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Can you rock climb with long nails?

Dexterous girl teenager gripping a stone wall with her hands climbing up a steep cliff
Can you rock climb with long nails? We give you the long and the short of the stylish climber’s dilemma (Image credit: Rbkomar)

Can you go rock climbing with long nails? If you’re one of many people asking this question, you’ll get no judgement from us. After all, we’re aware that not everyone who wants to climb is ready to fork out big money for the best climbing shoes, relinquish all personal hygiene and move into a van. Whether you’re brand new to climbing and want to know what to expect or a seasoned climber trying to beautify your hands ahead of wedding season, we give you the long and the short of the stylish climber’s dilemma, and help you to protect your nails while climbing.

Can you rock climb with long nails?

Veteran climber's hands

Climbers aren't known for having the prettiest hands (Image credit: CIA-photo)

The short answer is no, you can’t easily rock climb with long nails. There are two reasons for this. First, unless you’ve found a route that only has big bucket or jug holds, you rely on your fingertips a lot when you’re climbing and long nails would basically prevent you from being able to do any crimpy holds whatsoever. If none of this means anything to you, check out our article on rock climbing techniques before you continue.

Second, if you do go climbing with long nails and you want to do any dyno moves (which, to be clear, you won't be doing on day one), there’s a decent chance that your nails will get broken, chipped or worse, torn off, which would be painful and also mean that you no longer have long nails. So, no, you can’t realistically go climbing with long nails and expect to keep your nails long.

If you’re not keen on having rough-looking climber’s hands when you’re not on the wall, we get it. Climber’s hands aren’t a badge of pride in all circles. But you don’t have to quit climbing either. The simplest solution is to just keep your nails short for climbing, then when you want to look nice, get a manicure with press-on nails when you have a few days that you don’t plan to be on the wall.

How to protect your nails when rock climbing

A close up of a climber's hand as they slip off the rock

No crimpy holds for you! (Image credit: Getty Images)

So what if you’re going climbing for the first time and you’ve no idea if you’ll like it, so you don’t exactly want to just hack off your hard-fought nails for what might be a one-time deal? Or maybe you love climbing but you’ve been trying to grow your nails long for an event but you just got invited on a really rad sounding climbing trip and don’t want to miss out? Is there anything you can do to protect your nails when rock climbing?

We definitely can’t guarantee that you won’t come home with a few chips or split nails, but there are a few strategies you can try to preserve your nails.

1. Go indoors

The material used for indoor climbing walls is definitely smoother than abrasive rock surfaces, so if you have the choice, go indoors.

2. Use big holds

As we already mentioned, big holds will be kinder to your nails than small ones where you need your fingertips for grip and sensitivity, so seek out big, round, smooth hand holds and avoid cracks and crimps.

A guide to climbing ratings: smiley climber on a climb

That's right, find a nice, big shelf to grab onto (Image credit: Getty)

3. Apply gel polish

Quite a lot of climbers swear by using gel polish to strengthen their nails for climbing. If you want to look fancy and pick out a fun color, by all means go for it, but it will still get chipped. The idea is just to strengthen your nails, so you can apply clear gel polish, then when you’re ready to hit the clubs, get it cleaned off and your nails will be in better shape for your manicure.

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.