How to Cultivate Your Climbing Calluses

For a begin­ning climber, the first cal­lus­es feels like a major mile­stone. At first, you think it means your future climbs will no longer be killer on your hands and they won’t be rubbed raw by the rock any­more. So you let your cal­lus­es build out of con­trol, yel­low and hard­ened, and then one day you’re climb­ing and your cal­lus rips off com­plete­ly leav­ing extra-raw skin below. And it hurts. Oh boy, does it hurt. That’s not say you shouldn’t build up your cal­lus­es, but they do need to be tak­en care if you don’t want them snag­ging on a climb.

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What you’ll need
Pumice stone or sand­ing paper
Skin balm or salve

Build­ing the ini­tial cal­lus
This is the eas­i­est part of cal­lus main­te­nance since all you real­ly need to do is start climb­ing. After the first cou­ple of times on the rock, you should start to notice cal­lus­es form­ing on your palm and under­neath your knuckles—basically any­where that rubs on the rock.

Sand­ing the cal­lus
Cal­lus­es don’t grow like reg­u­lar skin. They build up over time and grow a lit­tle irreg­u­lar­ly, so you need to sand them down to be lev­el with the rest of your skin. To do that, you’ll need a pumice stone, though even a sand­ing paper can work as well. It might seem a lit­tle scary tak­ing some­thing so rough to your hands, but it won’t hurt so long as you don’t rub your entire cal­lus off. It’s eas­i­er if the skin is soft from a show­er because the cal­lus will rub down with less effort. What­ev­er you do, don’t pick at your cal­lus­es. Sand them down. Do not pick.

Salv­ing your skin
If you do tear your cal­lus on a climb or your hands feel par­tic­u­lar­ly raw, it’s nice to have some skin balm or salve on hand so you can give them a lit­tle bit of mois­ture. Rub it into your hands before bed—not too much, you don’t want to over­sat­u­rate them—and let it soak in overnight.

Rest­ing between climbs
The best way to let your hands rest is to, well, rest. Climb­ing too much back to back will be hell on your hands and there’s no way around it, with or with­out cal­lus­es.