Rock Climbing Technique: Heel and Toe Hooks

Heel and toe hooking is often used on steeper climbs: when the angle kicks back and you need to start thinking like a monkey, it’s important to find ways to use your feet like your hands. Heel hooking and toe hooking are creative ways to move up a wall or out from under a roof while keeping your body close to the wall, taking weight off your arms, and providing you with better leverage for getting past a tough move.

How Do You Heel or Toe Hook?

You do heel hooks by placing your heel on a hold somewhere near waist level, if not higher, and putting as much pressure as possible on it to rock yourself up to the next move. Toe hooking is similar; just use the top of your foot instead of your heel.

When Do You Heel Hook?

A heel hook is most often used when climbing in a roof or on an arête, but it can be thrown up on a ledge as well. Pressure is important for a heel hook to remain in place and requires the hamstring to be activated, so look for a knob, edge, jug, or anything you can apply pressure to under the heel.

In addition to helping you maintain your balance, a good heel hook can also relieve a great amount of weight from your arms and hands. With a little less weight on your hands, you can take a quick rest and better your chance of completing the route. Once you’re ready to move on, use your heel hook for leverage to push yourself up.

When Do You Toe Hook?

Toe hooks can be used in the same situations, and are great for keeping your body close to the rock, preventing barn-doors, and giving you a chance to rest. Pressure is just as important when toe hooking, but instead of pushing on your heel, you’ll be pulling with the top of your foot.

A good toe hook can also become a fun “circus trick” if the wall isn’t steep and you have the opportunity to take your hands off the wall. Pay attention toward the end of the video (1:50) to see what I mean!

What Kind of Climbing Shoes Work Best for Toe and Heel Hooking?

Climbing shoes are a climber’s greatest ally. You will often see climbers with multiple pairs of shoes in their pack since some are better for techniques such as edging or smearing, while others are better for things like heel hooks and toe hooks. The rubber surrounding the heel of your climbing shoe helps make heel hooking possible, while the rubber toe patches let you place solid toe hooks.

IShoes like the La Sportiva Solution and the Five Ten Team 5.10 are perfect for toe hooks due to a large amount of rubber on top of the shoe. Similarly, shoes like the La Sportiva Testarossa and the Five Ten Anasazi Velcro are known for their heel-hooking capabilities.

Final Thoughts

There are many combinations of footwork when climbing, and in most cases, the rock will determine what’s best for you and your body. Also, we’re all built differently and use selective moves accordingly. The most important thing is to always make sure you warm up your legs and allow yourself to learn and perfect these moves gradually. Our legs and feet are complicated limbs and always need to be limber and strengthened for heel/toe hooks.

Go slowly, sample a bit, and be creative because the steeper the terrain, the more fun it is!!!