For many, the act of chalking up before clambering up a wall or cliff-side is as ritualistic as a morning coffee or brushing one’s teeth before bed; a seemingly innocuous reflex which constitutes part of the unconscious preparation process before each climb. But there are some that are actively challenging the use of powdered chalk in the sport of climbing. At the forefront of the movement are Chalk Rebels — a Belgian sustainable climbing brand with a clear and simple mission: USE LESS CHALK.
What’s Wrong with Powdered Chalk?
But what exactly is wrong with loose climbing chalk anyway? There are in fact many reasons for choosing to eschew the use of traditional magnesium based chalks. Firstly, there is the physical impact chalk has on outdoor climbing environments in which it is used, whitening rock faces and damaging the aesthetic that makes them such appealing places to climb in the first place.
Then there is the impact chalk has on the human body. As well as drying out skin, causing cracks and cuts, excessive use of chalk in enclosed spaces such as indoor climbing halls can have serious consequences for lung health. At least one study has demonstrated the need for better monitoring of particulate matter data by highlighting the stark difference in air chalk levels at two different university climbing halls, one with safe levels and the other verging on hazardous.
It is largely thanks to a proliferation of indoor climbing gyms that climbing as a recreational sport has seen unprecedented growth in the last decade, helping new segments of society enjoy the thrill of conquering a climb without venturing from urban environments. But the rapid increase in popularity has brought drawbacks too; the intensive mining of magnesite, the mineral from which magnesium carbonate is extracted for climbing chalk, has had disastrous impacts on the environment and communities in China, the world’s biggest supplier.
Shifting the Climbing Chalk Status Quo
Chalk Rebels are determined to shift the status quo away from lavish use of chalk to a more conscious and sustainable approach, with the ultimate aim of preserving climbing locations and the environment. As their website points out: “a little chalk goes a long way”, highlighting how only a small amount is needed to achieve the dry fingers and palms necessary for an ascent. And the less you use, the smaller your impact on the planet.
Better still is to drop powdered chalk altogether. It was around two years ago that Chalk Rebels founder Francis Dierick decided to go cold turkey on chalk. “I realised I had been using chalk powder as a sort of mental crutch,” reflected Francis in a conversation with The Fair Cottage. “Chalking up is more habit than necessity. And with liquid chalk you can reduce your chalk use significantly”.
A year later, Francis began the process of launching the Chalk Rebels brand. One of the first challenges was where to source liquid chalk. After experimenting with Chinese suppliers, the brand settled on a partner within the EU, taking advantage of the simpler logistics and reduced carbon footprint.
The EU partnership had other benefits too, leading the brand to explore alternatives to magnesium carbonate “Thanks to our manufacturer’s pharmaceutical background we were able to identify a safe & stable silica nano-aggregate to develop transparent chalk,” Francis went on to explain. Many prototypes later and a revolution was born with Chalk Rebels’ Crystal Chalk was born — the first liquid chalk to leave no dust residue or visible traces.
The Advantages of Chalk Rebels’ Sustainable Cream Chalk
Chalk Rebels recommend a base layer of Crystal chalk and topping up with a chalk ball, rather than loose chalk, only when absolutely necessary. The over-use of loose chalk is not only wasteful and harmful, but can behave like a dry lubricant to actually reduce friction between climber and that which is being climbed.
All in all, switching to Chalk Rebels liquid chalk is a no-brainer as complete as their product range, which includes skincare kits, finger tape, climbing brushes and more. And if you’re a real sucker for white hands, just for the feeling of readiness it brings, Chalk Rebels have thought of that too. Their white chalk alternative is as effective at preparing you mentally for a climb as it is at absorbing moisture.
A selection of Chalk Rebels products is available via The Fair Cottage marketplace. Every purchase of Chalk Rebels’ products leads to the planting of one tree and the brand also donates 1% of sales to One Percent For the Planet — an organisation connecting businesses with worthy environmental causes across the planet.
If you’re interested in other ways your climbing essentials can protect the planet, check out our article on sustainable climbing gear.