After spending way too many hours ogling at images of other people’s rock climbing tattoos, you came up with a design that works for you and decided on the perfect location for it on your body.
However, you’ve got one lingering question: will getting that tattoo keep me from climbing for a while? And if so, how long?
Looking online for that kind of information is a crap shoot. There aren’t many articles on the subject, but there are plenty of discussions on rock climbing message boards. The only problem is that it’s not clear who (if anyone) in them has actual first-hand knowledge of tattoos or expertise on the subject, and much of the advice you see will be contradicting.
One minute, you’re reading something telling you it’s fine to climb while your tattoo heals, the next minute you’re reading someone warning climbers to stay off any vertical surface for at least two months after getting inked.
You need some genuine, factual information. Therefore, I’ve put together a short list of tips that should answer all your basic concerns about rock climbing with your new, awesome tattoo.
Tattoos and Rock Climbing – Do’s & Don’ts
DO wait a couple of days
Post-tattoo recovery is essential. The tattoo needle pierces your skin thousands of times during a single session and takes a real toll on your body. The first 24 to 48 hours are crucial; this is when most of the damage is going to be repaired, and it will set the foundation for proper healing. If you go climbing or put your body through any kind of strain, it will expend all of its energy trying to recover from the activity, instead of giving your tattoo healing process a jump start.
DON’T overdo it
I understand wanting to keep your rituals and regimens up after getting new ink, but limit how much you do. All the straining, stretching, and flexing that happens during climbing won’t do your tattoo any favors. The first two to four weeks after getting a tattoo isn’t the right time to push your limits or try to beat your records.
DO apply lotion regularly
Your tattoo artist probably recommended one or two tattoo lotions or ointments. Use them, and use them often. They keep your skin moisturized and deliver important nutrients, like Vitamins A and D which help build your tattoo’s resilience and protect it from further damage. Bring it with you so you can apply it about 20 minutes before climbing, and once again after your climb is complete.
DON’T skip the shower
If you’re climbing outdoors, you have to make peace with dust and dirt, but your tattoo won’t take kindly to them. Make sure you wash right after climbing. If you’re using an indoor climbing wall, wash up after, too. The facility you’re going to might be clean, but climbing will make you work up a sweat, which should be carefully washed away from your tattooed skin.
DO cover up
If you’re climbing outdoors, you’ll have to keep your tattoo shielded from the sun. If it’s a tattoo on your chest or arm, that can be accomplished pretty easily, but it might be hard to cover on overly exposed areas such as the back of your neck, your hand. You might also be considering bandages if you have a hard-to-cover area, but I recommend against them. In the late 90s, getting tattooed meant walking around with a big white bandage stuck on your body for a couple of weeks. So, while it might keep your tattoo from being exposed to the sun and the other elements, it also compromises the healing process by depriving the damaged skin of fresh air and oxygen. Keep your tattoo well shielded and protected, but don’t suffocate it – it can be a tight balance.
DON’T use bug spray
Depending on where you live and where you’re planning to climb, you might deal with mosquitos and other pesky insects when you’re adventuring outdoors. If so, you probably always make sure to keep insect repellent in your satchel before heading out for a climb. However, while your tattoo is still fresh and healing, keep the spray well away from it. If you feel like you absolutely must use an insect repellent, apply it only to your clothes and make sure the spots you apply it to don’t come into contact with your tattoo.
DO consult your tattoo artist
Your personal artist is the best resource you have when you’ve got aftercare questions. Every qualified tattoo artist will have a lot of insight with regard to performing various activities with a new tattoo, as well as having a good working knowledge of human skin and how to sufficiently heal and protect it.