Growing up, chalk only had two purposes: to be used outside to draw colorful pictures that’ll wash away the next time it rained or it was used by the teacher to scribble lessons on the chalk board. It probably never occurred to you as a child that it had other uses!
The chalk that climbers and other professional athletes (weight lifters, gymnasts, CrossFit and more) use is very different than what you’re probably familiar. The climbing chalk that climbers use has been scientifically altered so that athletes are able to get a better grip and more friction as they climb, but the chalk also helps to stop sweat and kills bacteria.
Today, we’re going to talk about the different types of climbing chalk so you can get an idea of what options you have when shopping for climbing chalk.
Climbing chalk, or magnesium carbonate, didn’t become a thing in the climbing world until the 1970s when climber and former gymnast John Gill started using it when he’d climb to help absorb sweat when he climbed.
Because the chalk worked so well, it caught on and many climbers now swear by it. Let’s take a look at the most common forms of climbing chalk.
The most common type of chalk is going to be block chalk because it’s the most affordable option and it’s going to be the easiest to store and use. The blocks of chalk are just compressed magnesium carbonate, but you can also find some blocks made from calcium carbonate.
When a climber wants to use the block chalk, they’ll just break off a chunk and toss it into a bag. The climber then can stomp on the bag until the chalk is reduced to a texture that is comfortable for the climber; some climbers prefer chunky chalk while others like a finer texture.
The drawback of using block chalk is that it’ll take extra prep work before your climb, but at least with block chalk, you don’t have to worry about your chalk bag exploding and covering you in powdered chalk.
Powdered chalk, or loose chalk, is a popular form of climbing chalk because it’s ready to go right out of the bag. To use it, all you have to do is pour the powdered chalk into a chalk bag and you’re good to go.
There are different textures to powdered chalk. If you love the feel of cornstarch or flour, you can find finely milled chalk. However, if you like the feeling of table sugar or something a little coarser, there is coarser chalk available.
The drawback to using loose chalk is that many gyms banned powdered chalk because it’s messy if the bag spills or breaks. Not only are gyms concerned about the mess, they don’t want the powdered chalk to get in people’s lungs or the ventilation system which can cause a lot of problems.
A lot of climbers will use a climbing chalk ball instead of relying on a chalk bag because it’s a much easier way to regulate how much chalk is being applied, but also how much chalk is being released into the air.
These balls are usually made from a mesh-like fabric that holds a good amount of chalk. When you want to apply the chalk to your hands, all you have to do is give the ball a few good squeezes. It’s not really recommended to use chalk balls if you’re going on a long climb or if you’re not very experienced at applying chalk.
Liquid chalk for climbing is an innovative type of chalk because it’s a combination of alcohol and chalk. When you pour the liquid chalk onto your hands, the alcohol evaporates quickly and it’ll leave an even layer of chalk on your hands.
There are some formulations that have additional additives that’ll change how long the chalk lasts on your hand or how quickly the chalk will dry. You can also find other liquid chalk formulations that’ll kill germs and prevent staph infections, making them a perfect option for the gym.
Many people believe that climbing chalk is only available in white, but that’s not the case. We mentioned that some climbing areas have banned the use of chalk and that’s because the white chalk damages the surfaces of rocks and cliffs.
If you plan on climbing in a national park or if you just want to be eco-friendlier, you can find colored climbing chalk. By using colored chalk that matches the surface you’re climbing on, you’re not going to leave any marks on the surface of the rock.
This is important because if you’re climbing on porous surfaces like sandstone or limestone, white chalk will be absorbed into the rock and that mark can last for years – especially if it doesn’t rain.
Along with colored chalk, you can find scented climbing chalk. The scented climbing chalk doesn’t add much in terms of extra gripping strength. It’s more of a personal preference. Some people like scented chalk because it helps them relax and get their mind ready for a challenging climb.
Climbing chalk is one of those polarizing things. Some climbers swear by it while others won’t touch the stuff. As an individual, only you can decide if you’d like to use chalk or not. If you do, we recommend trying out a few different types of climbing chalk before deciding if it is (or isn’t) for you.
Are you a fan of climbing chalk? If so, what type do you use? Leave us a comment below and let us know your thoughts on climbing chalks because we want to hear from you!