If you’ve ever been rock climbing, you probably know about chalk.
Climbers use it to help reduce moisture on their hands so they can grip holds better. You don’t want to reach for a hold on a route and slip off of it because your palms are too sweaty!
Loose chalk is the most popular form used amongst climbers. This is the powdery white magnesium carbonate material also used in gymnastics and weight-lifting.
While loose chalk is super helpful, it’s also super messy.
Climbing gyms have to spend top dollar for special air filtration systems to keep chalk dust from collecting in the air and settling on every surface.
At the crag, spilled white powder is a common sight as climber’s accidentally sit on their chalk bags while putting on shoes…
Although the loose stuff isn’t going away any time soon, liquid chalk has gained steam.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many climbing gyms have even started requiring that climber’s use it in liquid form only
Who knows, you might end up loving it, too!
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What Is Liquid Chalk?
Liquid chalk is as simple as its name.
It is composed of the same old magnesium carbonate you’re used to, but with a dash of isopropyl or ethanol alcohol.
Now, you might be wondering: isn’t the point of chalk to dry your hands…so why would you put liquid on them!?
This is where science steps in. Or magic. Whichever you prefer to call it.
To put it simply…
Water molecules are normally bonded together. However, when alcohol is introduced to water, it disrupts those bonds and makes it easier for the water molecules to evaporate.
Whereas loose chalk soaks up the sweat on your hands, liquid chalk causes all moisture to literally get the heck off.
Then, the alcohol itself reacts with the air, evaporates, and leaves behind just the magnesium substance and very dry skin.
What is it Meant For and How Do I Use It?
Liquid chalk is meant for drying rock climber’s hands.
The dryer your hands, the better friction you get while grabbing gym holds or real rock.
One of the greatest things about liquid chalk is that it is much easier to apply and provides a much more consistent coating across your skin than loose chalk.
It also comes in a nifty squirt bottle.
All you have to do to apply it to your hands is follow these two easy steps:
Squeeze out a dime sized amount and rub it into your palms and fingers. (It’ll feel like a slightly watery lotion.)
Let it dry for 30 seconds to a minute.
And voila! That’s it. You are ready to go to send your project, without having to worry about chalking up again for quite some time.
No, liquid chalk is not antibacterial. Nor does it kill the coronavirus.
Most of them are made with an alcohol per volume content of 40-50%.
This is 30-40% lower than the CDC recommended amount for isopropyl alcohol-based disinfectants.
Some brands are starting to produce liquid chalk with an alcohol per volume content of 70+%. But, it would still be ineffective against the coronavirus for a couple of reasons…
Like we covered before, alcohol evaporates very quickly. Unless it is mixed with a sizable amount of water, it will not stay on your hands long enough to interact with coronavirus cells. Liquid chalk does not have enough water in it to give the alcohol the time it’d need to “attack” the virus.
Isopropyl alcohol is also less effective as a disinfectant when the surface it’s applied to is dirty; and climber’s hands are notoriously grimy. Climbers also never wash their hands in between applications of chalk.
All that being said, liquid chalk still (supposedly) helps reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Loose chalk particles are like taxi cabs for viruses.
The virus hitches onto the dust, and can ride it anywhere in the gym – from random surfaces to climbing holds, and even straight into your mouth when you breath it in. Icky.
Liquid chalk drastically reduces the number of loose chalk dust particles floating around and thus the number of opportunities present for you to come into contact with germs and viruses.
For more information about chalk, climbing gyms, and the coronavirus, check out this article by a P.h.D. chemist.
Is Liquid Chalk Bad for You?
But for some people, it can dry their hands out too much. The ensuing irritation might be unpleasant, and require a lot of post-climbing hand moisturization.
The important thing to remember is that you don’t need much to get the desired effect. Stick with a dime-sized amount every time you apply.
Think of putting the liquid chalk on your hands like putting spicy hot sauce on a taco – too much will cause a miserable experience.
Is Liquid Chalk Better for Climbing?
Just like the gates in vs. gates out debate over quickdraws, loose and liquid forms of chalk have their dedicated camps of users
But is one actually better than the other?
As with most things in life, there’s no clear answer.
There are pros and cons to both types of chalk. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which one tips the balance.
Don’t make up your mind until you’ve tried climbing with each one.
Most climbers have never even tested out liquid chalk because it’s still pretty new to the scene.
Some will use it as a “base layer” by applying it once at the start of their climbing session and then re-chalking later with loose chalk.
Climbing style can also dictate the type of chalk you’d want to use.
For example, liquid chalk is great for boulderers, as they tend to not re-chalk while climbing. Boulder problems are usually short enough that one pre-climb application is plenty.
On the other hand, sport climbers can’t exactly let go of the wall to pull out a tube, squirt it on and spread it, and wait a minute for it to dry. And many sport climbing routes are so tall that the resulting hand dryness might not last long enough.
Best Liquid Chalk Options
We have a full article on the best liquid chalks out there, but if you’re looking for a few quick and easy recommendations here are a few to get started with:
Supposedly the “world’s first sanitary chalk”, Friction Labs Secret Stuff was recently upgraded to have 80% ethanol alcohol content.
Friction Labs is a favorite amongst climbers; their wide assortment of different textured chalks keeps customers returning again and again.
Secret Stuff’s high-quality may even be worth the high price (although you can also get away with using a cheaper brand without noticing a decrease in your climbing performance).
Talk about a steal!
Metolius Liquid Super Chalk is one of the cheapest options on the market.
While Metolius chalk might not be as fancy as Friction Labs, it gets the job done and their loose Super Chalk has been trusted by climbers for years.
It contains 70% ethanol alcohol, chalk, and another special ingredient: Upsalite.
Upsalite is a moisture super-absorber. According to Black Diamond, Black Gold absorbs two times the moisture than regular chalk.
It’s price is similar to that of Friction Labs, but the quality is top-notch.
Melissa is a full time van-living outdoor enthusiast hailed from Florida. After deciding to spend her freshman summer of college living out of a tent to work and climb in the Red River Gorge, Kentucky, her life changed forever. She found her way to El Potrero Chico, Mexico in the winters, where she fell in love with travel and community. Post-graduation, she drove from Florida to Alaska to experience its world-class backpacking, then worked her way back south to explore climbing spots throughout the western U.S.
Meeting countless amazing people, hearing their stories, and learning the histories and struggles of local areas through minimalist travel, climbing, and hiking has inspired her to share these experiences with others. Her passions include improving intersectional access to the outdoors and responsible environmental stewardship.