Going to the climbing gym without a bag of chalk that coats everything in my car with white dust is enticing so I decided to try liquid chalk for a week. In this article, I compare bouldering with liquid chalk and dry chalk.
There are two main sections in this comparison; 1) the pros and cons of both liquid chalk and dry chalk and 2) specific comparisons such as cost, storage and reapplying chalk.
If you don’t want to read the full article, here is a quick summary: There is only one con for liquid chalk and multiple cons for dry chalk but dry chalk is still better for bouldering.
Keep reading to learn why dry chalk is better for climbing.
What Is Liquid Chalk?
Liquid chalk is chalk that is in a tube, like toothpaste. You rub the chalk into your hands wherever you want a layer of chalk. Some liquid chalk uses alcohol, which evaporates and leaves a layer of dry chalk on your hand.
The chalk I used for this comparison was FrictionLabs Skin Friendly liquid chalk, which doesn’t have alcohol in it. It is probably the most popular liquid chalk for climbers and has great reviews online and from everyone that I’ve talked to.
Pros of Liquid Chalk
- Applying liquid chalk is easy and similar to applying lotion.
- Once I apply the chalk, I just put the tube in my pocket so I don’t have to worry about anyone in the gym walking off with it while I’m on the wall. The packaging is small enough and my pockets are big enough that I don’t even notice while I’m climbing. In addition, I can store the tube of chalk in my climbing bag while I’m not at the gym and I don’t have to worry about chalk getting on everything.
- There is minimal chalk waste and it doesn’t drop any of the chalk if you drop it on the ground or fall with it in your pocket because of the closure system. This increases the value of liquid chalk because every ounce in the bottle will be used by you.
Con of Liquid Chalk
- Liquid chalk requires time to reapply. I knew this before going into this test, however, I didn’t realize how big of a deal this would be while bouldering.
I frequently do high-reps of climbing at low difficulty so I only take about 2 minutes per climb and then hop on the next climb immediately without taking a break. While I was using liquid chalk, I had to either wait for 90 seconds between each climb so that the liquid will turn to a solid or I had to climb without reapplying chalk.
Not reapplying chalk made it so that my hands would wear out faster and prevent me from being able to recover by the next day. That is a big problem.
Waiting for chalk to dry in-between climbs is also a workout killer because the whole point of high-reps with no breaks is to wear out as quickly as possible and if I’m taking a break between each climb, I’m not able to get that benefit.
I tried to get around this issue by only reapplying the chalk to my fingers instead of my whole hands. That didn’t work. It takes the same amount of time to dry just the fingers as it does to dry the whole hand.
I also tried adding layers on top of each other so that I would be able to do multiple climbs and maintain enough chalk without reapplying. I don’t know what I was thinking when I tried this… The liquid from the second layer would just make the chalk in the bottom layer get wet so I had to wait for everything to dry again.
What Is Dry Chalk?
Dry chalk is the most common chalk for climbers and, like liquid chalk, it is a substance that dries out your hands and helps climbers grip climbing holds longer. Dry chalk comes in different forms such as a block, which you have to break-up in order to use, chunky, which has chunks of chalk in the mix and fine chalk, which is powder-like.
I prefer a mix of chunky with fine chalk and for this comparison, I used Black Diamond Black Gold Loose Chalk which is a combination of fine and chunky chalk along with Black Diamond’s special mixture. It is a highly rated dry chalk and I’ve been using it for over six months.
Pros of Dry Chalk
- Dry chalk is easy to apply to your hands. All you do is dip your hands in the chalk bag, or in my case the chalk bucket and rub your hands together. It takes less than a couple of seconds.
Cons of Dry Chalk
- Dry chalk is very messy and gets on everything. I have to put a towel over my chalk bucket when I’m in the car because even though the bucket is closed, every time I hit a bump in the road, a bit of chalk “poofs” out.
- Losing chalk is normal. I use a bucket so that it sits on the ground and this minimizes the chances of it falling over or dropping chalk while I’m climbing. However, it still happens. In addition, if there are kids in the gym, they frequently take chalk from my chalk bucket while I’m on the wall.
- Apparently loose chalk is bad for your lungs. I don’t inhale or snort my dry chalk so I don’t have an issue with this but it is a common complaint online.
Compare Liquid to Dry Chalk
Overall, if you look at the number of pros and cons of each type of chalk, you may think that liquid chalk is the better product, however, we need to compare the two side by side for a better picture.
Since you can’t compare liquid measurements to solid measurements, this is a very difficult comparison. In addition to the math not being accurate, you are likely to lose loose chalk more than you are likely to lose liquid chalk so you have to consider that as well.
I considered seeing how many applications I could get of each, but it wouldn’t be scientific/dependable since my hand size is probably different than yours and it is difficult to apply the same amount of chalk over and over again.
Just in case you were wondering the cost, however, for your own experiment, here you go:
200g of Black Diamond Black Gold Loose Chalk: $19.95
75ml of FrictionLabs Skin Friendly Liquid Chalk: &19.00
Consider Storage Space
The liquid chalk is super easy to store and it hardly takes up any space at all. If you are looking for a space saver, liquid chalk is an obvious winner. Plus, you don’t have to put a towel on top of it when you are worried about bumps in the road.
When it comes to reapplying chalk in between climbs while bouldering is what sets these two apart the most. Most climbers want to be on the wall as much as possible when they are at the climbing gym. Liquid chalk is going to decrease your climbing time and counter your ability to stay on the wall as much as possible.
Bouldering has short problems which means that you have to reapply chalk frequently. This makes reapplying the chalk as a significant con for liquid chalk.
In fact, this is the only con for liquid chalk that makes me feel like I wasted my money on liquid chalk.
And The Winner Is…
Liquid chalk doesn’t measure up to dry chalk at the bouldering gym. The time that it takes to reapply liquid chalk is a big part of the bouldering experience and dry chalk is significantly better when it comes to that.
Think about this – in the time that you are waiting for the liquid chalk to dry, you could have started another climb and be half-way through with it.