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Gear Guy

Climbing Skin Care

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You have poured out your wisdom on so many topics, but I have yet to read a complete, authoritative piece on how to care for the most vital piece of climbing gear: our skins. I have seen the pros sanding their tips on videos, read ads on who uses what hand cream and so on. But, how do you really keep your mitts in prime condition and avoid flappers, shedding, de-lamination and so on?


Nice suck up. Note that you are the first question in this issue’s installment. Your skin weighs seven to nine pounds and if you were to flay it and make it into a blanket, it would cover approximately 20 square feet. These statistics make your skin your body’s largest organ – taking care of it is as critical as eating right and being mindful of your ongoing health.

I can’t write a comprehensive piece on skin care. Sorry. People go to schools for that, and for years. But I can and will generalize; using what knowledge I have gleaned from 35 years of grinding my hands into hamburger.

First, you must build up a tough skin base, which comes from simply climbing. Knowing when your skin feels thin and weepy, or that you are developing a crack or flapper is important too – stop climbing when you feel the onset of a problem. Best to nip it in the bud before it becomes chronic. A deep crack in a pad or joint crease, for instance, can pester you for an entire season.

I find that keeping my hands clean and hydrated is the real key. Dirt and chalk are not your friends. Wash up after every climbing outing. Then, apply a treatment to keep your skin soft and supple. This seems counter intuitive, but soft skin is less prone to problems than dry, rough skin, which peels and cracks. I’ve used lots of products, from motor oil to lip gloss to mixtures concocted just for your hands. They all work, to some degree, but I’ve had the best luck with All Good Goop from Elemental Herbs. Normally, I don’t endorse a product without a big exchange of cash in my direction, but Good Goop is good goop: It’s organic, made from five herbs, olive oil, beeswax, vitamin E and lavender oil. It’s not too greasy, absorbs well and I haven’t had a single skin crack or problem since I began slathering it on about a year ago. Use it and be happy.

Flappers are trickier. These can strike like a lightning bolt from the clear blue. You crimp a sharp hold, then zingo, you’re bleeding like a stuck pig. Once this happens, wash the flap of meat, apply an antibiotic goo and tape the thing down. Keeping the flapper moist, but not too wet, seems to help it heal, as skin repairs itself from the bottom up. A Band-Aid, rather than climbing tape, is the better bandage, and is specifically designed for such things. Letting a flapper dry out is bad, as it will then just dry up and not heal. Option 2 is to get out the nail clippers and snip the flapper off. I perform that little bit of self-surgery if the flapper isn’t too deep and I have a tooled leather belt to bite on. I also keep little skin cracks trimmed back flush to the good skin, which helps keep them from going deeper. The sandpaper trick is good for shaving down overly thick calluses, which can split so deeply they split can practically require stitches. Next!

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Feature Image: Abbot Portraits.