How to Store Climbing Chalk

Climber with shoes & chalk

Climbing chalk or magnesium carbonate powder has become a staple of climbing life. Most climbers use it both at the rocks and at the gyms to keep their hands dry. But what about storing it between climbing sessions? Should you take any special care in the way you store your chalk?

The good news is that magnesium carbonate is a pretty inert product that essentially does not go bad. Most chalk powder will stay good way beyond the expiration date on the packaging. When you take proper care of your climbing chalk, it will last for ages.

Chalk’s enemy is moisture. All you need to do to store your chalk long-term is to avoid exposure to humidity. Chalk that has not been stored properly will over time take up some from the air and will start to feel less effective.

Some chalk is sold in big plastic bags that make good long-term storage if you can re-seal them. If you have some loose chalk you don’t need immediately, a little ziplock bag will do. Some climbers prefer to store chalk in plastic containers like Nalgene bottles or Tupperware boxes. Anything you can close tightly with a good lid will do.

It’s always a good idea to refill your chalk bag at home and transport it inside a little plastic bag. Not all chalk bags are equal: some seal well and some tend to leak chalk all over your gear. Wrapping it in a little extra ziplock bag avoids getting chalk all over your gear and clothes.

A couple of chalk bags exist which are specifically designed to avoid spillage, for example the Arc'teryx Aperture. Generally speaking, the higher-end chalk bags will seal better than the cheaper ones. If you keep spilling chalk all over, it may be time to look at an upgrade.

But what if you inevitably get your chalk bag wet? Maybe you were out bouldering and got caught in the rain. Maybe you dropped it in a puddle at the bottom of the cliff. There’s two easy ways to dry out moist chalk.

A first excellent way to get old moist chalk right back to new is to bake it. Yep, you heard it right. Just bake it in the oven. Set your oven to 120C, turn off the convection, put your chalk on a little tray and leave it in the oven for an hour or so. Your chalk should feel fresh, crisp, and dry.

Another good method for drying out a wet chalk bag is to put it out in the sunshine on a summer day. Make sure it’s a dry day with no moisture in the air or this method won’t work.

Climbers do all kinds of crazy things to improve friction and baking chalk to make it extra dry is one of the tricks of the trade. Decades ago already, Jerry Moffatt was microwaving his chalk before his epic first ascents in Yosemite Valley.

We have experimented with many kinds of chalk and have tried all kinds of tricks to improve the quality of chalk. While most chalk is essentially the same, we found two distinguishing factors that impact performance: how fine the grind is and how dry it is. Baking chalk is one of the few things you can do to influence the performance of chalk. We found that it is possible to turn some kinds of cheap gymnastic chalk into high-performance chalk by simply baking it.

Of course, you could always use less chalk in the first place or switch to a chalk powder alternative like liquid chalk cream. No more spills. No more dust. No more worrying about transporting and storing it.

Photo by Cottonbro

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