Best Climbing Chalk of 2021
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|Pros||Widely available, good texture and friction, nice price||Awesome resealable packaging, easy to dump in the chalk bag, good value, consistent texture||Excellent value, good friction and coverage||Coats hands well, least expensive "climbing specific" chalk||Great Coverage, Excellent friction, almost no dust|
|Cons||Easy to spill, creates a lot of dust||No hard chunks for making tick marks||Unusable if you have cuts and abrasions on your hands||Low friction, doesn't last as long as other chalks||Not a great value|
|Bottom Line||This magnesium carbonite keeps your hands dry without costing an arm and a leg||We love the solid reusable container and the solid value of this chalk||This liquid chalk lets you apply a solid base layer of chalk on your hands without creating a cloud of dust||This chalk is the most cost effective way to keep your hands dry||When you need all the friction you can get, this chalk cream delivers|
|Rating Categories||Black Diamond White...||Trango Gunpowder||Mammut Liquid Chalk||Metolius Super Chalk||Friction Labs Secre...|
|Friction & Overall Feel (25%)|
|Specs||Black Diamond White...||Trango Gunpowder||Mammut Liquid Chalk||Metolius Super Chalk||Friction Labs Secre...|
|Price Per oz||$1.84/oz||$1.13/oz||$1.94/oz||$0.80/oz||$7.60/oz|
|Texture||Chunky to fine||Fine||Liquid||Fine||Liquid|
Best Overall Climbing Chalk
Black Diamond White Gold
Black Diamond White Gold is the perfect combination of value and performance. Whether you prefer your chalk in a fine powder for thick, cakey coverage or full of hefty chunks, you can have it all in one 300-gram bag (100-gram and 200-gram bags are also available). From the dry air of the high desert to humid climbing gyms in the Southeast US, White Gold consistently delivered the extra friction and confidence we needed to focus and climb hard.
As with all loose climbing chalk, BD White Gold produces a lot of dust and is easily spilled. Friction Labs Gorilla Grip is easier to manage with its resealable coffee bag style packaging with a narrow opening but costs over twice as much. Pairing White Gold with a refillable chalk ball is a great way to prevent spills and reduce dust inside your climbing gym.
Read review: Black Diamond White Gold
Best Bang for the Buck
Metolius Super Chalk
Pinching pennies and stretching dollars so you can afford a rack of cams or massive crash pad? Metolius Super Chalk is the best way to keep costs down and your chalk bag full. This is the least expensive option we tested, and while some testers preferred Friction Labs Gorilla Grip or BD White Gold, they couldn't discern a big difference in performance in our blind testing. Each bag includes chalk chunks and fine powder and seems heavier on the powder than the competition, creating more dust and making it easier to load into a refillable chalk ball. Large chalk chunks have to be ground down before they can fit in chalk balls, which can be a messy process. Super Chalk was one of the first types of chalk that included an antiperspirant additive to keep fingers and palms from getting sweaty. This feature can be love/hate depending on whether you have super sweaty or overly dry skin.
Anecdotally, our testers described this chalk as feeling silky, fine, and more prone to caking up than other brands. If you like a ton of chalk on your hands, you may prefer Super Chalk. In the process of reviewing climbing chalk, we know first-hand that there is such a thing as "too much chalk" on your hands and the climbing holds, causing the holds to feel slippery if not properly brushed. Still, for bargain hunters and just about everyone else, the Super Chalk gets it done for a low price.
Read review: Metolius Super Chalk
Fine Cut Chalk in a Great Container
Trango Gunpowder (for your guns, get it?) is a fine cut entry into the chalk world. As brands strive to make their mark on the chalk market, their main way to distinguish themselves is through packaging and chalk texture. Gunpowder is consistently fine, much finer than FrictionLabs Unicorn Dust, but not powdery fine like the Bison Designs Competition Chalk. The result is a chalk that provides good coverage every time you dip your hands in your chalk bag at a great price, all in a container that won't leave a big chalky mess inside your backpack.
The downside of fine chalk is the lack of larger chunks for making tick marks and its tendency to become aerosolized. Chunkier chalk blends will always become finer as they get crushed down over time in your chalk bag, but it doesn't cover your hands as well (initially) as finer chalks. In the gym, dust wafting from your chalk bag is typically frowned upon. However, if you're lucky enough to do most of your climbing outdoors and you're a stickler for fine texture, Trango Gunpowder is a great option.
Best Liquid Climbing Chalk
Mammut Liquid Chalk
For climbers looking for a little something extra to up their game, Mammut Liquid Chalk can make greasy hands feel drier than dry. A teaspoon-sized dollop of liquid chalk completely coats both of your hands in a bright white layer of chalk once it dries. We find that a base layer of liquid chalk can help loose chalk adhere to our hands better throughout a climbing session, causing us to chalk up less.
The "liquid" part of liquid chalk is alcohol, which evaporates quickly, but if your battered hands are covered with cuts and gobies, then you shouldn't use liquid chalk. Sure it sterilizes, but it also stings, and rubbing fine grains of chalk into your wounds doesn't exactly promote healing. Mammut's Liquid Chalk is a much better value than the competition.
Read review: Mammut Liquid Chalk
Best Chalk Ball
Black Diamond Refillable Chalk Shot
Many of our testers are primarily outdoor climbers and feel like they can never get enough coverage from a chalk ball. Not so with the Black Diamond Refillable Chalk Shot. Constructed with porous cloth, our testers found they could still get a confidence-inspiring amount of chalk on their hands from this ball without spilling chalk all over the place.
Other chalk balls on the market have smaller pores that may help prevent spreading dust around, but that is why we prefer the BD Chalk Shot for its delivery of the goods to your hands. It's the chalk ball for folks who don't like chalk balls. If your climbing gym bans loose chalk and you need all the chalk you can get on your greasy paws; the Chalk Shot doesn't disappoint.
Read review: Black Diamond Refillable Chalk Shot
Why You Should Trust Us
Our lead tester is Matt Bento, a climber for over ten years. He's been fully immersed in all disciplines of rock climbing at some point or another, spending summers scrambling around the High Sierra while working for Yosemite Search and Rescue and winters living in his van at Hueco Tanks and in Bishop. He's used about every chalk product out there and came to this review with some strong opinions (Frank Endo was his favorite chalk) that were quickly deconstructed after he failed to identify his favorite chalk during our blind testing. Joining him is Andy Wellman, another lifelong climber and former guidebook publisher who has spent most of his life bumming between different climbing areas. He came to this review a firm Super Chalk fan, but like Matt, found it very difficult to choose his favorite out of the blind test lineup.
To test and compare these various types of chalk, we bought a pile of each and spent three blissful months climbing at the many options surrounding Bishop, California. When the weather wasn't so nice, and to be sure we accounted for the particular type of shmarm found only on old polished holds, we also tested each of these options in the gym. To eliminate our inherent user biases, we also tested chalk blind and recruited faithful test rats to use our chalk for free (as long as they gave us their opinions). Almost everyone involved in this test had their convictions shaken, and you can consider this the best crowd-sourced chalk review on the planet.
Related: How We Tested Climbing Chalks
Analysis and Test Results
Comparing chalk objectively is no easy task, as many variables affect how sticky the rock feels and how confident you feel while climbing. Many of the subtle differences in chalk brands appeal to certain climbers, but regarding performance, we noticed only slight variations from brand to brand. To cover all angles you can approach the chalk world from; we compared liquid chalk to loose chalk and chalk balls, which occasionally gets us into "apples to oranges" territory. We feel, however, that this broad approach helped us discover more than we ever knew about climbing chalk.
We chose four metrics to see how these chalk products measure up and help you learn what chalk products are most appropriate for your needs; friction and overall feel, coverage, mess, and value. While Black Diamond White Gold came out as our favorite chalk and a top scorer, other brands may be a better choice for you, depending on your skin and where you climb.
Related: Buying Advice for Climbing Chalks
Friction & Overall Feel
As much as we try to keep our testing standardized and as "scientific" as possible, we realize that friction and feel from chalk to chalk is subjective. Some of our testers have dry skin and only need to use small amounts of chalk, while others have self-described "pizza hands" that always glisten with sweat, leaving dark grease stains on the climbing holds. To add objectivity to our testing process, we committed to a blind chalk test. We put the chalks into numbered bags and had our testers hanging from the same sloping holds in the gym and provide feedback about each chalk. They also tried to guess which chalk was from each brand based on their past experiences. More often than not, their guesses were incorrect. This doesn't mean that all climbing chalk is the same; it means the differences between each brand are subtle.
For dedicated climbers who obsessively file their calluses and never eat cookies, chalk is one more controllable variable in their relentless pursuit of climbing aestheticism. The average climber is less likely to notice if Brand X makes the second right-hand crimp on Junior's Achievement feel schmarmy after 10 am, and will likely be satisfied with the increased friction performance from any climbing chalk.
Our objective conclusions pertain to the texture of each chalk. In general, finer more powdery textured chalk, like Metolius Super Chalk, sticks to our hands better, and it's easier to maintain a thick layer of chalk on our fingers. However, the finer chalk tends to cake up on holds, eventually causing them to feel slippery if they aren't brushed often. Bison Designs Competition Chalk is so powdery that it feels almost like flour and wafts out of our chalk bags with the slightest breeze. Chalk that feels crunchier and stays in larger chunks feels more confidence-inspiring to some of our testers since it leaves a thinner layer of chalk that doesn't feel cakey. Friction Labs Gorilla Grip consistently felt the most grippy, with Black Diamond White Gold and Black Gold coming tieing for a close second. Frank Endo Block Chalk starts out as chunky as you like and slowly breaks down into a fine powder the longer it stays in your chalk bag or bucket, and Petzl Power Crunch is also quite chunky.
We evaluated two varieties of liquid chalk, or chalk cream, Friction Labs Secret Stuff and Mammut Liquid Chalk. After drying, Mammut Liquid Chalk has a slightly grainier texture than Secret Stuff, and our testers noticed almost no difference in friction and overall feel between the liquid chalks. We did notice that Mammut Liquid Chalk stays evenly mixed in its tube better than the Secret Stuff, so you'll need to be diligent about shaking the Secret Stuff before applying, or you'll end up just squirting rubbing alcohol on your hands.
How much climbing chalk will be stuck on your hands after a dip into your chalk bag? How long will it stay on your hands before you need to chalk up? Another minefield of subjectivity, we tackled this metric with hi-res photos of our hands before and after multiple reps using different holds on our hangboard. Both the liquid chalks shined bright in this metric since, in liquid form, we can rub chalk into every nook and cranny of our hands before it dries. As long as we remember to shake the bottles, so the solutions are evenly mixed, both liquid offerings from Friction Labs and Mammut provide equal coverage.
Among the loose chalk, coverage is dependent on how crushed up the chalk is. Fresh out of the bag, the silky feeling Bison Designs Competition Chalk provides the most coverage, caking up in a thick layer on our hands, while Friction Labs Unicorn Dust left a thinner layer both before and after the hanging exercises. Frank Endo Chalk Blocks and Petzl Power Crunch provide much better coverage if we break down the blocks by hitting our chalk bag against the ground and stomping on it. We found we could get similar coverage from all of the loose chalk if we ground it down to its finest form.
We feel like a thoughtful, patient adult should be able to get any of these products out of the packaging and into their chalk bags or onto their hands without making a mess. In reality, our testers had chalk all over the floor of the climbing gym, the trunks of their cars, their bodies, and even their faces during our months of testing. If you climb primarily indoors, your gym may require you to use a chalk ball to cut down on the mess. Dust is also starting to become a major concern in crowded climbing gyms. For scoring the mess metric, we considered aspects of how each chalk is packaged, if that packaging is reusable and sealable, and by paying special attention to how much chalk we spilled while loading up our chalk bags.
As long as you don't give them to your five-year-old, the liquid chalks offer a relatively mess-free delivery system. When properly mixed, Mammut Liquid Chalk and Friction Labs Secret Stuff stick to your hands even after they're dry and create very little dust. If you forget to shake up the tubes, you may end up with a dose that's light on the alcohol and will dry very quickly, then flake off your hands and into the air. A few folks use liquid chalk exclusively, but our testers feel that waiting for liquid chalk to dry after every application is impractical because they want to chalk up on the fly, so they always carry loose chalk or a chalk ball.
The Black Diamond Refillable Chalk Shot is the most reasonable way to reduce spillage and dust. The cloth on this chalk ball only allows a small amount of chalk to pass through at a time, creating less dust than loose chalk in a chalk bag. If you're genuinely concerned about reducing dust in your gym, or you have a very young climber in your life, the Refillable Chalk Shot is your best bet to keep chalk out of the air and off of your belongings. While climbing in a humid gym in North Carolina, our lead tester found the amount of chalk he got from the Refillable Chalk Shot to be pretty abysmal and made it his new favorite excuse for failure.
Loose chalk makes a mess despite our best efforts, but Friction Labs Gorilla Grip and Unicorn Dust are the easiest of the loose chalks to get from their coffee bag style packaging and into our chalk bags. We attribute this to the narrow, resealable openings that are the perfect size for pouring into a chalk bag, while the Metolius and Black Diamond loose chalks have larger openings that permit chalk to spill all over the place. We like to leave a scooper from an old drink mix in the bag with these chalks so we won't have to use our hands to fill a chalk bag. The resealable containers that hold Trango Gunpowder and Petzl Power Crunch also do an excellent job of reigning in the mess, especially when they're rolling around inside a backpack. Frank Endo Block Chalk is the most difficult variety to wrangle since random chunks can break off the blocks while you're tearing off the packaging, and it eventually breaks down into very fine dust. Make sure you have some kind of airtight storage sack or Tupperware to store unused block chalk and catch the chalk you spill while breaking up the blocks into chunks small enough for your chalk bag.
We usually keep price out of the picture when trying to compare products at GearLab objectively, but in the case of chalk, we find that the prices vary wildly, while performance does not. For example, Friction Labs Gorilla Grip costs more than twice as much per ounce than Black Diamond White Gold. Is Friction Labs Chalk better than Black Diamond? A few testers thought so, but they were still wary of the price, saying they'd take the Friction Labs over BD if they got free chalk but would happily settle for BD if they were paying for it. Friction Labs claims that their chalk is the purest chalk and has no additives. We have no way of ascertaining this. What we did observe is that Friction Labs provides consistently textured chalk in each bag. The bags of Gorilla Grip we tested had a nearly uniform consistency of marble-sized chunks, while BD and Metolius loose chalks have an assortment of chunks and powder. If you are very particular, you too can pay for chalk that feels the same every time, but we suspect performance has more to do with the individual than the brand of chalk.
The best value far and away goes to Metolius Super Chalk, which you can purchase in a 425-gram bag at well under a dollar per ounce. While some of our testers say Super Chalk is their least favorite because of its "silky" texture, it still performed well in our blind tests. The Bison Designs Competition is even less expensive, but our testers universally agreed that this chalk is too fine, and it was actually the easiest to identify during our blind test. BD White Gold is also a decent value at just over a dollar per ounce. Frank Endo Chalk Blocks, despite often being sold by the pound, are over a buck per ounce. Gorilla Grip goes for two and a half bucks per ounce unless you choose to subscribe, which scores you a 10% discount.
Friction Labs Secret Stuff suffered in the value metric with a price over seven dollars per ounce, making the Mammut Liquid Chalk seem like a bargain, costing under two bucks per ounce. We found the difference in performance between these products to be marginal, and we wholeheartedly recommend going with the less expensive option, or even making your own.
Comparing chalk is difficult, and some of our testing monkeys gave us strong, contradicting opinions. Even worse, a few testers had trouble discerning any differences between the loose chalks during our blind testing exercises. We've highlighted the key differentiating factors between these creams, shots, balls, and a variety of loose chalks, so now you'll know what to use and when, and now you can decide if chalk matters to you.
— Matt Bento
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