Climber's life rely heavily on equipment. Having all the necessary equipment for simplest of climbs is a must. But, if at all I forget to bring the chalk powder along, what other alternatives I have for that?

I have used dry leaves by crushing them and rubbing them on fingers, that worked good enough.

What are other things that I can try?

  • 5
    Climb fast and accurate, so you never grab a hold for long or for a second time ;)
    – imsodin
    Nov 2, 2015 at 9:39
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    If it's not too hot and/or difficult, just climb without chalk. Chalk powder is the item in your climbing equipment which is not necessary at all. It's not safety relevant. There are climbing regions where you aren't allowed to climb with chalk at all. This is e.g. because of the vulnerable sandstone like we have in Saxony Swiss.
    – Wills
    Nov 2, 2015 at 10:38

3 Answers 3


A few years back at my University climbing gym, someone posted a study performed on chalking your hands while climbing. Basically, it was discovered that there was actually a measurable decrease in the coefficient of friction when you used chalk. As in, chalk made climbing holds harder to hang onto.

This of course made all the climbers who read the abstract laugh, because every climber knows that chalk helps you hang on to slippery holds. But after reading the study I was actually convinced. Chalk will soak up all your sweat and grime and dry your hands, but clean dry hands are actually gripper than chalked hands. In fact, according to this study, even wet clean hands have a stronger coefficient of friction than chalked hands. The conclusion of the study was that climbers would be better off using plain water instead of chalk.

It's the oils produced by your skin that makes rock holds slippery, and water naturally displaces oil, whereas chalking you hands puts a fine powder between you and the hold.

Whether or not you have chalk, the science says you're better off washing your hand in water. I've yet to try it (mostly because the rock I climb is so dirty I don't even need chalk) but you could try climbing with a wet sponge in your chalk bag and a golf towel hanging off your harness to wash and dry your hands with when they get grimy.

  • 2
    I rarely use chalk outdoors. Indoors, when your the hundredth person to place your sweaty hand on that hold, though, it does help. Your right clean rock/holds/hands is much better than chalk anyday but where it's not clean it does help
    – user2766
    Nov 3, 2015 at 9:05
  • 1
    I also sometimes noticed that freshly washed hands provide the best grip. But I have yet to try a way of washing my hands during a climb. Your method sounds like it would be worth a try, but also a bit impractical.
    – anderas
    Nov 3, 2015 at 10:10
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    Reference: Use of `chalk’ in rock climbing: sine qua non or myth? Li FX, Margetts S, Fowler I Jan 26, 2017 at 21:55
  • "water naturally displaces oil" - um no. No, it doesn't. That's why we use soap. Jan 27, 2017 at 8:42
  • @DaanMichiels reference as pdf: gblanc.fr/IMG/pdf/li2001.pdf Well worth adding to the answer.
    – imsodin
    Jan 27, 2017 at 8:44

There really is no good replacement for chalk but natural conditions and some tricks can help to make it easier to climb without chalk.

Some areas in Germany have very strict (Elbsandstein - no chalk) or strict (Pfalz - chalk starting around 5.12) ethics concerning chalk and it might be a good idea to look at how climbers there deal with sweaty hands.

Rock in those areas is almost exclusively soft or very soft sandstone which helps a lot because it takes up moisture while climbing and friction is usually very good. Often there is also fine sand at the base of cliffs which can be used to dry your hands between climbs without getting them too dirty.

So much for what the rock can do for you. What about yourself?

  • have a small towel on your harness to dry your hands (or use your shirt, pants etc.)
  • avoid south faces in summer, prefer north facing crags
  • stay calm and focus on your calmness while climbing (easier said than done)
  • climb routes below your limit (and climb more of them)

In some parts of France (Particularly the Fontainebleau forest) they use a substance called POF.

POF is basically tree sap, they harvest it and carry it around in bags, dabbing it onto holds, etc. to make them sticky. Any tree that produces a lot of sap can be used. Though be careful not to overly damage the tree in the process.

It is not without it's detractors though, many people consider using POF cheating, if not vandalism as it tends to coat holds. It's use is not recommended outside of Fontainebleau.

  • 1
    Thanks for putting that disclaimer. In the US I've never been to a cliff where the locals would approve of using pitch in lieu of chalk. There's even some areas that discourage the use of white chalk.
    – Erik
    Nov 2, 2015 at 15:05
  • 1
    Neat, but gross. I hate when I get sticky sap on my hands.
    – ShemSeger
    Nov 2, 2015 at 21:47
  • In Fontainebleu the locals don't approve of chalk! They say it erodes the sandstone on the boulders. @Erik
    – user2766
    Nov 3, 2015 at 9:03

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