Can you climb with long fingernails

Whether you’re rock climbing or bouldering indoors, at some point you might have wanted to treat yourself to a nice manicure or grow your nails longer than usual, but can you actually climb with long fingernails?

Well, it depends on the length, but shorter nails are definitely the way to go when it comes to climbing. You should trim them regularly and keep them in good shape; The edges of your fingernails can also get hard and cause you a lot of pain when focusing on less positive holds like slopers. As a result, the underside of your nails at the fingertips can split, so try to take care of them as much as you can and trim down the ragged edges. Be careful not to trim too much off, as you can always trim more, but you can’t grow longer nails on demand, something I had to learn the hard way. Plus trimming off too much would probably be the same as keeping them long, regarding climbing comfort. From what I’ve experienced, the ideal length is when a little bit of white nail remains and I always round the edges all the way to the sides to avoid hangnails. Most climbing gyms have nail files and clippers available, but if the idea of using the same rusty old clipper as literally hundreds of other people before you puts you off, you might be better served bringing your own. I always have a nail clipper and a manicure file in my climbing bag in case I need them.

However, the bright side is that you wouldn’t have to abandon your nail polish altogether, as gel nail polishes usually don’t chip and for the most part don’t even show any deep scrape lines after climbing, making them a viable, hardcore solution for all the strong, athletic ladies who don’t want to abandon their girly side (Speaking of your girly side, if you’re wondering about whether or not you should wear makeup while rock climbing, check out this post I wrote). Nevertheless, you should keep in mind that you can’t remove gel manicure with your average nail polish remover, you might have to go back to the salon and have them do it for you, yet, one of my friends just picked the manicure off… with her nails.

Here are 4 good reasons why you might want to consider trimming your beloved nails before climbing.

1- Dynamic moves and long fingernails are a painful combination

Handholds are sometimes, a little farther to reach, which is why you’ll find yourself jumping towards them. Now let’s imagine what would happen if you grabbed that handhold. You’d probably, out of reflex, jam your fingers on the hold, just as you’d normally do, which can be quite painful with long fingernails.
The worst-case scenario would be to try and grab a handhold while falling and break, or even rip off the whole nail. Even if you got lucky and your nail would just break off, you could be left with a bloody nailbed. Yayks!
It’s safe to say that ¾” (1,9 cm) long fingernail would be quite uncomfortable to climb with and are most likely to be torn off while climbing.
I’ve seen countless broken off fake fingernails lying around on the climbing gym floor. The problem here is that people don’t actually pick up their broken nail and just leave them lying around expecting a gym employee to do it, as shocking as it might seem, I can sympathize with them.
Although some of my friends find it disgusting, if anyone were in their shoes, they might probably do the same, because ripping off a fingernail is extremely painful and all they’d probably be thinking about is some way to mitigate the pain. They probably went straight home, that’s why I try to put myself in someone else’s shoes before judging them.
So, long fingernails would keep most climbing holds out of your comfort zone, except for jugs and slopers. You’d basically be trying to climb the wall with rollerblades on; it’s just pointless.

2- Chalk and dirt can get stuck underneath your nails

What’s worse than a broken fingernail?
A broken fingernail with a ragged edge that’s filled with chalk, dirt and sweat, now that makes for a painful combination!
Not to mention the fact that you’d keep scraping your skin with it every time you try to wipe your hair from your face.
Ropes and carabiners can also carry a lot of dirt which might get stuck underneath your nails, plus if you were to crimp on a hold, you’d certainly be scraping off a lot of dirt with your fingernails, provided they don’t break off in the first place.
I remember when I tried to climb a rather crimpy route, while I had long fingernails, everyone kicked my butt because I couldn’t grab the holds; Much less jump to reach the ones that were further away. It was just awful, so I opened my climbing bag, got the nail clipper out and started clipping away. What a relief it was!
One more thing to beware of when climbing with fake fingernails is that fungi can get stuck underneath your nails, which is not only disgusting but also a health hazard. The risk is further amplified if you have any nail injuries or even skin injuries around your nails and let’s face it, we climbers tend to get those a lot!
Nail fungus can cause thickened, crumbly, brittle or ragged nails and can even lead to the complete removal of the nail… Talk about climbing injuries!

3- The noise of long fingernails scraping against the climbing wall is just unbearable

Unpleasant, rough, repulsive, unbearable all adjectives describing the same sensation, that which occurs when someone scrapes his/her fingernails against a blackboard or in our case a climbing wall.
Scraping a climbing wall with your long fingernails will produce an irritating sound. According to a study published by musicologists Michael Oehler and Christoph Reuter, the unpleasantness is due to the acoustic resonance caused by the shape of the human ear canal, which amplifies frequencies in the range of 2000-4000 Hz, sounds resonating at such frequencies can trigger a pain response in the human ear.
So, when your friends complain about such sound, don’t dismiss their remarks as they’re most probably not exaggerating; It’s just that some people are more sensitive than others. This sensation might have its roots in our predator-fleeing instincts, which were passed down from our evolutionary past.
A brain imaging study in 2012 concluded that these and similar sounds triggered the amygdala; the gland involved in emitting a fear response, helping ensure our survival when chased by a predator for example.
Whatever the case may be, most people can’t stand it.

4- Belaying with long fingernails hurts

Another important part of climbing is belaying, which consists of a person on the ground or at the top, controlling the rope to safeguard the climber.
It’s a tremendous responsibility, as the climber’s life is in your hands. You should always pay attention and not be distracted by other people. Serious accidents can and do happen more often than you think due to improper belaying and one thing that might hinder your ability to maintain the rope could be long fingernails; since it can get quite painful to clutch your fists together while holding the rope.
Most of my friends told me that belaying with long fingernails is even more painful than climbing, as their nails dig into the palms of their hands.
Let’s face it, would you put your life in the hands of someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
What’s the difference between that person and someone who lacks focus, or someone who can’t hold on to the rope while belaying you?
Would it be worth injuring your climbing partner? The person who trusted you with their life.

That being said, you should always check your knots before climbing, even if they were tied by someone experienced and don’t forget to ask a staff member if you aren’t sure.
After all,

“the strong individual is the one who asks for help when he needs it.”
– Rona Barrett

In the end, the choice is yours; no one can force you to do anything, so, just enjoy yourself and climb on!
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