For us, there are three key aspects that are important when it comes to choosing the right climbing chalk.
There is a wide range of prices on the market and they don’t always correlate directly with performance, which is why we think this is an important call it out.
Whilst we don’t price actual prices, we do give you a price per gram, to help you compare one chalk against another.
In our opinion, this is the most important.
When we talk about performance, covers how well the chalk does at drying sweaty hands, as well as the sense of security on the rock.
We also call out any issues with clumping or packaging failing.
Finally, coverage, or how easily chalk goes on and stays on is critical to its usability, which is why we called out coverage as another essential metric.
The perfect chalk goes on like a dream and stays there.
Different Styles of Chalk
Just as the name implies, block chalk is a chunk of Magnesium Carbonate that comes in the shape of a square brick.
You can break off as much as you want to use at a time, or crush the entire block into your chalk bag by stepping on it like a kid bursting bubble wrap. Just make sure the bag is closed tightly before stomping on your block or you’ll have a mushroom cloud of chalk dust to clean up.
The nice thing about block chalk is that you get to crush it to your preferred consistency. Some climbers like it thick and chunky, others like it fine and smooth - you choose with the freedom of a block.
Plus, a contained square of chalk is less messy to transport than a bag of loose powder, which we’ll cover next.
Loose chalk comes in the form of a powder, ground up to a factory-determined consistency.
Some companies offer different levels of coarseness, so you might have to play around with different varieties before deciding which texture is right for you.
Another element to consider when buying loose chalk is whether to get pure chalk (MgCO3) or chalk with added-in drying agents.
Some climbers like the extra drying qualities of the blended chalk, and others think it’s unnecessary and prefer the purity of Magnesium Carbonate.
Which you choose is, again, up to you.
The most recent development in the world of climbing chalk is the idea of liquid chalk. Combine MgCO3 (loose chalk) with C3H8O (rubbing alcohol) and voila: you’ve got liquid chalk!
The advantage of liquid chalk is that the alcohol dries quickly, leaving a chalky residue on your hands and eliminating the dustiness of powdered chalk, making it cleaner and less likely to leave white smears on the rock - Leave No Trace, anyone?
Liquid chalk might also last longer than powdered, meaning you don’t have to apply it as often. This means you can climb for longer periods without wasting time chalking up.
Rubbing alcohol does have a tendency to dry out the skin, so if you’re sensitive to chemicals or have especially dry skin, liquid chalk may not be your best option.
To apply, you can either squeeze the chalk from a bottle and rub your hands together, or, if the consistency is thicker, you may have to actually paint the chalk across your hands, just like when you fingerpainted as a kid.
A few companies are producing their own front-of-the-line liquid chalk, and most let you try out a sample before committing to a whole bottle.
How to Contain and Carry Climbing Chalk
Typically, climbers like to keep their chalk contained in a chalk bag that either clips onto their harness or fastens around their waist. Within the bag, you can either keep your chalk loose, making it easy to scoop, but a bit messy, or you can choose to use a chalk sock.
Chalk socks are made of porous fabric that releases chalk when you squeeze the ball, keeping it contained and preventing a loss of chalk due to excessive spilling.
The size, shape, and style of your chalk bag and whether or not you choose to use a chalk sock, is completely based on your own tastes and needs.
Chalk bags come in three general sizes: small, standard, and bucket. Some climbers like small, unobtrusive bags that are strictly made for chalk, like the Black Diamond Ultralight Chalk Bag.
Your average gym or sport climber will typically use a standard-sized bag like the Arc’teryx C80.
Still others prefer chalk bags with pockets for random accessories, like a cell phone or climbing brush. Zippered pockets can be especially useful on long, multi-pitch climbs when having an emergency snack or ultralight jacket stuffed into your chalk bag could improve comfort on the wall.
Check out the Mammut Multipitch Chalk Bag if pockets sound appealing to you and weight isn’t an issue.
The final type of container for climbing chalk is the chalk pot.
These massive buckets of chalk are great for group bouldering sessions, when you don’t want to carry a chalk bag on your back, but you need something quick and easy to dip into between attempts.
The Metolius Dust Bin chalk pot is the perfect accessory to bring to any hard bouldering session, with 8 gear loops for a variety of brush sizes and two side pockets to hold a cell phone or energy bar.
How to Use Climbing Chalk
Using chalk is a simple art, but it’s important to understand the necessary uses and proper etiquette before taking the plunge into your chalk bag for the first time.
Leaving behind chalk residue on a route may seem inevitable if you’re using chalk, but if you find you’re constantly leaving behind streaks of white powder on the wall, then you’re using too much.
You don’t need to actually see the powder on your hands for the chalk to do its job. So when you go to dip into your chalk bag or roll your chalk sock on your sweaty palms, use moderation. Get just enough to soak up the moisture, but not so much that excess powder falls from your hands.
Once you’ve dipped into your chalk bag and powdered up your hands, rub them together in the bag if possible, to prevent a cloud of dust from puffing out into the atmosphere. If your bag is small, or you’re mid-climb, use a few fingers to chalk-up, then spread the chalk judiciously onto each hand as needed.
If you find you did accidentally over-chalk and there are large chunks stuck to your palm, you can blow off the excess so you have a smooth, uniform layer of chalk covering your entire hand.
Also, keep in mind that some climbing areas don’t even allow the use of chalk. Always check with a local or refer to the guidebook about whether chalk is allowed before packing up and heading out to a new crag.
And be aware that there are some hidden environmental costs of choosing to use climbing chalk in the first place, which is why many eco-friendly climbers opt not to use chalk on the rock.
It is possible to climb without chalk, especially if you’re mostly climbing moderate routes that don’t require excessive friction to grip the holds. Chalk was the catalyst for the evolution of dynamic sport climbing, but not everyone is a sport climber, and not every climber needs to use chalk.
Always be sure to educate yourself about the impacts of your hobbies on the world around you, and make an informed decision when considering gear purchases like climbing chalk. Your choices may have a bigger impact than you know.
Is rock climbing chalk bad for you?
Climbing chalk is not harmful in any form. Minor inhalation of small amount whilst climbing will not cause you any problems.
You might find that your hands become dry, peel and crack if you’re climbing a lot. The simple remedy to this is to ensure you wash your hands thoroughly after climbing and apply a moisturiser to look after your skin.
Is climbing chalk the same as lifting chalk?
Yes. It’s the same basic ingredient Magnesium Carbonate.
It’s really common for climbing chalk to be used in gyms and at the wall, which is why some of the product in this round up are aimed at gym users and other at climbers.
How do you use a chalk ball?
Just pop it into your chalk bag and then, whilst still in your chalk bag, give it a squeeze when you want to re-chalk.
Some chalk balls are re-fillable, others are not, but when they get low, you can either top them up or pull them open and extract the last of your chalk.