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What Makes Slab Climbing Different From Other Types Of Climbing

Profile image Adam M.
Oct 10
General Climbing 0 Questions Asked
Last Updated Sep 25
Everyone is equal on slabs, they say. From minimal climbing holds, to easy-to-slip feet positioning, here is why slab climbing is so different from other routes.
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Slab climbing presents a unique set of challenges that set it apart from other climbing styles. Slab routes feature low-angle terrain, often characterized by smooth, vertical to slightly overhanging rock faces with sparse holds. The combination of minimal holds and a lack of steepness makes slab climbing particularly demanding.

Article Contents

There is an old saying: "Everyone is equal on slabs"..

Here are a few characteristics of slab climbing:

  • Minimal Holds: Slabs often have fewer and smaller holds compared to more vertical or overhanging routes. Climbers must rely on precise footwork and balance to send the routes.
  • Body Positioning: Achieving the right body position is critical, it's the fine line between sending the route and falling. Leaning too far in any direction can lead to a loss of balance and a potential fall.
  • Friction Matters: Friction between the climbing shoe rubber and the rock is your best friend on slabs. Smearing (using the friction of your climbing shoe rubber against the rock) is a crucial technique.

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What Is the Importance of Balance in Slab Climbing and How Can Climbers Can Develop It?

Balance is the cornerstone of successful slab climbing. Developing balance is key to ascending these challenging routes.

Mastering Balance - Staying Centered

  • Core Strength: A strong core helps maintain a centered and controlled body position on the slab. Incorporate core exercises into your training routine.
  • Practice Slab Climbing: Spend time specifically practicing on slab routes. Familiarity with the terrain and holds will improve your ability to balance.
  • Focus on Footwork: Precise foot placements are essential. Practice quiet and deliberate footwork to maximize your balance. Throwing your feet around trying to cling onto holds will usually result in you having to restart the climb after falling.

What Is the Smearing Technique, and How Does It Help Climbers on Slabs?

Smearing is a fundamental technique in climbing and is even more emphasized in slab climbing. It relies on friction between your climbing shoe rubber and the rock to gain traction.

The Smearing Technique - Finding Grip

  • Flat Foot Position: Position your foot flat against the rock rather than relying on edges or holds. This maximizes the contact area and friction.
  • Weight Distribution: Shift your weight onto your smeared foot to maximize friction. Trust the rubber on your shoe to provide the necessary grip. Not having enough weight on the foot that is smearing will cause it to slip, and you to fall.
  • Smear Mindfully: Pay attention to the texture and angle of the rock. Smearing works best on clean, textured slabs. Staying focused and not allowing yourself to get distracted can help you make sure you are placing your feet in the right place and applying the right amount of pressure.

Are There Specific Climbing Shoe Recommendations for Slab Climbing?

Choosing the right climbing shoes for slab climbing can significantly impact your performance. While there may be some recommendations, most shoes can perform to a certain level, depending on the route and the wall.

Selecting the Right Shoes - The Ideal Characteristics

  • Thin/Soft Soles: Climbing shoes with thin soles allow for better sensitivity and increased contact with the rock, enhancing your ability to feel the holds and friction on slabs.
  • Neutral or Slight Downturn: A neutral shoe or one with a slight downturn provides a comfortable fit that allows for precise footwork and balance on slabs.
  • Stickier Rubber: Look for climbing shoes with stickier rubber compounds designed for smearing and maximizing friction on low-angle terrain.

Tips for Route Reading on Slabs and Finding the Best Holds

Route reading on slabs requires a keen eye for holds and an understanding of the terrain and balance.

Route Reading - Deciphering the Clues

  • Study the Route: Examine the route from the ground, paying attention to holds, features, and potential sequences. Look for subtle signs of wear or chalk marks that indicate key holds.
  • Trial and Error: Be prepared to experiment with different sequences and holds. Not all holds on a slab are immediately obvious, and many holds that are obvious could be very misleading.
  • Trust Your Feet: Often, the best holds on slabs are footholds. Trust your climbing shoes and footwork to gain traction.

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Slab climbing demands a unique skill set, emphasizing balance, precision, and a keen sense of friction. By mastering the art of balance, developing precise footwork, and utilizing the smearing technique, climbers can tackle even the most challenging slab routes with confidence. Selecting the right climbing shoes for the job and honing route reading skills are also crucial elements in climbing slabs. With practice and perseverance, slab climbing can become a rewarding aspect of your climbing repertoire.

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