Climber wearing harness with chalk bag and gear on it

How to Choose a Chalk Bag

How To Choose the Best Chalk Bag for Rock Climbing

Let’s start with the best thing about rock climbing chalk bags: Unlike other essential climbing equipment, like your harness, helmet, or rope, your chalk bag isn’t out to save your life. So while there are plenty of features, shapes, and sizing considerations to keep in mind when choosing a climbing chalk bag, you have a little room to wiggle—and a lot of room to flaunt your personality. Want a chalk bag shaped like a fuzzy animal tail? Go for it. Sequins? You do you.

After all, a chalk bag’s purpose is pretty straightforward: It holds your climbing chalk within arm’s reach so that you can recoat your hands with the stuff any time you get sweaty on the wall. The best chalk bags have a tight cinch closure to keep loose chalk contained, a fuzzy interior that clings to powder, and a wide-enough opening that you can fit your whole hand in for quick re-ups in between tricky moves.

We’ll go over all those specifics in this article: 

  • Common Chalk Bag Shapes
  • Chalk Bag Sizes
  • Features To Look For
  • How To Tell if a Chalk Bag Fits

Common Chalk Bag Shapes

Climbing chalk bags come in a few shapes, each with its pros and cons.

Tapered Chalk Bags

Some of the best chalk bags for weight-conscious sport climbers have a wide opening and a narrow bottom. The shape allows the bag to lie flush against your hip or backside, and the low profile means it won’t snag in tight corners, or that it’s less likely to tip upside down. And while lightweight, tapered bags generally have less room for chalk, you’ll have to refill often.

Cylindrical Chalk Bags

These bags, which have the same diameter throughout, leave plenty of room for chalk. However, they tend to be heavier than their tapered counterparts.  

Pear-shaped Chalk Bags

Some climbing chalk bags are shaped like pears or upside-down light bulbs—they have a narrower opening and wider bottom. The narrow top makes spills less likely, and the round bottom leaves plenty of room to wrap your hand around a full chalk ball. They’re a comfortable, ergonomic choice, but can be slightly heavier than cylindrical bags, depending on the material  

Chalk Bag Sizes

After shape, you’ll want to consider what size chalk bag you need for your intended objectives. Decide if any of the following questions apply to you.

Are you mostly gym climbing or sport climbing?

Most chalk bags for roped climbing come in two sizes. Consider a small chalk bag if you’ll be focused on trying hard on shorter routes. The smaller size means less weight and a less obtrusive package.

Mostly multi-pitch climbing?

For longer or more demanding routes, consider a larger “standard size” chalk bag, which can hold a full day’s worth of chalk.

Mostly bouldering?

Boulderers may want to consider a chalk bucket or “chalk pot”—an oversized chalk bag with a wide, sturdy bottom that you can leave on the ground for re-chalking between attempts. Because bouldering tends to involve smaller holds and more dynamic movements, it’s one of the more chalk-intensive disciplines of climbing, so it can be handy to have a bigger reservoir of chalk. Plus, bouldering tends to be a social sport—a big chalk pot is great for sharing during group sessions.

Shopping for a child?

Many chalk bags these days also come in extra-small children’s sizes. Consider getting a smaller bag for your little crusher if they enjoy pushing themselves to try harder climbs, or if bigger chalk bags seem to get in their way.

Features To Look For

Most designs tend to be straightforward, but the best chalk bags have a few basic features that can make a big difference on the wall.

Fleece lining: A fleece or soft pile lining will cling to chalk, helping you evenly coat your hands.

Canvas or soft-shell exterior: Durable materials deflect dirt and moisture, keeping your bag clean and chalk dry.

Toothbrush holder: A small elastic bungee or fabric sleeve lets you tote a small brush—ideal for scrubbing chalk-caked or greasy holds.

Zippered pocket: Some bags have a pocket that can hold a few snacks, climbing tape, or a phone—great for multi-pitch routes, photo opportunities, and long days on the rock.

Bungee lacing: Criss-crossed bungee cords on the bottom of some multi-pitch-specific chalk bags let you carry a small wind shell or long-sleeve layer without having to lug a backpack.

Leak-proof closure: Some bags feature a roll-top or twist closure to keep chalk dust out of your pack or car. This is especially critical for bouldering chalk pots, where the stakes of a spill are higher.

Integrated chalk ball: A few modern chalk bags have an integrated chalk ball, a porous compartment that lets you dust your hands and protects against spills.

How To Tell if a Chalk Bag Fits

The best climbing chalk bag is the one that’s easiest to use when you need it most. While chalk bag sizes may be labeled as “small” or “standard,” there’s a lot of variation within each category.

Before you purchase a “standard-size” chalk bag, make sure your whole hand fits easily enough through the opening. If you’re purchasing a “small” chalk bag because you only want to dust your fingertips, make sure it stays propped open, is easy to access without fiddling, and that you can get at least four fingers in and out fast.

Also try on the hip-belt before you buy a climbing chalk bag. It should sit loosely around your hips, hanging just over the top of your harness. An adjustable belt will give you room to add or subtract layers while climbing outdoors in variable temperatures. Keep in mind that even if a stock belt doesn’t fit you, it’s easy to replace with a section of cordelette, which you can tie around your waist with an overhand knot. This is a favorite method for experienced climbers, as the cordage can double as extra anchor material or a friction-hitch if you get in a pinch while climbing outdoors.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.