a man hanging upside down on a fingerboard
Today it seems impossible to prepare for climbing without having suitable shoes and good chalk, essential to guarantee an excellent grip on the hands.

But let's start from the beginning

First of all, as already explained in the previous article , magnesite is very different from common blackboard chalk. Both are carbonates, but the specific climbing one is magnesium-based and has very strong anti-sweat properties, provides better friction between the skin of the hands and the rock, and also improves general grip.

While it's unclear exactly when, chalk in sports has been around as long as modern gymnastics has existed. Gymnasts originally called it “mag” because of its composition.

We can really say it: John Gill , one of the greatest precursors and innovators of bouldering, had seen things through. The American gymnast introduced the use of climbing chalk in 1954. Before him, when climbers had sweaty hands, they wiped them on their trousers or took a handful of dirt and rubbed it between their palms. It wasn't exactly an optimal solution from a performance point of view, for obvious reasons!

John Gill saw climbing as an extension of gymnastics, a thought at odds with the common view that climbing was an extension of hiking.
In fact, he realized that the remarkable properties of gym chalk as a drying agent, which significantly improved grip, would be perfect for climbing.
During the 1950s, he explored more and more bouldering areas to establish short, dynamic routes. His idea of ​​climbing was essentially a combination of the dynamic movements of gymnastics with the vertical progress of traditional climbing, which before Gill was extremely static in nature.

Naturally, bringing this dynamism into the world of climbing required greater grip, which is why Gill identified gym chalk as the perfect solution.

There's no denying it: John Gill's contribution to bouldering was revolutionary, so much so that even the prestigious magazine Alpinist spoke of him as " the beginning of modern climbing in America ". The rest, as they say, is history: since then there has been no climber in the world who doesn't use chalk.
Having said that, it is important to know that chalk has evolved into many styles and shapes and today is very different from the standard chalk of the past.

What does chalk look like?

Today's chalk typically comes in three forms: a fine powder (which can be dissolved or placed in gauze balls), blocks , and liquid .

Each climber chooses the type of chalk based on personal preferences, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages.

Magnesite powder
Loose and block chalks are great for longer, more traditional climbs, since you can carry them in a bag and use them quickly while on the wall, in the middle of a route or at a belay.
Powdered chalk is perhaps the most used form because it is easier to share with friends.
Just dip your hands in the bag and voilà, here they are covered and ready for a perfect grip! Well, that was at least before the COVID era.

Some cons : It doesn't last as long and it's easy to use too much and waste it. In these cases, sometimes you even risk being "suffocated" for a moment by excessive use and it's not a very pleasant situation.

Magnesite blocks
Block chalk isn't much different from loose chalk, except that it comes in the form of a solid block that you break into little crumbs and rub on your hands until they turn into powder. It certainly creates less "mess" and less is wasted.

Liquid chalk
Liquid chalk , however, is a completely different story!
It is probably the best choice for the modern climber and boulderer from an ethical, practical and also hygienic point of view. It usually comes in a tube and you put a small amount on before a climb, then rub it in and leave it to dry. Not negligible detail: a single application is enough for an entire climbing session: for example, if you are climbing the crimps, you can only coat your tips and you don't waste any, fantastic, right?

Other advantages? Put plainly and simply: both in the gym and outdoors it is kinder on plastic and rock. It's less messy and wasteful. It leaves almost no residue behind (usually none) and uses less.

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