Climbing holds: types and usage for bouldering and rope climbing

Climbing holds on a wall in a gym

When bouldering or rope climbing inside, you’ll most often use colored climbing holds. They’re manufactured either by hand or in a factory.

People have been using different materials over the years. The holds itself have been categorised and similar ones got names like ‘crimps’, ‘jugs’ or ‘rails’.

What do they mean? This article explains that, and more!



At first people started using wood as their main material for climbing grips. Wood was inexpensive and easy to process, compared to other materials.

Unfortunately, the easy processing also means that it’s wearing out fast. Damaged wood can crack and result in splinters in the climbers’ hands.

Cleaning the grips is also hard. As the wood needs to have some grip, it’s not protected by oil polishes. So dirt and moist would leave stains that are difficult to wash off.

Wooden holds


A while ago people made climbing holds out of real rock. They drilled holes into rocks found outside. These holds gave a very realistic feeling, but were heavy. Rock does wear out though, so you had to replace them often.

Later people started producing man made natural stone using machines. They could now produce custom types of holds with the familiar texture of rocks outside. But this required a lot of work and was very costly.

Some have come up with special mixes of resin and rock powder. That allowed them to produce pretty convincing synthetic rocks. 

Holds made out of rock


A wall builder called Entre Prises in France was the first to produce custom climbing holds in 1983. Metolius, a company in the United States, followed. They started producing holds out of clay. This allowed them to mold the grips in various shapes and sizes.

Clay that was used to create climbing holds

Polyester Resin

After a while, companies started using polyester resin to reduce cost and weight of the holds. Polyester was easy to cast and was well received by climbers. The texture of polyester could mimic that of real rocks. This resulted in an authentic feeling and good grip.

Manufacturers were further improving and experimenting with different mixtures. This allowed companies to introduce their own special recipes for their climbing holds.

The toxicity of polyester resin was a problem though. As the resin was harmful to the workers in such a factory, people started looking for other options.

Polyurethane Resin

Even lighter than polyester was polyurethane. Professor Dr. Otto Bayer discovered Polyurethane in the 1930s.

The first resin mixtures could result in something either very brittle or soft. People were searching for a good balanced formula. Until that it was not viable to use it as a material for climbing holds.

Only until the 1990s people found a mixture suitable for climbing grips.

Polyurethane holds


Fiberglass is another very lightweight material and is often combined with polyurethane resin.

The material itself does not have great texture. By adding extra added layers, manufacturers increase friction. These layers are made from different materials like polyurethane.

Combining the other materials with fiberglass results in much lighter holds. But it still keeps the same texture and less weight. But the processing method is more complex and costly.

Fibreglass hold from Xcult Climbing
Hold made of fiberglass


Extra texture is often added onto holds, creating specific levels of grip. Common materials include Quartz sand, Polyethylene paint (PE) and Polyurethane paint (PU). Mixing these results in different levels of friction to achieve the perfect balance.

Some holds are smooth on some or all faces. This adds some extra complexity to the hold, as you can not hold onto it as well.

Dual texture hold from Xcult Climbing
Dual texture hold

Types of climbing holds


Features are big in size ranging from about 10 inches (25 cm) to any size. They usually stand out immediately. Routes are often built around these big features. They can be used to be either a good grip or even just to be in the way of your prefered path.

Features are not really a hold type in and of itself, and can generally be any of the following types. They’re just unusually large!

Bigger hold, called a feature


Tiny ledges that only have room for a few fingertips on one side are called crimps. Holding onto them requires a lot of power in your forearms. Sometimes it may be helpful to add your thumb to the ledge as well. Not placing it on top of your other fingers, but next to them.



Jugs are usually the easiest to hold onto, compared to the other types. They have lots of room for at least one hand. Allowing you to easily carry all your weight while hanging from one.

Some jugs can also be placed on a ceiling, which you sometimes see in gyms that try to mimic a cave-like overhang. Here they’re also great for hanging a foot in them, releaving you of some weight.  



Small openings with room for only a few fingers, are called pockets. A lot of strenght is needed in your fingers to properly hold onto them. Pockets come in various shapes and have holes with various slopes. Putting your toes into them can be tricky, but is sometimes possible.

Pockets (green & yellow) and some pinches


Monos are simply pockets with room for only one finger. They require extreme power in your fingers and forearms. Be careful when putting much weight on them. Putting too much strain on your fingers can cause long lasting injuries.



Holds that require keeping your thumb in opposition to your other fingers. You pinch together your fingers to keep the best grip onto the hold. A lot of tension may be needed to hold on to them. Using chalk may really be helpful here. Read more about chalk in this article we published.



Most climbing holds can be used for both feet and hands. But are exclusively designed for your feet. Grabbing onto them with your hands often does not help in progressing trough the route.

Standing on them can be tricky. You should try to use only the tip of your shoes. That way you have your toe muscles to help you out with keeping balance and grip. This also ensures you can still rotate your body after you step on them, which is often required.

Tiny footholds


Longer, stretched out holds are called rails. Similar to crimps, they only have one ledge, generally facing upwards. Rails generally have room for both hands, allowing you to match them and pull yourself up. They’re can also be great footholds.



These are the holds often look like round, smooth rock boulders. Many features (the first hold type listed) are slopers.

They lack positivity, which is what we call holds with strong egdes. The lower the edge faces inwards, the higher the positivity. Jugs for instance, have a lot of positivity. Slopers slope down, without much to hold onto.

Trying to grab them or pinch them is often impossible. To climb them, you should try to get as much surface area of your hand onto it. Then slowly, move yourself up and try to reach a next hold.

Slopers are also holds where using chalk will probably help you a lot.

Sloper holds

So there you go! Now that you know all about these climbing holds, shouldn’t you go and try them out 😉? Knowing their names can surely help you out when explaining a route to someone else, but in the end you’ll have to finish them yourself, so get up there 💪!

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