Close this search box.

How to Protect Your Nails When Rock Climbing: 3 Tips

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we get a commission if you make a purchase through our links. These cost nothing to you and help support our site.

Spread the love


Rock climbing is an amazing sport that offers a great workout to anyone who wants to try it! One of the downsides of the sport is that it can be pretty hard on your fingers, especially your fingernails. Figuring out how to rock climb without destroying your fingernails can seem challenging, but it is completely possible. 

Understanding how to protect your nails can make climbing so much more enjoyable! In this article, we’ll be discussing how to do just that. We’ll talk about how long you should keep your nails to help minimize your climbing nail problems. We’ll also give you tips on strengthening and protecting your nails during your next climbing session. 

How Rock Climbing Can Damage Your FingernailsHow Rock Climbing Can Damage Your Fingernails

Rock climbing is a sport that utilizes your hands a lot. While it can depend on whether you climb indoors or outdoors and what kind of rock you climb on, it is inevitable that rock climbing will damage your nails somehow. For this reason, rock climbing can be especially hard on your fingernails. 

Rock climbing fingernails tend to be scratched up and short. Since both indoor climbing holds and outdoor rock are abrasive, your nails will get filed down just by climbing. If you climb on something like granite that is super hard, your nails might break more, but if you climb on something that is very soft and abrasive, like sandstone, you may end up filing your nails short just by climbing. 

What’s the Ideal Nail Length for Rock ClimbingWhat’s the Ideal Nail Length for Rock Climbing?

The ideal nail length for rock climbing is short. In order to keep your nails from getting broken on the rock or impeding your ability to hold onto small holds, you should try to keep your nails trimmed short if you plan on climbing a lot. 

One challenge with having long nails that have nothing to do with the breakage is that you will likely get chalk stuck under your nails. This can be really frustrating and hard to get out, thus drying out the skin under your nails faster than you otherwise might. 

Can you indoor rock climb with long nails? The short answer is that nobody will stop you, but if you want to keep your long nails looking good, you shouldn’t. Long nails can also present a safety hazard since you are more likely to cut yourself when climbing if your nails are too long. While most gyms don’t have a rule about nails, they will have a rule about blood. 

How to Strengthen Your Nails_ 5 TipsHow to Strengthen Your Nails: 5 Tips

Figuring out how to protect your nails can be hard enough if you have strong nails, but what about ways to protect nails that are weak or thin? Figuring out how to protect thin nails while climbing is hard, but it starts in the same place as with thick nails. Here are our favorite ways to help strengthen your nails: 

1. Stay hydrated 

Staying hydrated is the answer to a lot of problems. Usually, a lack of moisture is what causes nails to become brittle and thin, so make sure that you are drinking enough water. This won’t typically fix all your nail-related problems and challenges, but drinking water and staying hydrated every day is a great place to start, especially if you have thin or weak nails. 

2. Minimize your use of nail polish

Nail polish and nail polish remover are filled with harsh chemicals that strip your nails of any moisture they have. While nail polish might look good, it can actually be really bad for your nails. You don’t have to cut out nail polish altogether, but try to minimize your use of it and give your nails a few weeks of a break every now and then. Having a good break with no nail polish will really help your nails recover and maintain their strength. 

3. Take a supplement 

Talk to your doctor about taking a nail supplement. One of the most commonly taken orally is biotin, but there are plenty of topical supplements you can apply directly to your nails. Many drugstores even have moisturizing treatments that are designed to help your nails maintain strength. This might be a good place to start if you have really thin or weak nails. 

4. Don’t use your nails as tools. 

Don’t use your nails to pick off stickers or open cans. While this might seem obvious, one of the best ways to strengthen your nails is to minimize the number of micro cracks and fractures that you cause in your nails by using them as a tool. Try using a tool designed for that purpose, or keep a multi-tool with a variety of options in your purse. 

5. Stay away from gel or acrylic nails. 

Much like nail polish, gel and acrylic nails are super drying. The more moisture you remove from your nails, the easier it will be for your nails to crack and break. While you can get away with some nail polish, these harsher options, like gel or acrylic nails, should be avoided completely. These nails also tend to be longer, which wouldn’t be bad for rock climbing. 

If you are really concerned about the overall strength and quality of your nails, it is worth asking your doctor if there is anything you can do to fix the problem. Your nails are a part of your body that can have issues, just like any other body part, so asking a doctor is a great option if you are at all concerned. 

3 Ways to Protect Your Nails When Rock Climbing3 Ways to Protect Your Nails When Rock Climbing

While it might seem inevitable that you will hurt your nails when rock climbing, there are some things you can do to help protect them. Here are our top tips for how to protect your nails when rock climbing: 

1. Keep your nails trimmed short 

Keeping your nails trimmed to be about the same length as your fingers is a great place to start. Keeping your nails trimmed short is the best way to protect your nails and mitigate the ever-present climbing nail problems. Once you climb, you will develop more of your own opinion about how long you like your nails to be, but no longer than your finger is a great place to start.

2. File your nails into a smooth arc; no harsh corners, please!

Although some people like having more squared-off nails, that aesthetic is not conducive to safe rock climbing. As we mentioned earlier, one of the challenges of climbing with longer nails is that you might accidentally cut yourself on your own nails. This becomes even more of a problem when you have sharp corners or harsh edges to your nails. The best way to mitigate this problem is by keeping your nails filed into a smooth arc with no harsh edges.

3. Wash your nails well after climbing to get the chalk off

Washing your hands and paying special attention to your nails as soon as you finish climbing will help get all the excess chalk off your skin and out from under your nails. At first glance, chalk might seem unassuming, but it really can draw all the moisture out of your skin and nails. Leaving chalk under your nails can significantly weaken your nails and lead to much more breakage. 

This list is not exhaustive. You can try many other things to help minimize the breakage and dryness of your nails. If you are having a persistent problem, try reaching out to your local climbing community and seeing if they have any recommendations. A lot of your skin and nail health is climate-related, so your local community might have a tip that suits your region perfectly. 

Wrapping Things Up: How to Protect Your Nails When Rock Climbing

Climbing is an excellent source of exercise and can be an amazing social space, but it can be hard on your hands. Many rocks, both real outdoor and indoor fake rocks, can be very abrasive on your fingernails and the chalk used in rock climbing can be very drying. Making sure to take good care of your fingers and hands is the best way to maintain good nail health while practicing rock climbing. 

Hopefully, you’ve found our tips and tricks on increasing your nail strength helpful in preventing your nails from cracking or becoming brittle after rock climbing. We recommend keeping your nails clean and short, as this will keep them out of the way and minimize the extreme dryness and cracking that can come from chalk use. It might take a little extra TLC, but there is a way to rock climb without harming your fingernails. 

Readers of this post also read...

How to Build a Trad Climbing Rack

How to Build a Trad Climbing Rack

Reaching the point in your climbing career where you have gotten committed to trad climbing and want to build your own rack can be super exciting but also pretty daunting. A trad rack is a...

Read More
A Guide to Climbing the Amalfi Coast

A Guide to Climbing the Amalfi Coast

Looking for a breathtaking climbing destination? Look no further than the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Known for its views, food, and drink, the Amalfi Coast is a stellar vacation location that is surrounded by stunning...

Read More
5 Best Climbing Supplements

5 Best Climbing Supplements

Like any other physical activity, rock climbing takes a toll on your body. As climbers want to improve their abilities more and more, they will likely start looking for ways to help their body support...

Read More