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UPDATED: How To Use Chalk for Rock Climbing

We originally wrote this chalk guide in 2013. Back then, few people believed that #chalkmatters. Since then, that original piece has been read by hundreds of thousands of people in search of the tools and expertise to confidently achieve their goals. We've had the honor of helping these folks, from new climbers to FrictionLabs Pros, finally find a chalk they can rely on, on every move.

With the support of our fans, we’ve improved our understanding of chalk and we continue to bring more innovative chalk products to climbers and athletes around the world. Some things have definitely changed, so here’s the updated edition of our essential guide for how to use chalk distilled down to a few convenient bullet points:

  • Climbers (and other athletes) use chalk to dry sweat and other moisture on their hands, increasing friction and improving grip.
  • Climbing chalk is the same compound (Magnesium Carbonate) that gymnasts, weightlifters, and other athletes use for confident grip.

The difference between good and bad chalk comes down to how it feels on your hands, how long it lasts, and how healthy it is for your skin.

Your hands can tell the difference:

  • Generic chalk will feel somewhat grainy, disappear quickly with use, and may even become a little slimy when you sweat. Since you tend to go through low quality chalk faster, many people also notice that their skin becomes overly dry after a few sessions. This is either because they are re-applying too often or because the chalk they’re using has drying agents that can be harmful to skin over time.
  • Quality chalk feels great when you put it on, lasts a long time, and keeps your skin healthy even after months of repeated use.

Chalk comes in a few different forms depending on personal preference:

  • Block chalk - A compressed, solid chunk of chalk that will break apart naturally over time as you use it. In order to hold its shape, block chalk requires a binding agent, which reduces the purity and moisture absorption.
  • Loose chalk - A mixture of chalk chunks and fine powder chalk, typically stored in a chalk bag or bucket. At FrictionLabs, our loose chalk is available in three textures: Fine (Unicorn Dust), Chunky (Gorilla Grip), and Super Chunky (Bam Bam) - just like peanut butter, it just depends on your personal texture preference.
  • Chalk ball - A soft, porous fabric sock designed to hold fine powdered chalk and release it slowly when squeezed, typically stored in a chalk bag/bucket surrounded by loose chalk. At FrictionLabs, our chalk ball is called Magic.
  • Liquid chalk - The next evolution in chalk...a spreadable cream that dries quickly on your hands, leaving behind a fine layer of chalk. It looks like a magic trick when you see it in action! Typically stored in a squeeze tube. At FrictionLabs, we have two types of liquid chalk: Original Secret Stuff and NEW Alcohol Free Secret Stuff.

For best results, we recommend you apply liquid chalk to clean, dry hands as a base layer. Once it’s dry, add a bit of loose chalk or squeeze a chalk ball as required to keep your hands and fingertips dry. A good liquid chalk base layer will make the loose chalk and/or chalk ball last longer.

Everyone’s body produces moisture differently, so some people need to re-apply more than others. Before you re-apply, we recommend rubbing your hands together to see if you can get some of the chalk from other areas of your hands (like your palms) onto your fingertips.

It is possible to have too much chalk on your hands—what you’re looking for is a fine layer of chalk covering your fingers, but not a bunch of loose or caked chalk sitting on there.

If you are using loose chalk or a chalk ball out of a chalk bag/bucket, put one or both hands in the bag, grab some chalk, spread it from your palm to your fingertips, then let the excess pour back into the bag and pull your hands out. Try not to make a mess by pulling out too much chalk that isn’t already rubbed into your hands. At this point you should have a bunch of chalk on your hands and they should be out of the bag/bucket. If you still see loose particles, blow away the excess. You should now have a smooth, uniform layer of chalk covering your fingers, but minimal loose particles since you blew them off. Now get climbing before new moisture starts to eat away at the chalk!

Over time, you’ll find your sweet spot for the amount of chalk you like on your hands. You’ll get a feel for when you need more based on what your fingers look like and how moist/dry they feel.

Get It
Get It

That’s it! Now that you know how to put it on, get some chalk for yourself. Or, if you really want to get smart on chalk, check out the follow up to this piece: How NOT to Use Rock Climbing Chalk.

At FrictionLabs, we spend a lot of time thinking about chalk, so we hope this guide is helpful to clearing up any confusion. Do you have a different method for applying chalk? Wondering about something we didn’t discuss? Leave a comment!

Thumbnail image by Stefan Kuerzi

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