Can You Rock Climb with Long or Fake Nails?


Rock climbing is a challenging yet fulfilling sport that is not for the foolish at heart. There are many rules that one needs to remember to remain safe and have a wonderful and exhilarating experience. The rules apply from what to wear to what not to do to your nails and skin before attempting a climb.

Can you rock climb with long or fake nails? Yes, but it is not recommended because it may not be as safe as climbing with short nails, but the sounds of your nails scraping the rocks as you climb will drive everyone batty. Also, long, or fake nails will break off, causing pain that can distract from the climbing experience.

This article will explore the subject of wearing long or fake nails while rock climbing and offer information about caring for fingernails and some hints about hand care in general.

Climbing with Long Fingernails

No matter how seasoned a person is at climbing rocks, there are certain fundamental needs they must know, including fingernail and skincare.

Rock climbing requires being capable of gripping a rocky surface well and pulling oneself up a sheer stone face or wall. If fingernails are left long, this grip might be compromised, making a fall possible.

There is also the danger of catching a nail on a rock and either bending it backward, breaking it, or completely tearing it off. This is more than an inconvenience as it causes pain that distracts the climber from the task at hand. This can lead to catastrophic snap and involuntary movements when the pain occurs that could also lead to a fall.

The High Cost of Rock Climbing Wearing Acrylic Fingernails

While fake nails aren’t a direct hazard during a rock climb, either keeping nails short or not having long fake nails applied can save a lot of money.

With the application and purchase of fake nails costing between $35-$45 for a standard set and $50-$60 for a color or white set, it costs a small fortune to apply acrylic nails and keep them nice.

Not only is the price prohibitive, but having a nail torn off during a climb is very painful as the reason tearing a nail off is so painful is that they are applied with a strong glue that bonds with the original fingernail. Tearing off fake nail damages and rips off layers of the natural fingernail underneath.

The bottom line is that expensive fake fingernails are ripped off, wasting a tidy sum.

How Short Should Fingernails Be Trimmed

Trimming fingernails before rock climbing doesn’t mean only trimming them a little, it requires a hefty trim.

When trimming nails, make sure only a little bit of white remains. If you hear scratching on the wall, the nails were not trimmed enough. If they hurt after trimming, they were cut back too much.

Infection can set in if the cuticle is trimmed, so be cautious. If cuticles are a problem it is suggested that one see a professional cosmetologist to have them removed.

Make sure to cut round edges all the way to the side of the nail to prevent hangnails, which can be extremely painful when trying to climb.  

Trimming fingernails saves everyone from listening to them scraping across the rocks like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Choosing Press On Nails Instead of Acrylic

Press on nails is a wonderful alternative to regular and expensive acrylic nail extensions. They are easy to apply and remove and cost half what the ordinary acrylic nails do.

The application involves peel and stick technology and can be applied by anyone without harsh glues that can bond with nails and make them exceedingly difficult to remove.

Also, press on nails can be removed easily with soaking and takes only a few minutes.

Wearing press on nails works out well for a rock climber because they can either be easily removed before they begin their ascent or worn without worry because if they chip or break, they do not cost the climber an arm and a leg. (Amazon Link)

Gel Fingernail Polish

Many female rock climbers wear fingernail polish when they are climbing to help toughen their nails against breakage. The product they choose overwhelmingly is gel fingernail polish. Gel polishes make nails so they will not chip, giving them a fighting chance against breakage.

The wonderful thing about gel polish is that it will last for up to twelve days. But don’t expect them to be beautiful after rock climbing as the scraping and grappling to get a good handhold will inevitably break off and tear fingernails taking the gel polish with it.

There are two negatives about using gel polish, including:

  • Gel polish can cause your nails to peel weakening them
  • Exposure to UV light has been identified as a risk factor for cancer

Hand Care as Part of Fingernail Care

Care of the skin on a person’s hands is vital to keeping nails healthy and strong. If the skin on the hands is cracked or dehydrated, the ability to grow healthy nails is compromised.

The best way to care for your hands and nails is to drink plenty of water. Water will keep you hydrated, help carry away any inflammation that may occur, and give a stronger grip to the hands.

While one should never wear hand lotion while rock climbing for obvious reasons, doing so when relaxing at home is important. Not only does lotion help hydrate the skin, but it also keeps it supple and able to flex better.

Fingernail Pain/Breaks

Fingernails are made of Keratin, a protein made of dead cells, the same as the protein found in hair. Structurally, fingernails are modified hair. When rock climbing and a nail breaks, there is no pain in the nail itself as it is comprised of dead cells and has no nerve endings.

The pain in breaking a nail during rock climbing comes from the matrix, the area from which the nail grows. Tearing the matrix by having a fingernail ripped off due to fake nails glued to it or longer than recommended nails causes extensive damage and can change the way the nail grows in the future.

Many rock climbers cover their hands with tape or gloves, but if fingernails remain covered for too long, they will develop a fungal infection that is easily treated with anti-fungal cream. If,  however, the yellowing persists, consult your medical professional as yellow nails can mean a serious disease such as thyroid disease, diabetes, or lung disease.

Six Precautions and Things to Remember to Take to Prevent Nail Breakage

While this article has already looked at some tips for helping fingernails, here are six more.

  • Take a Biotin Supplement (also known as Vitamin H and Vitamin B-7). Biotin supplements can help strengthen fingernails and hair. It can be consumed by eating foods like cooked eggs and legumes.
  • Eating right is also a terrific way to make fingernails strong. Eating a varied diet full of multivitamins and minerals to keep fingernails and the rest of the body healthy
  • Avoid nail polish remover that contains acetone because it damages nails. Instead, use non-toxic polishes, soaks, and acetone-free polish remover.   
  • While wearing long or fake fingernails is done, it is not safe nor comfortable to do so. There are too many variables when rock climbing the way it is without having nails that will break off and cause pain to the climber. Wearing clear or even colored gel polish on well-trimmed nails can help for two reasons:
  • Gel polish gives the nail extra strength preventing breakage
  • Well-trimmed fingernails mitigate the danger of breakage in the middle of a climb    

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