re at the gym.

Tips on Mental Strength and Confidence

  • To perform the smearing technique effectively, you need to build your mental strength and trust your footwork. Build your confidence and master the art of smearing.
  • Relying entirely on your toes at a vertical slab might be scary. It’s okay! If you’re scared, try maintaining shoes to wall contact by leaning back. This position will also help you to study the route and find the next hold to step on.
  • You have to be experimental. Honestly, most climbers tend to limit themselves to a particular skill set. Get beyond your fears and practice different techniques while you’re at the gym. Developing habits of the experiment will let you be clear about the limit of how far you can take and how well your climbing shoes can stick.
  • Practice, Practice, and Practice. Well, it is no brainer, but the more you practice, the better you will become. It will also help you overcome fear and build your confidence. It will also help you adapt to the movement and strengthen your foot muscles.

Common Smearing Mistakes

Although smearing is one of the most simple rock climbing techniques, many beginners fail to master it. It is usually because most beginners are not confident enough and do not trust on their toes to stick on the flat rock.

Along with that, there are a few other common mistakes that climbers make while smearing:

  • One of the most common mistakes climbers make while smearing is due to the lack of confidence. If you do not trust your footwork, you’ll most likely lose your balance and body positioning.In most cases, a lack of confidence forces climbers to lean closer to the wall, which will reduce your shoes-to-wall contact. So, try to overcome your fear and stay confident before you head to the walls and try to smear through it.
  • Another simple mistake the climbers often make while smearing is placing their feet too low compared to their hips. If you do not maintain the shoes-to-wall contact properly and distribute your body weight evenly, you’ll most likely lose the friction and slip off the wall. So, keep your feet vertical to your hips and distribute the weight of your body evenly to keep the clutch.
  • Most beginner climbers tend to use the strength of their arms while attempting the smearing technique. Honestly, you should always try avoiding the use of arms while performing this technique or only use it when it is extremely necessary. If you use the strength of your arms, the tension on your arms can be quite intense.
  • Most beginners do not know the importance of cleaning the climbing shoes. They attempt the smearing technique with dirty shoes. If you try climbing the wall with the climbing shoes covered in dirt and mud, you’re likely to lose contact and slip off. Remember, you must scrub off all the dirt and mud from your shoes before stepping your foot on the wall.
  • Smearing requires creativity. Honestly, you cannot use the tip of your toes and expect to get traction all the time. In sections that are exceptionally flat and include no pocket at all, you may require to lower your heel to bring more shoes to wall contact. Most beginners use only one technique to nail this technique, which is a huge mistake.

Conclusion

So, that’ll be all for the smearing technique in rock climbing. In brief, smearing is an old school, yet one of the most important foot techniques in rock climbing. Although this technique looks relatively simple, it allows you to tackle the routes that initially look impossible to climb.

It is crucial to have a decent pair of climbing shoes while smearing. However, try using the flat-profile and highly sensitive shoes while you’re training for this technique. Flat shoes will maximize the toe to wall contact and enhance the friction. I hope

Happy Climbing!