When the sun is blaring and the crack is flaring, sweat and your palms will be a pairing.
Why use chalk?
An apt question.
I answer your question, annoyingly, with another question:
How do your hands feel when watching Free Solo?
How about watching Safety Third (trailer below, spend the money and watch the full thing. I’ll wait)?
Safety Third from Cedar Wright on Vimeo.
The man. Unfortunately passed November 2019. Here’s an awesome article about him.
That’s right. Greasy.
Let’s dive into the ins and outs of chalk usage.
Hey! By the way… this page contains affiliate links. So if you make a purchase after clicking one at no cost to you we may earn a small commission. Thanks for your support!
Why Do Climbers Use Climbing Chalk?
Whether it’s fear or the heat that makes your hands leak, one thing is for sure.
Moisture does not equal friction.
We add chalk to our hands to reduce the amount of sweat and give ourselves those sending temp feels for the fingertips.
That’s the main use of chalk.
As a matter of history, climbers took the idea of chalk from gymnasts. That’s why you see gymnastics/weightlifting chalk sold at local rock shops the world over.
Cheap and effective.
There are a few other auxiliary reasons.
The first is creating tick marks.
Chalk. The “ ’X’ marks the spot” of climbing.
Have you ever spent seemingly endless amounts of time stuck on a route, pumping out as you search for anything besides a thumbercling?
Tick marks are the solution.
Climbers place these little chalk lines below hard to see hands and feet for easier route reading.
Another purpose for chalk is to give a mental break.
Sometimes we get in situations as climbers where we are spooked beyond all reason.
Overtime, you will find a method to deal with your anxieties.
I’ve taken to mindfulness meditation on rock as mine.
Wonderful meditation. Can be done on rock with the mantra, “In/Out. Deep/Slow. Calm/Ease. Smile/Release. Present Moment/Perfect Moment.” Taken also from The Art of Power.
Others get their nerves right by pausing for the ritual of chalking up. Whatever works for you.
Is My Rock Climbing Better When Chalked Up?
The magic powers were in you all along.
It certainly can help.
If you’re not sweating, applying chalk won’t help in the slightest for pulling that big roof.
It’s not a miracle rub.
That being said, when your palms start to get a bit puddly, chalk will up your game tremendously.
Tick marks will certainly make your onsighting and projecting progress more smoothly.
The Negatives of Chalk Usage
A quote from the Eldorado Canyon, 2nd Edition guidebook:
“But though outright destruction of the rock surface has been largely halted, the cliffs look worse than ever. Chalk marks virtually every handhold in the area; on popular routes it may be visible from a quarter of a mile away. Few are left alone long enough to test the theory that it will all wash away in the rain.”
– Larry Hamilton, Climbing (Sept/Oct 1974)
Chalk colors the walls. It can be an eyesore, especially in popular areas.
Ideally, everytime we enjoy ourselves outside, we are able to make it look as though we were never there.
White chalk on dark rock makes this challenging.
Check out the Leave No Trace (LNT) video for a framework of minimizing impact:
An oldie but a goodie. Great tips on minimizing impact whilst climbing.
There are some solutions that allow us to keep our beloved chalk.
This first is liquid chalk. It marks much less than its powdered comrade.
The second is colored chalk.
In some areas, it’s required to use chalk the color of the rock you’re in (Zion and Garden of the Gods, for example). Check the local rock shop for details.
The color will vary area to area. Make sure you grab the right color before bringing it on rock.
Yosemite gray would be a shame to get on beautiful red sandstone.
How to Use Chalk Effectively
Nice and dry for the slopy stuff.
Application depends on type. And your personal taste.
With that fine-grained, powdery bam-bam, stick your fingers into the chalk bag and get some on.
Depending how full your bag is, you may need to shake your hand a bit for coverage. Rub the chalk in. Make a wish and blow off the extra if necessary.
Some prefer it a bit chunkier, which takes some rubbing in the chalk bag. I prefer this because I feel it’s easier to control the amount and there’s less of a chance for messes to occur. If you have a bag filled with loose chalk, the second your butt touches another wall it will come erupting out onto the wall.
Not a great look.
With a chalk sock, put your hand in and slap the sock a few times. It may take a while to get a thick coating.
Finally, liquid chalk is applied at the base of the climb. Wait for drying. Depending on the temperature and the moisture of your mitts, this could take 15 seconds to over a minute.
Whatever your technique, do your best to isolate your chalk usage to when it’s necessary.
Types of Chalk (hint: it’s all magnesium carbonate)
Buy in bulk, you’ll never sulk. You’re a hulk.
Whatever your chalk of choice, I recommend searching out the deals.
Friction Labs chalk comes replete with a color cast of characters and it is better.
I would say it’s not worth the massive premium that they ask.
Anything specifically marketed to climbers gets a price bump.
You don’t need that. You’re a savvy, wandering climber.
Look for gymnastics or weightlifting chalk. 90% as good for 20% the price.
Great for Lebron. Bad for the crag. Control the spread.
The positive is the negative.
It gets everywhere.
Easy to cover your hands for efficient application.
Generally frowned upon in gyms. It has a tendency to get poofed into the air, beelining for the lungs of other patrons.
Really cool science juice. Many moons ago, legend has it, the world was dull and devoid of friction. One fateful moonlit night, a hero stepped forward to create liquid chalk and grip the first sloper.
You can follow in the hero’s footsteps and make your own DIY liquid chalk. Save that dough.
Liquid chalk is often used as a baselayer. Apply it at the base of the climb, making a dry layer. Bring your chalk bag up the climb. You will still need to chalk up, though less frequently.
Great for outdoors and indoors.
There’s a lot to love about liquid chalk.
Gentle slaps unlock the secrets to maximum grippiness.
The standard for gyms.
Loose chalk is contained in a sock to greatly reduce random spills.
This will make it harder to apply in any generous amount.
Tailor it to your tastes.
Break them up or keep them whole.
Truly a choose your own adventure in the chalk game.
I prefer chalk blocks for this fact.
As with all options, seek non-climbing brand chalk. Same stuff, more savings.
You are armed with the knowledge to take on the most sweat inducing locales in the world.
Chalk up responsibly, my friends.
Send hard. Take a whip for me.
Cheap date with an expensive rack. I’ve traveled, lived, across our beautiful globe, with Guatemala holding a special place en mí corazón. Been doing this for years and made every possible mistake along the way so you don’t have to. I’ve worked the last few summers as a Climbing Instructor for Avid4 Adventure, ushering in the next generation of crushers. I’ve got a physics degree. One day I’ll be able to shoehorn in the spacetime continuum into an article about chalk bags. I enjoy long walks at the crag underneath the light of a headlamp. Nothing gives me more joy than serenading you all with climbing and gear knowledge. Much love. Mwah.