Climbing Without Chalk Outdoor or Indoor: Pro & Contra

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Whether on the rock or on the wall in the climbing gym, magnesia or chalk* is not to be missed. But there are also voices against the use of the white material. Since the 70s of the last century, it is common practice in the sport climbing world to use chalk. 

Until now, because now more and more climbers are clearly against its use. Climbing with or without chalk, the pros and cons for the white climbing chalk for indoor and outdoor are discussed in the following article.

What Exactly is Chalk?

The chalk used today on the hands is magnesium carbonate (MgCO3), which was bound with water. This white magnesia (“Magnesia alba”) is a hygroscopic powder that readily absorbs water. Thus, when climbing, it causes the hands and fingers to dry out and not be wet from sweat. 

Since the dissolved magnesium carbonate has a basic pH value, the slightly acidic hand perspiration is neutralized. For better absorption of moisture, various manufacturers have also started to add a drying agent to the pure chalk.

However, the form of magnesia used in other sports, for example, gymnastics, is not suitable for climbing. This is because it contains agents to make the lime more slippery. Otherwise, the gymnasts would get stuck on their equipment.

What Form of Chalk Should You Use?

Chalk is offered in trade in different forms. These are

Chalk as magnesia powder is either a loose powder or a so-called chalk block. This is the same product but in a different form. The powder is loose, in the case of the block it is simply pressed together with some binders and brought into the square form. The chalk is then crushed and used as desired.

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In liquid chalk, which is a popular remedy especially for bouldering, the magnesium carbonate is mixed with various additives and alcohol. Liquid is actually not the correct designation for the Liquid-Chalk, because it concerns here rather a viscous paste.

Very popular among climbers are the chalk balls because they are very easy to use. These are fabric balls filled with chalk powder. They are available in different sizes because these balls should be well enclosed by the hand. Since women usually have smaller hands than men, it is important that there are different sizes. Here it is not only the diameter but also the filling quantity that determines how big the chalk ball will be.

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Also for the Chalkball a Chalkbag* is absolutely recommended. Because this way you can knead and squeeze the ball in the bag and thus distribute the magnesia evenly on your hands. The Chalkball is available both as a disposable ball and as a refill ball. When refilling, you should always make sure that the powder is very fine.

In addition, there is the Chalkbag, which is considered highly recommended as it can hold loose powder, a block or a chalk ball. It is worn on the climbing harness and can be closed with a cord. This way you always have enough magnesia with you on your routes so that you can always rehydrate your hands. 

When attaching the bag you should make sure that you can reach it with both hands on your back at any time during the climbing. This is because when you are hanging in the rock on the route, you can only lime one hand at a time. The bag remains open during climbing, and the openings are reinforced for this purpose. 

It’s up to you to decide which Chalkbag you can best handle here. It is important that this is not too big or too small. You have to be able to reach in and move it with one hand.

The Advantages of Chalk

If you climb in a hall or on a rock you know the wet hands. This is more pronounced in some people than in others. But if your hands are wet, it is easier to slip and you will not have a good grip anymore. Here, the magnesia powder is a good help to give your hands the right grip again. 

Because it dries your hands very effectively and you get a better grip on the handle or slippery stone. The powder spreads well on the skin and it can also be limed while climbing in the rock if you carry it in a chalk bag on your belt.

Even though there are many voices against the use of chalk in sandstone rocks because it is supposed to damage the rocks and break them, there is a counterstatement. In 1985 the German Alpine Club issued an expert opinion that said that chalk on the hands protects the lime in the sandstone because it neutralizes the acid sweat on the hands.

The advantages of liquid chalk should also be noted. For example, the liquid form has a longer shelf life than the powdered forms of magnesia, since it does not attract moisture when it is tightly closed. The powder, on the other hand, can quickly become damp and is then no longer usable. The fine dust load is also less of a problem here. This is because the liquid form makes the chalk more bonded and hardly or not at all dusts when applied. Also the residues on rocks or on the handles on the climbing wall are less with the Liquid-Chalk.

The advantage of chalk balls is that they are very economical and do not need to be replaced as often. Because by kneading and squeezing only a little powder is spread on the hands. Of course, it also depends on the intensity and frequency you use your chalk ball, how quickly it is empty and you have to replace it again. Because the chalk is held in the fabric of the ball and can only escape in a controlled way when you press on it, the dust load is also reduced. Therefore, many climbing gyms have already started to use chalk balls only, if at all.

The Disadvantages of Chalk

Already in the early years, when the use of magnesia in sport climbing began, voices were raised that did not support it. The biggest criticism was the simplification of climbing. Because the better grip and grip on the rocks and later also indoor on the walls makes it possible to climb faster with the artificial aid. But this also applies to other things from the climbing sport, such as climbing shoes, which have a special rubber sole.

The second disadvantage is that if too much chalk is used on the hands, the grip becomes “sloppy”. This means that the effect of the magnesia will turn around, your hand will become more slippery with all the chalk and the grip will become less.

It is also criticized that too many climbers use chalk in the rocks, set their marks there and a following climber does not even have to find his own way, because the lime trace already leads him, as the colorful grips on the walls of the climbing halls do and lead through the routes. But also conservationists are against the use of chalk on rocks. In the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, for example, there is a strict ban on chalk and in the Palatinate, too, the use of chalk was only tolerated on the high difficulty levels. However, such restrictions do not apply in all sandstone areas, especially outside Germany or Europe.

Chalk is also a big issue in the climbing holds, so that in some halls it is even forbidden to use loose chalk or a chalk block. Because the powder dusts very much. You as a climber reach into your bag or can, take the powder out to spread it on your hands. After that, you clap your hands so that excess powder can fall off again. 

However, even in well-visited climbing gyms, fine dust pollution can occur, which is otherwise only known in some branches of industry. In 2008, the Technical University of Darmstadt even carried out a study in various climbing gyms and found dust pollution of the kind that also occurs in industrial workplaces. Even though no limit values were exceeded in the climbing gyms tested, it was suggested that the dust concentration should be reduced. A recommendation was also made not to take small children or babies into the hall.

Especially the liquid chalk is often much more stressful for your skin on your hands because it is mixed with alcohol and dries the skin more. In addition, Liquid Chalk can only be used once before it goes into the wall because you cannot re-calcify with Liquid Chalk. This is due to the consistency of the liquid chalk.

The Cost of the Different Products

Whether powder, ball or liquid, even the costs are different here. But you always have to calculate the consumption. You always use more of the open powder or a chalk block on a climbing tour than you do with a ball, because much more is wasted if you lime your hands. 

The liquid is only applied once at the beginning, so the consumption during a climbing tour is very low.

So the open chalk powder is in the lowest range. A non-refillable chalk ball costs about twice as much for the same amount. However, the additional material costs must be considered here. The liquid is much higher, but the consumption is much lower than with open powder. So you can assume that no matter which product you choose, the costs for the purchase and later consumption are about the same.

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Care of Your Hands Especially Important

If you use chalk in any form, it is important that you take care of your hands. The first thing to do after using magnesia is to wash your hands thoroughly after climbing indoors on the wall or even outside on the rocks. 

Always use a well-dissolving soap and warm water and wash your hands until there is no more chalk residue on the skin or in wrinkles. Depending on how long you climbed, your hands had to endure the chalk on the skin for several hours. This inevitably leads to a great dehydration of the skin. After washing your hands, you should dry them well, because the remaining water can also dry out the skin. 

There are various special care creams* for the after that, which have been specially formulated for climbers. But hand creams from the drugstore are also suitable, as long as they do not contain substances that are intended to soften the skin. These can be recognized by the prefix “PEG”-… .

No Powder or Liquid – Eco-Chalks

If you don’t like powder on your hands, either for visual reasons or because your skin is sensitive, there are two Eco-Chalk products that you can use. There is the “Eco Grip Gel”*, which is a chalk-based cream. After application, the cream evaporates, leaving behind a light film of chalk, which also gives you a better grip when climbing. The advantage of this gel is that it does not contain alcohol compared to the Liquid-Chalk, which can often irritate the skin very much.

The second product here is the “Eco Ball from Metolius”*. It does not contain magnesium carbonate and contains carbosil as a drying agent. The skin remains dry for a very long time. Whether your skin can cope with this very dry product for a long time, you have to try it yourself.

Further Information

  • Magnesium carbonate, from which the chalk is produced, is obtained from ores containing magnesium.
  • On all continents, there are large deposits of the white powder
  • Also used in the food and pharmaceutical industries as a thickener or carrier.
  • Excessive intake may lead to diarrhea, nothing worse will happen.
  • Chalk powder should always be well stowed in a chalk bag during climbing or bouldering, as the fine dust load, especially in closed halls, can become too great.
  • Chalk balls are well suited for both indoor and outdoor rock climbing.
  • If you don’t use a bag, you can apply the chalk thickly directly on the trousers on the thigh. This way you can quickly apply more chalk if necessary.
  • A brush for cleaning rocks or handles should be included in every climber’s luggage.
  • Whoever wants to travel with Chalk should pack it well in a plastic bag and put it in the suitcase when flying, so that there are no long waiting times at the checkpoint.

Related Questions

What is important in the composition of chalk?

Chalk should be as pure as possible when used for climbing. Also the grain size can be a bit coarser.

What is liquid chalk?

Liquid chalk is used more for bouldering than for climbing. The advantage here should be that you do not have to re-calcify so often.

What form of chalk is recommended?

Chalk in the form of powder can be re-calcified at any time and is cheaper to purchase than the liquid version, which also does not allow re-calcification during climbing.

Is Chalk equal to Chalk?

Every manufacturer offers a different composition of chalk. Therefore not every powder is the same. To find the ideal chalk, it is important to listen to the advice of other climbers and to try it yourself.

What is “The French Blow”?

The English-speaking climbing scene calls it the casual blowing off of the excess powder from the hands. Because the French were frowned upon as posers. But blowing off the powder is still useful because it makes the hands less slippery.

What are the so-called tick marks?

Tickmarks are set by many climbers in order to better remember the route over the holds or the rock. Often long lines with chalk are created here. During climbing, however, these marks should be removed so that other climbers can find their own route.


As you can see, there are different views on the use of Chalk. Some people see it as a challenge to climb outside without the magnesia on their fingers, especially to leave no traces behind. In the halls, on the other hand, it is often not appreciated because it can be unhealthy to breathe in too much of the fine dust. 

In addition, the skin on the hands can dry out considerably with constant use and therefore be attacked. The advantages, however, are also clear and obvious. With Chalk on your hands you have more grip and don’t slip off so easily. Especially outdoors on very slippery rocks, magnesia is a great help. 

However, you should be sporty enough to remove the white powder from the rocks so that subsequent climbers have the same options as you and can find their own way. And there are good moisturizers for the hands if they get a little dry from constant use. 

Therefore you should form your own opinion about the use of chalk and not let others make you feel insecure.

Attention: You have to take care of your safety when climbing! The information on only helps you to learn. Before you climb, you should make sure that you have been properly instructed by an expert and that you follow all safety precautions.

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