5 Nail Trends Every Climber Should Try

Who said climbers’ nails had to be gnarly, anyways?


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Even though my Pinterest is filled with hundreds of photos of elaborate manicures embellished with hearts, cherries and sparkling rhinestones, the most I ever manage with my nails is home-done polish in the same simple hues. It’s not that I can’t do more or don’t know where to book an appointment. It’s that my nails are short—because I climb.

I’ve been carrying clippers on my keychain for the last decade—ready to trim before roping up at a moment’s notice. Of course, with such tiny canvases to work with, I assumed that intricate designs weren’t for me. Then I met a plethora of climbers rocking the raddest of nails.

Whether you’re all about the DIY or need a pic for your manicurist, I’ve rounded up the top nail art to try in 2020.

That’s a Wrap

Climber with light blue nails stretched out and a wrap on one thumb.

I’m betting that the top nail trend of the year will be more about the accessories than the polish. Climbers have been mummy-wrapping their fingers (and whole hands) since tape became a thing, but in 2020 we’re doing that #ButMakeItFashion (thanks Tyra). Climbing-obsessed REI member Chaney Marie sets the tone right, with nine parts “Do You Sea What I Sea?” polish and one part wrapped-and-ragged thumb cuff. Because nothing says haute couture like a dirty bandage.

Blessed by Distress

Hand with thumb touching four fingers, with barely any paint on the thumb.

This is the year to lean in and take distressed minimalism to the extreme. Partially intentional, partially crafted by the natural world and passage of time, this nail design, modeled by yours truly, began as a full manicure with “Ice Cold Heart Blue” polish. Each trip to the crag carefully distressed the polish and what’s left is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Chalk It Up

Two hands with black nails holding a KAVU bag.

One style that climbers are nearly guaranteed to be rocking on the runway (read: the strut from trailhead to crag and back) this year is a classic: a healthy dose of chalk. Seattle-based climber Whitney Thomas shows off her rendition with a slinky deep black polish that never goes out of style and her KAVU chalk bag for nearly endless refreshes. Although, to be honest, I’d suggest going even bigger, because with a chalk bucket you can destroy moisture and lay on the design tip to elbow in a single plunge.

Bear Necessities

One hand stretched out in front of a rock, wearing chipped pink paint.

You’ve probably already played with a manicure that puts the spotlight on your ring finger. Who hasn’t in the era of Single Ladies? But you might not have tried the latest fad: a highlight on your tallest digit. Hand model and Co-op Journal senior editor Michelle Flandreau shows off exactly how to flip the bird in style with blush tone accents.

As a Matter of Fact

Two hands overlapping with blue painted nails.

Giggles aside, I didn’t think posh polish was possible. But I now know you can have 100 percent perfectly manicured nails and climb. Dr. Favia Dubyk, a New Mexico-based climber, Melanin Base Camp contributor and contestant on Season 10 of American Ninja Warrior, gives us all hope. “I pretty much only climb with nail polish on,” she said. “I actually do my nails right before I climb.” Then she sent me the proof. Mic drop. Jaw drop.

When I got three more pieces of evidence (see the first image above) from Indira Orozco, manager of program partnerships for Sending In Color, I realized our key pitfalls: not using gel polish and not reapplying after every chip.

Share your nail art in the comments below.

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