A lot of times people wonder why they need to tape, especially if they have perfect crack technique.
I always say you have two choices. You can either tape before you get cut or you can tape after you get cut. It’s up to you. The other thing that’s great about taping is if you’re trying to climb really fast, do a speed ascent, or just be efficient, or if you’re climbing in cold situations either in the mountains or a snowy day, that layer of tape on the back of your hand really helps. In fact, you’ll end up with several layers of tape on the top of your hand; this is your prime “gobie” spot where you will get cut when you’re climbing hand cracks, also the knuckles.
We’re going to talk about two general taping tactics, hands and fingers. Since hand taping is the most basic, the foundation of everything, we’re going to start with hands.
When you go to tape your hands, the right width of tape is key—1.5-inch tape. What you really want is the stickiest possible tape you can have. I don’t really like that kind that’s got the stripes in it with the thick fabric.
First, rip off a strip about 10-12 inches long and start it on the back of the wrist. You want to run it through the index and middle finger, come back around between the index finger and the thumb. Be sure to line it up very carefully because you’re going for maximum coverage and no wrinkles.
This is basically the foundation of your taped glove. Press down to make sure the tape sticks really well, and is flat and wrinkle-free. That’s super important.
Next, you’re going to anchor the end of your roll of tape to this foundation on the underside of the strip between the index finger and thumb. You do this because tape likes to stick to tape. Then, run it over the back of your first knuckles, where the fingers meet the hand. It shouldn’t be too high up the fingers–make sure it’s covering all the knuckles, because the knuckles is a place that you will get cut if you don’t tape. Now, bring it around the front of the hand and back to where you started. Basically, it’s a straight circular wrap around the upper part of the hand. Do not tear the tape off yet.
Now you’re going to make an X, bringing it down diagonally to the outside of the wrist. This is the beginning of the X. As you start around the wrist, it’s super crucial for it to be loose. This part you don’t want to botch, or you’ll have to start all over. Even when feels like it’s pretty loose, it could be too tight and you’ll end up get really ‘pumped’ (severely depleted strength and lactic acid burn as a result of overworking the forearm). You want to get the tape around your wrist so loose that it even has some gaps in it. The reason is that when you’re done it’s still going to end up pretty tight.
Now, finish the X by bringing it back over the top of the hand, and then tear it and anchor it under the pinkie.
When you’re done you’re going to go around this whole pressing and smoothing it to get all the gaps out and make sure it’s flat. You also want to trim off any uneven ends sticking out.
The reason I like this tape job is it’s pretty low profile. The one thing you don’t want to do with tape is end up with this huge, thick mass of tape on your hand, because then your hand won’t fit right in the crack and that will make the climbing harder.
If you’re going to be climbing wide cracks like fist cracks and you think you’re going to hit the knuckle at the base of the thumb, you could add another strip on the bottom. Also, if you have super big hands with a lot more surface area, you may need to do two starter strips, because one won’t cover your whole hand.
The other thing you might need to tape is your fingers. If you’re climbing a thin finger crack it’s kind of a tricky situation because, as always, you don’t want to make your fingers any thicker than they naturally are, because you’re always trying to get as much in the crack as possible. When you’re climbing a thin finger crack it’s awfully tempting not to tape, but once again, I’ve learned the hard way that once you get those big circle cuts of thick skin off your fingers you’re done for the day, at least with that crack.
I like to keep a roll of tape specifically for finger taping, because I end up tearing off half-width strips, and then you get an uneven roll that doesn’t work for hand taping. If you have a dedicated roll of tape for fingers, that’s ideal.
Start at the base of your index finger and wrap it really tight, but not quite so tight that you cut off the circulation and tip of your finger turns purple. If that happens you may need to re-tape.
It isn’t very complicated—just circle exactly around in a spiral, up past the middle knuckle. Make sure that when you tear off the tape when you’re done that it’s stuck directly onto itself with no little bits sticking to the finger. Again, make sure the tip of your finger isn’t turning purple.
The last type of finger taping that you might want to know is for those wide finger cracks, the “rattly fingers,” which typically is one of the worst sizes in crack climbing. Invariably you get nasty cuts on these sections, so it’s really important to tape. What happens is about halfway up the pitch you’ll probably end up with a gap between the finger wrap and the hand wrap, and then three-quarters of the way up the pitch the skin starts to go. By the time you come down you have a giant gobie.
Luckily, this is a problem that’s easily solved. What you want to do is to tape your finger before your hand. Because if you do the finger tape first and you get the tape glove over it, once again tape is going to stick to tape and that’s going to prevent you from having that gap.
Start your finger wrap with a little piece of tape along the finger, across the area where the gap would be. This, again, is the foundation because tape likes to stick to tape. Then wrap it normally, making sure to focus on the base of the finger as much as possible, because that’s where you get the gap. Keep that tape down pretty far towards your knuckle and then wind it around up past the other knuckle.
In this case with rattly fingers, again, the whole target point is down near the base of the finger because that’s where you’re going to get cut. I actually bring the tape back down one more time to get a lot of protection down there and rip it down here. With thin finger crack taping I try really hard to keep my fingers as skinny as possible, so I didn’t do a second layer on the base of the finger. Here, I want to keep the skin from ripping off, so I focus on a little extra.
Now that you’ve done that you can launch into the normal tape glove method. That spot at the base of the finger is going to be completely sealed in by tape and it’s not going to be possible for the finger tape to ride up and leave the gap. A lot of times I will do the same for the middle finger, but the really important one for rattly fingers is the index finger, because it’s more vulnerable to cuts.
These are the basics of what you need to know about hand and finger tape. Obviously, there are a lot of other things you can do with tape. You can tape your ankles if you know you’re climbing off widths. You can tape the carabiners on your cams so they don’t flip upside down after you place them. Basically, tape is your friend and you should use as much as possible.
If you have any more questions about taping feel free to hit up the Gearheads at Backcountry.com and they’ll answer all your questions.