Being a climber one aim is to toughen up your hands (related: How to toughen up hands?). Building up callused skin is important but how do you keep it? Having dry hands especially from the climbing itself I suffer from skinning.

What's the best method to take care of your hands/skin?

Just use moisturiser or is it better to use those waxes they are selling for climbers pretty expensive? What are the differences and what are general suggestions?


4 Answers 4


Generally you want your skin to be quite tough (this helps you hold onto small/sharp holds), but not too tough.

If you skin get's too thick you get callouses, callouses are thick tough areas of skin. The problem being the skin around the callouse isn't as tough. This means the callouse can be pulled off, called a flapper:

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To maintain your skin you want to sand down any callouses that get too thick (see this question)

The idea of moisturising is that it keeps the skin elastic and prevents it becoming too tough, i.e. start forming callouses.

Most moisturisers will do this pretty well.

The climber specific moisturisers are a little bit marketing a little bit made with climbers in mind.

The waxy bars tend to have a few things in common:

  • They smell all extreme and awesome (not traditionally girly), ironically the main brand SorePaw is run by women....make of that what you will
  • They don't make your hands slippery but instead coat your hands
  • Often made with environmentally friendly materials (natural wax, etc.), climbers tend to be a bit tree hugging
  • Good at removing chalk from your skin while moisturising
  • Help to massage your hands post climb

Personally I like ClimbOn or Sore Paw. I think Sore Paw may be a local company here in the North West of UK.

  • 2
    It is a good idea to look for creams for carpenters, miners and anybody else who have to do a lot of hard work with their hands in the outdoors. Those products have been on the market for long time, proven to work and much cheaper than climbers specific ones.
    – Val
    Oct 10, 2014 at 11:01

For the most important kind of care of your hands please read:

For skin care specifically: I am not hard on my skin, climbing mostly on worn plastic these days and with the local crag being smooth basalt, but when my hands do get a bit overused or dried out I have found O'Keeffe's Working Hands® Cream better than various brands of hand lotion or Bag Balm®. I haven't tried any of the climbing-specific exotics but after using Working Hands I don't feel the need to look for anything else.

I tried Working Hands because it was recommended by other climbers and is available locally.
There are a number of positive reviews in various forums and blogs, e.g.:

Working Hands is by far, the best product of the four reviewed. It is much less expensive than the others, and better overall. Working Hands is not greasy at all. It absorbs quickly, so much so that you could apply this and go climbing soon after. It has no obvious scent. The jar is wide and shallow so it can be applied easily and rubbed into your sore finger tips. In my opinion, the healing properties are the best of the four.

I can't say that I agree with the "go climbing soon after" as chalk won't stay on my hands after recently applying it.


Being a climber (mostly indoor these days) with a lifetime of eczema on my hands, and some nasty flapper experiences (and a pulley injury), I've done lots of research into this! So lots of mentions of product, but I'm not getting handouts ;)

RE. Moisturisers. I think this is a very personal decision about the type, frequency and timing. I'm a big fan of unscented Neutrogena Norwegian Formula concentrated hand cream for my day-to-day moisturiser. I'm trying Ultrabalm from the smelly shop Lush as it's all nice and natural. I've also got a jar of the O'Keeffe's but I'm still getting used to it. Plus what the doctor ordered for the eczema.

However, after a chalky, skin-shredding bouldering session, I'll:

  • Wash my hands throughly in warm water.
  • Apply moisturiser thickly and leave it to sink in
  • Try to do as little as possible with my hands for the next 20 mins or so. Gripping a nice glass of your favourite cool beverage can feel great ;)
  • Reapply moisturiser when needed. This is also when I do some serious tendon massage on my recovering finger.

So, the other thing is I also swim. And post swimming is when I file my calluses to make tidy, flat calluses which are less likely to rip. I picked up this fake-pumice hard skin remover from Lloyds chemist - (in the UK). I haven't tried sandpaper, but this works really for me. The slightly curved edges give it a variety of shapes for the different bits of callused hand, and it's not too tough to remove live skin, but still nice and grind-y on the hard bits.

Just sticking to this routine seems to help. Hope this is useful!

  • Thx for the really good hints. I agree drinking a cold beer after climbing in the gym is nice because of the cold smooth glass - well and the drink itself ;)
    – Wills
    Dec 30, 2014 at 11:26

I have experience with calloused fingers from playing a string instrument.

Moisturizers, if overused, will inhibit the formation of callous, which protects the skin.

If the callous is too thick and you are losing some of the sensitivity you need for perception, you can file it gently with an emery board or metal file intended for fingernails.

You can also do some gentle filing to smooth any sharp edges or bumps.

To build protective callous you have to expose your skin to the same type of stress, on a regular basis, and go easy until the callous is well established (i.e. reduce your practice session).

Possibly (but I'm not a climber), you could use a product from the drug store billed as preventing blisters, or athletic tape, or paper tape, during a climbing session when you feel your callous is not well established yet.

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