You’ve probably seen climbers in your local gym with taped fingers. Taping fingers is not just for looks, though it may help you look like an experienced climber and a badass. Taping fingers for climbing is pretty straight forward but there are a few pointers to help you decide which taping method is needed.
Why climbers tape their fingers?
There are basically two reasons to tape your fingers for climbing:
- Protect the skin or
- Give structural support
Protecting the skin
Skin is the number one most precious piece of equipment that a climber has. Together with climbing shoes, it is the only thing in direct contact with the rock. Climbing can be very stressful for your skin. More so if you climb multiple times a week. Read Skincare for climbers for more tips on how to help your skin deal with rock climbing.
Sometimes when climbing, your skin can get pretty thin and start oozing clear liquid. Or sometimes you can get a dreaded flapper or a split tip. This is a good time to stop climbing and let the skin heal OR start taping the fingers to protect the skin from further damage.
When taping the tips of your fingers, it is best done with a thin strip of sports tape or climbing-specific tape. Everyone has a favorite. Mine is Leukotape.
I made a really, REALLY short and simple video about taping fingers for climbing. Read the article and then watch the video. One video shows it better than 1000 words, I hope. You can find the video at the end of this article.
The criss-cross method
Clean the finger from excess magnesium or such with water and dry thoroughly. Tear the tape into a 3mm wide strip and start by taping a ring to the top of the finger. Then criss-cross over the area, you want to protect and over the joint. Wrap the tape two to three times over itself to form another ring. Cut or tear the tape. It should now feel nice and secure.
Another method (the simple method in the video) is to just tear a similar strip of tape and roll it around the finger. This is ok too, but it tends to stay on for a shorter time. Either way, usually a narrower strip of tape holds on for longer than a regular wide strip of tape. An additional positive point on using narrower strips is that a roll of tape lasts a bit longer.
Taping for structural support
There is no doubt that the fingers are taking a lot of weight in climbing. Especially if you like crimping. Crimping is a really powerful position to have your fingers in, but it is also the most demanding on the tendons and pulleys.
The most common finger injury in climbing is rupturing the A2 pulley. The tear of the pulley can be a full tear or partial tear. Either way, it will stop you from climbing for a while. I will not cover pulley injuries in-depth in this article. Here is an excellent article about pulley injuries by Dr. James Lee.
Taping a finger to prevent pulley injuries or to aid in recovering from injuries is a debated topic among climbers. Almost all research shows that taping a finger with an injured pulley is ineffective. The most effective way to heal a pulley (at least in the beginning) is to not climb. Always go and see a doctor in case of an injury.
Though taping an injured finger might not protect a finger structure-wise all that much, BUT it is an excellent way to help keep in mind that you have an injured finger. Like a little reminder every time you grab a hold with the injured hand. I think it helps in climbing more thoughtfully and not loading the finger too much and suddenly. This is probably even more important than the additional support the tape is giving to the injured finger.
You make your own decision about taping or not, but if you want to tape for structural support it can be done in several ways.
The Ring method
The ring-method is the simplest way of taping a finger. Take a 1cm wide strip of tape and wrap it tightly around the area that needs support (injured pulley or such). Make sure the tape is not too tight. If your finger starts feeling cold and looking blue, the tape is too tight. Use common sense here.
The X method
Start with a 1cm wide strip of tape and make a ring under the area that needs support. Cross over the other side of the supported area and make a ring. Then cross back to the other area so that an X is formed (who would have guessed?). The X-method is good because it doesn’t restrict the fingers natural movement too much, but still gives plenty of support to the finger.
The H method
This method gives even more support to the tendon without restricting the movement of the finger. Tear a wide piece of tape and cut or tear the tape in two pieces from each end to almost the center. It is important to keep the center of the tape intact. Now place the tape to the injured area and make a ring with the torn ends of the tape. The center of the tape that is not torn should be right above the injured area to give maximum support.
Some studies show that the H-method is the most effective way of taping an injured finger, but on the other hand, the tape gets loose pretty fast when squeezing hard and looses its supportive qualities. After a 100 ft climb, is the tape still tightly secured and giving good support?
Like I said, you make your own decisions about taping. Watch the video, tape up (or don’t) and get climbing!