How to: look after climber’s hands

Bouldering, sport climbing and general scrabbling around on rock faces is great fun, but it’s not very kind on your mitts. You’ll have to say goodbye to nice fingernails, but you can still keep your hands in reasonable shape with a bit of care.

climbing hands climbing hands care guide

1. Climber’s tape is your friend on your first few climbs – wrap it around the lower third of your ring and middle fingers for protection whilst you learn the ropes (the ropes! hah). But don’t depend on it to save your skin – use less tape each time you climb, or remove it halfway through. Your fingers may get a bit cut and blistered at first, but soon they’ll harden up.

2. Chalk up your hands a LOT. I see good climbers seemingly barely using chalk but they are super skilled and have fingers of steel. Rub the white stuff over your palms and fingers before every big route – it’ll stop your hands slipping. If your hands tend to sweat easily, try liquid chalk like this Mammut stuff, which helps to dry out skin.

3. Don’t climb through pain. If you get cramp, try flexing and shaking out your hands on the wall, but if your hands actually hurt, quit whilst you’re ahead.


4. The most common hand injury for beginners are ‘flappers’ – rather aptly named loose flaps of skin that rip off when soft skin pulls too hard on abrasive rock. Eww. Tape a flapper up immediately and keep it clean. You can climb with tape on it until it heals – until it does, shampooing your hair will be hell on earth.

5. Proper climber’s hands tend towards cracked skin and thick callouses. Nice eh? It’s tempting to slather on moisturizer but too much will soften your hards up, and you’ll lose the protective layer of hard skin. Try a climbing-specific balm instead – I like the ClimbOn bar or Joshua Tree Aftersport Recovery lotion.

6. Your relationship with nice manicures is over I’m afraid. Keep your nails clean and as short as you can. You might not have pretty talons but instead you’ll have strong, flexible hands that can pull you up a cliff face, and that’s cooler.

Thanks Mary for letting the world see your hardcore climbing hands!


1 Comment

  1. April 12, 2016 / 9:34 pm

    Hi Siân,

    If you allow me I can leave you some tips that have been working for me so far. I’ve been climbing for a while, sometimes quite intensive, and never had injuries or flappers.

    The most important one would be “avoid sanding your hands”. People sometimes fails in a sloppy holder where their hand slips and they keep trying until their hands are bleeding. Take a rest, try more juggy holds, maybe overhands, adds variety to your climbing.
    Another way people sand their hands is falling hanging from their hands, without footholds. It is a good practice for beginners so they fall straight and they don’t twist their ankles but you are not a beginner any more, you have fall a bunch of times… So don’t just ” let it go” after finishing a route. Climb down to the ground or do a little “effort” up with your feet before letting it go with your hands. That will avoid the friction under weight between the holder and your hands.

    Another day we can comment why good climbers don’t use a lot of chalk 🙂 It is a controversial topic. My recommendation is to follow their example 🙂