Rock Climbers: How to Care for Your Fingers + Hands

March 23, 2017

Don't let a flapper EFF up your FA (first ascent). Nothing sucks more than when you're about to tackle that problem and your skin fails you, but your body is feeling strong. Whether it’s a skin issue, or something more serious (such as a pulley injury), there are tools you can use to prevent and rehabilitate these injuries.

Don't let a flapper EFF up your FACheck out these tips from climbers and Skratch Labs Taste Agents Alex Johnson (AJ) and Claire Bukowski (CB)


Chalk up

AJ: Chalk is an advantage in climbing. I often tell new climbers there’s no such thing as “too much chalk.” The more chalk you use, the dryer your hands are, the more friction you have on the rock, and the less susceptible your skin is to getting blisters, because your hands are staying in one place, not over-gripping, or re-gripping multiple times because you’re slipping off. I chalk up before every time I pull on the wall. - Alex Johnson

Apply Sunscreen w/ Someone Else's Hands

AJ: Do not apply sunscreen with your hands while you're out climbing. If you must apply sunsceren, use a spray, or the backs of your hands. Water and moisture soften the skin which makes it more susceptible to ripping or tearing. It also greases and slimes up the holds for everyone who climbs after you.

Keep Your Hands Dry

AJ: Try to keep hands as dry as possible. The goal is not to allow the skin to soak in any excess moisture; to keep the skin on your fingertips thick to prolong the climbing for the day/ week/trip. You’ll see climbers soaking in hot springs or hot tubs with their hands sticking out. (It’s a pretty funny sight.) Also, they’ll do the dishes with rubber gloves on.

Sand Down Callouses & Dead Skin

AJ: File or sand down bulbous callouses. Protruding callouses can catch on sharp holds and rip open into flappers or blisters.

CB: Lately, I’ve been pretty on top of my skin care. I make sure to set aside time every day or every other day to file off thick calluses and cut off dead skin. This becomes more necessary as you climb more days in a row, because your skin doesn’t have as much time to heal. 

Nail Clippers Are Your Friend

AJ: Keep fingernails trimmed. Long nails get in the way of grabbing small holds, and they can be pulled off, break, or crack.

During Climb

Leave Your Rings at Home

AJ: Do not wear rings! Climbing in rings is a great way to lose a finger, break a finger, or skin a finger to the bone. Trust me, I’ve seen it.

Tape That Sh*t Up

AJ: Tape over the cuts, splits, and other hand wounds if still climbing. This prevents them from getting worse, and keeps your blood off the holds for other climbers.

CB: You can find different taping techniques online, but I’ll often just wrap it around my finger(s) such that it can provide a brace for the injury.Tape is also handy because you can use it to tape up flappers (if you so insist on climbing after you get one)!

Post Climb

Apply Climbing-Specific Salve

CB: Applying a climbing-specific salve on your hands (such as Joshua Tree or Climb-On) after your session will help skin heal quicker.

AJ: Apply Joshua Tree Salve on rips and splits. Helps to disinfect and heal wounds quickly.

Tape That Sh*t Up. Again.

CB: While I wouldn’t recommend KT Tape on the hands if you decide to continue training (it comes off too easily while climbing), I would suggest using climbing tape, as it is meant to be worn on the hands. However, KT Tape is excellent for taping other injuries (such as the shoulder or knee).

Use an Acupressure Ring

CB: Acupressure rings are convient, inexpensive tools to increase blood flow in the fingers and break up scar tissue. You can buy one here.

Sweaty Palms? Keep 'em Dry

AJ: If you naturally have really sweaty hands (I do), I use Antihydral NO MORE than 2-3 times PER MONTH. It is a really powerful antiperspirant, and is great for sweaty-pawed people like me who live and climb in the Las Vegas heat, but if overused can extremely dry out skin to the point of splitting or cracking.

About Alex Johnson
Alex is a professional Climber, two-time World Cup gold medalist, five-time National Champion, multiple outdoor first female ascents and first ascents, amateur mountain biker. She currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada with her adorable desert chihuahua, Fritz. Follow her on Instagram @alexjohnson89.

About Claire Bukowski
Claire is a 19-year-old professional Climber living in Tucson, AZ. Claire started competing in 2009 and since then, her love & appreciation of climbing has grown. She likes to spend her time traveling to new places to boulder, sport climb, and trad climb outside. Follow her adventures on Instagram @claire.bukowski

Photo Credit: Sasha Turrentine.

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