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Human skin keeps moist with sweat, oils and other fluids. However, for a good grip when climbing, dampness on the hands is unfortunately often a hindrance. Exactly for this reason, gymnasts and weightlifters use magnesium (magnesium carbonate, MgCO3) to provide a better grip on the equipment. Magnesium (called chalk or rock climbing chalk) removes moisture from our hands and increases friction between the skin and the object we hold on to. Since we have to hold on to rocks or holds while climbing, it is a good idea to use climbing chalk.
There are many kinds of climbing chalk and different ways to get it on our hands. In this article, I will briefly introduce the different types of climbing chalk and then explain how to use it, how not to use it and how to care for your skin after using it. And at the end of this article, I will share a tip on how to build a practical, refillable Chalk ball yourself.
What kinds of Rock Climbing Chalk are there?
Magnesium is available in four basic types:
- As a loose powder*
- Loose powder in a cloth ball (chalk ball*)
- In whole blocks*
- As a fluid (liquid chalk*)
Climbing chalk as a powder is exactly what we know from television at the Olympics. It is super easy to use and covers the hands very quickly and completely with magnesium. Before a gymnast does his performance, he first uses the magnesium basin and distributes it generously on his hands. This creates a huge dust cloud, which is exactly the biggest disadvantage of climbing chalk as a powder. You can hardly dose it properly and you breathe it in. Especially in climbing halls it is therefore often forbidden to use climbing chalk as a loose powder.
Another disadvantage, which I find particularly annoying, is that the powder is so fine that it escapes from the closed bag itself and coats everything else. If you are unlucky, then the complete sports bag is white from the inside…
In order to circumvent these disadvantages, the powder can be filled into a small cloth ball from which only little escapes by itself.
The so-called Chalk Ball is a small bag made of fabric, filled with the loose climbing chalk powder and then sealed. The advantages are obvious: there are no large dust clouds and the dosage is much easier. This makes the chalk ball ideal for climbing indoors in a climbing hall.
The only disadvantage is that you can’t cover your hands completely with it as easily as with loose magnesium powder. If you have very sweaty hands by nature or the weather is very hot and humid, this can become a problem. You don’t want to hang on one hand forever to cover the other with climbing chalk.
If you want to climb indoors, be as economical as possible with your climbing chalk and want to leave fewer traces than with loose powder, then the chalk ball is just right for you.
A chalk ball is really cheap*, but if you want to make one yourself, I will explain at the end of this article how you can build and fill a refillable chalk ball yourself!
Climbing chalk can also be bought as a whole block. In most cases, this is the cheapest option, since you no longer have to pay for crushing and filtering. But here is the problem. The usually somewhat larger blocks have to be crushed first in order to be packed into the chalk bag. As you can imagine, this can get very messy.
A good trick to chop up the block cleanly to achieve the desired grain size is the following: You put the block in a plastic bag, close it and crush the block from outside while it is in the bag. This way the dust stays in the bag and does not spread out in the room.
Liquid magnesium or liquid chalk is something completely different. It is a normal magnesium powder but dissolved in alcohol. You can spread it like hand lotion on your hands and after the alcohol has evaporated, a thorough layer of climbing chalk remains on your hands.
There are three advantages of this liquid version over the dry one:
- The layer on the hands is extremely covering.
- The layer lasts much longer than when the climbing chalk is used dry.
- You leave fewer traces, which is especially advantageous in the outdoors.
However, there are also disadvantages. If you don’t only want to climb short routes like in bouldering, for example, you still have to use other variants in between because you don’t have both hands free to apply a new layer. In addition, liquid chalk is much more expensive than the dry variants and the alcohol can dry out the hands even more than they are already with the chalk anyway.
Liquid chalk is therefore suitable either as a thorough first layer or for short distances.
How to use Rock Climbing Chalk
When climbing, you keep your climbing chalk in your chalk bag.
Before you start, you should rub your hands thoroughly with climbing chalk to get an even layer that absorbs the moisture from your hands. Excess chalk should be removed by rubbing your hands together or by blowing. As soon as you have applied the climbing chalk, you should not wait long before climbing. Otherwise, new moisture will collect on our hands.
While climbing, we reach into the chalk bag with one hand, take some climbing chalk between our fingers, rub it and blow away all the excess chalk. If you have a chalk ball in your bag, you put your hand into the chalk bag while climbing and squeeze the chalk ball. Much less excess chalk will remain on your hands than if you would put it on as loose powder.
Each pair of hands produces different amounts of moisture, which is why you have to try out for yourself how much climbing chalk you need and how often you have to get new chalk out of the bag. The frequency also depends on how long the climbing route is. When bouldering, it is usually only necessary to rub your hands with climbing chalk directly before an attempt, as the climbing distance is usually only a few meters long and not as long as when rock climbing with a rope.
How NOT to use Rock Climbing Chalk
Magnesium is one of the essential things you need for rock climbing – at least when climbing is more than just an infrequent hobby. Most climbers go through their chalk so fast that it becomes normal to have white hands. However, this normality sometimes leads to people no longer thinking about what mess they are creating with it. Since I have often had bad experiences with the wrong use of climbing chalk, here are a few things to watch out for.
You should pay special attention to two things. If you create huge clouds of chalk powder in the air, you will become unpopular in the long run, because it is not very pleasant to wet your lungs or eyes with magnesium. Some climbing halls have small rooms that serve as a gym for climbing and especially there you should be careful not to spread too much chalk in the air. If everyone did this, it would quickly become unbearable in the room.
The other thing that one should definitely avoid and which always annoys me personally is when people leave their chalk marks everywhere on the rocks. Of course, it is nice to climb outdoors, but you should be careful how you leave the place behind. Just like garbage, chalk on the rocks is something we have to remove before we leave. A rock face covered with traces of climbing chalk is not a pretty sight – especially for non-climbers. In addition, many climbers who go out into the countryside want to find their own way to climb up the crag. If everything is already marked with magnesium, it’s more like a given route in a climbing hall and the fun of looking for your own route will be ruined.
After a climbing session in the great outdoors, you should make sure that you remove your tracks or leave none, to begin with. Liquid Chalk can help here, as there is much less excess magnesium left with this liquid variant and therefore you leave fewer traces.
How to care for your Skin after using Rock Climbing Chalk
After climbing and drying your hands with climbing chalk, you should wash them thoroughly first. Even if you climb outdoors, you should remember to bring water for washing your hands after climbing. This is because the climbing chalk dries out your hands. Who naturally has dry hands should think about moisturizing hand lotions or creams*.
But what I think is more important, is that you build up enough strength in your fingers to slide as little as possible (How to Build Grip Strength for Rock Climbing). Because of the friction between the rock (or grip in a climbing hall), your skin and the chalk in between, the outer layers of your skin are basically grinding off while climbing.
How to make a Refillable Chalk Ball
Of course, you can buy very good refillable chalk balls, but here is a little trick how to build one yourself.
I hope it’s not just me, but I have a lot of individual socks whose partners have disappeared forever. But you can make an excellent, refillable magnesium ball out of such a single sock. The chalk balls, which can be bought, are also made of a permeable fabric and hardly differ from the fabric of thin socks. However, I found out that my girlfriend’s nylon socks or tights are the most suitable. There are also plenty of tights that are regularly sorted out due to stitches or holes.
In order to make a chalk ball out of it, cut off the lower part, in which the foot would normally be, and put it over a glass. Now you can fill in the climbing chalk powder at the top (slowly to avoid a dust cloud) and knot the fabric at the top. When the ball is empty, you simply reopen the knot and refill it.
Attention: You have to take care of your safety when climbing! The information on climbtheearth.com 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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