Crazy Shit Climbers Do: Sandpaper Their Finger Skin
Manicure for climbers has become a thing. Unlike traditional manicure, the goal is not to have baby-smooth skin but to build skin resilient to tears, cracks & flappers. Traditional manicure finger files won’t do for most climbers, so they jump straight to using sandpaper or a pumice stone.
You can buy dedicated little wooden fingers files covered in sandpaper but a P60 to P80 grit roll from the hardware store will do. Another good source for DIY-inclined climbers is skateboarding deck tape: it’s easy to glue & comes in the right grit since most deck tape is P60/80.
Grit size is a bit of a personal thing and your preference is actually likely to change over time as you build up tougher skin. Keep in mind that low grit numbers are rougher & high grit numbers are smoother. So you want to start out with a high number & then gradually go down over time.
One reason to buy a climbing-specific finger file is that some are shaped asymmetrically for easier handling & often come with a choice of different grit sizes.
The goal of sanding down your fingers is to encourage even & smooth callus growth. You don’t want the thick layers that tend to build up around the finger joints. Too much callus can get caught on rough edges on some holds & is likely to cause skin tears or flappers.
Good healthy climbing skin is strong, smooth & supple. I like to use a finer grit sandpaper to smooth down the whole surface of my finger first, then follow up with more grit to really remove the callus bumps that build up around my finger joints. If I’ve had any tears or cuts recently, I also like to sand down the hard edges that tend to form around the edges of wounds, especially around the vestiges of flappers or blisters.
A word of caution: the grit tape will get dirty and disgusting pretty quickly, no way around that. You are removing bits of skin, after all. The good news is that the dead skin washes right off with a little water & many skin files come with use-replaceable sandpaper pads for when they inevitably wear down completely.
If you’re serious about your climbing, give sanding your fingers a try.