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|Top Pick & Budget Pick: Petzl Power Liquid
|Upgrade Pick: Friction Labs Secret Stuff
|Mammut Liquid Chalk
|Black Diamond Liquid White Gold
|Fire Team Fit Liquid Chalk
One unexpected side-effect of the pandemic was the rise of liquid chalk. Research showed that liquid chalk is an effective antiseptic against COVID-19, which provides some welcome peace of mind when you’re all using the same holds. During the height of the pandemic, some gyms required the use of liquid chalk.
In addition to its sanitary benefits, liquid chalk is a convenient way to keep your fingers dry and grippy, especially if you have issues with sweat. To find the best liquid chalk for climbing and weightlifting, I put five top products through the testing wringer on hot summer days in Southern California.
In a rare combination award, Petzl Power Liquid wins out as our Top Pick and Budget Pick for its blend of performance and value. If you have the cash, Friction Labs Secret Stuff provides a premium feel and a rosin-free experience.
In general, the differences I discovered during testing were small. All of the chalks in our test serve their intended purpose well. Read on for detailed comparisons.
Quick Recommendations: Best Liquid Chalk
- Top Pick & Budget Pick: Petzl Power Liquid
- Upgrade Pick: Friction Labs Secret Stuff
- Mammut Liquid Chalk
- Black Diamond Liquid White Gold Chalk
- Fire Team Fit Liquid Chalk
Top Pick & Budget Pick: Petzl Power Liquid
Throughout testing, Petzl’s Power Liquid was consistently the liquid chalk that I reached for the most. It’s easy to apply, provides excellent friction, and lasts longer than most of the competition.
It does come with a few compromises, including the bottle. All of the other products in this test come in a bottle with a snap top, which makes opening and closing quick and easy. Power Liquid has a screw top. This reduces the likelihood of spillage inside a gym or crag bag, but it also makes access a pain. The nozzle has a star-shaped cutout to reduce clogging, which I appreciated after other bottles clogged up on me.
Petzl’s formula does include rosin, which has garnered some controversy (see notes below). Power Liquid also takes slightly longer to dry than most of its competition. The difference isn’t huge, and I was glad to sacrifice a few seconds of dry time for extended sweat-free use.
For maximum performance and longevity, Power Liquid earns top marks. It’s also the cheapest liquid chalk in this test, making it our Budget Pick as well. It’s rare that performance and value line up so well, but that’s good news for liquid chalk users.
Upgrade Pick: Friction Labs Secret Stuff
Friction Labs has built a reputation for high-performing chalk products that come with equally high price tags. Their Secret Stuff liquid chalk is no exception.
The biggest selling points of Secret Stuff are on the application side. It goes on easy, dries quickly, and feels silkier than the alternatives. Overall, it’s the most pleasant liquid chalk to use.
Secret Stuff is made with a simple list of ingredients: isopropyl alcohol, magnesium carbonate, and water. Unlike most liquid chalks, the formula does not include rosin (also known as colophonium). Over time, rosin can make holds polished and difficult to clean. Some gyms have banned its use entirely. For the cleanest liquid chalk experience, Secret Stuff is a good option.
The benefits aren’t as clear in the performance department. I found that Secret Stuff provided good friction, but it lasted no longer than alternatives from Black Diamond, Petzl, or Mammut.
Per mL, Secret Stuff is by far the most expensive product in this test. It’s hard to justify purely on performance, but if texture, dry time, and rosin-free climbing are important to you, it may be worth spending up.
Mammut Liquid Chalk is a strong but unexceptional performer. It doesn’t feel as smooth as Secret Stuff, and it doesn’t last quite as well as Petzl Power Liquid. But it comes close, and it’s reasonably priced.
The bottle is easy to use and didn’t clog up during testing. Mammut Liquid Chalk is available in a small 100 mL bottle, which makes a good way to try out liquid chalk without breaking the bank.
All else being equal, Mammut Liquid Chalk wouldn’t be my first choice, but the sacrifices are small. Like most products in this test, Mammut’s formula includes rosin.
Black Diamond’s White Gold liquid chalk isn’t bad, but it failed to distinguish itself in any meaningful way from the competition.
It’s easy to apply, but it doesn’t feel as smooth as Secret Stuff. It’s an effective drying agent, but it doesn’t last as long as Power Liquid. It’s more expensive per mL than the Petzl or Mammut products, and its formula includes rosin.
All that adds up to a mediocre value proposition. I had no major complaints after using Liquid White Gold, but I couldn’t come up with any reason to recommend it over our top picks.
This liquid chalk was the designated representative for the dozens of clones available on Amazon. Much like the Black Diamond Liquid White Gold, it’s serviceable but not particularly good.
The Fire Team Fit Liquid Chalk was easy to apply, but its bottle started clogging up after only a few uses. It dries quickly, but it didn’t perform well in durability testing. Feel and friction are average.
This liquid chalk is currently available with Prime shipping, but even in a larger 250-mL bottle, it’s more expensive per mL than all products in this test except Friction Labs Secret Stuff. Unless you absolutely need liquid chalk delivered tomorrow, there’s no good reason to pay the premium.
How to Choose Liquid Chalk
Types of Liquid Chalk
With rosin: Most liquid chalk formulas include rosin (also known as resin, colophony, or colophonium). Historically used by boulderers in Fontainebleau, rosin makes rock and skin tacky for extra grip. Rosin is also an ingredient in some varnish formulations, for the opposite reason: it dries to a smooth, hard surface.
That may be good for tables, but it’s bad for climbing holds. Over time, rosin buildup creates a polish on natural and artificial holds alike. Rosin has drawn its fair share of controversy in Fontainebleau, and its use in liquid chalk has raised concerns about the effect on gyms and crags.
Powdered chalk comes with its own set of visual, textural, and respiratory compromises. The jury seems to still be out on the use of rosin formulas in the gym, but many experienced climbers agree that frequent rosin use outdoors (where holds are more difficult to clean) is a bad idea.
Rosin-free: The selection of rosin-free liquid chalk formulas is limited. The most widely available formulations come from Friction Labs, which offers three rosin-free liquid chalks with different proportions of alcohol. Wild Country’s liquid chalk, which I unfortunately couldn’t test for this roundup, is also rosin-free.
Most of the options in this roundup are available in multiple sizes. If you know that you consistently use liquid chalk, larger bottle sizes provide the best value. If you’re still experimenting with liquid chalk use, smaller sizes let you try it out with minimal financial commitment.
Most liquid chalk bottles have a snap top. They’re easy to open and close, but they’re more prone to being jostled open in a backpack or gym bag. I didn’t see this happen to any bottles during testing, but I have had it happen in the past. If you’re worried about spillage, it’s easy enough to pack your liquid chalk in a plastic bag for peace of mind.
Larger bottles may come with screw tops, which are more secure but take longer to open and close.
Liquid Chalk vs. Regular Chalk
Fundamentally, liquid chalk and powder chalk accomplish the same goal: keep your hands from getting sweaty. Both forms of chalk are based on the same primary ingredient: magnesium carbonate. Conventional chalk is a simple magnesium carbonate powder, while liquid chalk suspends the particles in some combination of solvents. They have distinct pros and cons.
Liquid chalk is easier to apply precisely, and it has some sanitary benefits. When applied properly, it lasts longer than a coat of powdered chalk. Liquid chalk doesn’t create clouds of particles that make their way into your lungs or a gym’s HVAC system.
The great advantage of powdered chalk is that it’s easy to apply one-handed on the wall. I’ve seen some climbers devise elaborate systems for using liquid chalk while climbing, but none compare to the simplicity and efficacy of a chalk bag.
Everyone’s skin is different, and not all climbers react well to liquid chalks. Some complain of sticky hands, rashes, and persistent dryness after use. If you find that your skin doesn’t get along with liquid chalk, there’s no reason to force the issue.
Many climbers combine liquid and powdered chalks by applying a base coat of liquid chalk, then using powdered chalk on top. This is my favorite way to use liquid chalk: it complements and enhances the effect of powdered chalk, and it slows the rate of consumption for both.
Climbers with especially sweaty hands are the most likely to benefit from liquid chalk use. If you’re happy with the performance of powdered chalk alone, there’s no real need to look elsewhere. Instead, head over to our roundup of the best climbing chalk.
Liquid Chalk FAQ
Is liquid chalk better than regular chalk?
That depends. Liquid chalk is effective, sanitary, and easy to use, but it’s difficult to apply while climbing. For that reason, it’s unlikely that liquid chalk will ever fully replace powdered chalk. Not all climbers enjoy or need liquid chalk, but if you find yourself consistently struggling with sweaty hands, it may be worth trying it out.
How long does a bottle of liquid chalk last?
Again, it depends. Liquid chalk comes in a wide variety of bottle sizes, and usage depends on everything from sweat levels to hand size. If liquid chalk is your only friction aid, you may find yourself going through a bottle in a matter of weeks. If your use is less frequent, a bottle is likely to last months.
Is liquid chalk messy?
Not really. As long as you’re careful when applying liquid chalk, it’s a clean and easy process. Once it has dried fully, liquid chalk is no more likely to spread onto your clothes or belongings than regular chalk.