You’ve probably seen it on a climber’s leg, smeared on their face, or scattered on the crash pad, small powder flakes in white. That’s chalk—calcium carbonate—a (sweaty) climber’s best friend. Chalking your hands absorbs the excess sweat from your hands, gives abrasion to the palm surface which allows better grip, and generally improves friction between your hand the hold.
There’s also a thing called the language of chalk. For climbers that are trying a new route and if route does not have color coded holds or taped edges, they can identify the holds they’ll go for by checking if it is still has marks of the excess chalk left by past climbers.
To some climbers this is considered wrong since you’re leaving traces on the wall, so make sure you just clean up after the holds by using a brush. Anyway, chalk has been more than beneficial for climbers alike and it comes in different forms.
Blocks of chalk are common, which are simply compressed calcium carbonate in rectangular shapes. They are crushed into the desired powder form and texture, then transferred to the chalk bag.
Loose chalk are available as well. This is usually gathered into what is known as chalk balls, mesh cloth filled with chalk and tightly fastened and put into the bag. Since it’s in a ball shape, it allows easier distribution of chalk to your palm and fingers. With loose chalk it is prone to bunch up in nooks if not spread well.
Liquid chalk is the least famous, but not necessarily least liked. This form is opted by deep water soloists, where moisture exposure is adamant. Chalk is kept in fluid form by alcohol, which evaporates quickly once it reaches contact with skin. Some indoor climbers also swear by liquid chalk since it’s cleaner to put (if you’re conscious with getting chalk all over your body).
There’s no superior chalk type, since it all depends on preference and the form of climbing you practice. Just get yourself well acquainted with the types and choose your weapon. You wouldn’t want a slippy hand miss out on you finishing your route!