Matt Wilder - Healthy Tips

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Skin Tips For Happy Healthy Climbing Hands

By Matt Wilder

Bishop, Hueco, The Gunks, RMNP… Face it, sharp holds are a reality in bouldering.  Even the most classic problems are bound to have at least one sharp hold that will tear your fingers to shreds.  As everyone knows, climbing with torn tips is painful and not fun.  Thus, the key to enjoying bouldering is the ability to keep your tips tough and flapper free.  Here are a few things that will prolong the life of your skin and lead to longer bouldering sessions.


Keep ‘em Dry!

One of the most important keys to good skin is keeping your tips dry throughout the entire day.  Soft tips are far more likely to tear while climbing than dry tips.  To keep my fingers dry, I always keep a chalk bag with me and whenever my tips begin to weep, I rechalk.  This requires a lot of chalk, but keeps your skin always dry which is beneficial because once your tips have begun oozing it is very difficult to dry them.  Some people also like to use drying agents such as Magic Chalk that mix chalk and alcohol and help evaporate the moisture in your skin.  Another important consideration, especially on hot days, is to keep your hands in the shade; the cooler they are, the less they will sweat.  It is also useful to keep your shoes in the shade because the rubber will stay stickier and the edges will remain more rigid.


Be Mindful of your Technique

Another way to preserve your skin is to be conscientious of how you grab holds and which holds you grab.  When warming up, try to avoid sharp problems or skip sharp unnecessary holds.  When grabbing a hold on any problem, first try to figure out the best way to place your fingers on it.  Sometimes you can put the skin ripping crystal between two of your fingers and avoid any tearing.  When climbing at your limit, you might have to crimp right on the crystal to get the necessary extra purchase.  If this is the case, try to limit the number of times you work that move and as you are going for a hold, know whether or not you are going to stick it.  Try to avoid scraping off the same hold over and over.


Tape Up!

If you must try the same move repeatedly, consider taping before you rip your skin.  The best way to heal a hole in the tip is to prevent it from happening.  Climbing with tape on your fingers is not optimal, but sometimes it allows you to work a move many times without hurting your skin.  Once you get the move figured out, you can go back the next day with healthy skin and send it first try.  There are several tricks to taping that make it work much better:  try to use only a thin layer so that you maintain some sensitivity, wrap the tape tightly so that it doesn’t slip but not so tight that your tip turns purple, wrap the tape from the top down and make it snug just above the first joint (this will keep the tape from catching and peeling on holds), if your tape is slipping, take it off and put new tape on, dry your skin and remove most of the chalk before taping, if extra adhesive is needed, use Krazy Glue (non-toxic) on the sides of your finger and at the joint to keep the tape in place (don’t glue the tape directly to your tip), and lastly, if you decide to take the tape off for another problem, be sure to dry the skin thoroughly before your attempt.


The Inevitable Flapper

Sometimes you can’t predict when your skin is going to rip and you can’t prevent it with tape.  When you get a flapper or a hole in your tip, there are several things you can do to make it heal quicker.  First, cut away all the dead skin with scissors and then sand it down even more with an emery board (be careful cutting really big flappers, sometimes it is best to leave the flap on for a while).  There should be no dead skin around the cut.  Then clean the cut thoroughly and apply antibiotic ointment.  If you are going to be in a dirty place, cover the cut with a band aid.  Be sure to uncover the cut every so often so that it can dry out, but be careful because if it gets too dry, the new skin can crack which leads to more problems.  When climbing, keep the cut covered with athletic tape until it is fully healed. 


Blisters Too!?

Occasionally, you can develop a blister or a blood blister on one of your fingers.  The best way to deal with these is to drain them immediately.  The longer you wait, especially if you are climbing on it, the more likely it will grow in size.  To drain a blister, pierce the skin with a pin or needle from the finger tip side of the blister.  By coming in from the top, the opening point is less likely to snag while you are climbing.  Sometimes the skin on a blister will settle back down and grow back into the other skin, other times you will have to trim the dead skin.  It’s best to wait to see what is necessary for each particular blister.


Preventative Measures for Your Next Session

At the end of your climbing session, there are several things you can do to make your skin ready for the next day of bouldering.  I recommend cleaning your hands with water and just a little bit of soap.  Then, it is good to trim any dead skin and some people like to sand inconsistencies with an emery board (this should be done before washing).  Finally, many people like to put stuff on their hands to help them heal and toughen.  It is best to experiment and find what you like best.  Some of the options are vitamin E, hoofmaker, badger balm, garlic, and a not too oily moisturizing lotion.  Also, remember to rest.  No matter how you treat your skin, it will be torn after three straight days of climbing on sharp rock. Good luck and happy bouldering with tough, leathery skin.

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