Rock Climbing Chalk – What Is It and Why Should You Use It?


rock climbing chalk

In this article, I am going to cover what rock climbing chalk is, how you should choose climbing chalk, how to properly use climbing chalk and why you should be using this mineral-based substance in the first place if you finally want to finish a project you’ve been stuck on for months.

Why Should You Climb With Chalk?

Rock climbing chalk will allow you to grip awkwardly textured features (indoors or outdoors) much more efficiently so you can finally complete your favorite projects. Without it, you’ll have very sweaty palms that will be no help to you if you want to have a good climbing day.

Can You Climb Without Rock Climbing Chalk?

While you CAN climb without chalk, I see no point in doing so because you’re simply making life harder for yourself.

Climbing is already a very demanding physical and mental activity, so why make it any harder? Instead, find a brand you like and start using chalk (and your chalk bag) on your favorite routes ASAP!

What is Climbing Chalk Made Of?

Chalk is made out of magnesium carbonate, a solid, white, inorganic mineral insoluble in water. This mineral makeup is just the base; almost any brand of chalk you use will be made of additional chemicals to help improve the performance.

Every climber you’ve ever met or watched on YouTube has their preference when it comes to rock climbing chalk. However, companies today are coming up with new and innovative ways to improve their product so you can produce an excellent performance on the rock. 

Many of these ‘innovative’ ways of evolving rock climbing chalk come from using additional ingredients such as limestone, essential oils, and various drying agents.

I recommend checking out different chalk brands (without breaking the bank) to find one that is right for you. Our hands are different, and each set of hands will react differently to each rock climbing chalk brand on the market. So constantly be testing so you can maximize your performance on the crack!

Types of Climbing Chalk You Can Use

There are a few different types of chalk that are commonly used for climbing; they are:

  • Block Chalk – This is your cheapest option, as manufacturers don’t have to spend resources crunching down and filtering their products. Of course, that’s going to be something you need to do, and it will be a messy job to break down. But this is your best option if you’re looking to save a bit of money.
  • Climbing Liquid Chalk – This is the same rock climbing chalk we’ve discussed (magnesium based), except it has been dissolved in alcohol or another solvent to get its liquid form. This chalk stays on your hands longer, so you need to apply less. This is best used for bouldering problems or long routes where you may have less time to apply chalk properly.
  • Powered Chalk Or Loose Chalk (stored in a cloth bag) – This is the most common type (known as the best climbing chalk) you’ll see your fellow climbers use. It is in a fine powder or powder with chunks that need to be stored in some chalk bag.
  • Climbing Chalk Ball – To combat the messy nature of powdered rock climbing chalk, a chalk ball for climbing can be purchased instead. Before climbing, you need to squeeze your chalk ball to get a good coating on your hands. This can take a little bit more effort, but it would save you from creating a chalk cloud whenever you need to reapply the substance to your hands.

Things to Consider Before You Buy a Chalk Climbing Bag

There are a few areas that you need to consider before you pick up a chalk climbing bag:

Think About The Bag Size

Though no designated industry-wide in these sizes, chalk bags for rock climbing to come in small, medium, and large:

  • Small bags – Perfect for those of you with small hands, people who are looking to reduce the weight of their climb, or people who don’t want to worry about a bag getting in their way when they perform technical or dynamic moves.
  • Standard Bags – The most popular type. This bag size is perfect for when you need to coat your entire hands and even your forearms – say, when climbing wide cracks.
  • Buckets (The best rock climbing chalk bag for bouldering) – This is typically used for group bouldering sessions that require a lot of rock climbing chalk. Of course, you don’t carry this on your person (as you should never do anyway when you’re bouldering), and it is left out for people to dip before they send a problem.

Think About Bag Shape

Waist-mounted bags come in two different shapes:

  • Cylindrical bags: Ideal for longer climbs as they hold a large amount of chalk.
  • Tapered bags: Suited for much shorter problems and are designed to not get in your way during a precise move.

Think About Bag Features

Lastly, some rock climbing chalk bags come with additional features that will make applying chalk and climbing with said bag much easier:

  • Stiffened Rim: Holds the bag open so you can dip much easier.
  • Fleece Lining: Holds down the chalk dust, allowing you to distribute the chalk on your hands evenly.
  • Cord and toggle closure: Keeps the chalk from spilling in between dips and also means you’re not going to be leaking chalk when it is placed away in your gym bag or the boot of your car.
  • Bag Belt: This allows you to move the bag around your waist. This means you can bring it to the front of your person when you want to dip and transfer it to your rear when you’re not in need of it.

Zippered Pocket: This feature allows you to store your phone or other essential items you might need on a long route or a multi-pitch climb.

  • Brush Loop: A helpful tool that allows you to brush old chalk off holds.

How to Use Rock Climbing Chalk When Climbing

This assumes that you bring chalk in your climbing bag.

Before you take on your project, put one or both hands (depending on the size) inside your chalk bag, grab some rock climbing chalk, and then spread it evenly across your palm to your fingertips. Then make sure the excess chalk falls back into the bag…you don’t want to leave a mess for your other climbers, do you?

If you see any loose particles on your hands, blow them away. You should now have a smooth layer of chalk covering your hands with minimal excess. Great! Now you’re ready to climb and finish that project you’ve been tackling for months.

When Should You Chalk Your Hands?

Every climber is different, and it can all depend on how sweaty your hands get when you’re climbing a route. However, if you want some general advice, most climbers will apply chalk before every attempt and again if they feel like they need some extra chalk right before they tackle a particularly different spot on the route.

I would do this until you learn when YOU need to re-chalk your hands. Then, as with all things in climbing, it all comes down to experimentation!

Is Climbing Chalk Bad For You?

Rock climbing chalk is generally safe for humans. However, the primary concern of some climbers as (a fair one at that) is that being in a climbing gym or even outside, there is so much clinging chalk dust that you can very quickly inhale when you’re on a route or just watching someone else tackle a problem.

Breathing in small amounts of magnesium carbon powder (the stuff in chalk) isn’t going to do much harm.

So the answer is, yes, it CAN be, but as long as you’re not internationally inhaling chalk powder dust from every climber in your vicinity, I think you’re going to be alright.

Conclusion

So there you have it. Now you know how to choose the best chalk and chalk bag combo for your climbing needs, how to apply the chalk to your hands before sending a route, and of course, why you should be using this white powder in the first place.

FAQs about Rock Climbing Chalk

Do You Need Rock Climbing Chalk to Climb?

No. You do not NEED chalk to climb. But I recommend it because you’re only making a route harder for yourself if you don’t bother using chalk. So unless you are allergic to chalk or want to challenge yourself, I recommend using it.

Is Climbing Chalk the Same as Blackboard or Sidewalk Chalk?

No. Climbing chalk is made from magnesium carbonate, whereas blackboard chalk and sidewalk chalk are made from calcium carbonate. This chalk is useless for climbers as it absorbs moisture and dissolves in water.

Can I Make My Own Chalk?

You probably don’t own a magnesium carbonate mine where you can source your chalk. However, you could potentially make your liquid chalk from the block or powder chalk you already own.

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