8 Best Chalk Bags of 2018: Rankings & Reviews
|Top Pick: Arc’teryx C80||
|Best Minimalist: Petzl Saka||
|Best Closure: Arc’teryx Aperture||
|$40.00 S / $45.00 L||None||Modified Cylinder||Twist|
|Best Value: Sukoa Chalk Bag||
|N/A||Front zip, rear zip||Cylinder||Drawcord|
|prAna Chalk Bag||
|Black Diamond Mojo Zip||
|Metolius Competition Chalk Bag||
|Two Ogres Essential-Z||
We put eight of the best chalk bags available to the test to find out what’s the best way to stay dry. After a battery of tests, the Arc’teryx C80 came out on top — although good options are plentiful.
When I started this test, I expected most of the bags to score fairly well. After all, a chalk bag is a chalk bag, right? All it really has to do is hold your magnesium carbonate.
I was wrong. Not only was one bag so unforgettably abysmal that we stopped using it entirely, but the details in the bags create a surprising difference in experience.
It’s true that there are many viable bags — seven of the eight products we tested will get the job done well enough. And if you’d rather look good while you send, make sure you check out our list of ways to find a bag that fits your style.
But some bags really set themselves apart, whether it was by innovative design or just attention to detail. If you’re interested in which bags make for the best experience, read on.
Table of Contents
- Top Pick: Arc’teryx C80
- Best Minimalist: Petzl Saka
- Best Closure: Arc’teryx Aperture
- Best Value: Sukoa Chalk Bag
- Reviews of the 4 Other Chalk Bags We Tested
- How to Choose the Best Chalk Bag for Your Needs
- How We Tested
Top Pick: Arc’teryx C80
Simply put, this bag is a joy to use.
“It’s so easy to get your hand into,” said one tester. The wide, rigid opening of the C80 makes it the most accessible chalk bag we tested.
No matter what position you’re in, the gently tapered shape seems to guide your hand directly to your chalk. I didn’t fumble with my chalk a single time while wearing this bag, and for that reason alone we found it exceptional.
The features don’t end there, though. Though the C80 doesn’t share the unique closure system of its cousin (the Arc’teryx Aperture), the drawcord system was among the most effective in our test. The material on the inside is soft and friendly, and the deep basket means that you can load up as much chalk as you could possibly need. The Arc’teryx bags even have a bottle opener built into the belt system for those who like to bring along a victory brew.
There are only three potential reasons to avoid this bag. Firstly, all of our testers had average or larger hands — if your digits are petite, you may not need such a large unit. Secondly, although most of the bag seems exceptionally durable, the drawcord is narrow (which helps it close effectively) and may wear out if you’re extremely hard on your equipment. We didn’t anticipate this being an issue, but everyone treats their gear differently.
And finally, of course, the price. The C80 is a phenomenal chalk bag, but it costs nearly twice as much as most competitors. This is typical Arc’teryx. If you want the best bag in the business and you don’t mind paying top dollar, this is a good candidate. If you can get one at a discount, all the better. Still, although none of the competitors were quite as polished as the C80, there are plenty of high-quality bags available at much lower prices.
Best Minimalist: Petzl Saka
This bag is a classic, and for good reason. Petzl makes a cylindrical bag (the Bandi), but the Saka’s shape is a major asset. It’s surprisingly easy to use, and it keeps chalk right at your fingertips. “It hangs on you really nice,” said one tester.
The material is another highlight. It feels durable and well-constructed, but it’s also relatively soft without being floppy. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s very nice to use, and the details made all the difference in this test. The ergonomics of the Saka are spot-on, without adding anything unnecessary.
The only knock from our testers? “I wish it were just a little deeper,” said one. For those with larger hands, the Petzl may not be large enough to really dive into. For many, this won’t be an issue, but if it is, look to some of our deeper options.
Though this bag is well-featured and has a double brush holder, it doesn’t have any pockets. Petzl does make a version with a pocket — the Sakapoche — if that’s your style.
Best Closure: Arc’teryx Aperture
“Neat” was the word overwhelmingly used to describe this chalk bag.
And neat it is — this bag was the only one to score a perfect 5/5 for closure. The twist-closure is unusual and extremely effective. Although the C80 was a close second, the Aperture came closest of all to allowing zero chalk to escape.
Unfortunately, the Aperture isn’t flawless in the other departments.
The opening is wide enough, and the rigid brim does make it easy to get a hand in. When extended, though, the bag’s twistable midsection makes it a little too floppy. “I didn’t feel like it guided my hand to the chalk very well,” said one tester.
The floppiness also created some issues on overhangs and falls. When the bag is hanging free (as it might on a roof climb), the Aperture’s lack of structure made it a little harder to get to the chalk. The bag was also prone to spilling on falls and tumbles, which is annoying.
As you’d expect from Arc’teryx, the polish and attention to detail is exceptional. Everything is easy to use, and the closure system really is a step forward. If the design improves in subsequent generations, this chalk bag could be the best.
As it is, the twist-close creates a few too many compromises. To make matters worse — as you would also expect from Arc’teryx — the price is a dizzying $40 for a small and $45 for a large.
It is a blessing to throw your chalk bag in your climbing pack without worrying about loose chalk, but a gallon-size Ziploc costs me 10¢ and seals my bag just fine.
Best Value: Sukoa Chalk Bag
This bag was a surprise favorite of our test. Not because it’s a perfect bag — it has a few flaws that kept it from scoring as highly as our other award winners. But for the price, the Sukoa is exceptional.
Chief among those flaws is the closure, which is only moderately effective. It’s not too much worse than your standard drawcord, but it did let out more chalk than average. Its cylindrical shape also means that it isn’t the easiest bag to get your hand into, although it’s not particularly bad.
On the plus side, the Sukoa’s deep shape holds its structure nicely and makes application a snap. The materials are quality, and the bag as a whole seems to be well-constructed. The Sukoa also boasts two zippered pockets, and they’re both usable. The back one should be big enough to fit even giant, newfangled smartphones.
Oddly enough, the Sukoa reminded us most of a budget version of our Top Pick, the Arc’teryx C80. The shape isn’t quite as nice, the closure isn’t perfect, and the details aren’t quite as dialed, but overall it’s a worthy alternative for less than a third of the price. Some reviews complain of quality-control issues, but our bag held up just fine. At $12.37, the Sukoa was the second cheapest in our review, and it’s our favorite budget chalk bag by far.
Reviews of the 4 Other Chalk Bags We Tested
The other chalk bags we tested fell into two categories — ordinary and atrocious.
True to prAna’s ethos, this bag felt like a lifestyle choice. It’s soft and fashionable, and almost proudly non-technical. It doesn’t have any fancy features other than a brush holder — just a simple sack and a belt. It’s charming.
The material is nice to handle, and it makes the prAna bag inviting to use. The downside? “It’s just so floppy,” said one tester.
This style most likely comes down to personal preference. The majority of our testers preferred a chalk bag with a little structure to make application easier. Some climbers might prefer a softer style, and for them the prAna will shine.
The execution on the prAna bag is still better than most: everything is well-made, the closure is effective, and the bag is perfectly adequate. It just wasn’t our first choice.
“I don’t really have a lot to say about it,” said one tester of the Mojo. “It’s totally decent.”
That about sums up our feelings on Black Diamond’s most common bag. This is a bag that does everything well enough, and that’s about it.
The cylindrical shape is reasonable but not exceptional, the closure is average, and the brim is wide enough to get the job done. It has a brush holder that works, and the reinforced lower portion looks like it could withstand some abuse. A zippered pocket seems like it could conceivably hold a topo.
This bag feels like a plausible baseline against which other bags can be measured. That’s not exactly a bad thing, but it’s not great either.
This is another ordinary bag, but with a few minor quirks.
Overall, the design is fairly well-executed, and the bag seems well-crafted and durable. The materials are excellent, and chalk clings nicely to the interior fleece.
Unfortunately, things are spoiled by the opening. The brim isn’t rigid enough to stay open consistently, and it can make getting your hand inside a little difficult. “The way it sits on you is kind of strange,” said one tester. The cylindrical shape is so-so, and this chalk bag generally didn’t do too much to impress us.
It’s not awful, but it’s not great. At $17.95, the Metolius is on the cheaper end of the spectrum, but if you’re looking to save some cash we recommend the Sukoa bag instead.
Every tester was astounded that a company could manage to so severely screw up a product as simple as a chalk bag. At $9.99, the Two Ogres bag is the cheapest in our test, but this is a bag you could not pay me to use.
I suppose it’s possible that our bag was simply a dud, because plenty of Amazon reviewers seem to enjoy the Two Ogres. Still, the bag we received failed in nearly every conceivable way. The bag itself is poorly shaped, and the brim is uneven. There isn’t enough space to hold tons of chalk, nor is there enough interior fleece to allow chalk to cling to the walls. The pocket is small enough that it’s barely usable. Nothing is all that easy to use — including, of all things, the belt, which is a total pain in the *** to adjust.
Most shocking of all, however, was the closure. We pulled, prodded, and pushed every way we could imagine, but no matter what we did, only half of the drawstring closure would move. As a result, the chalk bag never even came close to closing, and was permanently at least halfway open.
Workmanship was equally lacking. “It reminded me of my first chalk bag…that one disintegrated in three months,” said a tester. The quality prompted plenty of profanity and a few questions about what Two Ogres could have possibly been thinking (along with why they chose such a strange company name). After our first session, I could barely even bring myself to test it.
I’ve never said this about a product before, and I hope to never have to again: no one should ever buy this thing.
How to Choose the Best Chalk Bag for Your Needs
The market for climbing gear has become increasingly complex, so it should come as a relief that choosing a chalk bag is fairly simple. Just decide what your priorities are, and get the bag that fits you best.
As a baseline, decide what features you need in a bag. If you need a pocket and a brush holder for your climbing brush, make sure your bag has them. If you have large hands, make sure that you get a bag big enough for your digits. If you need an effective closure system, make sure your bag has a good one (or just get a big Ziploc to carry your bag in).
There was a $35 range in prices in our test, and we didn’t even test the most expensive bags out there. Chalk bags should last quite a while, and if you’re comfortable paying top dollar you can get premium features (or wild designs). If you’re not, don’t worry — there are excellent cheaper options. In particular, the Sukoa chalk bag is a good bag at a great value.
Finally, make sure you have a bag that fits your style. Chalk bags are a chance to show your personality, whether that’s a sleek and technical Arc’teryx or an outlandish design from a bespoke manufacturer. The options are endless, and there are plenty of excellent chalk bags (and designs) on the market. If this review hasn’t sparked your interest, head over to our roundup of cool designs for more ideas.
How We Tested
We took all eight chalk bags and used them in every scenario we could imagine: bouldering, leading, slabs, roofs, mantles, falls, you name it. After a few days of rigorous general testing, I took all the chalk bags outside, filled them all with powdery chalk, closed them tightly, and tried to get chalk to escape. We judged the bags based on the testers’ consensus in three categories:
While climbing (or just standing), how easy is it to reach and apply chalk? Does the design of the bag make things easier or harder? How much do I notice the chalk bag when I’m trying to chalk up?
How much chalk can escape the closure system? How easy is the bag to open and close? Do the results hold up consistently?
How well are features executed? How easy is it to use and handle the bag? Does the bag make my life easier or harder? Is anything a pain to accomplish?