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Hand and Skin Care for Bouldering

Article by Dane Whitley

Although a big deal for an irregular climber or someone just starting out, maintaining a level of conscientiousness of your hands is a good idea for anyone who is trying to improve in climbing ability. Over the course of a long enough timeframe, your hands will toughen up enough to withstand the rigors of climbing, the moisture sapping habits of climbing chalk, and the roughness of limestone, granite and other surfaces. Until then, it’s vital to learn what can be done about ripping, tearing and the degrading of skin that is bound to occur during climbing. Some may argue that this is a bit of an effeminate concern… it’s not. Torn skin is more than just painful, it’s also hazardous given the risk of infection.

Sometimes, it’s almost impossible to prevent tears and skin injury. Fortunately, as long as you continue to climb, their frequency decreases!


A pretty common occurrence, at least at the outset. They seem to happen most often from 1) rock faces with jagged holds and 2) at the close of an otherwise brutal session, as a result of a dyne combined with eroded layers of skin. This is taken care of by taking fingernail clippers to the dead skin that will eventually harden and fall off. Carefully clip the base, just before the skin still attached to nerves. Usually within a sixteenth of an inch is sufficient that the remaining skin is out of the way, but not too painful to remove. Also, wash your hands/fingers ASAP, as it were any other cut or abrasion. If you’re insistent upon on climbing through tear, then you’ll definitely want to tape over it! As soon as you finish your climb, consider picking up climber’s balm of some variety. Similar to lotion, and no doubt specifically marketed to climbers, Climb On! actually works very well.

Split Tip

This is the more progressive version of the flapper. As previously noted, you’re susceptible to flappers as your skin degrades, and especially so if you’re pulling down more demanding problems. On the other hand -pardon the joke- the longer your climbing session, your skin will weaken, and thus you’re likely to see the tips splitting open at some point. Not as intimidating as a flapper, it’s still a bit distracting. Not to mention it’s still an opportunity for harmful bacteria to exploit. Needless to say, it’s advisable to clean it when the opportunity arises. Try to control the bleeding if it’s opened and you’re climbing in a public place, especially if you insist on pushing through. Streaking rocks and rock faces with blood may look somewhat cool, but it generally tends to be unpleasant for others. You might take a few days off to let it heal, if feasible (as much as it pains me to say). Fortunately, these smaller rips don’t tend to be that deep and don’t take as long to heal as flappers.

Calloused fingers are helpful, and to some extent, necessary. Eventually, after enough climbing, you will develop some on your hands and fingers. Once they do, however, keep in mind that they are still connected to the rest of your skin. Ripping one of these makes for a pretty rough day . Sand/file/puma them down, just to be safe. Letting them thicken up too much will eventually make them a liability.

Regardless of whether or not your hands have experienced tearing or splitting, keep your skin hydrated between sessions (and clean is advisable, however optional). Magnesium carbonate (chalk) is an awesome way to increase friction while climbing, but it still removes moisture from your skin. And even though we all want to have strong grip and low friction during a climb, keeping hands and fingers in good condition between sessions is the best way to catalyze the process of skin regeneration.

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Incubus - Drive

Music video by Incubus performing Drive. (C) 2000 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT
Video Rating: 4 / 5

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