Best Climbing Brushes: The Top 7 of 2019

Climbing Brush Score MSRP Bristle Brush Profile Handle
Top Pick & Best Value: Sublime Slimline Climbing Brush
87
$6.99 Boar’s Hair Slanted Plastic
Best for Outdoor Use: Sublime Premium Boar’s Hair Climbing Brush
87
$14.99 Boar’s Hair Flat Plastic
Best for Coverage: Mammut Boulder Brush
80
$8.95 Natural Hair Flat Wood
Lapis Boar’s Hair Climbing Brush
77
$7.95 Boar’s Hair Curved Plastic
Black Diamond Brush Set
76
$19.95 Mixed Flat Mixed
Sublime Classic Nylon Climbing Brush
71
$9.99 Nylon Flat Plastic
Toothbrush
47
N/A Nylon Curved Plastic

We took the seven best climbing brushes we could find (including an actual toothbrush) out into the field and to the gym to declare a winner. In a happy coincidence of performance and price, one brush came out on top: the Sublime Slimline.

The Slimline is not only near the top performance-wise, it’s also one of the cheapest climbing brushes in our test. For an all-around brush, we don’t think you can do much better.

The Slimline did face strong competition, particularly from the other Sublime brushes. Most of these brushes (with the possible exception of the toothbrush) will get the job done. Others are less suited for general use, but well-designed for specific scenarios.

It quickly became clear during testing that the old adage is true — boar’s hair is just better. Testers unanimously preferred the performance of hair-equipped brushes, and it shows in the rankings. The difference isn’t drastic enough to make you need to throw out your nylon brush, but it is noticeable.

The other factor in tester preference was bristle stiffness. On plastic, softer bristles conformed slightly better to the elaborate pockets and contours of modern holds. Outdoors, stiff bristles were the favorite for their ability to dig in on harder surfaces.

Tailor your brush(es) to where you climb — the Slimline is a nice balance, but other brushes offer softer or stiffer bristles for those focused on a particular arena. Our favorite for outdoor use was the Sublime Premium Boar’s Hair.

Other than the bristle, which brush or brushes are right for you will depend on your priorities, where you climb, and what you like. Read on for the details.

Top Pick & Best Value: Sublime Slimline Climbing Brush

The Slimline was one of our two favorite brushes, but it wins the Top Pick based on practicality and price.

If you’re going to buy just one brush, this is the one we’d suggest.

At the top of the Slimline’s list of virtues is a dense but versatile brush head. The bristles are packed tight, but they’re just soft enough to get a satisfying (and effective) scrub on a chalk-covered climbing hold.

The Slimline bristles aren’t as soft as a brush like the Lapis option, but they’re also not as stiff as the Sublime Premium. The Slimline is a capable balance, although focused outdoor boulderers might appreciate the workhorse Premium.

The head is thick enough that scrubbing slopers isn’t a chore, but it’s still narrow enough to fit in most crevices and incuts. This can be a difficult balance to strike, but we felt the Slimline was a good size.

The other advantage of the brush profile is its slant. Brushes tend to wear out at the tip first because of the way we press the brush into the hold when we scrub.

To compensate, Sublime has made the hairs at the tip of the brush longer. It’s a small detail, but it’s a thoughtful change that will likely increase durability.

On well-worn brushes, the tip is the first to go.

The Slimline doesn’t have any extra bells or whistles, but the ergonomics are excellent. The handle has a pleasant curve to keep your knuckles from scraping on plastic or rock.

There’s even a small bump where your thumb naturally rests, allowing you to press into the hold to scrub harder. The handle is the perfect size to fit through most chalk-bag loops, and the brush isn’t so long that it will dangle below.

At $6.99 (at the time of publishing), the Slimline is the cheapest brush we tested after the toothbrush. That pretty much sealed the deal for our testers — this brush is an excellent all-around performer, and it’s also a bargain.

Best for Outdoor Use: Sublime Premium Boar’s Hair Climbing Brush

If you want the Bentley of climbing brushes, a brush to make the others look skinny and lame, this is the one for you.

“Such a diesel brush,” as one tester put it.

Sublime claims that there are more than 14,000 bristles on this brush, and they guarantee performance for a full year. We didn’t count, but the Premium brush performs well.

Where the Premium brush really shines is outdoors. The stiff, densely packed bristles are ideal for getting stubborn grime off of popular boulder problems.

With a little elbow grease, this brush had chalk flying more quickly than any other in our test. The versatility of the brush head is impressive, and the bristles cleared out chalk and grime on holds of any texture.

Durability does seem top-notch. The cylindrical plastic handle is burlier than most, and the density of the brush is reassuring for long-term use.

And of course there’s the Premium brush’s party trick: the compartment at the base of the handle.

Sublime claims that the compartment is for holding their special climbOn Brush Bar, but most of our friends in Colorado and California are using it to hold something else. This feature isn’t super important to us, but it could be useful for some climbers.

Where the Premium loses out slightly is ergonomics. The lack of handle curve means that on some holds, you’re stuck brushing at an awkward angle or scraping your knuckles. And on a few chalk bags, the Premium’s cylindrical handle is too large to fit through a small loop. These are niggles, but they’re enough to knock the Premium off the top all-around spot.

Though the Premium is the most expensive individual brush in our test, it’s a well-designed product built to last, and we can recommend it without hesitation.

Brushing a hold outdoors with the Sublime Premium Boar's Hair Climbing Brush

Outdoors, the brawny bristles of the Sublime Premium were a pleasure to use.

Best for Coverage: Mammut Boulder Brush

The Mammut Boulder Brush is a more specialized vision of a brush, but it surprised testers.

This isn’t a brush that will hang on a chalk bag — there’s no protruding shaft, and the bristles cover one entire side. The other side is a sculpted wooden handle, like a basic scrub brush.

Like its janitorial cousin, grunt work is what the Mammut brush excels at. This isn’t the best climbing brush for making sure the corner of a crimp is spotless, but if you need to cover some ground, it’s a treat.

The wide, flat surface makes quick work of large climbing holds and surfaces. Holding the brush in your palm means that you can bear down, and it’s easy to give large holds a thorough scrubbing.

In the gym, where huge volumes and cavernous huecos are all the rage, we were glad to have the Mammut along. Features that would have been laborious with a smaller brush were a snap.

Mammut doesn’t say exactly what the bristles are made of — their website just says “natural hair” — but we found their performance was more than adequate. They’re also stiff enough to hold up outdoors, where the Mammut’s blue-collar personality is equally handy. We wouldn’t lug this brush along unless your project covers some major surface area, but if it does, the Mammut is a time saver.

We don’t suggest this brush as the only one you own, and I don’t think it will replace the traditional shape. But if you find yourself brushing large features in the gym or outside, give this brush a serious look — at $8.95 MSRP, it’s cheap enough that it might be worth throwing one in your climbing pack.

Reviews of the Other 4 Climbing Brushes We Tested

Lapis Boar’s Hair Climbing Brush

Lapis brushes are a common sight at the gym or the boulders, and for good reason. We tested the plastic-handled variety, and it’s a respectable performer.

The narrow head required slightly more elbow grease than the Sublime brushes, but the boar’s hair bristles removed chalk and grime just as well. The curved shape is helpful on some holds, and one tester preferred the softness of the Lapis brush head.

The softness is particularly suited to gym climbing, where pliable bristles can find the last nooks and crannies in contoured holds.

Where the Lapis lags is durability. I’ve seen the plastic handles snap firsthand, and the soft, narrow brush head doesn’t hold up to quite as much abuse.

Still, most boulderers (and most of our testers) seem to be fans. If you’re willing to be just a little careful, they’ll last fine and perform well.

Once upon a time, this Lapis brush was an easy Best Value pick. Then Sublime’s Slimline swooped in and stole the title. It’ll be interesting to see if Lapis has a response in the works.

Black Diamond Brush Set

It’s not that BD’s offering to the brush world is particularly bad, it’s just that there are probably better ways to spend your money.

And after testing their chalk bags and climbing chalk, I’m starting to wonder how many Black Diamond products that sentence describes.

In the Black Diamond Brush Set, you get one wooden-handled boar’s hair brush (the prize of the litter), one grab-handle scrub brush, and three (!) toothbrush-like nylon units.

The three red toothbrushes are stiff and only moderately effective, and they’re too small to do much damage. The only reason to own three would be for insurance, but I wouldn’t be too sad if I lost all of them.

The scrub brush is also disappointing, especially next to the Mammut Boulder Brush. The nylon bristles aren’t as capable as the natural hair, and the BD version is far less efficient. It’s not even all that effective outside, unless what you’re scrubbing is dirt rather than chalk or grime.

The wooden-handle brush is a solid entrant and held up well next to the powerhouses from Sublime and Lapis. The handle has a graceful curve, and the brush is nicely sized and easy to use. The polarizing feature is the bristles, which were the softest of any brush tested.

They’re effective on sculpted plastic, but don’t perform as well outdoors: “When you use it on real rock, it doesn’t get all the way in,” said one tester. “It just kinda brushes over it.” On hard rock, stiffer bristles dug in more effectively to scrape out grime, and the BD failed to match the competition.

If the wooden brush were sold individually, this review might look different. But BD has decided to sell it only in combination with the other brushes, which means that you have to pay $19.95 (the costliest in our test) for the privilege of using it.

At that price, the Brush Set is hard to recommend.

Sublime Classic Nylon Climbing Brush

Sublime’s Classic Nylon Climbing Brush is acceptable, but not as effective as the boar’s hair brushes.

The Classic brush resembles the Premium in every way except the fiber, so the difference in rating is entirely down to performance on the holds, where nylon brushes can’t keep up.

This isn’t a bad climbing brush, but at $9.99, it’s neither the cheapest nor the best in our test.

It is vegan-friendly, however, so this is a good brush for vegan climbers.

» MORE: Vegan Climbing Shoes: 39 Top Options in 2019

Oral-B Toothbrush

The poor toothbrush was outclassed from start to finish. In fairness, this brush was never designed for application on rock or plastic. But we couldn’t resist the toothbrush as a shoestring-budget option, so we decided to include it anyway.

The results were uninspiring. “That thing’s useless,” said one tester.

When trying to use the toothbrush to clean a hold, most testers gave up after a few seconds and came back to get another brush.

Given enough time and persistence it’s possible to make a dent, but the toothbrush will never approach the performance of a dedicated climbing brush.

If you have nothing else, and you have that little free one from the dentist lying around, then go ahead and take it with you. But if you can afford it, buy an actual climbing brush.

Summary

Here are the best climbing brushes:

  • Sublime Slimline Climbing Brush
  • Sublime Premium Boar’s Hair Climbing Brush
  • Mammut Boulder Brush
  • Lapis Boar’s Hair Climbing Brush
  • Black Diamond Brush Set
  • Sublime Classic Nylon Climbing Brush
  • Toothbrush

How to Choose the Best Climbing Brush for Your Needs

Choosing a brush should be a fairly simple exercise. There are a few basic considerations, past which the options come down to taste and preference.

Do you already have a climbing brush?

If not, make sure to get one that you can carry along on your chalk bag (unless you boulder exclusively). If you already have a brush you like, then you may think about expanding your collection with something like the Mammut Boulder Brush.

Do you need extra durability or features?

If you’re a total klutz or you just need the baddest brush on the block, then it might be worth paying for the Sublime Premium. If you count grams down to your brush, get the plastic Lapis. Otherwise, just get one that will perform well all around or on the climbing holds you use most often.

An important consideration here is where you like to climb. If outdoor performance is your top priority, then the Sublime Premium may be worth the extra cash.

If you’re a sport climber at heart, a light and versatile option like the Slimline is a good bet.

If you want to hone your skills on projects indoors, a brush with softer bristles might be appropriate.

If you’re really lavish, you can get a brush for each venue — they’re cheaper than most climbing gear and last fairly well.

Two of the Sublime brushes have handles that can hide anything small and cylindrical. What’s that smell?

What’s your price?

Thankfully, the Slimline has made choosing between budget and performance unnecessary. If you want the best brush for the money, the Slimline is it.

If you have a little more to spend, feel free to get whatever brush strikes your fancy — they’re all pretty good.

How We Tested

First, we went to our local climbing gym, hit the bouldering area, and brushed holds until our tendinitis acted up. We brushed holds of every type and size, and we tried to use the brushes as we would on our own projects or training days.

Once the weather cleared up, we took all the brushes out to the well-chalked boulders at the Gunks to see how they performed on real rock. Where appropriate, we also took the brushes along on sport climbs or trad projects.

Then we ranked each brush or package on three criteria:

Brushing Performance

How well does the brush clean a hold? This was the most heavily weighted category in scoring.

Ergonomics

How easy is the brush to use? How easy is it to clean holds quickly? How hard do I have to work?

Features & Usability

Does the brush do everything I need it to? Does the design make my life easier, or harder? Are the features useful, or superfluous?