You’re on the third—and final—day of your climb. You’ve got just a few more minutes to go, and you’ll be done.
The end’s in sight. You’re tired after three days of climbing, but the thrill of it all has given you a spur of adrenaline.
You’ve got that one final move in you, right? The one that will let you finish your climb with a bang.
In your overzealous lunge, you just so happen to catch your hand right on your week-old callous. Now, halfway up the rockface, you’re left with torn, bleeding flesh and an undesirable amount of pain.
You’re left with a flapper.
These annoying, yet all-too-common, wounds are an inevitable part of the rock-climbing experience.
But how are they caused, exactly, and what can you do about them?
Perhaps most importantly of all, what can you do to prevent them?
Join me below as we walk through everything you need to know about flappers.
What Are Flappers?
If you’ve ever had a flapper, you already know the answer to this question.
These ugly and terribly-painful sores are the enemy of rock climbers everywhere. Though they may be more common for some climbers than for others, they’re an escapable reality for anyone who plans to rock climb long-term.
Flappers generally result from torn callouses or blisters—and they won’t always come about on your schedule.
Though it’s possible that you get a flapper from tearing your own blister on purpose, it’s usually not an intentional choice.
In fact, many flappers are the result of accidents—and still others the result of negligence.
And just as there may be different causes of flappers, there are also different common ways to treat them.
It may even be said that the only things that are certain about flappers is that they’re too common—and they hurt.
Almost everything else depends on your personal situation.
From the cause of the flapper to the size of the wound, there are several factors that make your situation unique to you.
With that in mind, however, it’s important to understand some of the common causes for flappers and how climbers typically respond to them.
How Can Flappers Be Prevented?
We can all breathe a sigh of relief.
Fortunately, when it comes to getting flappers, it’s not all doom and gloom.
Though they may be an inevitable part of rock climbing for most, there are some steps you can take to prevent them. However, you should keep in mind that the more rock climbing you do, the higher the likelihood that you develop flappers.
In this way, it can be said that flappers are part and parcel of high-intensity or long-term rock climbing.
But that doesn’t mean you should accept them without question.
By protecting your skin, you can decrease the likelihood that you will develop flappers—helping you enjoy longer and less-painful climbs.
Let’s take a look at some common and effective ways to help prevent flappers. Keep this information in mind so that you can stay performing at your best.
1. Keep an Eye on Your Hands
Perhaps the best way to ward off flappers is to catch them before they’re serious.
The best prevention method is to make sure that you catch early warning signs and respond accordingly.
This means doing routine checks for certain kinds of callouses and blisters—and laying off your hands for a while if you spot them.
But it’s not as simple as it seems.
For many rock climbers, callouses are desirable. Because you don’t want your hands to be slick or moist when climbing, it’s important that the skin isn’t overly soft.
This is because soft skin doesn’t allow for the right pressure to have strong or sharp holds. Without calloused hands, the skin would tear much more easily while making climbs.
With that in mind, however, you want to make sure that your callouses aren’t too dry. As callouses continue to dry out, they put you at increased risk of developing flappers.
If you’ve ever had a flapper before, you know just what I’m talking about. For those who rock climb regularly, it’s not too difficult to spot a troublesome callous.
2. Strike the Right Moisture Balance
Making sure that your hands have enough moisture can cut down on your risk of developing flappers.
But as we’ve seen, it’s not quite so simple.
You may find that many rock climbers not only use chalk, but also products like Antihydral to help dry out skin and make for an easier and safer climb.
Perhaps you even use it yourself.
However, I’d suggest that you make sure that you’re not overdoing it.
While a certain amount of dryness is desirable, drying out the skin too much can lead to deep injuries and—you guessed it—flappers.
As paradoxical as it sounds, it’s for this reason that some rock climbers use both Antihydral and moisturizing lotion.
You may find, however, that this combination doesn’t work for you. Because everyone’s skin reacts differently, it’s important that you build a skincare regime slowly and tweak it to fit your individual needs.
By striking the right balance, you should be able to keep your hands healthier for longer. This will significantly reduce your chance of developing a flapper.
3. Don’t Forget Your Water
If you’re looking to have healthy skin, drinking appropriate amounts of water is a must.
Drinking water can help protect your skin from excessive dryness—even on days when you’re climbing. This is important to the long-term health of your hands.
4. Use Chalk
Whether you’re using regular or liquid chalk, make sure that you’re using it correctly for your climb.
By enhancing your grip, you can reduce the chance that you’re going to have an accident that would cause a flapper.
Additionally, chalk is a great way to temporarily cut back on sweat and other moisture without over-drying your hands. This allows for safer climbs—and for healthier skin.
How to Treat Flappers
But what should you do if, despite your best efforts, you still manage to get a flapper?
As you’ll see, there’s not just one way to treat a flapper—and it may just depend on your climbing situation or on how big the wound is.
Let’s examine a few of the different ways flappers are treated, starting with what is perhaps the most common method.
1. Tape It Up and Finish Your Climbing Session
Many rock climbers simply bear through the pain.
When you’re rock climbing, chances are that you’re not in a position to stop everything you’re doing to treat your flapper.
After all, it’s hardly a medical emergency—even if it is painful.
For this reason, a majority of rock climbers will simply tape the piece of skin back down and keep going.
It’s important to note here that this is a temporary solution because the skin will have to be dealt with later.
With that in mind, however, taping a flapper generally allows one to finish their climb—albeit in a much-more painful manner.
So what should you know about taping your flapper?
For starters, it’s best not to just tape it and go. Though some climbers are apt to do just that, taping the wound without a little cleaning will put you at increased risk of infection.
This is especially true because of all the dirt and dust that accumulate on your hands during rock climbing.
For this reason, it’s best to use water to gently clean the wound and optionally a wound cleansing substance.
Only after these two steps are done should you tape the skin back down.
Keep in mind that, while time-consuming, this method provides the best-possible care for your flapper.
2. Perform “Surgery”
Though taping your flapper might be best, it’s not the only way to treat it.
Instead, you may choose to do what some rock climbers refer to as “surgery.”
In this method, the flapper is immediately cut. Many climbers will simply use their teeth to rip off the hanging skin.
As gruesome as it sounds, this method is favored by some because it provides for a quicker long-term fix. Because the excess skin will have to be cut anyway, many don’t feel like “wasting” time by taping it down.
It must be noted, however, that this treatment option comes with some serious drawbacks.
And I’m not just talking about pain.
By removing the skin instead of taping it down, you’re taking away one of your body’s most important layers of protection against infection.
This is especially important in the context that bacteria thrive in the dust and dirt that will undoubtedly get on your hand.
Because of this, it’s probably in your best interest to leave the skin on and tape it.
Yes, I’ve seen guys who simply pack the wound with chalk and keep going—but I wouldn’t personally recommend that.
Not only does it look unnecessarily painful, it can put you at increased risk of infection.
And you can’t go rock climbing with an infected hand.
For this reason, it’s best to play it safe and use the taping method listed above. I mention this option only because it is quite popular among many climbers. Decide for yourself if it’s worth the risk.
Once the flapper is dry and almost falls off by itself, that’s usually the time I finally pull it off.
Let’s say that you have a flapper.
It’s certainly not the end of the world—but is it the end of your rock climbing?
If so, for how long?
The good news is that many rock climbers are able to continue climbing even while having a flapper.
As noted, many will even simply tape their flappers and continue their climbs after receiving the injury.
But is this advisable?
Ultimately, it depends on your circumstance.
You may choose to lay low for a few days or weeks while you wait for your flapper to heal—and that’s okay. You want to make sure that you do give your wound appropriate time to heal.
Above all, however, make sure that you’re comfortable climbing before going again. If your flapper is in a particularly-sensitive spot, for instance, you may find that putting appropriate weight is too painful for a few days.
More experienced rock climbers, however, may not need to take as long off from climbing. If you’re used to battling through flapper pain, you know what you need to do in order to climb safely.
In fact, some climbers choose not to miss any action—flappers or not.
Just make sure that you’re making a choice that feels right for you. An injury that wouldn’t affect a more skilled or toughened climber may put you out of commission for a week. Be sure to listen to your body so that you can make the decision best for you.
If you’re new to climbing, you may find that it takes you longer to heal from flappers. Unfortunately, you’re also going to be more prone to them. As your hands toughen, however, you’ll deal with this issue less and less frequently, and you’ll be able to hit the rocks quicker.
The Bottom Line
So what’s the bottom line?
Flappers are an unavoidable and painful part of the rock climbing experience. With a little care, however, you can work to effectively prevent and treat them.
When it comes to flappers, the most important thing you can do is be in touch with your body.
Watch for warning signs that a flapper will develop and respond accordingly. Make sure that your hands are dry enough for climbing—but not so dry that you’re putting them at risk for injuries.
And, most of all, be sure not to overdo it. Properly treat your flapper and keep it clean before taping it up and finishing your climb. Remember, you’ll want to remove this excess skin later. Just make sure to keep the wound properly sanitized, protected, and aired for best healing.
When you’re feeling up for it, you’ll be ready to hit the rocks again. And though you may not ever be able to full rid yourself of these climbing nuisances, you can cut down on their occurrence as your skill and experience increase.
And that gives us all something to look forward to.