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The Footwork Factory: What is edging in climbing and how to do it properly?

Updated By Sam on 27th Feb 2024

Every climber knows that edging is one of the fundamental types of footwork in climbing, It’s one of those essential skills we that are called upon every time we pull into the wall.

Every climber knows that edging is one of the fundamental types of footwork in climbing. Regardless if you’re a gym bro spending your days on spicy overhangs or a sport climber who loves a techie slab, edging is one of those essential skills we that are called upon every time we pull into the wall. 

Its importance should certainly not be overlooked. It doesn’t matter if you can bust out one-arm pull-ups all day long, if your footwork is messier than a Sloppy Joe’s hotdog then you’re ability to climb efficiently will be severely impaired. Worse still; you’re all but guaranteed to get pumped out in a matter of minutes. 

Mastering fundamental footwork like edging, then, is essential to your climbing progression. In the next few minutes, we are going to cover the essential knowledge you need to up your edging game. I’m going to touch on all the key points including;

  • What exactly is edging? 
  • The three common types of edge placements
  • My top tips for upping your edging game
  • What to look out for in edging climbing shoes 

What does edging mean in climbing?

What is edging in climbing

Edging is the foot placements that rely on a precise position of the front edges of your shoe. Although virtually every route or boulder will require some element of edging, it is used in abundance on technical vertical routes, high-angled slabs, and moderately overhung walls where small incuts allow for minimal contact with the wall.

Edges come in all shapes, sizes, and orientations. The most common and easy-to-visualize style of edge is a horizontal ledge, but edges can also be found in diagonal vertical orientations.

The Three Main Types Of Edging 

Types of Edging In Climbing

The technique of edging can be utilized in three main ways; through the tip, inside, or outside edge. Let’s break down each type of edging technique and the main benefits each position offers.

The Toe Tip

Edging In Climbing Shoes

Best for: Small footholds, and moving up on footholds vertically in line with our body 

The toe tip is the focal point of power at the front of your shoe. Edging on the tip of your shoe is ideal for small features, as it concentrates power over a smaller surface area. This applies force in a vertical direction, best for pushing up and moving from small edges and features. 

Whilst edging on the toe tip, your hips will be further away from the wall in comparison to the other types of edging, so this is best utilized when the footholds are vertically aligned with our body and center of gravity, allowing us to generate force in an upwards direction without becoming off-balanced. 

Inside Edge

Inside Edging Climbing

Best For: Resting and stability on holds positioned horizontally to your body

The inside edge – the big toe side – is one of the most frequently used types of footwork in climbing. Because your big toe is considerably stronger than your other toes, the inside edge is one of the most secure placements you can use.

Not only is the inside edge engaging your strongest toe, unlike the top tip, which applies in a vertical direction, the inside edge also pushes force along a horizontal plane. 

This makes this type of edging great for holds positioned away, and to the sides of our body, allowing you to securely transfer bodyweight over the hold. These positions allow for superior levels of stability, as the body position created keeps your heel a close to the wall, allowing your hips to open up and bring your body closer in closer contact to the wall, keeping weight over your feet and off your upper body. 

Unsurprisingly then, the inside edge technique is great for when looking to rest during a route, or while trying to conserve power and climb more efficiently. 

Outside Edge

Best For:  Traversing, backstepping, flagging, and drop knees

The outside edging – the opposite of the inside – engages the small toe side of your feet. Unlike the inside edge, which primarily engages your big toe, the outside edge shouldn’t just weigh your pinky toe, which is your smallest and weakest digit, but rather engage the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th toe. 

The outside edge is the least common type of edging, but proves useful when traversing, or for stabilizing movements such as back steps and cross-throughs. With the outside edge, the working foot’s heel will be parallel to the wall as will the hip, helping maintain balance when moving horizontally or finding stable positions through movement sequences.

Top Tips For Edging Like a Pro

How to edge properly

1. Avoid loading weight on the arch of your foot – regardless if you’re using the inside or outside edge, usually, we aim to keep our weight in the toe box area of the shoe. If you’re is loading weight on arch of your foot you will lose sensitivity in the placement –  but more importantly – it will inhibit movement through a sequence as you foot will roll off the holds your heel rotates.

2. Keep Your hips as close to the wall as possible – Keeping your hips close to the wall whilst keeping the weight in your feet helps reduce the load on your upper body, but also increases the stability of each movement.

3. Watch your feet as you place them – This applies to all climbers, regardless of your skill level. It’s easy to get distracted by the hand holds and forget to watch where we are placing our feet. Place your feet with intention, don’t just flail your legs around and hope to hit a good placement, is one of the easiest ways to improve your footwork and edging ability. Before looking for the next hand hold, clearly identify where you want to make the next foot placement. This will lead to significantly more secure and effective footwork (it will also keep your your shoes in optimal condition for longer!)

The best edging climbing shoes

Stiff models are perhaps the most obvious best climbing shoes for edging. A stiffer shoe will offer you superior underfoot support, acting like a platform for you to stand on, and saving your muscles from over-excursion as you dig into small edges. Traditionally the best edging climbing has been the flat-lasted models with a full-length midsole. 

But climbing shoes have come a long way in the last few decade, and now many softer performance models are more than capable of offering a solid level of edging ability. Instead of a stiff midsole, many of these models use a split sole and active rands to create tension. If you’re looking for a few of the best edging shoes, where’s a few that get my seal of approval;

So which shoes are the worst for edges? Soft shoes with low amounts of heel tension will undoubtedly struggle with small edges. This style of shoe will naturally lend itself to smearing and other friction-dependent movements. Friction footwork rely on greater flexibility of the forefoot, so shoes best suited for smearing are unable to provide high levels of support to your toes, meaning your muscles will have to work significantly harder whilst edging to compensate for the lack of support.

Drills To Improve Edging Ability

How to improve your climbing footwork

If you think your edging, and footwork in general needs some work, the good news is that there are plenty of technique drills you can try to hone your footwork. Here are a few of my favorite drills that will offer you better and more precise edging control. 

Baby steps – Practise small foot movements. To begin, try to undertake three moves with your feet for every one move of your hands. This will build the habit of looking at your foot as you place them, an essential, yet often overlooked aspect of good technique.

Ninja Feet – Climb a route or a boulder with the quietest footplacements possible. This will not only force you to practise precise placements but will also train your balance.

Jibs only – Choose a route (or make your own on a spray wall) and only use screw-on footholds. This will force you to become more comfortable on less secure footplacements. 

Strong Feet – Choose a moderately overhung route, boulder or circuit, and don’t cut loose. This will train you to hold tension through your body, and hone your ability to crank hard through your toes. Resit the urge to use toe or heel hooks.

If you want some more training inspiration, I suggest you pick up a copy of The Climbing Bible: Practical Exercises. It’s an awesome book that has plenty of tips, tricks, and practical exercises you can use to improve your strength, and technique that cover the above footwork drills (and many more!) in depth. 

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