Climbing chalk has become a staple part of the climbing community over the years. You will be hard pressed to go to any indoor climbing gym and come out the other side without getting at least a little bit of the stuff on you. And yet, there are certain reasons why climbers are not willing or able to use chalk and will need to find a suitable alternative.
Some of the most common reasons climbers need to find an alternative to climbing chalk include:
- Reducing their environmental impact
- Forgot their chalk at home
- Have adverse reactions to the chalk
If you are someone who is having bad reactions to the climbing chalk, then I suggest trying a different brand/type of chalk. Some chalks (especially liquid chalks) have aggressive drying agents and can cause irritations and be way worse for your hands than others. FrictionLabs Unicorn Dust, while slightly pricier than other chalks, comes highly recommended because it does not have any harmful drying agents or impurities in it. It may be worth a shot before abandoning chalk altogether. With that said, let’s get into it.
The following five items are suitable alternatives to use instead of climbing chalk:
Before we can discuss these potential alternatives to climbing chalk, we need to identify why chalk works so well for climbing.
What Makes Chalk Good For Climbing
Contrary to popular belief, chalk actually reduces the friction between your hands and the rock/holds. Think about why climbers brush off the holds before their next attempt: it is to clean off all of the extra chalk (and dirt when outside) from the holds. It’s that extra chalk/dirt build up that causes the holds to become extra slick and you to lose your grip on them when they are dry.
So if chalk doesn’t directly increase the friction between your hand and the rock, why does it work?
Chalk works so well in climbing because it dries out your hands and removes all of the built up sweat. Having dry chalked up hands provides a better grip than having “clean” hands slick with sweat. Therefore, suitable alternatives to chalk will focus on drying out your hands and/or removing the sweat from them.
5 Climbing Chalk Alternatives
A few alternatives have been left off of this list because they are either prohibited in certain areas or are widely considered to be “cheats”. For example, there are a few chalk-less grip enhancers on the market that many climbers believe that using them is considered cheating. In addition to these, POF is a very popular substance (similar to tree sap) that is able to be used in Fontainebleau but is widely considered “cheating” and ends up coating holds.
The five alternatives listed below are not not cheats and can be used with a clear conscience.
1. Metolius Eco Ball
The Metolius Eco Ball is an environmentally friendly alternative to chalk. It does not leave behind any visible residue on the rock and keeps the routes looking pristine. This product is very similar to a chalk sock and the clear powder inside of the ball even feels similar to chalk.
It has a strong drying agent in it that keeps your hands dry for a while, limiting the amount of times you need to reapply it. That said, the drying agent is very potent and it is highly recommended that you moisturize your hands after your session to re-hydrate them. I do not recommend this alternative if your hands have been having adverse reactions to the drying agents in normal chalk.
While it is effective and can be used in certain environmentally protected areas that prohibit the use of standard chalk, it is quite large and non-refillable. Because it is not refillable, having to repurchase these is significantly more expensive than using normal chalk. Check out its current price on Amazon here.
That said, this is the most effective climbing chalk alternative that I know of.
You read that right, antiperspirants can be applied to your hands as well to mitigate how much they sweat. Do not confuse this with deodorants. Rubbing your deodorant stick on your hands will not help you and people will think you are weird.
Antiperspirants will be best applied well before you start your session and begin to sweat. It is best to follow the instructions on the packaging as to when to apply them.
3. Slightly Soapy Water and a Towel
This may seem counterintuitive at first but it definitely works for a quick fix. Rinsing off your hands with slightly soapy water will remove any dirt and wick away the excess sweat from your hands. Following this up by drying them with a clean towel will make them clean and ready to go for your next attempt.
It should be noted that this method will not stop your hands from sweating and is a very temporary fix. Therefore this method is a lot more suited to bouldering than it is for sport climbing or top roping. It works great once you have already brushed off the holds and are climbing on clean rock/plastic. Depending on how much you are sweating, you may need to rinse and dry them between every attempt for this to be effective.
Try to make sure your hands are completely dry before each attempt and do not add a lot of soap in the water. A little bit goes a long way.
4. Dry Dirt or Sand
If you are climbing in an area that has dry dirt or sand around you then it will be worthwhile to grab a handful of this and rub it on your hands. This will wick away the moisture on your hands and dry them out a bit. While it is not effective as chalk, it can definitely get the job done in a pinch.
Having a towel on you so you can wipe off all of the excess dirt from your hands before your next attempt will keep your pants and/or shirt clean. If you don’t really care about them getting dirty then by all means leave the towel at home and wipe away.
This method will not work in every climbing area. If the weather has been very rainy recently or the dirt you will be using is very moist, this can actually do more harm than good. Notably, the dirt in the eastern US and pacific northwest climbing areas is typically less than ideal for this. Your hands will likely become caked in a muddy mess rather than getting dried off.
5. Crushed Dry Leaves
Using crushed dry leaves works the same way as rubbing dry sand/dirt on your hands. DO NOT pull leaves off of trees to do this. Use the dead dried up leaves on the ground around you for this purpose. Leaving no trace is a big portion of climbing and ripping leaves off of trees definitely does not fit this motto.
As you may have guessed, this is more of a seasonal alternative and is most applicable in the fall when there are actually dead leaves on the ground.