Can chalk really make that much of a performance difference? For most climbers, it’s probably mostly a psychological benefit...powdered courage, if you will. However, for pushing your absolute limit or for those who have naturally soft, sweaty palms, chalk can be the difference between sending or popping off the crux for the umpteenth time. With so many choices on the market, chalk has become as much a personal preference as climbing shoes, and the differences between products and brands are often subtle. We won’t even go into the various types: blocks versus chunky mixes versus baby powder versus chalk balls and even scented chalks. This is specifically about liquid chalk and its rise in popularity.
Metolius Super Chalk has been a staple in my climbing quiver for as long as I can remember. In my 29 years of climbing, my preference has always been a mix of block chalk and the chunky powdered stuff, maybe because I find it mildly satisfying to crush the chunks in my hand. Whether it’s using the blocks to coat my hands when I’m squeezing boulders in Joe’s Valley or Bishop or the finer powder for those delicate redpoints at Shelf Road or Smith Rock, I’ve always had great experiences with Metolius Super Chalk.
Now Super Chalk comes in liquid form, in a 6.7-ounce tube you can buy individually or in a case of 12. The chalk itself is smooth and applies evenly across your hand, giving you good coverage—it coats every surface and pore, giving you an even base layer for the start of your session that leaves your hands looking like they were dipped in powdered sugar. From my experience, the chalk took less than a minute to dry; you then add a small amount of regular powdered chalk and off you go.
My first few testing sessions were in the climate-controlled environment of the climbing gym where I could tell right away that my hands were way drier than with powdered chalk alone. My hands don’t normally sweat a lot unless I’m anxious or projecting something harder, or both. When I tested outside on the boulders of Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder, Colorado, it was warm—like, July warm. I tried both shady and sunny problems and immediately tested its worth. As expected, I found that without the liquid chalk, I had to reapply powdered chalk continuously on the sunny problems. But with the liquid chalk, I only had to reapply every few goes on each problem, as it kept a solid base layer. The Monkey Traverse was the perfect testing ground for this. It’s long, mostly open handed, and in direct sun in the afternoon. I tried with and without the liquid chalk, and immediately noticed that I could focus on the climb rather than my hands sweating me off the problem when I applied the base layer. In the dry heat in Boulder, one or two applications seemed to suffice per bouldering session, depending on intensity and duration. Sport climbing in Rifle, on the other hand, was different: Because the routes were so long, I found myself reapplying liquid chalk almost after every climb, which is pretty standard for any brand of liquid chalk.
Ultimately, I think you’ll find yourself using less of the powdered stuff when you start with the Metolius Liquid Chalk. This is especially nice for gym climbing, where things can be stuffy, and where we all appreciate having less powdered chalk floating around. The only major downfalls I’ve found with the Metolius Liquid chalk are the potential for over-drying the skin and mild post-session discomfort due to the high alcohol content, which was easily remedied by using moisturizing lotion after every session.
So is liquid chalk (the concept) the magic bullet to start sending several grades harder? Maybe not. However, it will take at least one variable out of the equation: no more sweaty hands. Is it better than using powdered chalk alone? Most definitely. In researching and testing for this article, I went down the rabbit hole of the chalk world only to get lost because, like climbing shoes and their fit, the answers about what works “best” are often subjective. There are multiple brands of liquid chalk on the market, and I’ve found the differences to be subtle at best. So why would I buy Metolius Liquid Chalk? Simple. It does the job well, and at $9.95 for a 6.7-ounce tube, it’s one of the best values out there.