Yes, that’s right you read it right: Chalk bags. Really? i hear you say, are you REALLY writing a guide to the technical aspects of chalk bags?! Well, i’ve often joked with people in the shop that i can wax poetic about the merits of this particular piece of climbing kit, so i figured, why the hell not, there’s plenty i can talk about. So here goes:
Size. There are, actually, quite a few technical differences to chalk bags, believe it or not, even though most of it is all down to cosmetics. The first and most important is size, giving three major options. Much as i can’t believe i’m really writing this, it starts with, erm, small:
Size: Large. Personally, i prefer a slightly larger chalk bag to carry with me on traverses or roped climbs, as i prefer to be able to “plunge” both hands in to my bag, or if that’s not possible, to be able to get a great big handful of chalk. The other bonus is that they are generally easier to find if you’re gripped or pumped and trying to desperately chalk up before your hands peel off a crucial hold half way along the route.
Size: Bucket. Surely the most popular among dedicated boulderers, these particular bags aren’t designed to be taken with you while climbing and tend to litter the bottom of popular boulder problems. They are generally huge, allowing both hands, forearms or other appendages all at once, although most people usually stop at the wrists… While they do resemble ladies handbags a lot of the time, they do have to other advantage of various available pockets and the like, which we will come to now.
Paraphernalia. Other than cosmetic differences, this is usually the next major point in selecting the right chalk bag for you. There are a number of differing options in this category, ranging from pockets to put keys, phone and wallet while climbing, or bouldering related items such as nail scissors, sandpaper and tapes, to loops to put brushes. Some pockets have zips, others such as Arc’teryx have snap shutting closures, but most are generally open and occasionally you can get velcro, although this is unusual. Needless to say, the larger the bag, the more options you’ve got with this.
Attachments. There are generally only two ways of attaching chalk bags to the body (and again obviously this does not apply to buckets). I would thoroughly recommend some sort of cord/belt system, and to be honest, unless the bag comes with one, i would say get another prussik loop, as they’re generally the right length to go round the waist and may come in handy at some point on a route one day. The other option that is popular is to clip the bag onto either a harness or the back of your trousers, and while this is a good option for trad (aside from the aforementioned prussik suggestion) i have heard of a friend of a friend who broke their back after failing on a sitting start and landing slightly awkwardly. So take my advice, a prussik cord is definitely the best option.
Closure. 90% of chalk bags will have a drawstring to secure the chalk inside, although the quality of the drawstring is important. Notable exceptions include the DMM Font boulder bucket, with two independent drawstrings and the Arc’teryx Caco Bucket which has a fabulous snap closure on the top as well as it’s drawcord, thus preventing the inevitable spraying of loose chalk all over the rest of your kit. Have a quick look when you’re surveying them to assess the quality.
Stiffness. Really quickly, some bags are very soft and can be screwed up in one hand. Others are much stiffer to give some substance and allow you to get your hands in when in a hurry. Again, like size, this is almost entirely personal preference.
Chalk. Finally, there are several different options for chalk, although despite getting into a mild disagreement with a colleague yesterday over different brands of chalk, i’m not going to discuss that here. We’ll quickly go through the different ways of getting the chalk from it’s packaging to your hands!
Chalk: Ball. Mainly popular with roped climbers and carry-able chalk bags, these are clean, simple and effective. Although, i do find chalk balls are not as good at distribution when either full or nearly empty, and when they get substantially wet, they may have a tendency to turn in to a small bag of tiny balls.
Chalk: Loose. Again, mainly popular with a specific selection of climbers, being boulderers and those climbing in the harder grades. This is mainly due to the efficiency they can spread the chalk around the hands, although i suspect they are probably a bit cheaper (i am NOT going to calculate the cost difference…). Personally i exclusively use loose chalk as i find it substantially better at keeping my hands dry. However, it is worth mentioning that climbing walls hate loose chalk, and i even know a wall in Birmingham that has clear signs stating they will evict you for using it. It can also be much messier, and i’m not found everything i own has some trace on chalk on it by now.
Chalk: Refillable chalk balls. The compromise, allowing you to buy one little ball, and fill it as it gets empty. Not much else to say than that, really.
Chalk: Eco friendly. I haven’t used these, so can’t really comment, but they are out there, and they are becoming more popular among a growingly eco-friendly conscious society.
Fabric. Nice and simple, some are soft, some are very nylon, even Troll make some that look like Ladybirds, Giraffes and Zebras. If you have a nylon one and you’re climbing near me, please don’t scratch it as i can’t stand the sound. Worth saying in case you suddenly read that and agree.
So there you go. Over 1000 words on the technical merits of choosing the right chalk bag. Have you really nothing better to read?
© P Edwards 2011