I never really used liquid chalk until recently, even though I’ve been rock climbing for close to 14 years. This may sound dumb, but it just didn’t seem as fun. I liked having a chalk bag, I liked chalking up mid-route, I even sort of liked the spray of chalk dust everywhere. That said...
I’m a full-on convert to Team Liquid Chalk now, at least in most climbing settings. I’ll tell you why.
It’s no secret that loose climbing chalk is extremely messy. Sure, we've used them for years, but powder chalks get everywhere and on everything, no matter how conscious and careful you are when applying them. They aren’t just wasteful, they’re also a health hazard. I don’t know about you, but the gym I used to climb in growing up was perpetually shrouded in a fog of chalk haze. Even as gyms have gotten larger, so have the number of climbers crowding them and the amount of chalk dust floating around in the air.
Liquid chalk, on the other hand, is the only chalk format proven to be low emission, making it the ideal chalk type for use by indoor rock climbers, people in traditional gyms, or anyone in an indoor setting. We’ve all been inhaling regular chalk dust in gyms for years, and increased adoption of liquid chalk can change that.
Liquid chalk is better for the environment than most other chalk formats and is a great choice in our increasingly crowded gyms and crags. As more and more climbers are hitting the crag, liquid chalk is a great way to climb without leaving any residue on the rock or dust floating around in the air. It’s proven to be low emission, like I mentioned above, and also, the application of liquid chalk is generally just less wasteful (you can use just as much as you need, no less, no more) than standard chalk.
Some folks think liquid chalk presents a drawback from a performance perspective compared to regular chalk, and while that may have been true in years past, new iterations, like the Secret Stuff line, are far better than ever before. It’s foreign to put a cream on your hands before climbing, at least for most people, but once I started using more liquid chalk, what I learned was how little chalk I need to use to improve my grip.
In that sense, I actually see myself climbing more effectively now because I’m not stopping to chalk up so many times mid-route. In a gym, in particular, you should be able to go from start to top with out needing to add more chalk. It does take some adjustment because it’s a new behavior, but just like when you buy your first pair of aggressive shoes, once you learn to climb in this new way, your performance improves.
If you’re hitting multi-pitch lines or long single pitches, sure, maybe loose chalk is needed for easy application while on the wall, but for bouldering, indoor climbing, and most moderate single-pitch sport routes, liquid chalk is the way to go. Even if you only use liquid chalk as a base layer and apply smaller amounts of loose chalk on top, it allows you to waste less chalk, make less of a mess, and maximize grip and performance.
Especially in light of the pandemic, liquid chalk also offers a more sanitary experience. You aren’t spewing your loose chalk dust everywhere, and if you do want to share chalk with a climbing partner, you can do so safely and hygienically, without dipping hands into the same chalk bag or bucket. Simply squirt a blob onto a buddy’s hand and let them rub it in. No shared contact needed.
What’s more, Friction Labs' Secret Stuff Hygienic is a hand-sanitizing liquid chalk that’s actually more effective than traditional hand sanitizer at combating germs like the coronavirus (proven via independent laboratory testing). Along with the traditional magnesium carbonate chalk formula, it contains 80% ethanol, even more than 60% that the CDC and WHO recommend for alcohol-based sanitizers during the pandemic.
So when you use Secret Stuff Hygienic liquid chalk, at least in the gym, not only are you making less of a mess, but also contributing to a safer climbing experience for everyone. This isn’t just great for climbing, either, it works well to keep you safe when weight lifting or using any other shared gym equipment.
Liquid chalk wasn’t my first choice for years. It is now. If you haven’t given it a try, now’s the time.
Owen Clarke is a climbing journalist and connoisseur of the art of making easy routes look difficult. He is a columnist for Rock & Ice, Gym Climber, and The Outdoor Journal, and has been climbing for 13 years. Follow his thoughts in his opinion column, “The Choss Pile,” published every Thursday on Rock & Ice.