How To Buy Chalk

In the mid-1950s gym­nasts like soon-to-be pro­lif­ic boul­der-prob­lem-solver John Gill con­tro­ver­sial­ly intro­duced gym­nas­tics chalk to rock climb­ing. Today the use of chalk in climb­ing is ubiq­ui­tous, though its visu­al impact on nat­ur­al cliffs is still a top­ic of debate. Inter­est­ing­ly, the climb­ing chalk we use on our hands today isn’t actu­al­ly chalk, which in real­i­ty is a sed­i­men­ta­ry rock made up of cal­cite, or cal­ci­um car­bon­ate. For that mat­ter, the chalk for a chalk­board isn’t chalk either; it’s gyp­sum. But for the sake of sim­plic­i­ty, we and every­body else will con­tin­ue to refer to it as chalk, which brings us to what you’ve come to learn: How to choose the best chalk for climb­ing.

Types of Chalk: Most climb­ing chalk is pure mag­ne­sium car­bon­ate, avail­able in blocks, as a pow­der, or in small cot­ton balls intend­ed to reduce spillage.
Balls ver­sus loose chalk: Chalk balls are pre­ferred by many broke climbers because it extends the life of the chalk. Some real­ly broke climbers may actu­al­ly use an old sock, which is nasty. Many climbers, espe­cial­ly those who climb in hot cli­mates, pre­fer the feel and gen­er­ous deliv­ery of a chalk bag full of loose chalk.

Dry­ing Agents and col­ored: Some com­pa­nies blend their chalk “dry­ing agents”, the exact ingre­di­ents of which aren’t detailed, but are prob­a­bly antiper­spi­rants like alu­minum trychloro­hy­drex, which plug up sweat glands tem­porar­i­ly. Many peo­ple swear by these “super­charged” chalks, while some peo­ple don’t seem to have a pref­er­ence at all. Some chalk is avail­able spe­cial­ly col­ored to match the rock for those who hate the look of tick marks, and in some sen­si­tive areas, climb­ing chalk isn’t even allowed.

Liq­uid Chalk: For peo­ple with par­tic­u­lar­ly sweaty hands, the use of liq­uid chalk is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed. Often a blend of chalk, antiper­spi­rants, and hydropho­bic com­pounds or rosin, these act as a high­ly effec­tive base lay­er of chalk over which tra­di­tion­al pow­der chalk can be applied.

            Chalk alter­na­tives: Chalk alter­na­tives are usu­al­ly antiper­spi­rant and hydropho­bic com­pounds that dry your hands with­out leav­ing marks on the rock. The ingre­di­ents in these do not require dis­clo­sure, so con­sis­ten­cy between brands varies wide­ly. They are avail­able in both liq­uid and pow­dered form, and are some­times mar­ket­ed to oth­er activites like golf and ten­nis.

In cer­tain areas like Fontainebleau in France, the unique­ly slip­pery rock led local climbers to eschew mag­ne­sium car­bon­ate and use a local mate­r­i­al called pof, which is dried pine resin that increas­es the fric­tion of the holds. This prac­tice is not used in the major­i­ty of the climb­ing world, and should be avoid­ed, as it can lead to mak­ing holds slip­pery in dif­fer­ent types of rock.