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Having only used pure chalk without added substances so far, I wondered how the other types perform. Most of the information I could find online is either somebody ranting against a certain type, or uncritical explanations of what the different ones are made of.

So, what are the benefits and tradeoffs of each type of chalk? How long do they last on the hands, how much climbing do you get per amount of chalk (So I can base value on the price I can get for these products when it's time to buy).

Is there really something that makes you feel like you've got sticky fingers like some people suggest?

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Would you want sticky fingers while tying off, belaying, or sport/lead climbing? I prefer plain chalk because it won't coat the rope or other gear with adhesives or chemicals. –  ddri Apr 18 '12 at 14:09

2 Answers 2

I too prefer good old magnesium carbonate. My favorite is the block form (I haven't noticed a difference between brands), which usually can be found for a better price if you look through retailers who market to gymnasts rather than climbers. I'll list below the different kinds of chalk and grip aids that I have experience with and the merits/demerits of each; hopefully you'll find it helpful!


CHALK

Block Chalk: My personal favorite. Good coverage, lasts a long time between chalk bag dips, and feels nice and grippy.

Superchalk: Sold by Metolius and several other companies have variations, comes loose in a ziplock-type bag. I'm not sure what the additive is, but I find it really fluffy and it doesn't coat my hands (backs especially) the way I want it to. It does help though and it's better than nothing.

Eco Ball: To me, the eco ball doesn't do a whole lot for grip. It dries my hands well, but I feel that my grip almost actually gets worse. It almost feels sandy.


GRIP AIDS

Rosin: Hardened tree sap used by dancers. I love rosin, but I don't use it for climbing because I feel it gives me TOO much grip. If regular block chalk doesn't do what you want, this will definitely give you more grip. It needs to be warm to be the most sticky, so breathe on your hands or rub them together. I would be careful with rosin: with too much grip you can increase your risk of flappers.

Liquid rosin: Liquid rosin is made by dissolving the hardened rosin above in alcohol. It's extremely sticky when first applied. I feel that the stickiness is lost very quickly and my hands end up feeling almost sweaty.

Tough Skin: I believe this product is marketed as a temporary adhesive for applying foam prewrap before taping a joint. I've used it as a grip aid and it is sticky like liquid rosin, but doesn't loose its stickiness quite as quickly. I still get a wet, almost slimy feeling though, so it's not my favorite.

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Nice. Any idea how long the rosin lasts? Never tried it before - sounds interesting. –  Greg.Ley Apr 9 '12 at 6:02
    
Well, I'm not sure how long it would last on rock. It usually lasts quite a while when I use it: I only dip every 20 minutes or so? Bunheads is a decent brand: it's sold loose to dancers in a sort of ziplock pouch. We usually cut the toe off a sock, dump the rosin in, then tie it off and keep it in a plastic container. I would suggest that if you try rosin, you wait until you decide that you like it before putting it in a chalk bag: I'm not kidding about the stickiness! –  Ann Apr 9 '12 at 6:51
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@Greg you might read this (and search for Rosin + Rock Climbing) before you start using it. It apparently makes a long lasting mess of the rock. –  Mr.Wizard May 6 '12 at 1:49
    
Rosin is very, very frowned upon in the UK. Expect someone to shout at you if your caught using it, it ruins holds. I think it's only widely used by boulders in France (for some reason). –  Liam Jul 2 at 10:26

They are all very similar. I've attempted to summarise below:

Chalk

Pure natural calcium carbonate, nothing else.

Advantages: It's natural, it doesn't dry your hands out (as much), you're not going to leave chemicals on holds and it'll wash off without leaving a trace, cheap

Disadvantage: It can get a bit sticky and gritty on your hands, needs replacing often


Chalk + drying agent

Same as above plus some chemicals thrown in

Advantages: It will stay drier for longer, stays "powerdy", cheap

Disadvantages: It's not 100% natural (though it's mostly just chalk), it may leave nasty chemicals on holds out in the wilderness, it may leave some traces of chemicals on your hands, needs replacing often


Liquid

Liquid agent that dries onto your hands, normally used as a base layer

Advantages: provides a durable layer that doesn't need reapplying constantly, protects your skin against drying, good if your climbing for extended periods of time

Disadvantages: You'll probably need chalk as well, it's relatively expensive, chemical based

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