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The Ultimate Guide to the Best Chalk for Rock Climbing

Man rubs climbing chalk on his hands

If you’re anything like us, you always look forward to your next vertical adventure. Whether in a gym or outdoors, rock climbing has an allure that keeps bringing you back week after week.

While there is a lot of gear involved in rock climbing, one piece of gear gets little attention: chalk. This surprising underdog can make all the difference between a victory send or a frustrating slip.

Let’s discuss the best chalk for rock climbing. From loose and liquid chalk to chalk balls and block chalk, we’ll cover it all and go over some of the top picks by our community of climbers. Let’s do this!

This post includes affiliate links but rest assured that we only recommend items we would use ourselves. And if you choose to make a purchase, we receive a small commission. No sponsorships, just the truth about our favorite finds.

Does Climbing Chalk Actually Improve Grip?

Jarrod gripping the rock at Rim Rock

Before getting into the best chalk for rock climbing, let’s review why climbers use chalk and if it’s necessary. Does the simple combination of magnesium carbonate really help us grip rocks and send projects?

The Science Of Friction

Whether you’re new to the climbing world or a seasoned dirtbag, it’s no secret that rock climbers have incredibly strong fingers and forearms. They are some of the main muscles we use to grip the rock and pull ourselves up the rock face.

There’s another critical component to scaling up rock walls: friction. Have you ever noticed you stick to the wall better when it’s cold and dry or that you tend to slip more often in humid conditions?

This all boils down to the coefficient of friction, defined as “the ratio of the frictional force resisting the motion of two surfaces in contact to the normal force pressing the two surfaces together.”

In this instance, the two surfaces are the rock and your hands. In simple terms, the higher the coefficient of friction, the better you stick to the wall.

How Chalk Helps

As climbers, we should always look for ways to increase the coefficient of friction between ourselves and the wall. The simple solution? Chalk.

An article from the Journal of Sports Biomechanics examined the effect of chalk on the coefficient of friction between climbers’ fingers and two different types of rock: sandstone and limestone.

They found that chalk significantly increased the friction for limestone and sandstone by 18.7% and 21.6%, respectively. So, it’s not all in our heads – chalk does actually help you grip better!

Types Of Climbing Chalk

Climber reaching into chalk bag

Now that we know the magical superpowers of climbing chalk, let’s review the different types of chalk and their pros and cons. This will help you figure out the best chalk for rock climbing, which is all about personal preference and performance!

Some of the biggest names in rock climbing chalks include Friction Labs Chalk, Metolius Super Chalk, Friction Labs Unicorn Dust, and the Frank Endo Block Chalk, among many more!

If you’re curious, you can see what us dirtbags use to rock climb here!

Loose Chalks

Loose chalk is the most common type used by rock climbers. It varies in fineness, from superfine dust to chunky rocks. The more fine the chalk, the more dust. Loose chalk is simple to use, making it a popular choice among rock climbers.

Pros:

  • Maximum coverage: You can control how much goes on your hand with loose chalk.
  • Quick application: When you’re halfway up a rock face, the last thing you want to do is fumble around with complicated chalk. Loose chalk is simple to reapply by reaching into your chalk bag.
  • Budget-friendly: You get more bang for your buck using loose chalk. It comes in a large bag that can last a long time.
  • Less sweat: If you tend to get sweaty palm syndrome while rock climbing, loose chalk is excellent at absorbing moisture and keeping your hands dry to grip the rock better.

Cons:

  • Messy: The biggest drawback of loose chalk is its tendency to create a cloud of dust. And if your chalk bag is in the path of an overexcited kid, it’s bound to end up on the gym floor instead of your hands.
  • Doesn’t last: Loose chalk must be reapplied more frequently than other types, such as liquid chalk.

Remember that you’ll need a chalk bag to put your loose chalk in!

Chalk Balls (Chalk Socks)

Chalk balls or socks are a great way to keep the chalk dust down and avoid accidental spills. They are typically carried in chalk bags to prevent chalk from spilling on gym mats or the environment.

These little miracle workers are typically made of mesh nylon fabric filled with loose chalk. The mesh has small gaps that allow the chalk to be released in a controlled manner.

To use a chalk ball, you hold it in your hands and squeeze it or pat it against your palms to disperse the chalk without the giant cloud of dust.

Pros:

  • Less mess: Chalk balls virtually eliminate all the mess that comes with loose chalk, its free-spirited cousin. They’re great for small gyms or those who want to avoid accidental spills at the local crag.
  • Good coverage: While loose chalk gives you complete control of how much chalk goes on your hands, chalk balls still offer good coverage and may even save you from over-chalking your hands.
  • Longevity: Chalk balls last much longer than loose chalk in a bag, making them a good, affordable investment.
  • Lower impact: Outdoor climbers tend to leave many ghastly white marks on the rock face. Chalk balls help lower the amount of chalk on your hands, reducing our environmental impact.

Cons:

  • Sometimes, it’s not enough: When the sweltering summer sun is beating down on the rock face, sometimes you need more chalk to combat the sweat and moisture. In this instance, loose chalk may be a better alternative.
  • Break-in period: Chalk balls have a break-in period where they may provide less chalk than you need. 

Chalk balls or socks are also usually placed inside a chalk bag for carrying.

Liquid Chalk

Some hail liquid chalk as the best of the best. It’s made of magnesium carbonate, 40%—80% alcohol, and water. Applying it is simple: Place it on your hands, spread it around, and allow it to dry.

It covers your entire hand in a glove of chalk that can last the whole session. It gets into all the nooks and crannies of your fingers and palms for full coverage. But, as with all good things, there are some drawbacks. Let’s dive in!

Pros:

  • In it for the long haul: Liquid chalk lasts the longest out of any chalk. It could last an entire climbing session.
  • Leave no trace: Using liquid chalk reduces dust particles from loose chalk and keeps outdoor rock faces clean.
  • No mess: In addition to the cleanliness of the rock face, your gear bag and car will thank you for the lack of chalky dust particles everywhere.
  • Sticky: Liquid chalk feels different than loose chalk. It sticks to the rock better and keeps your hands dry longer.

Cons:

  • The Waiting Game: Unlike loose chalk or a chalk ball, liquid chalk requires a drying time. While it only takes a few minutes to dry, it can feel like forever when you want to jump on the wall and start climbing.
  • Price: Liquid chalk is often pricier than loose chalk or a chalk ball.

Block Chalk

The final type of chalk used in rock climbing is block chalk. It’s basically just loose chalk that hasn’t been broken up yet. This makes it an excellent choice for those who want to control the size of their loose chalk.

Pros:

  • Budget-friendly: Block chalk is the cheapest on our list without compromising quality. It’s like buying a whole apple and slicing it yourself instead of pre-sliced apples. Yeah, pre-sliced is nice, but it’s also more expensive!
  • Customizable: With block chalk, you can choose how big or small you want your chalk pieces inside your chalk bag.
  • Less mess: Block chalk tends to be less messy than loose chalk. However, it’s still a bit messier than a chalk ball or liquid chalk.

Cons:

  • Prep time: To use block chalk, you must break it down, which requires time. Loose chalk and a chalk ball are more the grab-and-go, while block chalk and liquid chalk require some prep.
  • Inconsistent coverage: When you break apart block chalk, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the right size rocks. This makes it difficult to thoroughly coat your hands in the chalk like you could with other types.

Every type of rock climbing chalk has pros and cons. The best chalk for rock climbing often boils down to personal preference and budget. It’s worth trying a few different kinds to see what works the best.

Best Chalk For Rock Climbing

best chalk for rock climbing. Girl climbing at a rock climbing gym

We know chalk helps us improve friction and grip, and we know the different types of chalk. Now it’s time for the good stuff – the best chalk for rock climbing on the market!

Like any other piece of climbing gear, there are a few top names in the climbing chalk world. And remember, chalk isn’t the only gear you need to rock climb! For a complete list, check out our article on the items you need to start rock climbing today.

Best Loose Chalk For Rock Climbing

Some top names in the loose chalk industry include Black Diamond, Metolius, and Friction Labs.

ChalkAvailable OptionsBest Attributes
Black Diamond White GoldLoose chalkDries hands quickly. Great for hot, humid days.
Metolius Super ChalkPowder + chunksMultiple sizes depending on your needs. Resealable bag for convenience
Friction LabsPowder + chunks, medium chunks, super chunkyMultiple options give you better control over the chunkiness of the chalk.
8bPlusCrushed, powderHigh-purity, great drying characteristics with no additives or dyes.
Bison Designs Competition ChalkPowderNeed less chalk to coat hands. Great for sweaty hands.

As you can see, some options, like Friction Labs, give you multiple sizes of chalk chunks, while others, like the Black Diamond White Gold, only have one choice. There are also various sizes for each type of chalk, ranging from a small 2.5 oz bag to a whopping 15 oz.

Best Chalk Balls For Rock Climbing

Some gyms ban loose chalk because of its messy nature, so chalk balls and chalk socks are an excellent alternative. They keep the mess down while still providing your hands with that chalky goodness to help you with the send!

Chalk BallProsCons
Metolius Super Chalk Eco BallAlternative to chalk that doesn’t leave a mark on the rocks.Non-refillable. You must purchase a new ball each time and the ball is quite big.
Metolius Super Chalk SockLess messy than most chalk balls. Easy to refill. Affordable.Doesn’t provide as much chalk as other options.
8BPLUS Chalk BombRefillable. No fillers. Effective drying agent to improve grip.It doesn’t provide as much chalk as you’d like.
Friction Labs Magic Pro Refillable Chalk SphereEasy to refill. Provides decent amount of coverage.A little messier than other chalk balls. Drawstring sometimes comes open. A little expensive.
Cypher Chalky BallAffordable. Easy to refill. Less mess. Good size.Doesn’t provide as much chalk as you’d like.
Black Diamond White Gold Chalk ShotRefillable and non-refillable options. More porous.The messiest of chalk balls. Slightly difficult to refill.

Most chalk balls are refillable, which is a huge plus because you can choose your favorite chalk to go inside. Some outdoor areas require specific chalk types that will not mar the face of the magnificent rocks. This is when something like the Metolius eco ball comes in handy!

Best Liquid Chalk For Climbing

Liquid chalk will coat your hands better than loose chalk, but it also takes a few moments to dry each time it is applied. This is an excellent choice for gyms that don’t allow loose chalk and for those long climbing sessions outdoors.

ChalkProsCons
8BPLUS liquid chalkGood coverage. Easy to use. No mess.Tends to peel off quicker than other chalks. Runny.
FrictionLabs Secret Stuff Liquid ChalkGreat coverage. Almost no dust.Expensive.
Black Diamond Black Gold Liquid ChalkLong-lasting. Hygenic formula. Dries quickly.Sometimes tube mouth opens, allowing product to dry out.
Black Diamond ECO Gold Liquid ChalkEco-friendly (made from desalination process, not mined from the earth). Dries quickly. No mess. Affordable.N/A
Mammut Liquid ChalkBetter bang for your buck compared to other liquid chalks. Great coverage.More grainy feel than other liquid chalks.

Liquid chalk is an excellent base layer and can be combined with loose chalk or a chalk sock for the ultimate grip.

Best Block Chalk

There are three main blocks of chalk on the market – Metolius, Endo, and FrictionLabs. Block chalk is a budget-friendly choice that’s easy to break down and place in your chalk bag. It’s best for those who like their chalk chunky.

ChalkProsCons
FrictionLabs Chalk DiscsWorks well with sensitive skin. Can be used whole or broken apart.Very crumbly. Doesn’t last as long as expected.
Metolius Chalk BlockVery affordable. Breaks apart easily.Doesn’t last as long as other chalks.
Frank Endo Chalk BlockVery affordable. Good feel for rock climbing – not too grainy and not too smooth.Breaks apart into powder by the end.

Now that we know the best chalks for each category, let’s move on to using chalk effectively. When you see people chalking up their hands so much that it makes a little cloud of dust around them, they might actually be decreasing their friction on the wall!

Keep reading to find out why!

Using Chalk Effectively

Using chalk effectively for rock climbing

You might think it’s silly to include this section in the article. Using chalk? You just put it on…right? Well, you could say the same thing about climbing shoes – you may ‘just put them on,’ but how you use them is the key! 

If we dig a little deeper into the coefficient of friction, we’ll find out that sometimes, more chalk does not equal better grip.

There Is Such A Thing As Too Much Chalk

A master’s thesis from Northern Michigan University tested the effects of chalk on rock climbers’ ability to grip and the coefficient of friction. They found that when chalk is placed on the hands and fingers, the coefficient of friction is increased (yay!). However, they found that when chalk is on the hands and fingers and the climbing holds, friction is reduced (boo!).

Basically, if there’s too much chalk, it creates a granular surface, which increases the chances of you slipping. 

How Much Chalk Should You Use?

So, how much chalk should you actually use to get a good grip on the rocks without creating too much graininess? 

Ensure the chalk has coated your hands and fingers in a very thin layer. If you clap your hands together, you shouldn’t suffocate in a cloud of dust. You want your hands to still feel smooth, without grainy chalk chunks clinging to your palms or fingers.

What About Climbing Gym Holds?

If you’re climbing in a gym and are attempting a popular climb, you may notice the holds are pretty chalked up. This is when you can bust out your handy dandy climbing brush.

Brush the hold off as much as possible to remove excess chalk and improve the grip. Then, you can chalk your hands up to dry them out and improve your grip on the rock climbing hold.

We love the 8BPLUS Save the Ocean Brush. It’s made from plastic recycled from ocean pollution in the Philippines and Thailand.

The Best Chalk For Rock Climbing: Our Final Thoughts

Choosing the best chalk for rock climbing might seem like a small step in your climbing journey, but it’s an important one! It can make all the difference between a victorious send or a slippery fall.

To recap, there are four main types of climbing chalk:

  • Loose chalk
  • Chalk balls or Chalk Socks
  • Liquid Chalk
  • Block Chalk

Each has pros and cons, so it’s essential to consider your climbing style, where you climb, your preferences, and your budget.

Do you have a favorite climbing chalk? One that’s helped you send to heights you never thought you could reach? Let us know in the comments below!

For more climbing gear information, check out our climbing blog!

Robyn and Jarrod at the top of a multi-pitch climb
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