Best Climbing Chalk
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 300g bag (100g and 200g bags 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, 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 that has 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 cost 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, but also 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, and 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
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 dryer 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 you're 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.
For folks who are concerned about dust in their climbing gym, the Metolius Super Chalk Sock is the better ball to go with, since it permits less chalk to pass through the cloth, but that's why our testers preferred the BD Chalk Shot. It's the chalk ball for folks who don't like chalk balls! If your 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 smarm 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 (eww!). To add objectivity to our testing process, we commited 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. Chalk that feels crunchier and stays in larger chunks felt 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 coming in a very 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.
Between the two chalk balls in our review, our testers preferred the Black Diamond Refillable Chalk Shot since it allowed them to get significantly more chalk on their hands than when using the Metolius Super Chalk Sock. The chalk that comes out of a chalk ball has to be in a powdery form to permeate through the chalk sock.
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 Metolius Super Chalk provides the most coverage, caking up in a thick layer on our hands, while Friction Labs Gorilla Grip left a thinner layer both before and after the hanging exercises. Frank Endo Chalk Blocks provides much better coverage if we broke 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.
The Black Diamond Refillable Chalk Shot doesn't come close to providing as much coverage as the liquid and loose chalks but left loads more chalk on our hands than the Metolius Super Chalk Sock.
We feel like a thoughtful, patient adult should be able to get any of these products out 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 Metolius Super Chalk Sock 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 the Black Diamond Refillable Chalk Shot. If you're genuinely concerned about reducing dust in your gym, or you have a very young climber in your life, the Super Chalk Sock from Metolius 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 Super Chalk Shot to be pretty abysmal and made it his new favorite excuse for failure.
Loose chalk makes a mess in spite of our best efforts, but Friction Labs Gorilla Grip is the easiest of the loose chalks to get from its coffee bag style packaging and into our chalk bags. We attribute this to it's narrow, re-sealable opening that's 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. 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 OutdoorGearLab 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 were getting 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 a hodgepodge 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 425g bag at well under a dollar per ounce. While a few of our testers say Super Chalk is their least favorite because of its "silky" texture, it still performed well in our blind tests. 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.
Value shouldn't affect your chalk ball choice very much unless you're purchasing in bulk. A BD Refillable Chalk Shot costs fifty cents more than the refillable Metolius Super Chalk Sock. If you have to climb with a chalk ball to comply with your gym's rules, but you like to have lots of chalk on your hands, choose the BD Shot. For reducing dust, go with Metolius.
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/oz. We found the difference in performance between these products to be marginal, and we wholeheartedly recommend going with the cheaper 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