It’s not the most glamorous thing in the world, that’s for sure, but like it or not, calluses will form on your hands as you advance further into your climbing/rappelling adventure. Experienced climbers know that hand calluses just come with the territory no matter what kind of gloves they use. As a matter of fact, there’s an entire routine to caring for them and keeping them in good shape.
One of the worse things that could happen to your hand calluses is to rip off and flap about while you’re on the cliffs. This is painful and distracting and should be prevented as much as possible. Sadly, if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it’s probably going to at some point. But if you follow these simple yet effective methods, you’ll greatly minimize your chances of damaging them.
So what is a callus anyway? Well, it’s actually a very natural skin response to repeated friction and damage. We are highly adaptable beings, and as such, our skin has learned to protect itself from repeated abuse by becoming tougher. In climbing, rappelling, and belaying, calluses form regularly, but they have a key role in reducing pain and making our hands tougher. However, even though they might be just ugly patches of rough skin, it’s actually very important to care for them. Here’s what I do to keep my calluses in check:
- Use a climbing salve or lotion – I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your skin hydrated when practicing these kinds of activities. Hydrated skin is much less likely to crack, and this applies to hardened skin as well. Experiment with different climbing salves and lotions in order to figure out which one works best for you. I use the Joshua Tree Organic Organic Healing Salve and it works great to keep my skin rappel-ready without softening my calluses too much. Apply the product each night before going to sleep. You can wrap your hands in athletic tape such as this offering from Mueller if you’re worried about getting it all over your sheets.
- Keep hot water at bay – This is probably the most difficult tip of them all: avoid hot water. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be pleasant, but hot water softens the skin and makes it easier to peel off. Your calluses are a testament to your strong will and hard work, and losing them just because you spent a few extra minutes in the shower is not worth it. Take shorter (or cold) showers, and wear gloves when you do the dishes if you absolutely must use hot water.
- Wash your hands after rappelling – This second piece of advice goes hand-in-hand (pun intended) with the one above, but it actually does involve using water, cold water that is, in order to wash your hands. It’s important to wash your hands after a climb/rappel because this simple process does away with any potential sweat, dirt, grease, and leftover chalk. All of these can damage your skin if left unchecked. Just wash your hands with soap and cold water after each session, as this will give your hands a chance to recover.
- File the calluses – If your callus situation is getting out of hand (I’ll stop I promise) just file the extra skin away. You can use a file, a pumice stone, or even a fine piece of sandpaper for this. Make sure to file your calluses until they reach the same level as the surrounding, regular skin. Filing them too much could potentially remove them altogether, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?
- Switch up your chalk – Some climbers have sweaty hands, which is why some climbing chalks contain some form of drying agent. If your hands don’t sweat too much, though, this drying substance could harm your skin and cause it to chap. Find the climbing chalk that works for you and your skin type! Personally, I can recommend the FrictionLabs Loose Climbing Chalk, as that worked out perfectly for me.
I hope that this article has helped you take better care of your hand calluses. As you can see, these form naturally and take on a crucial role when it comes to climbing and rappelling. Calluses make your skin stronger and less susceptible to damage, but you do have to take care of them in return.