Our hands are essential for navigating our vertical world and enduring unique challenges, making them prone to various injuries.
These injuries stem from the repetitive strain, intense pressure, and harsh conditions we climbers face during our climbing trips.
And if they’re not looked after correctly, it can significantly impact our climbing performance!
We must face everything from blisters, flappers, and calluses to more severe conditions like tendonitis and pulley injuries, so climbers hands require special care and attention.
And that’s what we’ll be talking about in this article.
We must understand the risks and implement proper hand care techniques, protective measures, and training regimens to help climbers maintain strong and healthy hands, enabling them to conquer heights confidently.
So, without wasting any more time, let’s take a look:
Maintaining Climbers Hands and Good Skin Condition
Many beginner climbers will wonder why keeping your hands in good condition is so essential as a climber.
So, here are 4 reasons you should be looking after the skin on your hands:
- Grip and Traction: Climbing involves gripping various surfaces, such as rocks, holds, and ropes. Healthy and intact hand skin provides better friction and traction, allowing climbers to maintain a secure grip while climbing. Damaged or dry skin can lead to reduced grip strength and increased chances of slipping, potentially resulting in accidents or falls.
- Preventing Injuries: Climbing can put significant stress on the hands, including friction, pressure, and repetitive motions. If the skin on your hands is not well-maintained, it can lead to blisters, calluses, flappers (torn skin), or even more severe injuries like cuts and abrasions. Taking care of your hand skin can reduce the risk of these injuries, ensuring a safer and more enjoyable climbing experience.
- Endurance and Performance: Climbing often requires prolonged periods of hand usage, leading to fatigue and discomfort. Healthy skin reduces the likelihood of developing painful blisters, which can limit your climbing performance and endurance. Keeping your hands in good condition allows you to climb for longer durations without discomfort or pain.
- Recovery and Consistency: Climbing can take a toll on your hands, resulting in skin dryness, peeling, or cracking. Inadequate hand care can lead to slower recovery between climbing sessions, as damaged or irritated skin needs time to heal. Consistently maintaining good hand skin condition allows quicker recovery and helps you maintain a regular climbing routine.
Typical Climbers Hands Problems
Unfortunately, when we grab onto rough surfaces consistently, it will begin to take its toll on our hands.
And we call this climbers hands.
The thing is:
This can be both a blessing and a curse at the same time. When you look after your hands correctly, you’ll notice your hands become stronger and less prone to damage.
But, if you don’t look after your hands correctly, you’ll notice they become more prone to cuts, blisters, and the dreaded climbing flapper.
So, in this article, we’re going to be talking about some of the common injuries you’ll come across as a climber:
Dry & Loose Skin
One of the most common problems with climbers hands is having dry and loose skin. And while having dry hands is beneficial when it comes to gripping holds, it does make your skin more prone to cracking.
The dry skin on your hands is usually a direct result of using chalk or other drying agents while climbing.
The drying agents remove the natural oil produced from your hands, which is why it’s so important to look after your hands before and after a climbing session, but we’ll talk more about that in the next section.
Blisters are another frequent problem climbers have to contend with. It’s caused by repetitive friction and pressure gripping onto the holds.
The friction causes fluid to build under the skin, which could burst, cause skin tenderness, and even lead to infection.
Most of the time, blisters cause little to no problems, but they do need to be treated correctly to prevent further issues.
As a natural defense against the repetitive friction we climbers face. The good thing about calluses is they do provide extra protection.
The problem is:
They can become thick, cracked, and painful if not looked after correctly. In fact, they can be the leading cause of climbing flappers, which we will discuss very shortly.
You’ll see many climbers bragging about their calluses, but if they are not looked after correctly, they can cause many problems.
Climbing flappers are also known as flappers or skin flappers and are shared among climbers, especially at bouldering walls (check out our guide to bouldering indoors).
Flappers are caused when a piece of skin tears, leaving a raw and exposed area underneath, and they can be pretty painful.
Most of the time, you’ll find flappers where your calluses are (or were). It’s usually caused by over-gripping on a hold. And when you slip off the hold, it pulls the calluses and tears it leaving a flap.
As I said, they’re pretty painful but not debilitating, so you can still climb. Most people will wrap it with climbing tape to prevent further injury.
If you get a flapper, cleaning the area with antiseptic cream and covering it with a dressing to prevent infection is essential.
It’s also a good idea to have a little break from climbing to allow it to heal correctly and prevent further damage.
Climbers Hands Skin Care Tips
As mentioned earlier, looking after your skin is essential to prevent the above injuries.
Climbing puts a lot of demand on your skin because of the friction required to grip the holds, and when you combine that with extreme weather conditions, it’s a recipe for disaster.
But, with the proper techniques and skin care equipment, you can prevent skin injuries and maintain healthy hands.
Let’s take a look at a few of our top tips:
- Moisturize Regularly: Moisturizing your hands is crucial to hydrate and supple skin. Climbing, especially in dry or cold environments, can quickly strip the skin of its natural moisture. Apply a high-quality hand moisturizer daily, focusing on areas prone to dryness and cracking.
- Trim and File Excess Skin: Calluses are common among climbers, forming a protective response to repetitive friction. Excessive calluses can become rough, thick, and prone to cracking or flappers. Regularly trim and file down excess skin to maintain a smoother surface. Use a pumice stone, foot file, or callus remover to reduce the thickness of calluses. Be cautious not to remove too much skin, as it provides essential protection.
- Protect with Tape: Consider using climbing-specific tape to prevent skin injuries and provide additional protection. Tape can be applied to vulnerable areas, such as fingertips or knuckles, to reduce friction and enhance grip. Experiment with different options to find what works best for you, ensuring a balance between protection and sensitivity.
- Rest and Recovery: Allowing your hand sufficient rest and recovery time is crucial to prevent overuse injuries and maintain skin health. Climbing puts significant strain on the hands, and pushing through fatigue can increase the risk of injuries. Incorporate rest days into your climbing schedule, especially if you notice any signs of discomfort or inflammation. During rest periods, focus on gentle stretching and mobility exercises to maintain flexibility and prevent stiffness.
- Cleanliness and Hygiene: Maintaining clean hands is essential to prevent infections and promote healing. When climbing outdoors, carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer to clean your hands before and after climbing. If possible, wash your hands with gentle soap and warm water. Pay attention to thorough cleaning around your nails and in between fingers. After washing or sanitizing, ensure your hands are completely dry before putting on climbing shoes or gloves to avoid excess moisture that can contribute to skin issues.
- Sun Protection: Climbers often spend long hours outdoors, exposing their hands to harmful UV rays. Protecting your hands from the sun is crucial to prevent sunburn, premature aging, and potential skin cancer. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF to your hands before climbing. Reapply regularly, especially if you are sweating or spending extended periods in direct sunlight.
- Proper Technique: Proper climbing techniques can significantly reduce the strain on your hands and minimize the risk of skin injuries. Focus on efficient movement, utilizing your body’s strength rather than relying solely on finger grip. Distribute weight evenly and avoid unnecessary strain on specific hand or finger joints. Engage in proper warm-up exercises before climbing to prepare your muscles and joints for the physical demands of the sport.
- Anticipate and Treat Blisters: Blisters are a common complaint among climbers due to repetitive rubbing and friction. Wear well-fitting climbing shoes and socks made of moisture-wicking materials to prevent blisters. Keep your feet dry and consider using blister-prevention products, such as adhesive blister patches or anti-friction balms, on areas prone to blister formation. If a blister does occur, clean the area with an antiseptic, drain it with a sterilized needle, and protect it with a sterile dressing to prevent infection.
- Avoid Harsh Chemicals and Irritants: When caring for your skin, choose mild and hypoallergenic products to minimize the risk of irritation. Avoid harsh chemicals, strong solvents, and abrasive soaps, as they can strip the skin’s natural oils and cause dryness or inflammation. Opt for gentle cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreen specifically formulated for sensitive skin.
- Nutrition and Hydration: Maintaining a healthy diet and staying hydrated are essential for overall skin health. Adequate hydration helps to keep your skin supple and resilient. Consume a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids to support skin health and healing.
Product Recommendations For Climbers Hands
Here are some products you should look at to keep the skin on your hands healthy.
Here are some of our top products:
Recovery Hand Cream
Recovery time is an essential aspect of keeping your hands in good condition. But spending long times away from the climbing wall isn’t for everyone.
Luckily for them, recovery creams such as Climb Skin will help heal cuts, tears, blisters, and inflammation quickly and efficiently.
Plenty of great options exist, but you’ll have to find the one that’s right for your skin.
Another great product to have at your disposal is a skin file. You can find double-sided skin files that can fit in your pocket. And these can be used to file down your calluses to make them smoother, which can help prevent flappers.
So, make sure you attach your skin file to your clapping bag to help you prevent skin flappers in the future.
Skin Salve Or Balm
Keeping your hand moisturized is vital for keeping them in good shape for your next climbing trip.
I love using Climb On Hand Salve; it keeps your hands soft but doesn’t altogether remove the tough skin you’ve built for so long.
Apply the cream 1-2 hours before you’re about to climb. Once you’ve finished climbing, wash your hands thoroughly and then reapply your cream.
Dealing with cuts and scrapes is never easy when you’re climbing. While you’ll think placing a plaster on will help, most of the time, it doesn’t.
Traditional plasters fall off with sweat or while you’re gripping holds, which makes things complicated… you don’t want to bleed all over the wall.
And this is why people have started looking at liquid bandages. They are waterproof and flexible, so you don’t have to worry about them falling off.
Final Thoughts on Climbers Hands
Maintaining skin care is essential for climbers, and it’s not that hard to do. Keeping your hands healthy can improve grip, prevent injuries, enhance endurance, and promote quicker recovery. Proper hand care ensures a safer, more comfortable, and enjoyable climbing experience, allowing climbers to reach new heights in their climbing goals confidently.