Climber's Hand Care: Beginners Guide to Looking After Your Skin

Climber's Hand Care: Beginners Guide to Looking After Your Skin

As long as you climb you'll probably never have super soft hands. But your hands are a crucial part of climbing. So take care of your digits. 

 Image source:  @ty_dudley

Image source: @ty_dudley


Should be short. Long nails catch. Not only is it possible to rip one off entirely, the noise nails make when scratching is shudder-inducing. Most gyms will have clippers available to use. It's recommended they are cleaned prior to use.

If you climb a lot, colourful fingernails are redundant (however, colourful toenails aren't a waste of time).  Don't bother polishing fingernails as that handy work won't last longer than a few hours.

Flappers & Calluses

 Image source: 

Image source: 

When beginners first start climbing, most tend to use their palms. This leads to calluses on your hands, which can eventually turn into ripped tags of skin or 'flappers'. Once climbers have gained more experience and finger strength increases, the less this happens due to more use of fingers instead of the entire palm. Prevention is always better than cure. To prevent a stinging, bleeding flap of skin some climbers sand their hands before calluses get too thick. The idea isn't to sand them away completely, but enough so they don't catch and rip off while climbing. Sandpaper from a hardware store sounds weird but it's an economical and functional option, surpassing any 'specialised' products being sold. For larger calluses, use 180 gsm sandpaper followed by  200-250 gsm paper to smooth them off. For smaller calluses, skip the 180 gsm and use  200-250 gsm paper. 

What happens if you have already got one? This is a personal preference. You can either remove it or see it it will reattach. Clean the area of chalk and dirt before applying disinfectant/antiseptic on the wound. Follow with a band-aid then finger tape. 
Be warned: Like any open wound, cleaning and applying disinfectant/antiseptic will sting like hell on a flapper. But your post-climbing ablutions won't sting in comparison.

Awkward Flappers

At the base of the finger where the palm starts towards the middle of the palm is where most beginner climbers loose skin. This area is awkward to tape. Simply wrapping tape around the palm and re-wrapping metres once this inevitably rips off is not only wasteful but extremely inefficient. Regardless if the skin tag has been left on or cut off, once a flapper is cleaned of chalk and dirt this taping method below functionally covers the area and still allows you to climb without the tape ripping off.  


Cut your tape strips to ~20cm depending on the size of your hand.


Prepping beforehand makes taping simpler and faster.


Apply a fabric band-aid to the awkwardly located flapper



Apply two strips running along the front and back of the hand as shown



Apply tape around wrist to secure the two long strips.



Wrap another strip of tape as shown above. Try and get it to at least partially cover the band-aid. 



Finished! Now the tape wont rip off when climbing.

Worn-down Tips, Dry Cuticles and Skin

Sore, pink and shiny fingertips lacking any sort of fingerprint that can weep occur after a lot of time on the wall without a break. The only thing you can do is rest and take a break. A day off should be ample time to regenerate enough skin to climb again.

Chalk will inevitably dry skin out and and potentially lead to cracking. Notice that most gyms have hand moisturiser at the counter? Use it. Wash your hands of chalk and all the other miscellaneous grubs after climbing before applying. Otherwise, enjoy mixing dirt and chalk with a creme moisturiser. Specialsied hand balms/ solid bars on the market are designed to intensely moisturise and help repair all that lost skin. They range from feeling ultra-greasy to ultra-light. Try some out and see if they make a difference. Ideally, if climbing a lot, a hand repair bar/balm should be used a few times a week if you want to see any long term result when it comes to skin repair. After each session should do it. If you have a fresh flapper, avoid using a hand balm/bar directly on it until it has dried enough. 



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