Can I climb indoor without climbing chalk?

Most people can climb with far less chalk than they think is needed. Some climbers with exceptionally dry hands don’t even need chalk at all. Chalk was introduced to climbing by John Gill in the 50s from the gymnastics world. The usage stuck & now most beginning climbers think they need chalk, which is not always true.

How much & the kind of chalk you need depends on two major factors: the sweatiness of your hands and the overall dryness of your skin. These are not the same: dryness refers to how your skin behaves naturally when you are not working out. Sweatiness means how much you sweat during workouts. All combinations can exist with sweaty-dry obviously being the worst combo for climbers.

Only about 5% of the general population actually sweats so much that it can be recognised as a medical condition called hyperhidrosis. The prevalence for xerosis or dry skin is a little higher, about 30%. If you suffer from either of these conditions then of course you will need some help from chalk powder.

If you’re like me however, with a non-sweaty & dry skin type, chalk is barely necessary. I can do most climbs without chalk powder, preferring either some liquid chalk or a transparent alternative we call crystal chalk. I do carry a small bag of traditional chalk on long multi pitch climbs or on trad climbs where falling often is not an option.

It’s a good idea to get familiar with your skin & figure out your type. If you know your type you can use the right kind of chalk. Here are our recommendations.

Dry, non-sweaty skin. Congratulations! You barely need chalk. We recommend you use no chalk at all or at most a little liquid chalk. Make sure you use a moisturiser after climbing.

Wet, non-sweaty skin. You will find that chalk lasts you a long time in your session. We recommend you use liquid chalk as a base layer at the beginning of your climbing session. You don’t need to chalk up much more beyond that. The alcohol in liquid chalk will take care of drying out your skin.

Dry, sweaty skin. This is a skin combination people barely recognise. You will want to use liquid chalk as a base layer & will probably want to chalk up a little bit extra with chalk powder. They keyword here is “a little”. Even though you may think you have “wet” skin because your hands are so sweaty you do want to use a moisturiser after climbing.

Wet, sweaty skin. You lost the genetic lottery. This is the only combination where we feel comfortable recommending the use of chalk powder. You will find that liquid chalk as a base layer helps, but wears off pretty quickly. Use both liquid chalk and chalk powder and make sure you brush your holds after your climb!

I find the best environment to start using less chalk is indoor bouldering. It’s the easiest place to try out alternatives to chalk powder.