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Going into this test, I had the JTree salve pegged as a top seed. Unfortunately, the salve failed to live up to expectations — it yielded decent but unremarkable healing. The ingredients list is short and pleasant, and the salve smells gently herbal, but it reminded some testers too much of Burt’s Bees Hand Salve. To make matters worse, the oily residue means that it’s impossible to do anything else for about 10 minutes after application.

Unless you have the time to sit and wait for your hands to dry, this is a pain. The Joshua Tree isn’t exorbitantly priced, but it’s still the second most expensive salve in our test. It’s a decent performer, but the compromises are too great for us to wholeheartedly recommend it. Satisfactory but undistinguished, the Metolius balm didn’t do much to either offend or inspire. Like the Joshua Tree, it’s a soft solid that sits in a tin and allows a fingertip or two to be dipped in at a time. It smells pleasantly citrus-y and it’s easy to apply. It suffered in our scoring because it failed to produce consistent healing. For a climbing balm, the Metolius was the least effective after the O’Keeffe’s cream.

Again, these are differences of degree, but if you’re going to buy a salve, there are better options. How to Choose the Best Climbing Salve for Your Needs. Buying a climbing salve comes down to three fundamental questions: what kind of ingredients do you want it to have, what do you need it for, and how much can you pay? Not all climbing salves are created equal in terms of ingredients. Some balms such as the ClimbOn Original Bar, our top pick, contain 100% plant-based ingredients. Others such as ClimbSkin, our pick for soft skin and gym climbing, contain ingredients with moderate health concerns. If you care about the ingredients in your balm, we recommend using EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to research the ingredients in the balms you’re considering before buying. If your salve needs are mostly for general skin restoration, you may not need to invest in a fancy climbing-specific salve. Climbing salves are best for restoring fingertips, especially after extreme abuse. They can be helpful, but many climbers get by well without them — don’t worry if you don’t use one. If you prefer your skin on the harder side, our testing showed that wax-based salves will be more effective. If you prefer softer skin, choose one of the creams. In the scheme of climbing purchases, salve isn’t too expensive. On the other hand, it may not be an area worth splurging on. Most of the options here are relatively affordable and will last a while — choose one that makes sense for your budget. As I mentioned above, finding consistency wasn’t easy in this test. To make matters more difficult, the more I used the salves the harder it was to wear down my skin for testing. If you ever want an incentive to train all the time, salve testing is a good last resort. I did everything I could to lose skin — long sessions in the gym, cold days on outdoor rock, and quality time with the basement hangboard. To be as consistent as possible, I started with head-to-head testing between various salves. After a given session or two of climbing, I would apply one salve to each hand (after the session and before bed) and look for differences. Whenever possible, these results were corroborated by a fellow tester who would apply the same two salves (reversing which was on the dominant/non-dominant hand). It turns out to be hard to convince someone to spend a month and a half talking about hand salves, so I enlisted a rotating crew of testers. To close things off, I did a few rounds of testing where I applied one salve each to six individual fingers and noted the results. Because this is the primary function of the salves, this category was weighted most heavily in scoring. Does the salve make it hard to carry out other tasks?

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