Use your knees!

Naomi Buys prepares to do battle with the Mallorca tufas., 225 kb
Naomi Buys prepares to do battle with the Mallorca tufas.
© Jordan Buys

What factors separate success and failure on your chosen project? Strong fingers, fitness, good skin?

On steeper terrain, the secret to sending can often be how cunning you are at conserving energy by milking all possible rests. The most common of these rests is the “knee bar”. For the uninitiated, this involves jamming your thigh or knee itself behind a protruding section of rock, usually with the toes pushing against an opposing hold (or smear) to keep it secure.

Why is it difficult?

It can hurt! If the protruding piece of rock in question happens to be knobbly (it usually is!) then hanging your entire body weight off it can range from merely uncomfortable to causing enormous purple bruising, accompanied by the inability to eat TV dinners for a week. Also, many climbers find it disconcerting to trust a knee bar – even once they have slotted it in place, they don't actually put enough weight through it to rest their pumped arms. Finally, there is the issue of keeping core tension. Without a strong core, the knee bar position can feel strenuous and / or unstable.

How can I improve?

It is worth unlocking the secret of the knee bar – they can be found on about 50%* of sport routes worldwide, by hook or by crook, and will give you that vital respite you need to send. To become a knee bar aficionado you just need two things: practise and a decent knee pad. 'A knee pad?' I hear you ask, 'if this is so essential, why don't all outdoor industry manufacturers supply these? Who sells them?'

Many of you will have seen the videos / photos of stars like Dave Graham using a primitive home-made version of a knee pad for a specific problem. Effective, but not very convenient as it involves copious use of gaffer tape every time you want to put it on. If you want some reliable protection for your leg, which you can use repeatedly, there are two good options available: a neoprene knee support (available from most good sports shops, or even random places like “Poundland” or “Netto” occasionally) – it is worth buying a size bigger than recommended so that you can pull it above the knee, as most knee bars in reality use the lower thigh.

In the Upskill workshop - kneebar heaven!, 104 kb
In the Upskill workshop - kneebar heaven!
© Upskill Collection

The other option is a great deal more swanky and provides proportionately more comfort – the Upskill Friction Knee Bar Pad. This rubber and neoprene creation is specially designed for climbers by Australian entrepreneur Lee Cujes. It's 3-strap velcro configuration allows for the pad to be put on over trousers / shorts and can be cinched in to fit your individual leg shape meaning zero slip. As the pad does not have to negotiate any awkward joints in it's donning, it can be thicker, sturdier and, therefore, a lot more comfortable than it's neoprene cousins when you stuff it behind a crozzly tufa. The obvious benefit of this is that you can stay in the rest for longer and also have more attempts before your leg protests too much. Another important benefit is the rubber coating (1.5mm), which offers maximum friction so you won't slide out of the knee bar. Currently, this pad seems to be the only professional option on the market, until the major manufacturers cotton on!

You can buy an Upskill Friction Knee Bar Pad by visiting the website;

Expect to pay in the region of 59 AUS dollars (equivalent to approx £36) plus postage.

Lee Cujes product testing on O Draconian Devil 8b+, Kalymnos, 183 kb
Lee Cujes product testing on O Draconian Devil 8b+, Kalymnos
© Aaron Stein
Lee Cujes product testing on O Draconian Devil 8b+, Kalymnos, 216 kb
Lee Cujes product testing on O Draconian Devil 8b+, Kalymnos
© Aaron Stein


Knee bars to try

If you are lucky enough to have an imaginative route setter at you local wall, you may find some weirdness created with volumes where you can practise but, otherwise, just book a ticket to Kalymnos – virtually every steep route there has knee bar potential! Look out especially for “Eros” 7b+ at Arhi, “DNA” 7a and “Fun de Chicunne” 8a at the Grande Grotto. Basically, if a route has tufas, you can bet the contents of your rucksack there'll be a knee bar somewhere. Try Sardinia, Majorca, Turkey and pretty much all of Spain for more knee bar action.

Even on this island we live on you ll be able to put your knee bar skills to some use. Just go sport climbing and you will no doubt spot some climber cunning trying to slot their knee behind a large chunk of limestone.

But why limit knee bars to bolt clipping!? Get using them on trad climbing, also bouldering and you may just surprise yourself how helpful they are.

  • All statistics in this article are guesses!

Gilles Mauléon lowering off DNA in the Grande Grotta on Kalymnos, 113 kb
Gilles Mauléon lowering off DNA in the Grande Grotta on Kalymnos
© Alan James - UKC and UKH, Apr 2003

Jordan Buys trying hard on True North 8c. , 48 kb
Jordan Buys trying hard on True North 8c.
About Jordan Buys:

Jordan Buys, 29 years of age. Lives in Lancashire. Likes knee bars, heel hooks and sunny holidays. He managed two french 8c's this summer, on one of them the humble the knee bar was critical to success and a big a smile. He's even done a couple of E9s and a Font 8B.

UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Jordan Buys

Jordan Buys is sponsored by Moon Climbing, Wild Country and Boreal .

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