How to Take Care of Climber's Hands


I can't remember the last time I wore nail polish, let alone the last time I paid for someone to do my nails. My normal "routine" consisted of keeping my nails short and applying lotion when I remembered. Now that I climb regularly, I have found that I need to do a bit more to keep my skin from breaking and getting too rough. Below, I am sharing my tips and tricks and a general routine for happy, healthy climber's hands.

Before Climbing

First things first, I always start with clean hands and trimmed nails. I am unfortunate enough to sweat easily so washing my hands with soap before climbing is an absolute essential. I also recommend trimming your nails - I just use a nail clipper - so that you can get "up close and personal" with the wall rather than scraping across the surface.

The Warm Up

Next, before I start climbing, I make sure to warm up to avoid any annoying finger injuries. It's important to not forget your hands (and feet for that matter) when warming up. Wrist rotations and finger flickers are great or you could use a little Putty or think of a number of different things to do with your hands. Spend a few minutes on your warm up and your joints and muscles will thank you later.

During Climbing

Let's talk about chalk. Aside from climbing shoes this is my second essential.

I used to carry my own chalk bag with a chalk ball which I didn't really care for. Recently, Adam and I decided to get a small boulder bucket - the Organic Climbing Lunch Bag Chalk Bucket - for when we climb indoors at the bouldering gym and don't desperately need chalk on us at all times. We've heard great things about the Friction Labs chalks and have been very happily using their Gorilla Grip chalk ever since.

This chalk has been a game changer for me because it doesn't wear off half way up the wall and is so fine that it lays evenly across my skin. I am also intrigued by their Secret Stuff - a chalk balm but think I will always have some loose chalk around to quickly dip my hands in when I need it.


Sometimes I use tape. In indoor climbing, overhangs and new or clean holds tend to destroy my fingers the most. Instead of waiting for my skin to tear I prefer using tape early on. I keep a fairly slim role in the pocket of our boulder bucket and tape up when I feel that I need that extra bit of support.

Since I am trying to pay attention to my hands though I haven't found that I needed this much recently. It's a nice to have anyways!

After Climbing

After a bouldering or climbing session I again clean my hands off completely. I remove any tape, wash off any leftover chalk and take care of any broken bits of skin.

To File or Not to File?

This is a bit of a controversy, some climbers will use a file on their pads and others believe that the skin will simply callus up over time and take care of itself. Personally, I am camp file because I find that filing down some of the roughest areas helps me in preventing flappers or tears. I only ever buff these areas lightly though, to keep them healthy instead of removing the hard earned layer of protection.

I use a Climbskin file which I got alongside my climbskin balm (see below) and like the two textures of sandpaper as well as the slightly curved shape of the file.

Balms and Creams

Then, I like to moisturise. There's a bunch of balms and moisturisers specifically for climbers. Most use some sort of solid product full of oils for moisture and wax as a sealant. I've been trying my way through a few different options and am planning to write a separate post all about the most popular options out there.

My most recent acquisition has been Climbskin which I first heard about on the Friction Labs website. This cream doesn't have much of a scent which I like especially if I apply this before bed. Unlike its more oily counterparts it also doesn't leave my hands covered with a greasy layer. Instead, Climbskin makes your skin silky, almost velvety.

And that's that! I don't have a daily routine but often use or do at least some of the above. On days when I am not climbing I like to make sure to massage my fingers and hands and gently stretch them out as well but I haven't found the need to buy any fancy massage tools for that yet.

I would love to hear what you use and any tips you can share!

P.S. Come along this way for more gear!