REVIEW: The ultimate climbing balm showdown – banishing the looming fear of flappers

You know that feeling. The one when you throw a little too hard for a big crimp, or pull just a bit too forcefully on a sloped dish – and then suddenly, you feel that familiar ripping sensation as your callous tears from your hand to hand like a stinging battle wound. During the victorious weeks and months between flapper episodes, our hands remain battered and beaten as we slap slopers, dig into jugs, and work endless on hangboard training.

Let’s face it – climbers just ain’t too kind to their hands.

Along with dedicating your body to the art of climbing, we must also make a genuine effort to take care of our skin – torn fingertips don’t exactly create an ideal situation for spawning to awesome sends. To help you in the quest towards maintaining smooth calluses and strong hands, I’ve reviewed three different balms to determine which offers the best solution for shredded skin.

Climb On!

Before the era of being sent samples for product reviews, the first hand salve product I had ever heard of was Climb On. We sell it at Tally Rock Gym, so it quickly became a must-have item in my pack. This was my first experience with a balm for climbing calluses, and with nothing else to compare it to, I was thrilled by the pure fact that someone out there was selling a product designed to help me avoid flappers and cracked knuckles.

Housed in a small metal container, the ‘block’ of waxy balm is thick and smells pleasant. Not too strong, but still with enough of a scent to trigger a cozy, familiar feeling whenever you’re rubbing it into sore fingertips. The dense product rubs on in hefty layers, and easily spreads wherever you knead it.

My only qualms with Climb On are the inevitable sticky-hands sensation experienced after you initially put it on, and the doomed frustration a Floridian feels upon realizing you left your tin of Climb On in the car – a melted hunk of waxy goop is a total bummer. But these issues have reoccurred with every hand balm product I’ve tried thus far.

In my opinion, Climb On is the classic American callous repair system for climbers. The brand is known, trusted, and builds great relationships with its customers. Like an old friend stuffed at the bottom of my backpack, I can always count on Climb On to get the job done, and put my stinging skin on the path towards healing – and there is always an extensive line of related products available for any other skin related issues! (The chapstick rocks.)

Pro Balm

My relationship with Pro Balm sparked via Twitter, and I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to sample this overseas brand. They were kind enough to send a big shipment of Pro Balm samples out as sponsors of the Save the South bouldering competition I organize annually, despite the fact that this product is only sold in Europe (and now Japan, I believe).

I was instantly a fan of this balm. The plastic housing for this balm offers a twist-on style, which makes it a bit more trusty than the pop-off top of the Climb On metal canisters – seriously, nothing is worse than a renegade ball of balm bouncing around in a backpack. Talk about a mess.

The Pro Balm product rubs on much thinner than Climb On, and feels a bit less heavy on the hands – but it also rubs off much easier. There has been much debate amongst Tally Rock Gym climbers over whether Pro Balm or Climb On smells best, and I may have to side with this international product – it’s got a fantastic earthy, herbal, almost dirt-like smell that makes me want to rub it on my hands all day long. With natural ingredients like grape seed oil, patchouli, and cypress extracts, it’s no wonder this stuff smells so good.

Overall, Pro Balm has created a great contender for the climbing balm market, and I am eager to see how they perform if the product ever makes it to American distribution. I’d call it the Climb On of the other side of the pond, literally – look at those two images of the different balms above, pretty darn similar.

Ript Skin Systems

I was recently contacted by Ript Skin Systems with an offer to test out their unique skin repair method – and quickly jumped onboard. Unlike the simple balm bars offered by the other two brands, this Canadian company uses a three-step process designed to fully address each element of fixing torn hands.

The first is a Daily Dose balm that comes in a great little tube, similar to chapstick. Along with the Quick Fix tube, these two balms have the easiest application of any product I’ve tested, and creates minimal mess. The third piece of the puzzle is a lightweight grindstone designed to help you slough off dead skin.

I’ll come right out and say it: Ript Skin Systems has the best smelling stuff, hands down. One of the tubes offers a sweet peppermint smell, and the other one wafts the pleasant scent of rosemary and herbs as you rub it over sore skin. I will shamelessly admit that I totally rubbed a little bit of the peppermint balm on my nose once, just to smell the goodness.

While my olfactory senses were 100% satisfied with the product’s smell, I was a little bit underwhelmed by the grind stone. I’ve always been a big fan of hard pumice stones to exfoliate dead skin cells on my feet (gross, sorry), so I was surprised to feel how light weight and porous this stone was – and it totally shed little black particles all over the place when I opened it up. The instructions suggest using it in the shower, and I think it’s largely due to how much the grindstone initially sheds. However, despite peppering your skin with little bits of black dust, it does what it’s supposed to.

The final verdict? They all get the job done. Aside from various preferential differences based on little details, each of this has proven to be a worthy product for anyone battling the blues of busted skin.

If you’re going to make me take sides, here’s my honest opinion:

While Pro Balm has designed something that could very easily become a large competitor against Climb On, it’s simply unavailable at the moment. The products are very comparable, and each is a winner in my book. They have both come to my aid during climbing trips, long sessions at the rock gym, and generally just tearing my hands up during adventures.

As far as innovation goes, Ript Skin System offers the ultimate solution for someone who is looking for a thorough method for repairing and maintaining skin. The three-step process worked out really well, and offered great results. I have a feeling that other skin repair systems will take note of the tri-fold idea presented in this product – and since Ript was designed largely for cross-fit athletes, it will be interesting to see how climbing companies use their innovations to better suit climbers.

Bottom line: For the American climber, there are many balms out there, and thus far I have not run into one that I was displeased with – but Climb On maintains the crown as ruler of the calloused kingdom.

What do you think about these three balm products?
Do you have a favorite method of keeping skin intact while crushin’? 


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Categories: Gear Reviews, Rock Climbing

Author:Katie Boué

Katie Boué is the voice of - a travel lifestyle blog focusing on climbing, Airbnb life, and the outdoors.

6 Comments on “REVIEW: The ultimate climbing balm showdown – banishing the looming fear of flappers”

  1. July 23, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Great post Katie, I think thats an honest appraisal and I’m honoured that you thought ProBalm deserved a mention! Keep up the great blogs! Craig (MD of ProBalm Ltd).

    • July 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      Absolutely, Craig – I loved my ProBalm experience! I’ve had to hide it from Niko so I can conserve what I have and make it last longer, haha.

  2. August 2, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Hi Katie, I wanted to say “thank you” for taking the time to enter such a thorough assessment of the above products. There’s such a push in this day for the “all natural” products, I’m happy to see a review of products that truly are all natural. There’s enough out there for all of us. Thanks again! Polly Glasse Founder/Creator, Climb On! Products, Inc.


  1. Trek Tech Blog » Blog Archive » Flapper Friday Winners Announced! - July 23, 2012

    […] I know I said the contest would end on Tuesday, but the entries have tapered off, and frankly, I just can’t look at any more of these photos. Props to all the crossfitters who showed up the climbers with their godawful wounds. Be sure to check out Katie Boué’s review roundup of climber’s skin care products at […]

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    […] REVIEW: The ultimate climbing balm showdown – banishing the looming fear of flappers ( […]

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