Crazy Shit Climbers Do: Benzoin
Benzoin is a resin obtained from the bark of several species of trees in the genus Styrax. It’s also sometimes called Storax and typically harvested from trees in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Sumatra.
When dissolved in ethanol alcohol benzoin becomes a tincture that can be applied to the skin to toughen it up & make finger tape more sticky. It’s also used in the medical field as a slight antiseptic to treat blisters.
Tincture of benzoin can be bought in pharmacies or from specialty climbing brands. Make sure you buy “Compound Tincture of Benzoin” which adds in other ingredients to make the effect stronger.
Climbers use tincture of benzoin in two ways: to make tape stick to the skin & to roughen up skin. Applying a little benzoin before taping up really does make the tape stick longer. If you don’t want to bother with re-taping on long all-day ascents benzoin works wonders.
Traditionally it was mostly used to make tape-gloves stick all day but recently there has been an uptick in use in the bouldering community as it will make finger tape stick better to those hard-to-tape worn out finger tips.
Benzoin is also sometimes used in skin balms for its antiseptic properties or as a natural fragrance. In the non-climbing community tincture of benzoin is often better known as Friar’s Balsam.
Firar’s Balsam was invented in 1706 by an English doctor called Joshua Ward and was a bit of a sensation in the Victorian era where it was used to treat everything from blisters to pneumonia.
Benzoin is often confused with another tree resin: Colophonium. Both are used by climbers. Colophon, colloquially called rosin, is also used to make fingers and shoes more sticky, but it comes with a major drawback: it tends to polish the holds over time. More and more climbers and gyms are stepping back from using rosin-based products because it causes long-term damage to the rock and holds. Bezoin does not suffer from this problem.
Photo by Tommy Lisbin