Depending on what you climb, you might use different shoes, a different rope, even a different partner.
But the best climbing chalk is the one part of topping out that remains constant. Choosing your chalk is a commitment. And with this in mind, I set out to find the best climbing chalk for your warm-ups, projects, and everything in between.
Look no further than FrictionLabs Unicorn Dust. It stops sweaty palms without over-drying your hands. Tons of athletes, from Daniel Woods to Alex Puccio, swear by it—probably because FL pays them to. They have yet to send me a check, so I can genuinely say their product lives up to the hype.
Buying chalk is kind of like buying toothpaste. It’s necessary, but you’re not going to gleefully unwrap a fresh bag of chalk and shake with excitement. No one is giving you chalk for your birthday—unless your friends are boring or your significant other is the practical type. But have you ever felt your hands ache when you watch new climbers head up the wall chalk-free? Or wish you brought your chalk bag with you any time you see a movie with Alex Honnold?
Chalk is basically the underdog of climbing gear. No one is stoked on it, no one talks about it, but at the end of the day, we all have to give thanks for its part in our sends and adventures. So this review is for you, chalk, the unsung hero of the climbing world.
Chalk is that magical white dust that athletes, from weightlifters to gymnasts, use to absorb sweat from their hands. It’s especially crucial in rock climbing, as you can imagine reducing sweat, increasing friction, and generally making things less slippery is pretty important when you’re a few hundred feet off the ground—probably even more important at 15 feet, for that matter. It’s what’s covering Margo Hayes’s face in what might be one of the most endearing and inspiring photos of all time.
It’s often sold in bulk or in bags at your local climbing gym, but you can also find climbing chalk online or at almost any outdoor retailer. It’s one of those things you don’t think about until you’re running low—and then you really think about it. Climbers even use chalk as a mental crutch, as if getting your shoes so tight they’re basically fused to your feet and getting your hands covered in chalk will be the perfect combination that’ll help you finally send your project.
What Is Climbing Chalk?
Climbing chalk is a necessary evil. It’s a bit smelly, and it’s definitely messy—it will get on your clothes and your face, and leave marks on whatever you’re climbing. Until they invent an invisible, odorless, synthetic version of magnesium carbonate that works just as well (looking at you, Shark Tank) or we finally adapt to stop sweating profusely on our hands (looking at you, middle school version of myself on a first date), chalk is what we have to work with. So why not buy the best, longest lasting, and purest product on the market?
You have a few choices when it comes to the form your chalk takes. You can go with loose chalk, which is a popular option as it gives the satisfaction of feeling your hands coated in the stuff. It’s by far the messiest choice, which it’s why it’s banned at some gyms. It’s what accounts for the white haze often seen on the horizon, and the big white spots on the floor. But mentally, spiritually, physically, literally—it works.
The second choice is a chalk sock. Some companies offer reusable chalk socks that you can refill with loose chalk to prevent over-use, running out sooner, and generally being wasteful. You can also buy cheaper chalk socks that are usually stapled together and don’t allow you to reuse them. They won’t give you that oh-so-good feeling of loose chalk on your hands, but they will stop you from your own wastefulness and prevent you from asphyxiating the people around you in a cloud of white powder.
The third option is liquid chalk. Not as commonly used, liquid chalk combines regular chalk with alcohol so you can rub it on your hands in liquid form. The alcohol dries, leaving your hands with a base layer of chalk that’s absorbed into your skin. Again, it doesn’t give you the same invincible feeling of your hands being coated in loose chalk, and most people use some form of regular chalk on top of their liquid chalk (liquid chalk + chalk sock + loose chalk = Holy Trinity of sweat-free extremities).
Liquid chalk also doesn’t allow you to be the obnoxious friend who has to do the Lebron James at every session (maybe this is a positive?). But it does prevent you from unintentionally looking like a geisha. More importantly, the alcohol helps sanitize your hands, and the base layer will prevent you from wasting that high-quality chalk you decided to invest in.
One More Option
Your fourth option is no chalk. Just kidding. This isn’t an option. Unless you’re this guy. I’m guessing not, though, cause that guy definitely doesn’t read advice or gear reviews on the internet.
Not to brag, but I chose my shortlist of the best climbing chalk products after a whole lot of testing. (Does this make me a “professional” climber? I think maybe. Yes. I think yes.). I tested each product on a variety of terrain, from indoor to outdoor, bouldering problems to longer routes. And I kept a few things in mind when determining the best climbing chalk:
- Cost: Everyone knows that sketchy guy who’s always “borrowing” everyone’s chalk or picking up scrap chalk nuggets from the floor. He’s reducing his impact, living simply, on the road, whatever—we get it. On the bright side, chalk is relatively inexpensive. We took cost in mind, but also, don’t be this guy.
- Type: Whether you like chalk socks, loose chalk, or liquid chalk really comes down to personal preference. We looked at all types of climbing chalk to determine the best in each category.
- Purity: We sought out the nice, pure, magic white powder that isn’t cut with too much calcium carbonate or calcium sulfate. You know, the good stuff.
- Efficacy: We want chalk that lasts longer so you don’t have to chalk up as often throughout the route, or, worse, feel your hands slipping at the top of your boulder problem. If you want to chalk up unnecessarily to rest and shake off nerves, don’t worry—we won’t judge you (we do it too!).
- Texture: This, again, comes down to personal preference. I like my peanut butter crunchy and my climbing chalk smooth, but that’s just me. Some people use the pebbles in their chalk to draw tick marks on the wall, or for the meditative feeling of crushing chalk between their fingers.
The Best Climbing Chalk
FrictionLabs Unicorn Dust
Remember earlier when I said climbing chalk is relatively inexpensive? I take it back. At $10 for a 2.5-ounce mini bag, you’ll be tempted to password protect your chalk bag. But I’ll tell you why Unicorn Dust is worth it.
FrictionLabs’s Unicorn Dust climbing chalk is a clear winner in terms of being long lasting and feeling secure on the wall. It dries out the sweat on your hands without making them feel like they’re going to crack right down the middle. It glides over your hands easily and lasts longer than any other climbing chalk I tested.
What’s more, its texture is the perfect balance of a fine dust without feeling like you’re placing your hands into nothing. I like this product (in particular) from their line because it has the perfect balance of texture. But if you prefer chunkier or smoother, they offer that as well. If you have the money, go for it—this is the best climbing chalk you can buy.
- Long lasting
- Not overly drying
- Ranks high on purity
- Very expensive
- Loose chalk = messy
- You’ll get hooked on it
Black Diamond White Gold
Black Diamond White Gold comes in a very close second to FrictionLabs’s Unicorn Dust. Black Diamond may not have the insane marketing power of FrictionLabs, but BD’s climbing chalk does an excellent job of drying your hands at much lower price.
This chalk is especially good if you have really, super-sweaty hands. It was, by far, the most drying of all the chalks I tested. It’s also an optimal choice if you just like an extra-dry feeling.
It feels less “gentle” than Unicorn Dust—it doesn’t glide over your hands as well, and it leaves your hands feeling almost too dry. It’s not the best choice if you have very sensitive skin, but if you’re looking for a climbing chalk that really does the job at a reasonable price, this just may be the best climbing chalk for you.
- Good value
- 0% sweat
- Overly drying
- Loose chalk = messy
FrictionLabs Secret Stuff Chalk Cream
FrictionLabs’s main selling point isn’t their celebrity following, but their commitment to transparency. Unlike other companies, they’re the first to admit their chalk isn’t 100% pure magnesium carbonate. Instead, they pledge to import the highest-quality raw materials and process them in Denver, Colorado.
Since you won’t use liquid chalk as often, investing in a slightly more expensive tube of a higher quality product is the right choice. This liquid chalk goes on easily, dries quickly, and prevents you from over-using your loose chalk.
Liquid chalk does have a distinct look—almost as if you dipped your hands in white paint. If you’re concerned about blending in, liquid chalk might not be the right choice for you, as it’s immediately obvious you’ve used it (maybe they should call it The Not-So-Secret Stuff). I don’t think this matters, but to each their own.
- Long lasting
- Sanitizes hands
- Ranks high on purity
- Less wasteful
- Least messy
- Made in the USA
- Strong alcohol smell when you first put it on
- Probably needs to be used along with regular chalk
- Makes your hands look weird
Trango’s mission is focused on inclusivity—getting people climbing and excited about the sport no matter their level. They create straightforward, reliable gear to help all levels of climbers enjoy themselves on the wall.
They really carried out this mission when they created Trango Gunpowder. It’s an amazing value for a very high quality product. It’s extremely smooth to apply and lasts a lot longer than other options at a similar price. It’s an approachable price point for the diverse range of people who have found a love for climbing, and it doesn’t skimp on quality.
This product has a pillowy sensation, so if you like chunky climbing chalk, you might want to skip this one. It’s also not the absolute cheapest chalk on the market. However, Trango Gunpowder doesn’t use a drying agent, which is a huge plus because it won’t dry out your skin as much in the long term. At around $7.50 for 200 grams, this climbing chalk is really a steal for the quality.
- Long lasting
- Smooth application
- No drying agent
- Cheap, but could be cheaper
- Might be too fine for some climbers
GSC Gym Chalk
This is a “chalk block,” which I haven’t covered—but don’t panic! It’s essentially just loose chalk that hasn’t been broken up yet. It doesn’t give the luxurious pillowy feeling of loose chalk, but it does give you a hand warm up when you first break it up. And it’s cheap!
This—or a similar version of this—is available at just about any gym and is generally the least expensive option behind the front desk. It’s not particularly pretty, and takes a little more work, but it’ll get the job done.
I like to break off a chunk for my chalk bag and crush it up with my hands before I warm up, and then save the rest of the block for later. Did I mention it’s cheap?
Be a good sport—offer a chunk to your friend, climbing partner, or that random guy scraping chalk off the floor. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t want to be that guy, but it’s nice to help him out. It’ll make you feel like that person who just bought everyone at the bar a round of drinks—but with fewer regrets in the morning.
- Easy to find
- Easy to share
- More effort to apply
- Not as long lasting
You know the old camp saying about leaving the place better than how you found it? Apologies to Badger, Banana Slug, Scooby, and all my camp counselors of days past—I think we all need a refresher course in this ethos.
As “one with nature” as climbers like to act, we must face the fact that our actions alter the natural state of rocks. We drill holes, cut trees, and even (horrifically!) sometimes make poopie and don’t clean it up.
In my defense, I do none of these things—but I’m speaking for the group as a whole. I do, however, use bolts put up by others (thanks!) and I constantly leave one thing behind: chalk. (And sunglasses. If you found a pair of pink sunglasses in Red Rock or a brown pair at Smith, let me know. And I’m sorry).
Pur Chalk was created to combat this impact (leaving behind chalk residue, that is) by making climbing chalk that blends in with the rock you’re climbing.
It’s expensive, and you will most likely be climbing rocks that are already covered in white chalk. But with its leave-no-trace commitment and partnership with advocacy organizations, it’s a high-quality product you’ll feel good about using.
- 100% natural dyes
- Reduces environmental impact
- Ethical company
- Not as necessary for indoor climbers
Metolius Super Chalk Sock
Chalk socks, or chalk balls, are a great way to contain loose chalk that you buy in bulk—and save money by reducing waste and cost. If you, and your gym, are okay with loose chalk, these items are somewhat unnecessary. But it does give you something to grab in your chalk bag and can reduce your overall costs for climbing chalk.
For this reason, it’s crucial to buy one that’s refillable so you don’t have to keep purchasing chalk socks that you end up throwing away. Metolius’s Super Chalk Sock is a standard refillable chalk ball that is a good size and comes at an affordable price.
I’m not too picky about my chalk socks, so I would just go cheap on this one and get this one from Metolius. Unless you don’t like a lot of chalk on your hands, or you’re one of those lucky people who doesn’t sweat much, you will probably need some loose chalk in addition to the Metolius Super Chalk Sock.
I find that chalk socks don’t distribute enough chalk on their own (for my preference), and they don’t give me the secure feeling of chalk covering my hands. This one is no different, but it is an affordable chalk sock to use in addition to other products—and it wins points for price and ability to refill.
- Easy to refill
- Good size for a standard chalk bag
- Doesn’t distribute chalk in large quantity
- Not totally necessary
Petzl Power Crunch
Let’s just say Power Crunch is thiiicckk! It comes as a combination of super hard chunks and loose chalk—in a resealable bag. You can add as much as you’d like to your chalk bag or bucket, and then reseal the bag to use the rest later.
If you like your climbing chalk really chunky (and making the effort to break it up in your hands while you look at a problem), this is the best climbing chalk for you.
However, like Black Diamond’s White Gold (#2 on this list), Petzl’s Power Crunch is extremely drying—so it’s not a great option for climbers with sensitive skin. Its texture helps prevent chalk dust from getting everywhere and, combined with its reasonable price point, it’s the perfect choice and one of the best climbing chalks for climbers who prefer a chunkier chalk texture.
- Reasonable price
- May be too chunky for some climbers
- May be too dry
I was skeptical about Primo Chalk, as the idea of adding oil to my hands while climbing sounds a bit like slashing my tires before I go on a long drive. But Primo’s combination of magnesium carbonate, essential oils, and Epsom salt actually did what it promises—it dried my hands without causing damage to my skin.
Primo also claims their chalk is antibacterial. If you’ve ever seen how many people keep their climbing shoes on in the bathroom of the climbing gym, this is a huge plus. (Note to readers/new climbers who don’t pick up on not-so-subtleties: Please take your climbing shoes off before you use the bathroom!)
This climbing chalk has a lotion-like smell, which can be a pro or a con depending on what you’re into. It’s perfect if you have sensitive skin and aren’t too concerned about having your hands feel bone-dry. But if you want that classic chalk feeling, this would be a tough switch.
So if you’re a hand model, or just someone who’s really into skincare, Primo Chalk might be that spa-meets-gym experience you’ve been searching for—and the best climbing chalk for you.
- Smells good
- Not as long lasting
- Not ultra-drying
FrictionLabs Magic Reusable Chalk Ball
This reusable chalk ball is a bit more expensive than many others on the market, so if you’re just going for a product that you can fill with your own chalk, it’s probably not going to be your top choice. That said, it comes with FrictionLabs’s climbing chalk inside, and it distributes chalk really well.
If you’re looking to test out FrictionLabs’s chalk and need a reusable chalk ball, then all the stars have aligned to make this chalk ball worth the extra cost.
The Magic Reusable Chalk Ball distributes chalk a bit more seamlessly than the other chalk balls I tested, which I appreciated. It loses a few points for being a bit more expensive and for me, it’s not worth the extra couple dollars.
But if you’re a fan of FrictionLabs’s climbing chalk and want the best ball to hold it, this one’s for you!
- Distributes chalk well
- Easy to refill
- Comes with high-quality chalk
- A bit spendy
- Not totally necessary
What Exactly Is Climbing Chalk?
Short answer: Magnesium carbonate (or MgCo3), which is a non-toxic, inorganic salt. It’s used to dry athletes’ palms, but is also used in toothpaste, cosmetics, flooring, fire extinguishers, and as a laxative in high doses. Information is fun!
How and When Do I Use Chalk?
If you’re a new climber, you might feel intimidated by all the people around you chalking up like they came out of the womb with white hands. Don’t worry—there’s no right way to do it. Just put a little chalk on your hands before you climb.
If you’re bouldering, people generally chalk up before each boulder problem (hence the big chalk buckets that stay on the ground). If you’re getting on ropes, it’s best to have a chalk bag that wraps around your waist so you can chalk up before and during the climb.
Really, climbing can be scary—but not because you should be intimidated by other climbers. My attitude: chalk up in the locker rooms if you want!
There Must Be Some Sort of Etiquette I Can Mess Up Here, Right?
The one way you can mess up is by leaving “tick marks,” or the small lines made with chalk to point out hand or foot holds when climbing outside. With a few (often debated) exceptions, all tick marks should be rubbed off at the end of a session.
Okay, you’ve found your favorite climbing chalk. Your hands are dry and you’re ready to get out there. Check out these products to help you hold your chalk and protect your skin!
- Black Diamond Mojo Zip Chalk Bag: This chalk bag features a classic design and color options you won’t get sick of. What’s more, it even includes a zipper pocket for your keys or smartphone.
- prAna Pranzo Bucket Bag: This chalk bucket is built to last, and with three exterior pockets and plenty of loops for your brushes, it’s the perfect container for all that sweet, sweet loose chalk.
- Joshua Tree Organic Climbing Salve: If you’ve ever climbed at Joshua Tree, you know the burning sensation of your hands being consistently rubbed on what feels like a gravel driveway on fire. Use a small amount of this salve, made from a blend of organic essential oils, to moisturize your hands after a long day and protect your skin for future adventures.
- Climbskin Double-Sided Hand and Finger File: Use this to file down your calluses and prevent flappers. It comes with two different textures and an orange string so it won’t get lost.
- Climbing Brush: Use this boar’s hair brush to get all the grease and excess chalk off holds and increase friction. It comes with a lifetime warranty and a secret compartment in the handle for your “small valuables.”