Here’s the thing about climbers: we have pretty gnarly hands. We spend all day grappling with slopers, shredding our skin on crimps, and cranking on underclings. From sandstone to granite (and yeah, sometimes plastic), our hands take a beating on a daily basis. Our most abused body parts also happen to be crucial for climbing – so climbers need to take proper care of our hands.
During my yearlong climbing trip, and throughout my five years spent training indoors and crushing outside, I’ve tested dozens of hand care products. My relationship with climbing balm has been through bleeding flaps of skin, fingertips cracked from the dry cold, random burns from campfires, blood blisters, you name it. This comprehensive review has been a long time in the making, and I’m excited to share my thoughts on what I consider to be the top three salve brands in the climbing industry: ClimbOn!, Joshua Tree, and Giddy.
The first time I encountered Joshua Tree products was while climbing in Joe’s Valley. I liked it, but the little sample tubes I had quickly disappeared into the abyss of my van. Kati Peters is the one who really put J-Tree products back on my radar while climbing in Chattanooga this past winter, and I have since fallen in love with their balm – but I never use it for climbing.
Honestly, I find Joshua Tree hand salve to be just a little too greasy for use on grubby climber hands – but it comes in handy for endless other uses. It saved my life when I caught a nasty cold and ended up with a cracked, runny nose and painfully dry facial skin. I use it on chapped lips, to sooth burns, and on any delicate wounds that would be irritated by the rubbing motion required by thicker balms.
As a lip balm fanatic, Joshua Tree gains an upper hand in my book with their impressive chapstick collection. Not only do they offer a range of seasonal flavors – I have pumpkin pie – ladies can get Joshua Tree lip balm with a bit of shimmer! The real kicker for me is the SPF 15 protection. I also appreciate the slightly flattened tube design that keeps my lip balm from rolling off rocks.
Other notable products include their biodegradable body washes, arnica recovery lotion, and sunscreens featuring organic ingredients. The body wash’s fresh tea tree and mint scent was a welcome smell when I was bathing rather infrequently while living in the van – and I never had to worry about using the soap in a river.
COST: $5.75 for 15 ml
PROS: Joshua Tree hand salve is extremely versatile, gentle, and effective. If I had to pick just one product to always have on hand, it would be this hand salve (even though I don’t use it for climbing/hand purposes). It works wonderfully for chapped lips, burned skin, healing tattoos, and soothing irritated skin. I keep on me at all times.
CONS: Honestly, I really just don’t love using Joshua Tree as a climbing hand salve.
I’ve been using ClimbOn (aka SKINourishment) products for years – and for good reason. It was the first climbing balm I ever experienced, and I’ve since sampled just about every product in their line-up. I’m a fanatic for products like their body creme and cucumber rose facial moisturizer (which I’m currently addicted to).
There is no contest that ClimbOn is my favorite salve for treating beat up climber hands. Made with yellow beeswax, it’s the perfect thickness, rubbing on easily but not getting too messy. My favorite trick is to slather it on my fingertips, and cover my hands with socks before going to bed. You definitely look a little goofy – but it’s effective! ClimbOn is great for every day skin healing after climbing, intensive flapper care, and soothing cracked cuticles.
Throughout my travels to different climbing areas and rock gyms throughout the country, ClimbOn seems to be the overall most popular choice for hand salves. They’ve built a great community, and have been the most receptive brand when it comes to tailoring products to user feedback. I’ve watched their logo, branding, and ingredients evolve over the past few years, always improving.
I would easily say that SKINourishment has the most extensive line of skin care products – Polly whips up everything from men’s aftershave to cucumber rose facial moisturizer (currently my favorite skincare product, I’m addicted). The range of their product line makes it easy to stay consistent with using good-for-you body care. Fair warning: After I started using Skinourishment products, I am now acutely aware of how awful most generic beauty products are – and it’s kind of scary to think about!
COST: $6.35 for a .5 oz bar
PROS: In my opinion, SKINourishment’s ClimbOn! balm is the best salve for climber hands. It has the perfect consistency, travels well, and is great to use on puppy paws. Their overall product line continues to impress me, and my skin has never felt as good as when I am strictly using Skinourishment.
CONS: The only thing I have ever not loved about a ClimbOn!/SKINourishment product is the way their deodorant used to stain – but they have since changed their formula.
Of all the climbing balm companies, Giddy Organics easily has my favorite branding and merchandise. From bright neon chalk pots to tank tops I am constantly coveting, Giddy excels at selling their company as a lifestyle.
When it comes to skin care, Giddy boasts all natural products that are 100% made in America and Fair Trade certified. Bonus points: their packaging is all either recyclable or made from post-consumer recycled materials. I love when a company aligns its products with consumer values – and Giddy does a great job of really tuning into their audience.
The Giddy Organics climbing balm comes in .5 oz tins that are easy to toss into any pack or pocket. This is easily the thickest balm I’ve ever used, which was a negative in my opinion yet heavily contested at the crag amongst my male cohorts who appreciated how aggressive they could be with it. Interestingly, Giddy was a favorite amongst the male climbers I asked to test it out. They all really enjoyed the scent and texture of the balm. The thickness of the product also made it a great choice for the hot crags of the south – it didn’t melt quite as easily as its competitors.
COST: $5.95 for a .5 oz tin.
PROS: Giddy is the most resilient balm in hot conditions, and it is the least “greasy” of the balms. Climbers can order different scents like cedar mint, lavender, and cooling mint. Bonus points: The cedar mint balm smells like mint chocolate chip ice cream if you ask me!
CONS: It’s thicker than I prefer, and I wasn’t a fan of how hard it was to open up the tin, especially if my fingers were already a little greasy from the balm.
Long story short: I think these are all great products that offer something for every climber out there. I’d recommend sampling them all and figuring out which brands works best for your body, your style, and your climbing. If you want a versatile one-product-heals-all, check out Joshua Tree. Wanna pair healthy skin with badass tank tops? Head for Giddy. And if you want to launch yourself deep into a product addiction that’ll leave your skin glowing and your shopping cart full? I dare you to give Skinourishment a gander.
*Disclaimer: I received samples of Giddy, ClimbOn!, and Joshua Tree from their respective brands for the purpose of this head-to-head-to-head review.
As always, opinions are my own.