Visit any climbing gym or outdoor climbing area and you’ll see the same scene: athletes with white chalk coating their hands, clothing, even streaked across their faces. Adding to this problem, chalk bags commonly explode when stuffed in a pack leaving moisture-absorbing magnesium carbonate dust everywhere. Seeking a lower-mess chalk solution, several companies have been experimenting with liquid chalk.
The usual alcohol base dries the skin and helps the chalk mix stay on hands, but still didn’t manage to stop chalk dust from covering clothing. So while gyms aren’t left with a dusty haze, climbers’ hands still leave an imprint on everything they touch.
This year OnCrux is taking that quest one step further with its new Cruxgrip Liquid Chalk—which stays on your hands and off your clothes.
“It gets into all the holes in your hands and blocks the sweat glands,” says OnCrux chemist and co-founder Michael Doan. “This way, when you touch other things, there’s minimal transfer. It’s also a good thing for gyms because it reduces the dust levels and doesn’t clog air filters.”
To get his formula just right, where it wouldn’t separate on the shelf or wipe off on clothing while, most importantly, doing its real job of providing optimal grip, Doan went through months of trial and error. “You do it over and over until you find the right ratios,” he says. “I ran 50 to 100 tests before I got it right.”
With a 70 percent alcohol base, Cruxgrip Liquid Chalk is strong enough to be used as hand sanitizer, which can also be useful to help slow the spread of COVID-19 since climbing requires putting hands and feet on whatever terrain climbers ascend.
Though Liquid Chalk works as a standalone product, it’s most commonly applied as a base—before adding a very thin layer of dry chalk, such as Cruxgrip Powder Chalk. This is an especially important combo when it comes to competition climbing, says OnCrux co-owner Glen Suh. “If you’re not base-coating and layering loose powder, you have a disadvantage. You get a better grip on the holds. The liquid chalk helps the loose chalk stay on your hands.”
Climbing is notoriously hard on the hands. Each time your hand slips ever so slightly (and frequently) on a hold, skin gets scraped. On demanding routes, where sharp edges dig into fingertips, the damage is that much worse. For minor scrapes and sore hands (and feet), OnCrux developed Cruxcare Handsalve. Like with Cruxgrip Liquid Chalk, the hand salve is fast-absorbing and doesn’t leave a residue on everything you touch.
Despite liquid chalk’s growing popularity, “most people still don’t know what it is,” says Suh. Of those who do, “about 90 percent of them say they like it,” he adds.
For those 10 percent naysayers—mostly gym route setters—who believe liquid chalk doesn’t do enough to dry their hands, OnCrux plans to release its Performance Liquid Chalk next year, which will include additional drying agents.
“It’ll have more coverage and dry twice as fast,” promises Doan, “so you can use less and get even more out of it.”