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Everything You Need To Know About Climbing Chalk

Everything You Need To Know About Climbing Chalk

Many new climbers that are buying gear for the first time or deciding what chalk to use usually have questions that they depend on the internet to answer for them. If you are one of those climbers or aspiring climbers or just someone who is thinking about buying chalk for your climbing friend, this is for you.

Here is an accumulation of hours spent finding the most common questions that people have about climbing chalk and the best answers. To make it easier to digest, there are five categories: What is Climbing Chalk, Using Climbing Chalk, Removing Chalk, The Best Chalk, and Chalk Safety and Considerations

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What is Climbing Chalk

Q: What is Climbing Chalk?

Climbing chalk is a tool that climbers use to make climbing easier by improving friction and grip.

Q: What is Climbing Chalk Made Of?

Climbing chalk is most commonly made of magnesium carbonate. Some companies such as Black Diamond make climbing chalk with a combination of magnesium carbonate and Upsalite to increase moisture absorption.

Q: Is Lifting And Gymnastics Chalk The Same As Rock Climbing Chalk?

The chalk used in lifting and gymnastics is made from magnesium carbonate, which is what climbing chalk is made of. In addition, chalk balls, loose chalk, semi-chunky chalk, fine chalk and chalk blocks that are commonly used by climbers are also used by lifters and gymnasts. However, the most popular companies that sell chalk to lifters or gymnasts are usually different than companies that target climbers.

Q: Is Blackboard Chalk The Same As Climbing Chalk?

Climbing chalk is made of magnesium carbonate and blackboard chalk is made from Calcium Sulfate so it is not the same as climbing chalk. In addition, calcium sulfate doesn’t absorb moisture well so it would not work well as climbing chalk.

Using Climbing Chalk

Q: Does Chalk Help Climbers Performance?

Climbing chalk’s effect on climbers’ performance has been the focus of many studies. Most researchers have found that chalk improves friction between climbers’ hands and the rock. This additional friction makes it easier for the climber to stay on the hold longer than without the climbing chalk. Additional time on climbing holds makes it easier for a climber to rest and analyze the next move, which improves their performance. 

Q: Are There Any Studies That Support The Use Of Chalk While Climbing?

I found multiple studies published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health about the effects of climbing with chalk and if it actually makes a difference. Not surprisingly, the outcomes of the studies depended on what relationship between climbing and chalk that researchers were looking at. Some research suggested that chalk didn’t make a difference, and some research suggested that there was a significant difference.

For example, one study from 2001 took 15 climbers and measured the friction between chalk covered hands and non-chalk covered hands. To do this, participants applied a force with the tip of their fingers to hold a flattened rock, while a tangential force pulled the rock away. According to this study, one should minimize particles of chalk in order to have the most friction, thus suggesting that chalk is more harmful than helpful.

In contrast, a study in 2012 looked at 11 experienced climbers over 42 test sessions where participants hung from holds which were fixed on a specially designed hang board with and without chalk. The results showed that there was a significant positive effect of chalk and friction.

In addition, a study from 2016 looked at 19 climbers’ body position and muscular activity of the finger flexors while they climbed routes. What they found was that chalk didn’t make a difference with friction, but participants were able to hang longer with chalk, which may allow for prolonged rests, and more time to plan the next series of climbing moves.

Q: How Much Chalk Should You Use For Climbing?

How much chalk you should use is subjective to how much you need. Some climbers produce a lot of oil and sweat on their hands while they climb so they will need more chalk than those that have relatively dry hands. Some climbers believe that excess chalk will actually decrease the friction you have between your hands and the handholds. A good rule of thumb is if you get to the top of the climb and your hands don’t have any chalk on them, then you should use more chalk.

Q: Should You Use A Chalk Bucket Or Waist Chalk Bag For Climbing?

A chalk bucket and waist chalk bag are built differently and are used for different climbing disciplines. In general, chalk buckets are for bouldering and speed climbing whereas waist chalk bags are for rock climbing. If you do both and only want to purchase one or the other, consider what climbing discipline you do the most and pick that one.

Q: What Is A Chalk Bucket Used For?

Chalk buckets are most commonly used for boulderers. This is because chalk buckets have a large base so they can be left on the ground without tipping over and accidentally dumping chalk out. In addition, they are large enough that you can place both hands in them at a time so you can chalk your hands quickly. 

Because bouldering routes are short and you shouldn’t need to reapply the chalk during the climb, a chalk bucket is an effective way to apply chalk, drop the bag on the ground and climb. In addition, by leaving the chalk on the ground, you don’t have to worry about the extra weight that a waist chalk bag may add. 

Q: What Is A Waist Chalk Bag Used For?

Since rock climbing routes are longer in nature, climbers may need to reapply chalk to their hands multiple times throughout the route. Since a climber can only let go of the climbing wall with one hand at a time, waist chalk bags are built big enough to fit one hand inside at a time. This allows the climber to carry chalk up the route without a large amount of additional weight while being easily accessible at their waist.

Q: Should You Use Chalk While Belaying?

Some climbers use chalk to create a barrier between their hands and the rope to make belaying easier on their hands. However, chalk is like dirt on your rope so deliberately putting chalk on the rope isn’t a good idea. A dirty rope will decrease the lifespan of your rope.

Q: Should you Put Chalk on Your Forearms?

There are two main reasons you should put chalk on your forearms. First, if you have moves on the climb that require using your forearms, then adding chalk to your forearms may help protect your forearms from getting caught on the handhold/rock. Second, some boulderers add chalk to their forearms in case they need additional chalk while climbing so they can reapply chalk to their hands without using a waist chalk bag.

Q: Should You Apply Chalk To Your Shoes?

Chalk on your climbing shoes can make footholds slippery. It is recommended to clean the outside of your shoes with water before you start each climb to make your shoes stick as much as possible.

Q: Should You Apply Chalk To Your Feet Before Putting Your Climbing Shoes On?

Some climbers recommend chalking your feet before putting climbing shoes on to help prevent foot smell. Since foot and shoe odor is caused by bacteria growth and moisture helps bacteria grow, some climbers recommend adding chalk to your feet to absorb the moisture. Some climbers say that chalk in your shoes can be really uncomfortable if it is the chunky kind of chalk, so keep that in mind. If you want some cheap ways to get rid of foot odor, check out this article (11 CHEAP Ways To Make Your Shoes Smell Better).

Q: What Is Colored Chalk Used For?

Colored chalk is used on outdoor climbing routes so that the chalk blends in with rock and doesn’t affect the aesthetic of the cliffside. Some parks or areas have a ban on white chalk so colored chalk is the only option if you want to use chalk while climbing in those areas.

Q: What Are Chalk Tick Marks Used For?

Chalk tick marks are used in outdoor climbing to help the climber remember what the next move is. Many climbers feel that you should not use tick marks because the marks are similar to vandalism. To avoid this issue, remove the tick marks after you are done with the climb.

Removing Chalk

Q: Why Do Climbers Remove Chalk From Handholds Before Climbing?

In the gym and especially out on the crag, built up chalk holds onto oil and dirt that makes the climbing holds slippery. Climbers brush off the climbing holds to remove that chalk, oil and dirt to make it easier to grip the climbing hold.

Q: Why Do Climbers Remove Chalk From Handholds After Climbing?

Removing chalk from handholds after climbing outdoors is common climbing etiquette and a way to clean up the climbing routes. By cleaning the chalk off the handholds, the rock face looks closer to what it would look like without being touched by climbers so that it can be appreciated more. 

Removing the chalk after climbing outdoors is most important if you use tick marks while climbing so that the rock face doesn’t look like it’s been vandalized.

Q: How Do You Remove Chalk From Climbing Holds?

Climbers use a brush, similar to an oversized brush that has horse-like hair to brush off the chalk. Some climbers also blow on the handhold after brushing it and some climbers will “slap” a shirt or towel against the climbing hold after brushing the hold to remove any excess chalk that is loosened by the brush.

Q: How Do You Get Climbing Chalk Out Of Clothes?

Chalk is very easy to remove from clothes, just wash it off with water and soap.

Q: Should You Wash Chalk Off Your Hands When You Are Done Climbing?

Climbing chalk’s main purpose is to dry your hands out while you are climbing. After you are done climbing, your hands need to be cleaned thoroughly so that your hand’s natural oils can help your hands recover from the climbing session. 

Q: How Do You Remove Chalk From The Climbing Rope?

To maximize your rope’s lifetime, you need to keep it clean and avoid getting dirt, grime, chalk, etc. To clean your rope, use a tub of water and rope cleaner. Don’t use a washing machine, detergent or bleach.

Different Types of Chalk

Q: What is Loose chalk? 

Loose chalk is chalk that is ground-up and can loosely flow through your fingers like soft sand. It is usually stored in a bag, chalk bag or bucket. There is a range of loose chalk that goes from a chunky texture to a fine texture. 

Q: What Are Chalk Balls?

A chalk ball is a thin fabric material that stores loose chalk in a closed ball shape. The chalk comes out of the pores of the fabric when you squeeze the ball. There are two types of chalk balls, refillable chalk balls and disposable chalk balls. Chalk balls are commonly used in climbing gyms because compared to loose track, you are less likely to lose a large amount of chalk if the chalk bag dumps over so they are less messy.

Q: How Long Do Chalk Balls Last?

Chalk balls come in many different sizes so it depends on how big the ball is and how much chalk you use when you climb. For refillable chalk balls, they usually last the lifetime of the climber and just need to be refilled with chalk (unless they fall out of the chalk bag and get torn). To get the most out of your chalk ball, keep the chalk ball inside a chalk bag and use fine chalk when you refill it. 

Q: What Are Chalk Socks?

Chalk socks, are a sleeve that you can put your chalk in, also known as chalk balls. When you need chalk, squeeze the chalk sock and sock will come through the pores of the sock. Many climbing gyms require chalk socks.

Q: What Is A Chalk Block? 

A chalk block is a hard “block” of chalk, also known as a brick. Most climbers break the chalk blocks and ground it up so that it is easier to apply. This is especially the case if you want to quickly re-apply chalk with one hand at a time. However, some climbers just rub the chalk block on their hands. Most climbers that use chalk blocks usually use a lot of chalk and buy it to save money.

Q: What Is Liquid Chalk?

Liquid chalk is usually climbing chalk mixed with rubbing alcohol and can be applied to your hands similar to lotion. When the alcohol dries or evaporates, the leftover is dried chalk. Liquid chalk is less messy than loose chalk and is becoming more common. Because you have to squeeze it out of a bottle, it is mostly used in bouldering and isn’t frequently used in rock climbing because you need both hands to apply it. 

Q: Is There A Difference In Chalk Between Brands And Prices?

The majority of climbing chalk is made 100% from magnesium carbonate which makes the main differences between how fine or chunky the chalk is. However, some chalk brands such as Black Diamond use a combination of magnesium carbonate and Upsalite so the absorption of the chalk is supposed to be different. Joshua Tree and some other brands use essential oils in their chalk to not only add scent, but also some climbers claim to feel a cooling or warming sensation while using the chalk.

Q: Is There A Difference In Chalk Bags Between Brands And Prices?

Many climbers feel that the biggest differences in brands and price is the size of the bag and the durability of the bag. This is because the more durable the material, the more expensive it is and the bigger the bag, the more of that material is used. 

In addition, different prices may reflect additional pockets, brush holders, etc. that may be different among chalk bags. There are also different designs that help climbers show off their personalities more. Usually, plain bags are less expensive than bags that have special designs.

Chalk Safety and Considerations

Q: Is climbing chalk dangerous to inhale?

Injury or sickness from climbing chalk isn’t common and climbing chalk is generally classified as non-toxic. However, some climbers say that when they go to a climbing gym, they cough frequently due to inhaling chalk. In addition, inhaling anything that isn’t oxygen is usually unhealthy to inhale, so try not to inhale the chalk.

Q: Is chalk dangerous to ingest? Asking for my dog…

Though chalk is non-toxic, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, swallowing large quantities of chalk can cause abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, and also shortness of breath and coughing. As for your dog, it may be worth contacting your vet to make sure.

Q: Is Climbing Chalk Harmful To The Environment?

Mining and the calcination/heating process of magnesium carbonate (what climbing chalk is made of) has been known to create a layer of dust that kills the surrounding environment and frequently causes locals to have respiratory issues. Though not all magnesium carbonate plants have this problem because they are updated with technology and filters to prevent it, there are still many plants that have this problem.

The climbing chalk itself is not “harmful” to the environment but since the creation of the chalk has been known to be harmful, many climbers feel that using chalk will feed the need to continue mining it. In addition, leaving chalk on the cliffside is considered vandalism in most places so you should remove the chalk when you are done climbing.

Q: Is Climbing Chalk TSA Approved For Carry-On Baggage?

Rock climbing chalk is allowed in carry-on and checked baggage. Many climbers recommend placing a climbing magazine or something that indicates it is climbing chalk in your bag. However, TSA does have quick and easy ways to test the chalk if they are suspicious.

Q: Does Using Chalk Decrease The Chance of Skin Tares?

Though there aren’t any studies published about climbers using chalk to prevent skin tears, many climbers have reported that chalk decreases your chances of getting flappers. They suggest that this is because of two main reasons – 1) your skin is dry so it doesn’t stick to the rock or climbing handholds and thus doesn’t get caught, which is the main cause of flappers. 2) The chalk creates a barrier between your skin and the rock that helps protect your skin from getting caught on the handhold. 

If you want to know how to deal with flappers and prevent hand injuries, check out this article (How Do You Deal With Climbing Flappers?)

Q: Is Chalk Bad for Phones?

Chalk in your phone can cause overheating issues on your circuit board but most phones are built so that it would be very difficult for anything to get into the circuit board.

Q: Can You Make Your Own Climbing Chalk?

There are a couple of recipes online for making your own climbing chalk. There isn’t a large savings aspect to making your own climbing chalk for most recipes but some climbers have figured out how to make chalk cheaper than if you bought it.


If you have any questions about chalk that isn’t answered here, please comment and let us know so that we can provide an answer for you.