Which Climbing Chalk to Use?
Unlike what many brands will tell you, most chalk is created equally. As long as you choose one of the better-known climbing-specific brands, it doesn’t really matter which chalk you use. You can think of chalk as flour or raw sugar: a commodity product that is pretty much the same across brands.
Magnesium Carbonate at its core is a very simple and inert product. It is mined from the Earth’s crust as Magnesite and then refined into the powder we use as climbers. It’s not specifically mined for climbing use but has uses in all kinds of industries: as a filler in the food industry, in cosmetics, in construction, etc … The chalk we use as climbers is essentially a by-product of other industries & this explains why it is relatively cheap.
If it’s all pretty much the same, which brand should you choose? Brands try to differentiate their chalk by assigning magical qualities to their own perfect blend of chalk but the reality is that there are very few factors impacting the quality of chalk for climbing use: grind, dryness, purity & additives.
Grind is how fine or coarse the chalk feels when put on your fingers and comes down to preference. As a general rule, you want to have a thin layer of chalk on your fingers, exactly enough but not too much. Finer chalk helps you achieve this but many climbers find fine chalk to feel “slippery” (it’s not). A real problem with extra fine chalk is that it creates more dust & is an absolute pain-in-the-ass to clean up. Most climbers prefer a medium grind: not finely-ground like flour but with little chunks of chalk. There is also extra chunky chalk for people who prefer to crunch up the chalk themselves to the consistency they like.
Dryness affects how effective the chalk feels & manufacturers have tried extra additives to make it dryer. You want to avoid getting your chalk bag wet or leaving large amounts of chalk in your bag. Over time chalk does take up some of the moisture in the environment & this causes it to feel less effective. No panic though, simply baking your chalk will solve that. Some brands add drying agents to their chalk. The most common one is Silica. Silica inhalation in large amounts (think miners, not gymnasts) can cause serious medical problems & in the last couple of years, brands have stopped adding artificial drying agents to their chalk. A notable exception is Black Diamond which recently started adding a nano-material called Upsalite to some of their chalk. Silica as an additive is not an issue with liquid chalk because there is no dust cloud formation that can be inhaled. If you buy chalk in large volumes & feel there is too much moisture in it, just bake it. That’s actually a good solution to many chalk woes: just bake it.
At Chalk Rebels, we advocate using less chalk powder in the first place & when you do, using it sparingly. Just a little goes a long way. Which brand you use is entirely up to your own personal preference. The differences between deferent kinds of chalk are minute & if you think you are going to climb stronger with a specific brand of chalk, we suggest you to obsess less about your chalk & more about your training.
Photo by Enric Cruz Lopez