Climbing Chalk vs. Gym Chalk

Man using chalk for weightlifting

Climbing chalk actually has its origins in gymnastics. John Gill had a background in gymnastics when he first introduced magnesium carbonate to the climbing world in the mid-1950s.

Today magnesium carbonate is frequently used in gymnastics, weightlifting, and of course climbing. The biggest difference in the way it is used in climbing gyms vs. other gyms seems to be that the latter often offer “free chalk” from a communal chalk bucket. Climbers tend to be more individual. They purchase their own chalk and carry it around in small chalk bags.

You will find that large buckets of chalk for gym use are available online for a fraction of the price per kilogram of climbing chalk. Is it worth buying that kind of chalk? Maybe. The key difference between climbing chalk and “bulk” chalk is that the latter tends to have slightly more moisture in it.

Loose chalk tends to absorb moisture from the air when left out in large quantities such as in large buckets at gyms. This is the reason why many climbers will tell you gym chalk is worse than “real” climbing chalk. But chemically it’s all the same. The difference is that bulk gym chalk tends to have more moisture in it, affecting the feel and performance.

We know of at least one climbing gym who thought it’d be a good idea to offer free chalk from a gymnastics-style communal bucket, only to find out that over time this chalk tends to become an unappealing mess.

Moist chalk is bad chalk and gym chalk tends to have more moisture in it. So if you want to have the cheapest possible chalk, here’s a trick: buy a large bucket of gymnastics-style chalk online, bake it, and re-package it in smaller sealed packages.

Sounds like a drug-dealing scheme? It’s not! Baking chalk at 120C for a couple hours will dry it out and re-packaging it in small plastic ziplock bags will keep out the moisture during storage. You’ll have chalk that is nearly indistinguishable from climbing brand chalk at a fraction of the price.

But we suggest you don’t do that. At CHALK REBELS, we’re big fans of using less chalk, especially outdoors. You actually need far less chalk thank you think. No chalk powder means no dust, no mess, and a cleaner climbing environment. We strongly encourage every climber to look into chalk alternatives like liquid chalk.

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