Best Rock Climbing Chalk for Indoor and Bouldering

man climbing

Did you know, most climbing chalks are essentially 100% Magnesium Carbonate, MgCO3, super common and cheap materials? 

Now, there are lots of different brands of chalk out there, with different textures and prices, but here we’ve waded through all that already to give you an overview of which climbing chalk is going to be the best for you!

What climbing chalk does in a nutshell is:

  • reduce moisture on your skin
  • increase friction between your hands and the rock/hold

This means you can grab onto the hold for longer with less effort and are less likely to slip off in that important moment of your climb.

It is one of the first and most affordable climbing gear items that most newbies get, so here is all the information you need to make the best decision about which chalk to buy for you 

8 Best Climbing Chalks

Here we have compiled a list of the 8 best climbing chalks out there, depending on different needs and preferences! 

Best Chalk for Indoor Climbing

Our top choice for indoor climbing is the Black Diamond White Gold Climbing Chalk because it offers a good mix of performance and value. It’s a loose chalk, but it comes with different-sized solid pieces in the mix, so there is a bit for everybody, so to speak. 

But that also means it doesn’t have a consistent texture, which might irritate some climbers. 

Overall, it keeps your hands nice and dry without being too aggressive on your skin, the coating is nice and even, and it’s easy to apply! 

Best Chalk for Bouldering

We chose the Friction Lab Unicorn Dust as the best bouldering chalk on our list because it’s a finely ground loose chalk that is easy to apply and keeps your hands nice and dry.

Friction Lab offers a variety of loose and liquid climbing chalks that come in different consistencies, and the Unicorn Dust is the finest one. 

This makes it easy to apply in a bouldering gym, but it might be a bit too finicky for when you’re on a sports climb outdoors.

The fine powder evenly coats your hands and fingers and provides a smooth climbing experience.

However, it is a bit on the pricier side, so it might be a good choice for an experienced climber but not the best one for someone who is just starting out and doesn’t want to spend too much money at first.

Best Climbing Chalk for Sweaty Hands

Sweaty hands call for strong climbing chalk that will really help you dry out your skin. This is where the magic of the Black Diamond Black Gold Powder Chalk comes into play.

This climbing chalk contains the regular magnesium carbonate but also contains 10% of Upsalite, a hyper absorbent material that had been patented by Black Diamond in 2018.

This makes this chalk extra-absorbent, but that also means it’s not the best choice for someone with sensitive skin or anyone who does not sweat that much. 

This chalk really does its job in providing dryness to your hands and making your grip safe and secure.

However, it does make your hands feel quite stiff and even tender after using it for a while, so it might not be your all-day-every-day-chalk, but it’s definitely a good choice if you’re a hand-sweater.

There is also a liquid chalk version of the black gold, the Black Diamond Liquid Black Gold.

Best Climbing Chalk for Sensitive Skin

If you have sensitive skin and don’t want to ruin your hands with the wrong chalk, Primo Loose Chalk might be a good option for you.

The brand mixes the traditional magnesium carbonate with essential oils of several plants such as clove, eucalyptus, cinnamon, rosemary, and lemon, which provides friction while climbing but also gives the chalk some antibacterial properties

Primo also mixes in some Epsom salts, to protect and care for your hands even more.

The chalk applies well, but does not provide a very smooth coating at first and has to be reapplied quite regularly. 

This means you will use more of it in a shorter amount of time, but it seems to really help protect the sensitive skin on our hands from drying out and breaking open, so it might be worth the initial investment in the long run! 

So overall, Primo chalk makes for a more pleasant climbing experience and longer sessions at the climbing gym.

Best Climbing Chalk for Beginners

If you’re just starting out climbing and want an easy-to-apply cheap climbing chalk, the Trango Gunpowder Climbing Chalk is the best option for you.

It comes as a finely ground loose powder, which some climbers don’t like, but for beginners, it’s quite a nice consistency.

If you feel that you are wasting too much of it, you can always use a chalk ball to improve the coating!

What convinced us with the Trango Chalk is also its affordable price, which makes it a good option for beginners who want to start using chalk without actually spending a fortune on it.

Best Liquid Climbing Chalk

Liquid Climbing Chalk is also made of magnesium carbonate, but it is often mixed with a fast-evaporating liquid, such as ethanol. 

This means, once you apply it to your hands, the liquid evaporates, leaving behind only the chalk.

The Friction Lab Secret Stuff is the best liquid chalk out there because it offers great quality chalk that stays on your hands for a long time.

If you don’t like the smell of ethanol, there is also a scent-and-alcohol-free variation of Secret Stuff for the same price. 

Best Chalk Ball for Climbing

Let’s start by explaining what a chalk ball even is. It’s basically a ball made of a porous fabric that you will fill up with chalk and carry in your chalk bag.

Instead of dipping your hands into a whole pile of loose chalk powder or using a solid block of chalk to rub on your hands, you can now just squeeze the chalk ball and a smaller amount of chalk should evenly coat your hands — and voilà.

There are many different brands that sell chalk balls — or you can even easily make your own. For this article, we’ve chosen the Friction Labs Magic Reusable Chalk Ball as the best option.

It’s made of a smooth cotton fabric that allows the chalk to pass through the holes and onto your hands. When you first buy it, it comes filled up with Friction Lab loose chalk and can easily be refilled once you’ve used it all up!

Best Cheap (Value) Climbing Chalk

The Metolius Super Chalk Climbing Chalk is one of the most affordable options out there. It comes in a loose powder form and nicely coats your hands for climbing.

However, it does not last as long as other, more expensive options, but it definitely does the trick. It contains an extra drying agent to reduce moisture even further, which makes it a good budget option.

Rock Climbing Chalk Alternatives

view of the rocks

Here’s the thing: there are some concerns regarding the use of climbing chalk for outdoor climbing, which we’ll explain in more detail, but here, we’ve also got you some alternative options to the traditional magnesium carbonate climbing chalk that can help with those concerns.

Environmental Concerns Regarding Climbing Chalk

Man climbing

Climbing chalk is mainly made from magnesium carbonate, which is extracted from magnesium. While it is a natural substance, its (sometimes excessive) use on climbing routes or boulder problems outside can create some issues. 

On softer rock like limestone or sandstone, the build-up of chalk after years of repeated use on the same holds can accelerate the polishing of the holds and deteriorate the rock. This is why in some climbing areas like the Elbsandstein in the Czech Republic, the use of chalk is now forbidden. 

To reduce this occurrence, the recommended practice is to brush the chalk off the holds after your climb, even though that’s not always a realistic option. 

And turns out, there are actually also aesthetic concerns about using chalk for climbing. Especially on red sandstone, for example, the white marks of the climbing chalk are visible from afar if not washed off and can disturb the natural beauty of the rock. 

White chalk marks on the red sandstone of La Mojarra, in Colombia

Since the magnesium that is used for climbing chalk is sourced from big mines, there are also concerns about the work condition of the people who work in sourcing the raw ingredient for climbing chalk.

Alternatives to Traditional Climbing Chalk

There are some alternatives to climbing chalk, like talc powder or Kleen-Free Saliva, that can be used instead of traditional climbing chalk.

But hold on, there’s also a new product called the “Eco Ball” from Metolius, which is basically a ball of absorbent material, filled with a drying agent that you carry in your chalk bag and squeeze to dry out your hands when needed. 

The idea here is to remove moisture from your skin without coating it in something that will stain the rock, therefore making it a more eco-friendly version of traditional climbing chalk.

Another natural, but more controversial option is to use tree sap. In the famous French bouldering paradise of the Fontainebleau forest, climbers (used to) dab dried pine tree resin on the holds to make them stickier. 

However, today this is a bit of a controversial technique, and while it does prevent surface erosion of the soft sandstone, it does turn the spots black. But the local climbing governing body, COSIROC, does recommend its use over the use of chalk on their website, but be sure to not do it anywhere else!

How To Choose Climbing Chalk

Man bouldering
Bouldering in Mérida, Venezuela

There are loads of good options for climbing chalk out there, so here are some things to consider when you’re making your decision about which product will work best for you:

What Does Your Body Need?

You might have very sweaty hands, or very sensitive skin, which will change your personal requirements for your perfect climbing chalk!

Make sure to observe your body while climbing to figure out what exactly you need from your chalk to make it work perfectly for you.

Types of Climbing Chalk

There are three different types of climbing chalk, which mainly differ in their texture. The main ingredient is also the aforementioned magnesium carbonate, but it comes in different shapes and textures.

Block Chalk

  • This type of chalk comes pressed into a solid block that you either rub over your hands or break apart into smaller pieces in your chalk bag. This is generally the cheapest option because the manufacturers don’t have to do the work of grinding it up into a powder.

Powder Chalk

  • This chalk is dry and already ground up for you to use right away. The finer the chalk is ground up, the easier it gets into all the folds and crevices of your skin. However, the looser the chalk, the more dust it creates when you apply it, so many climbers prefer to use it with a chalk ball to avoid big clouds of loose chalk dust.

Liquid Chalk

  • This is the newest texture of climbing chalk and consists of regular chalk mixed with alcohol or another liquid that evaporates when it comes into contact with air. You apply it to your hands like a cream and wait for it to dry out, then you’re ready to go!

Loose vs Liquid Climbing Chalk

While loose chalk and liquid chalk are essentially the same things, there are some differences in use that you should consider when buying chalk for the first time.

Now, liquid chalk does not just soak up the sweat on your hand; when the ethanol in it evaporates, it also breaks up the water molecules on our skin, helping to remove moisture even more. 

Simply put, liquid chalk is a bit easier to apply and tends to stick for longer, so it’s generally a good choice for bouldering or when you’re not able to chalk up again with a chalk bag like when deep water soloing, for example.

Loose chalk is cheaper, and it’s the basic chalk most people use when they first start out. If you go bouldering and don’t want to fiddle with a chalk bag all the time, there are also chalk buckets, which are essentially big fabric or plastic pots to keep bigger amounts of chalk that makes chalking up in between problems way easier because they have a big opening at the top.

Loose chalk is a good choice for sports or trad climbers because you will have to reapply it while climbing, and squeezing liquid chalk on while climbing and waiting for it to dry is not really a practical option.

Which Is Better?

This really depends on a variety of factors such as your personal needs, your budget, and your preferred climbing style. What is always a good option is to get both and first apply liquid chalk as a base coat and then chalk up again with loose chalk when needed. This way, you get the best of both worlds!

Best Climbing Chalk Brands

Most big climbing brands like Mammut, Black Diamond, and the likes also sell high-quality climbing chalk. However, there are some brands like Friction Lab that almost exclusively focus on selling chalk and related products, so they’re the ones that will have a big variety of high-quality products for you to choose from.

How to Use Climbing Chalk

climber applying magnesium

Climbing chalk will absorb the moisture on your hands to improve friction while climbing.

But how do you get it to evenly coat your hands?

How to Apply Liquid Chalk

Apply a dime-sized blob of liquid chalk onto the palm of your hands and rub it over your hands and fingers. Let it dry out for 30 to 60 seconds, and you’re ready to go!

How to Apply Loose Chalk

Dip your hands into your chalk bucket or squeeze your chalk ball until they are evenly coated, and off you go! If you’re climbing outside, dry to avoid excess chalk on your hands by slightly blowing off the extra chalk so only the chalk that is actually absorbing moisture stays sticking to your hands.

How to Apply Block Chalk

Block chalk can be used as a complete block to rub onto specific areas of your hands, or you can break it into smaller pieces of chalk that you then apply to your hands. This generally creates less dust and therefore less waste in comparison to loose chalk.

What Exactly is Chalk?

What climbing chalk is made of is Magnesium Carbonate, MgCO3, which is effective in absorbing water without breaking down itself. Most manufacturers also add other ingredients to improve performance, such as essential oils, additional drying agents, or limestone.

Considerations for People With Sweaty or Sensitive Hands

climber applying magnesium

If you have very sweaty hands, you will want to look for chalk that contains some extra Upsalite or another drying agent to really get rid of the excess moisture on your skin. However, these usually tend to dry out your skin quite a lot, too.

This is exactly what you should be looking to avoid if you have sensitive hands. In that case, go for chalk with more magnesium carbonate and ideally some soothing essential oils like the Primo Chalk we mentioned above. This way, your skin does not suffer more than necessary, but remember to also make sure to moisturize well after climbing! 

Now, liquid chalk also tends to be more aggressive on your skin because of the ethanol it contains, so a loose chalk powder is a better option for sensitive skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of chalk is best for climbing?

The best type of chalk for climbing really depends on your body and individual needs, your preferred style of climbing, and your budget! Liquid chalk is great for bouldering when you want your hands chalked up for the whole boulder problem without having to reapply. Loose chalk is a good option if you’re climbing outdoors as you can just chalk up again when needed!

Is there a difference between different climbing chalks?

Though there are differences between different climbing chalks, the basic ingredient for climbing chalk is always magnesium carbonate. There are differences between the chalk made by various brands, as they do add some extra minerals or additives to make their chalk work even better.

Why is Friction Labs better than other chalks?

Friction Labs is considered better than most chalks because they produce a high-quality (and expensive) “premium” climbing chalk and has been rated very well by many climbers. However, to find out what chalk is best for YOU, you might have to try a few different brands and chalk types until you find your perfect fit.

Is climbing chalk the same as lifting chalk?

Climbing chalk and lifting chalks are almost the same. Lifting chalk usually only contains magnesium carbonate and is relatively cheap to manufacture. Climbing chalk often has other ingredients mixed in that make it last longer, increase friction, and therefore also increase the price of these products.

Why do rock climbers use chalk?

Rock climbers use chalk because it helps them dry out their hands while climbing, which increases the friction and therefore making it “easier” to climb. 

Is rock climbing chalk bad for you?

No, rock climbing chalk is not bad for you per se. Of course, you could be inhaling some of its dust in the climbing gym, but generally, that is not a quantity you should be worried about and is generally accepted as “safe”. Depending on your skin and needs, excessive use of climbing chalk can dry out your hands and make the skin crack, so be sure to either moisturize well after climbing or choose a climbing chalk specifically made for sensitive skin if that is an issue for you.

How do you use chalk balls for climbing?

To use a chalk ball for climbing you simply squeeze the chalk ball or by slapping it on your hands. This way, there is less chalk dust in the air, and you will be losing less chalk in comparison to applying loose chalk directly to your hands in the chalk bag.

Published by Mirjam Boss

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