The Ultimate Guide to Chalk


White like cocaine and just as addictive, Chalk is Magnesium Carbonate, a powdery drying agent we use to dry our hands and help us stick to the rock.

More Chalk = More Friction? 

On paper,  dry hands on clean rock gives  the maximum amount of friction. However in the real world, hands sweat, and hands sweat even more when they are squeezing or pulling.

Thus, chalk enhances friction– up to a point. When too much chalk is used at once it creates a barrier between you and the rock and decreases friction.

This is the reason after dipping a big handful of loose chalk climbers will often clap their hands, slap their pants, or “French Blow“, to get that perfect thin layer of chalk.

edlinger blow

Patrick Edlinger demonstrates the french blow


Chalkbag – On a carabiner or a waist belt?

chalkbag strap skinny Vs  chalkbag carabiner skinny

Go to any wall or crag and you’ll find a few climbers with their chalk bag attached to their harness via carabiner.

Generally these folks are newer  to the sport. Climbing veterans know that using the provided waist belt is the way to go. Keeping the chalkbag on the provided belt keeps it high on the waist and easily accessible, whereas hanging it from a carabiner usually positions it too low to dip easily.


Whoa where’s my chalkbag?

The waistbelt also lets you slide the bag around to where you need it whereas a chalkbag on a carabiner is fixed in place.

Chalkbag strap on wall

Sweet, right where I want it

Digging around for your chalkbag is the last thing you want on your mind at the crux.



The classic Lapis Boars Hair brush

Next time you encounter a dirty, greasy, hold or a hold with layers of chalk on don’t just contribute to the problem — brush it!

A little chalk is fine but over time layers of chalk fills in all the small pits and texture of the rock, robbing the hold of friction. Brush that sucker to get it back!

Sometimes a hold will be wet or greasy. In this case  brushing the hold with chalk can  be the answer – the chalk will absorb the moisture or grease of the hold, and the brush will brush it away.

A specific bouldering brush made of boars hair  is ideal and will be super effective at removing chalk, but a household toothbrush will do in a pinch. Use a siblings toothbrush for extra sending power.

Regular Chalk

gym chalk

Regular Chalk can be in either block form or ground up as loose chalk

Block  Chalk, aka Gym Chalk, is  pure magnesium carbonate, uncut. Before you use it you break it up to the consistency you want – either chunky or as fine as the loose stuff you buy in the bag.

Besides being more economical, one benefit of block chalk compared to loose is that you can break off a small piece to make tick marks– just remember to brush it off afterwards.

white gold

BD White Gold is one of the most popular loose chalks

Loose, powder chalk  is usually just ground up block chalk, but some brands such as Metolius will also add a drying agent which some people like and others detest.  Brands available in Taiwan include Metolius Super Chalk, and Black Diamond White Gold.

Different brands may have different textures, some finer(C.A.M.P.), and some coarser.


  • Convenient, relatively cheap
  • Easy to grab as much as you need, good for when the rock is wet or you are sweating like crazy


  • Easy to use too much, offsets the “cheapness”
  • Gets in the air and spills easily

Chalk Ball

A refillable chalk sock

A refillable chalk sock from Metolius

The Chalk Ball, or Chalk Solk, solves the problem of dipping and getting way too much chalk on your hands(and everywhere else)

Basically a chalk filled cloth sock, squeezing, or even lightly touching a chalk ball gives your hand a nice fine layer of chalk, reducing the amount you use, and also reducing the environmental impact.

Chalkballs come in closed or refillable versions. “investing” in a refillable Chalk ball is a good idea –once its out, just buy some powder chalk, fill it up and you’re good to go.


  • You end up using way less chalk, saving you in the long run
  • Perfect amount of chalk each time
  • Reduces chalk dust in the air


  • Sometimes you just need a shitload of chalk
  • Can’t make tick marks
  • If it falls out you’re screwed

Liquid Chalk

Mammut Liquid Chalk

Sold in bottles, Liquid Chalk is mostly  loose chalk mixed with rubbing alcohol.

More than just a “liquid” form of chalk, the stuff seems to have superior properties. Whereas regular chalk has a surface drying effect, liquid chalk has  a deeper cleansing and drying effect from the alcohol. Liquid chalk also sticks to the skin better and one application lasts longer than a dip of powder chalk .

In addition, liquid chalk works its way into the crevices of the skin, whereas powder chalk s stays more on the surface.

Perhaps because of the drying effect, we find that our skin holds up better in humid conditions when we use liquid chalk than if we use loose chalk alone.

The disadvantage of liquid chalk is that it is impossible to apply on the wall,  not a big deal for boulderers but for sport climbers this means you will still need your chalkbag. It’s also a bit expensive compared to regular chalk, but we find that a bottle of liquid chalk lasts quite a long time — a small amount is all you need to fully cover both hands.

Most commercial liquid chalks have some amount of rosin in them, which can leave a sticky residue on your hands, and the rock. This sticky residue actually fills in the pores of the rock and reduces friction over time. Low-rosin chalks like Beal greatly help prevent this issue but even Beal builds up residue over time.


  • Each application lasts longer than regular chalk, saving you a chalk up or two on the wall – useful for climbing hard routes and competitions.
  • Each application gives you the perfect amount of chalk(a thin, but effective layer)
  • No mess
  • Effective in Humid weather, and for heavy sweaters
  • Can have a small but useful “skin conditioning” effect for newbies or when the skin is feeling soft.


  • You cant apply it on the wall
  • Can be relatively expensive
  • For people with dry skin or in dry conditions, liquid chalk can actually overly dry skin out so it’s best to use it only when needed.
  • You can’t “Euro blow” it
  • Liquid chalks with rosin are hard to wash off and can build up a sticky residue on your hands and rock.

Skin Creams and Salves

Tip Juice 50mL

Tip Juice Climbing Balm

Chalk is a drying agent and a bit harsh on the skin. After climbing, it’s a good idea to wash off your hands and apply a moisturizer or skin cream.

Regular creams will help re-moisturize, but may soften your skin. Recently there have been skin creams such as Climb-On and Tip Juice specially designed for climbers. We prefer Tip Juice because it’s less greasy but a lot of climbers love Climb-On.

These creams are designed to heal and also help keep the skin tough enough for the rock.  No scientific studies have been done but many climbers use and swear by these creams.


Chalkbag photos courtesy of HANCHOR


  1. One Response to “The Ultimate Guide to Chalk”

  2. Great article! Thank you so much!

    By Bryan on Jul 12, 2013


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