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.
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.
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.
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.


Hexes are similar to nuts and used in exactly the same way, however they come in much larger sizes. Rather than a solid piece of metal, Hexes are hollow which helps to reduce weight due to their size. Hexes are also colour coded to enable easy selection and sometimes have dyneema or cord loops attached rather than metal wires.  This is not always the case though as shown below.


Slings (also known as Webbing) are loops of strong material used frequently in outdoor climbing.  They tend to be made out of either non-elastic nylon or Dyneema.  Slings sold by reputable climbing shops are made to a very high standard and as such are incredibly strong (the strength rating of a sling is supplied when purchasing).  

Slings are available in a variety of different sizes (and colours) and have a number of uses when climbing outdoors.  They can be used to set up belays by building anchors, can be clipped into protection to extend the reach or simply be worn over the shoulder as a method of carrying gear on.  When you decide to climb outdoors and wish to purchase your own equipment, it is advised to buy at least a couple of each size of sling initially.


The crux of a climb refers to the most difficult move on the route or problem. Some routes are actually graded on the crux move rather than the whole experience. The crux may be a difficult obstacle that the climber must overcome, a small or dubious hold or maybe a combination of moves.

Bomb Proof

Climbers usually use this term when referring to gear that they know will not move in the event of a fall. Placing a bomb proof piece of gear can give confidence to push harder and higher.


A belay is the point at which the belayer controls the rope. This may be at the top of the climb, at the bottom, or in the case of multi pitch climbs midway through the route.


This is another command shouted by climbers to the belayer. “Take” is usually shouted as the climber feels they are about to fall. It gives the belayer a second to take in and lock the rope before the fall, thereby minimising the distance the climber falls and preparing the belayer. It’s not vital, but if you know you’re going to fall, it doesn’t hurt to let your belayer know.


You may hear this shouted by the climber to the belayer. It’s a request that the belayer “lets out” a small amount of rope, which allows the climber a little more room to move. When starting out it is reassuring to have the slack taken in whilst climbing, however as you progress it is sometimes useful to have a little amount of slack in the rope to allow freedom of movement and balance. Obviously too much slack is dangerous and increases the distance of a fall, should this occur.


An overhang is a part of rock or wall that is jutting out and overhanging. These can range from a subtle incline to a horizontal slab overhead. Overhang climbs often require good technique and strength to complete successfully. The climber should attempt to anchor their feet onto holds where possible to minimise the amount of effort required on the hands and arms. Overhang climbing indoors can be a good method of enforcing good foot placement and balance especially when the climber is relatively new to climbing.