Climbing chalk is a drying agent used for hands in climbing. It stops the hands from becoming sweaty which can decrease the amount of friction on the climbing hold. Most of the time climbers “chalk” is actually Magnesium Carbonate, which is also used by weight lifters and gymnasts. Many climbers do not like chalk because of the white marks that are left on the natural rock. Rock coloured chalk is available from some manufacturers, however, here at Climbing Explained we believe that using white chalk is fine and that a little responsible brushing of climbing holds before and after use goes a long way. Chalk is carried by climbers in a chalk bag and is commonly sold in the following different types:
Loose powder is relatively cheap and comes in a re-sealable plastic bag. The chalk powder can be poured into the chalk bag as and when required. Many indoor climbing walls do not allow the use of loose chalk as they believe it contributes to the dusty atmosphere that some indoor walls suffer from.
Chalk balls are powdered chalk that has been compressed into a fabric gauze ball around the size of a tennis ball. By squeezing the chalk ball, a small amount of chalk is let through the gauze. This results (in theory) in less powder being spilt from the chalk bag. Chalk balls are also relatively inexpensive, but until they have been used for a while don’t seem to coat the hands in as much chalk as loose powder.
Chalk Blocks are chalk powder which has been compressed into blocks. Similar in many ways to chalk balls, the powder is released slowly as the climber moves the block between their hands (in a chalk bag). Chalk blocks are in many ways a middle ground compromise between loose chalk and chalk bags. Some manufacturers now supply loose chalk with small lumps of chalk block in them, which many climbers prefer.
Liquid Chalk works similar to some brands of chalk, by using a drying agent to prevent the hands from becoming sweaty. Many climbers prefer liquid chalk as it doesn’t leave a white residue on the holds. One application also lasts a while, where as chalk can require frequent reapplication. Some climbers use liquid chalk as a “base layer” before using regular chalk. As is always the case, it boils down to personal preference.
As you can see above, there are many different varieties and brands of chalk available in the market. Some contain added drying agents which climbers with sensitive skin may find too harsh. Others swear by them however, so a little trial and error with different products is recommended before settling on your favourite brand. At the end of the day chalk isn’t going to help you climb harder grades. It will however help a little to stop you from slipping of holds because your hands are sweating.