V5 (5 Points 1 Topic)

5 Things – Nails

One of the most underrated aspects of climbing is nails.  As in fingernails and toenails.  They aren’t something that we notice on a regular basis, but the moment they are just a little too long, their importance becomes painfully obvious.  The discomfort added when putting on an especially tight pair of climbing shoes is dreadful.  Trying to crimp down on something only to have your fingernail get in the way is frustrating.  Crimp too hard and there goes a fingernail…now that is pain.

Nails, like a leaky roof mostly go unnoticed, but when it rains…ouch!  In this case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Speaking of nails, here are 5 things you might like to know.

  1. Nails are a part of the integumentary system which happens to be the largest organ of the body.  It forms a barrier that separates the external environment from the internal environment.  In short, the integumentary system is the body’s outer layer which is made up of skin, hair, and nails, as well as the glands and nerves that go along with them.
  2. Your nails are a byproduct of three platforms working in unison.  There is the nail plate (what we typically think of when we think of a nail), the nail matrix from which the nail grows, and the nail bed which consists of the skin beneath the nail plate.  The nail matrix which is just behind the cuticle continually produces new cells, pushing older cells up and forward.  The cells which move forward undergo keratinization, a process in which cytoplasm is replaced by keratin protein, thus killing the cells.  This new protein called alpha-keratin is the tough protective polymer that we have come to call the nail.  It is the same protein found in hooves, claws, hair, and horns!
  3. Okay, let me nerd out on one more section of the process.  The Lunula!  The Lunula is the only visible portion of the nail matrix.  It’s the light-colored crescent at the base of the nail plate.  That light color is because the cells in the lunula have not yet lost their nuclei as opposed to the keratinized cells of the nail plate further along in the nail growing process.  LUNULA!
  4. Nail facts:  The longer the finger (or toe) the faster the nail will grow. Thus, people with longer fingers have faster growing nails.  Nails grow faster in the summer than they do in the winter.  Fingernails grow an average of 3.5mm per month, and toenails grow about half as quickly.  The record for longest fingernails belongs to Lee Redmond 8.65 m (28 ft 4.5 in).  Naglfar is a ship from Norse mythology that was composed entirely of fingernails and toenails of the dead.  It’s carrying monsters sent to destroy the gods thus signaling the submergence of the world into water.
  5. An ounce of prevention!  In order to avoid the problems drafted at the outset of this piece, my recommendation is to carry an extra pair of nail clippers in your pack1.  That way when you get to the hike or the wall you are no longer torn between the decision to either go home or tear off the keratinized cells of your nail plate exposing the nail bed and lunula to the elements while hiking or climbing in shoes that are too tight.

This is more than I ever really cared to know about nails, but it has inspired me to toss a pair of clippers into my pack.  I learned a cool new word “lunula”, and I learned that if I ever see a ship made entirely out human fingernails, then it’s time use my finely trimmed nails and climb to higher ground.

5 Points 1 Topic!


  1. If you are thinking that toiletries can’t withstand the abuse of a daypack, have no fear, Black Diamond makes a pair nail clippers that look pretty burley.

17 Replies to “V5 (5 Points 1 Topic)”

  1. Excellent. I love it when somebody points out such seemingly “mundane” knowledge on something that is so important, understanding the functions of your body. Again, as a wheelchair dependent person, I pay attention to every aspect of my body. I have to wear gloves since wheeling doesn’t allow you something as simple as “stepping over” crap on the sidewalk. But when those gloves get wet taking then off can often involve catching an uneven nail resulting in ripping it off. This creates sore hands and painful wheeling (or worse an infection). The body is a perfect analogy to life, it is its own unique eco system. Understanding the finer workings of ALL aspects of your body, to me, is the most responsible piece of knowledge one can have. It is upsetting to live in a world where “The 2022 Dodge Challenger has an available Supercharged 6.2L High-Output HEMI® V8 and other powerful engines” is more important to many than a simple hang nail. And, thanks, my new word of the day is “Keratinization”. Another good article on such an important but least understood subject, body mechanics. Keep on writing

    Liked by 4 people

  2. That’s it. I want Black Diamond nail clippers. I’m a kind of nail fascist. When I see long fake nails on someone I immediately think, “Well, you’re useless.” Terrible, I know. But seriously, what interesting things can they do with those things? it’s always been a mystery to me… That said, I paint my toenails. I don’t know why…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am always really impressed when people climb with long nails, I’l not sure how they do it, because it must take a level of skill that I am just not accustomed to. If you grab the clippers let me know how they work!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So many things should not be done with long fingernails. This was definitely an interesting read – admittedly more info than I ever needed but interesting nevertheless!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Every profession I’ve been involved with required little nail length. So when I discovered bouldering, I didn’t even give it much thought because mine are already nonexistent lol! Love your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. True. We need them to help peel, aid us in taking out knots, to scratch and etc…. Also for protection barriers of the body-most take those facts for granted.

        Liked by 1 person

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