Take a look at your hands.
See all those calluses you have developed over the years?
Well, they’re a damn important part of your climbing. And I bet you don’t even think about them that often.
Shame on you! Show your calluses some love!
Maintaining smooth and hard calluses will allow you to climb longer and reduce your chances of getting sidelined for a few days by a juicy flapper.
Well-maintained calluses = fewer flappers and more climbing.
Since they’re so important to us, I put together this whole article about how to take care of calluses in a way that is ideal for climbing. You’ll find out how to keep your skin healthy while reducing your chances of developing flappers.
Just try to contain your excitement.
But First… A Note About How We Are All Beautiful & Unique Snowflakes
Before we get into the meat of this article, I want to mention something.
There is no universally right or wrong way to take care of your calluses.
That’s right. Everyone is different. We are all beautiful and unique snowflakes and we each have different skin. For that reason, each method of callus care will work for some of you and do nothing for others.
Trial and error is your friend here. Give each method a shot. Then observe the results. Keep the helpful, do away with the useless.
How to Take Care of Calluses & Prevent Flappers So You Can Spend More Time Climbing
When I first started researching this topic, I thought about writing an article about how to get rid of calluses. I soon realized that would be a bad idea.
We climbers don’t want to get rid of our calluses. Rather, we want to manage them so that our skin stays strong and tears and cracks less frequently.
We want to lovingly nurture our calluses. Watch them as they grow up, graduate college, start a family…
What was I saying?
Oh yeah, taking care of calluses.
That is completely possible. In fact, it’s pretty easy. Let’s look at 5 techniques you can use to take care of your calluses so that they stay both strong and smooth.
1. Wash Your Hands After Climbing
This first technique is simple, yet important.
Chalk, dirt, sweat, and grease all get on your hands while climbing. Together, these things can dry out and irritate your skin. A good first step down the callus management path is to wash your hands with soap and cold water after you’re done climbing.
Washing your hands after climbing also reduces the amount of chalk dust in your car. And you know your car already has too much chalk dust as is. It’s a win-win for everyone.
2. Apply Climbing Salve or Lotion Before Bed
Hydrated skin is less likely to crack and peel than dry skin. One of the best ways to keep your skin hydrated is to apply climbing salve (AKA climbing balm) or lotion before bed.
(If you’d like some recommendations on which climbing salve to pick, check out our guide to the best climbing balms and salves.)
I say skin salve “or” lotion because, as you are a beautiful and unique snowflake, you will need to experiment with both to see which works best for you. Some people prefer salve. Some prefer lotion.
Most lotion is actually formulated to reduce and eliminate calluses, so I recommend starting with skin salve. Apply it to your calluses before bed and let it repair your skin as you sleep. You can wrap your fingers in climbing tape to avoid smearing the stuff all over your sheets.
You can also experiment with when you apply your salve or lotion. I recommend before bed just for simplicity’s sake (try driving, cooking, or typing with salve slathered on your fingertips), but some climbers apply it after a climbing session.
3. File Your Calluses
Flappers happen when a callus catches and tears on a hold. (Nasty, I know.) They are more likely to occur when one of your calluses is protruding outwards. You can therefore limit the number of flappers you get by filing down your calluses so they are level with the rest of your skin.
Filing your calluses is pretty simple. You’ll need a pumice stone, skin file, or some good old sandpaper. Then, simply file them down when they start to protrude too much.
Be sure not to file them down too much, or else you’ll remove them completely. Just get them down to the level of the surrounding, non-callused skin.
Some people prefer to file their calluses in the shower, as they think having wet hands makes it easier. Give each a try and see what you think.
Also, don’t be afraid to file your calluses down mid-climbing session. If you notice one of your calluses getting bunched up and sticking far out, pull out your filing tool and get to work. Monitoring your calluses like this in real time will help you avoid those dreaded flappers.
4. Try Different Chalk
Your problem might not be you. It might be your climbing chalk.
Some types of climbing chalk come with drying agents. They are intended for climbers with sweaty hands, but if your hands don’t sweat that much these types of chalk can dry them out and cause them to chap.
Double check to make sure the chalk you use is formulated correctly for your purposes. If you think your chalk is making your calluses worse, try a different brand for a while.
5. Minimize Exposure to Hot Water
I’ll be honest:
This final technique for taking care of your calluses is only for the truly dedicated.
Have you ever stepped out of the bathroom after a long, hot shower and noticed your calluses peeling off or feeling squishier?
Prolonged exposure to hot water softens your calluses and causes that shield of skin you worked so hard for to loosen. Loose calluses are much more likely to peel off or get torn off, a la flapper style.
So, if you’re very keen on keeping your calluses in their best shape, limit the amount of time your hands are exposed to hot water.
Practically speaking, this means take shorter showers and wear rubber gloves when you do the dishes. Or just take cold showers and wash your dishes in cold water, you masochist you.
Also, avoid hot tubs like they’re the plague.
How to Patch Up a Flapper: 6 Simple Steps
We’re switching gears here.
The first part of this article focused on prevention. Now I’m going to talk about damage control.
If you get a flapper (God have mercy), there are six easy steps to take to patch yourself up properly.
- Stop climbing. Don’t keep climbing with a flapper flapping all over the flapping place! If you do, you’ll just make it worse. You’ll also get blood on all the holds. Not. Cool.
- Clean the affected area. Remember how your mom patched you up when you scraped your knee falling off your bike? That process is pretty much what you need to do to your flapper now. Rinse the area with water (and soap if you have it) to clean out the dirt and blood.
- Trim away the loose skin OR press it back into place. This step depends on your personal preference. I choose to cut the skin away because I feel weird trying to solve the jigsaw puzzle that my skin has just become. But that’s just me.
- Apply an antibiotic. Have a tube of Neosporin that expired three years ago somewhere in the bowels of your first aid kit? Hooray! Now is its time to shine. Apply the stuff to the affected area. Shine on you eight-year-old tube of Neosporin. Shine on.
- Apply a bandage. Try not to imagine the screaming pain you’ll experience when you pull it off a few days later.
- Cover the area with climbing tape. If you want to keep climbing, wrap some climbing tape around the bandage and your good to go.
Your flapper has officially been patched up. It’ll be best for you to take it easy over the next few days so that it doesn’t linger.
But will you really take it easy?
No. Of course you won’t.
April 12, 2022
I love to climb. I also have calluses that ive had for like my whole life and this really helped!
Alex Beale (Author)
April 14, 2022
Glad to hear that, Beverly!
August 31, 2022
I got my first flapper last night. Looks like I did pretty much everything I was supposed to. I’ve got it covered with a little expired antiseptic cream (today’s mission is to go buy some new antiseptic) and a plaster.
I’m guessing I should cover it in tape next time I climb to give it some protection until the skin has started to toughen up a bit? Right now it’s super sensitive.
Alex Beale (Author)
September 13, 2022
Yeah I usually cover my flappers in tape while climbing. Definitely a little painful right after the tear.