By Joe Kinder, professional climber, proud New Englander, and Eastern Mountain Sports sponsored athlete.
Understanding the basics of how to use your feet on different climbing terrain is essential to becoming a better climber, and there are a few tools of the trade. Edging is one of these tools. In fact, edging is one of the most important footwork concepts because you use it every time you go climbing. Whether you’re bouldering at the local park or face climbing, sooner or later you’re going to come across a foothold the size of a credit card or smaller. That’s where edging comes into play.
What Is Edging?
When a foothold is small, your entire climbing shoe won’t fit on it. So what you’re left to work with is the tip/big toe area of your climbing shoe and 180º of footwork opportunity. The area from your big toe down is the inside edge of your climbing shoe, and the area from your pinky toe down is the outside edge of your climbing shoe. When you’re focusing your body weight on any one of these areas to steady yourself or power your next move, you’re edging.
How Do You Edge?
More often than not, you’ll rest your weight on the inside edge of your climbing shoe. That’s because the inside edge is where your big toe is, which is the strongest and most nimble part of your foot as far as rock climbing is concerned. By wedging your inside edge onto a foothold, you can drive yourself up the rock to find the next handhold and then steady yourself while you plan your next move. The outside edge is better served for traversing or moving laterally along a wall. Since this part of your foot is weaker by nature, moves on your outside edge need to be quicker. Edging requires foot strength, practice, pressure, and balance in order to work well.
What Kind of Climbing Shoes Work Best for Edging?
I usually think of edging shoes as ones your feet use to stand with, as opposed to slipper or softer downturned shoes that are better for smearing or using your foot to dig into or grab the rock. While all climbing shoes can be used for edging, stiff climbing shoes with a flat shape work best because they’ll absorb more of the pressure and stress of standing on a tiny foothold.
In addition to a good pair of climbing shoes, you’ll find that good foot placement, the pressure you apply, and the cleanliness of the rock surface will determine your ability to edge. The only way to get better at edging is to get out there and work on it. Buy, rent, or borrow a pair of edging shoes, and try them out at your local rock gym or favorite crag. Once you get the hang of edging, you’ll be amazed at the tiny surfaces you’ll be able to stand on and push off from—and that’s what rock climbing is all about.
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