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Sun Protection

The Ten Essentials for Climbing Safety


Bob D'Antonio climbs

Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect yourself from the sun when you're rock climbing.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

The second survival system on the Mountaineers Ten Essentials list is Sun Protection.

The Sun Damages You

If you’ve ever traveled in the high mountains or the desert, you know that sun protection is essential to your survival and health. The sun burns skin and damages eyes at high altitude. Sunburn and tanning also have long term health effects, including the possibility of skin cancer.

Sun Protection is Essential

It’s essential that you carry sunglasses, sunscreen, and clothing that shields and protects skin.

Wear Sunglasses

Sunglasses are critical in the mountains. If you’re climbing and hiking for prolonged periods on snow or ice then you need to wear sunglasses. You need sunglasses that block 100% of ultraviolet light (both UVA and UVB). UVB rays not only burn your skin but also can cause cataracts in your eyes. Look for sunglasses with wrap-around protection to keep light from the corners of your eyes as well as protect them from wind. For high-altitude mountaineering, get glacier glasses with extra dark lenses. One of the hazards of climbing on snowy mountains is snowblindness.

Sunscreen Provides Protection

Sunscreen is another Essential to carry in your climbing park. Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. If you’re spending a lot of time outdoors, then select a sunscreen with that’s SPF 30 or higher. Living in Colorado, I spend much of my climbing time at higher elevations or in the desert where sunlight is very intense so I use SPF 50 sunscreen. Of course, the experts say that SPF 50 only provides about 2% more protection than SPF 30.Make sure your sunscreen blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Also carry a lip balm with an SPF rating to protect your lips from sun damage.

Use Sunscreen Early and Often

Okay, you’re packing the sunscreen. Now use it. Glop a lot on your exposed skin, including arms, legs, nape of your neck, and face. Use at least one ounce to get complete coverage. More is better. Most people, say dermatologists, don’t use enough sunscreen. They put on a thin layer and call it good. Instead, lather it on and then reapply later in the day. Make sure that the sunscreen you use is for sports. If you get the cheap stuff for lying on the beach then you’ll pay later when you’re sweating and it drips into your eyes. It burns. It’s not pleasant.

Clothing Gives Sun Protection

Lightweight synthetic clothing that blocks harmful solar rays is the last Sun Protection Essential to carry. If using sunscreen is great, then wearing clothes that protect your skin is greater. When you’re climbing in a hot climate, bring clothes with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). What to wear is a balancing act—if it’s hot then you will want to wear shorts and a t-shirt rather than long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, which offer more sun protection. Wear what’s comfortable, but remember to apply sunscreen.

Wear a Hat

A hat is the best piece of outdoor clothing to combat the effects of the summer sun. I rarely wore a hat when I was younger but now I always wear a hat. It not only protects your face from the sun but it also keeps you cooler. For extreme heat, a sun skirt for the hat or even a bandana will keep the back of your head and neck cool and keep you alive.

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