Can You Wear Gloves While Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is one of the funnest new hobbies.  However, it can be very hard on your hands.  So, many people getting started want to know how to protect their hands and ask about wearing gloves.

Can you wear gloves while rock climbing?  The answer to the question depends on when and where you are going to be rock climbing.  When climbing indoors, the answer is typically no.  However, when rock climbing outside, there may be times when you will want to wear them.

The real concern most people have is rock climbing bad for your hands.  Rock climbing inside can be safer on the hands, because the surfaces are unlikely to cut them.  However, you may still get blisters, so you need to condition your hands. However, when rock climbing outside, the rocks can be sharper.  Gloves can interfere with grip, but when climbing outside, there may be times to wear them.

Hand Care

Whether wearing gloves or not, it is important to have good hand care.  This can prevent injuries, cuts, and having your hands slip when climbing without gloves.  

Before Climbing

Good hand care starts before you ever climb.  

  • Trim your nails – Carefully trim your nails until only a little bit of white nail remains.
    • If your nail stings after cutting, you cut too much.
    • If you find your nails still scratching the wall, you have not cut enough.
    • Proper length nails can help prevent them from tearing.
  • Moisturize your hands before climbing – If you moisturize 1-2 hours prior to climbing, your skin will be well hydrated and elastic.  This means it will be less likely to crack or split.
    • Many climbers avoid moisture at all times.  However this is not sustainable and leads to dehydrated skin.  This prevents stretching and regeneration.
    • Do NOT use a wax based cream
    • Use a hand slave that is designed for climbers

During the Climb

Even with good hand care, problems can happen when you are climbing.  Small injuries need to be addressed right away to make sure they do not become larger problems.  It is important to pay attention to your skin and address any split or tear right when it happens.  If you cannot safely address the problem, consider cutting your climb short.

When using chalk during a climb, make sure you have one that contains no drying agents or impurities.  Clean chalk helps keep your skin healthy without causing over-drying which can lead to cracking.

After the Climb

Everyone gets blisters when you first start climbing.  Over time, they will develop into strong, healthy calluses.  You will want calluses that are flat and smooth to prevent them from fraying and ripping.  The best way to get that is to file your skin.  Use sandpaper to file any fraying or rough edges smooth.  Make sure to file any calluses that stand out.  Do not forget the top of your palm.

Wash your hands.  This is important out in nature and on that rock wall on the gym.  You never know who climbed up that rock wall right before you or where their hands have been.  In nature, you are susceptible to all kinds of microbes that can survive on the rocks.  Washing your hands will make sure no germ enter any little nicks, cracks, or cuts you may have.

Lastly, you need to re-moisturize right after washing.  You have just given your hands a work out.  The moisturizer will help them rejuvenate and heal.  It can help keep your hands ready to climb day after day.  If you prefer a wax based products, this is the time to use them.

Reasons To Wear Gloves

It is important to consider the type of climbing you are doing when choosing to wear or not wear gloves.  Even those that rock climb barehanded do face situations where wearing gloves might be the better option.  Times that gloves are more essential are:

  • Belaying and Rappelling
  • Crack Climbing
  • Ice Climbing

Belaying and Rappelling

Gloves can help protect hands from the friction of the rope, preventing rope burn.  This is especially true when belaying others on an especially tall climb.  Even hands that are calluses and toughened can be suspect able to rope burns given enough heat buildup from friction.  Gloves not only prevent this, but also give you more control as the friction of the gloves on the rope can help slow your descent.

Belaying and rappelling can be done with bare hands, but they are much more uncomfortable and likely to result in blisters.

Crack Climbing

Crick climbing is where a climber follows a crack in the rock wall from base to top.  The crack can vary in width and can often include jamming your fingers and hands into small cracks in the rock.  Sometimes just the fingertips.  Depending on the rock formation, the corners and cracks can get sharp leading to cuts.  Using gloves can protect your hands from these cuts.  

Even if the crack seems smooth at the bottom, it can still have sharp edges as you climb.

Ice Climbing

Using gloves in cold weather or when ice has formed can serve multiple purposes.  The gloves can protect your hands from the freezing cold temperatures and frost bite.  The rocks can be colder than the air, so even if the air temperature does not seem that bad the extra protection may still be needed to prevent your hands from going numb and decreasing your mobility from holding onto the cold rocks.

Textured gloves can also help if you think ice may be present.  The warmth from your fingers can melt a skim of water on top of the ice resulting in a very slick surface.  The gloves act as an insulator keeping the warmth of your fingers from the ice.  They can also help cling to the slick surface.

Considerations in Buying Gloves

When buying gloves, you need to consider price, quality, and flexibility.  You need to decide what your priorities are based on the type of climbing you are going to do.  Typically, you can get two out of three.  For example, you can purchase high quality gloves with good flexibility, but not at a cheap prices.  

Once you know your priorities, you will need to consider material, durability and flexibility, and sizing.    The type of climbing will again influence these decisions.

Material – Most gloves are made from cowhide, goat skin, or synthetics.  Cowhide is the most durable, but is not as flexible.  They need to be worn for a period of time to break them in.  Goat skin is less durable, but more flexible.  Synthetics are the lightest material with most flexibility and are very breathable.

Durability/Flexibility – The more durable a material, the less flexible it is.  Durable long lasting gloves often have less dexterity and lessen flexibility.  For more durable gloves look for double stitching in the finger area.  When wearing tighter gloves, they will wear out faster in the finger tips and the stitching around the fingers.

Gloves that combine material will often be the most flexible while still maintaining some durability.  These gloves are often higher priced.

Sizing – Sizing is based on palm length and palm girth.  Palm length is measured from the crease on your wrist at the base of your palm to the tip of your middle finger.  Palm girth is measured around your dominant hand at the knuckles with your fingers together.  Use a sizing chart to determine the best

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