Gear Myths: Clipping a Chalk Bag Directly To Your Harness—Yay, or Nay?Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Ever wondered why every chalk bag you’ve ever bought comes with an adjustable webbing belt? That’s because chalk bags are designed to be used with that belt.
Yet, despite this functional and included component, many climbers toss the belt directly after purchase. And what inevitably replaces that sweet, adjustable belt is a shiny carabiner.
Fact is, climbers just love to use biners. We get it. They’re techy, cool, and Sly Stallone had a few during that sick jumping scene in “Cliff Hanger.” Place a biner in the hands of a climber and rest assured they’ll find something to clip it to. Backpacks will soon have shoes, helmets, keys, and water bottles swinging from a previously unnoticed and unused loop of fabric sewn to the outside of the pack. As for chalk bags? They’ll get HotWired to a harness faster than Stallone can shoot a bolt into solid rock with his trusty bolt gun.
A quick trip to the local climbing gym will easily confirm this claim. See the plethora of chalk bags hanging suspiciously low? That’s because they’re probably attached to each harness with a carabiner. Our Climbing Category Director and gear guru Kolin Powick often returns from his morning training sessions with a rejuvenated sense of empathy for climbers in the gym making things harder than necessary by rocking the low-rider chalk bag and not using the webbing belt.
“It seems to be more common with newer climbers,” says Powick. “I usually see several climbers every Tuesday and Thursday morning with their chalk bag clipped to their harnesses in every scenario possible: single biner, double biners, double biners to gear loops, quicklinks, elaborate webbing belt macramé and quickdraws … really the full deal.”
Truth is, most of us can relate. Even the crustiest veteran climbers can move link by link across the iron chains of memory, and when they reach the beginning they’ll likely find a shiny biner. Attached to that? You guessed it. Their first chalk bag.
That’s why in this Gear Myths, we’re going to swan-dive into the world of wearing chalk bags, the different methods many climbers use, and the pros and cons of each.
The Classic Double Oval Clipped to Both Gear Loops
Not one but two biners. And why not? There are often two loops on the back of many chalk bags. And two back gear loops. So, as the saying goes … grip it and clip it!
While it may seem totally plausible to clip two biners to each of the bag’s loops, and then attach those biners to a gear loop on each side, there is one major reason why we suggest not going with this set-up.
Let’s talk about weight. At 62 grams a piece, an oval biner isn’t exactly light. Since you’re doubling that, we’re talking about an additional 124 grams. To add perspective, this is roughly the equivalent of a #1 Camalot hanging from the back of your harness. Compare this to the total weight of the webbing belt that comes with a BD chalk bag, at 22 grams. Going with the double oval scenario is five times heavier. Not ideal.
The Single Oval Clipped to the Haul Loop
Now, let’s get into length. For reference, it’s worth noting that the optimum height of a chalk bag for ease of use and maximum dipability is ergonomically dependent on many factors, some of which include: torso height, ape index, maximum rotation of shoulders and elbow flexibility.
Given these factors, a good rule of thumb is to have the chalk bag hanging somewhere around the height of your harness’s waist belt for maximum efficiency.
So, just for testing purposes, we simulated the oval carabiner set-up, and took a few measurements for comparison. We used our popular Momentum harness and hung a Mojo chalk bag from the haul-loop using a BD Oval carabiner, which we’ve seen in the field quite a bit. Here’s what we found:
The bottom of the chalk bag, where the good stuff lies, hangs roughly 11 inches below the bottom of the harness’s waistbelt. With a 2-inch long haul-loop lengthened with a 4.25-inch long oval biner, you essentially added 6.5 extra inches between you and your precious powder. Also, if and when the wall steepens, that extra length will cause the chalk bag to hang off your back like a forlorn possum swinging from a tree. This makes aiming for that moving target much harder.
Again, not ideal when you’re trying hard and need a quick dip of the good stuff for that next crux crimp.
The Single Wire-Gate Biner Clipped to the Haul Loop
A close cousin to the oval, this is a slightly more advanced method of wearing your chalk. Let’s assume you’re using the standard BD HotWire biner. The good news is that your weight is cut considerably, now measuring in at 43 grams.
The bad news, however, is that a HotWire is still approximately 4 inches long. So that whole scenario of added length is virtually unchanged. Think of it this way: when you’re trying a hard route, how much difference can 6 inches make when you’re desperately stretching for the next hold? The answer is a lot. So, with that in mind, we suggest not adding the extra inches to something that’s totally in your grasp.
The Single “Not For Climbing” Biner Clipped to the Haul Loop
We’re getting closer, literally. If you’re sporting a BD JiveWire biner—our not-for-climbing accessory carabiner—then you’ve cut down both on the length and the weight.
In fact, you’re actually coming in at 10 grams, which is less than the webbing belt. You’ve also shaved an inch off the length of the biner, so theoretically you’re dangling that bag down at more like 10 to 11 inches below your harness. Again, though, three inches (haul loop length + accessory biner length) still isn’t ideal. While easier to dip, that bag can still swing in the breeze on overhangs. Plus, we recommend keeping accessory biners separate from all climbing related activities ... just to be extra safe.
The Quicklink Clipped to the Haul Loop
Yes, quicklinks are a sure-fire way to provide a secure attachment from your chalk bag to your harness. So secure, in fact, that you’ll likely have a hard time getting it off once you realize that a 150-gram piece of steel (this is a beefy quicklink) is not ideal to hang off your harness. While the length isn’t the biggest issue here—although it’s still not great—the bigger problem is the fact that your chalk bag is now fastened to your harness in a manner that will likely require some assistance if you needed to remove the bag with your harness on. Plus, the weight is just unnecessary. You’re better off with a standard biner.
The Quickdraw Clipped to the Gear Loop
True story, we’ve seen this. Let’s just cut to the chase here. Don’t do this. Ever. We’re talkin’ 11 extra inches of unneeded length (depending on the draw), plus, in this particular case, you’d be hard-pressed to even chalk your hand opposite of the gear loop! Even if you hang it from the haul-loop on the back of the harness, you’re chalk bag is going to be sagging lower than Snoop Dogg’s khakis. Again, this is the worst possible set-up for chalking up on route … or anywhere for that matter.
So, what’s the best set-up?
The Webbing Belt with Quick-Release Buckle
OK, here’s the deal. While weight is relatively low at 22 grams as we mentioned, the real reason for using a webbing belt with a quick-release buckle is all about functionality.
The chalk bag sits nice and high, keeping a minimum distance between you and that white gold. How high depends on how tight you synch the belt, but we’re talking somewhere north of 5 inches to the bottom of the bag from the bottom of the harness’s waistbelt.
It also keeps the bag closer to your body. This is critical especially when climbing steep routes as the further the bag hangs away from your body, the further out you need to reach for a dip--effectively bringing your weight further from the wall and causing more weight on the arm holding onto the wall. There’s some serious force and moving of your center of gravity going on here when you end up having to reach out to chalk up.
There are a few other crucial reasons to wear a chalk bag with the webbing belt. The most important being this simple fact: you can slide the chalk bag from side to side at your convenience.
Picture this scenario. You’re squeezing into a chimney and have opted for the approved beta of “right-side in.” As you mash your back into the wall and press your feet against the opposite wall, you realize you’d love to chalk up before pawing and groveling your way upward. With any of the set-ups previously mentioned above, chances are you’re out of luck. Try as you might, you won’t be able to wriggle your hand between you and the wedged chalk bag that holds your sending courage. Dang.
Now picture the same scenario, but this time you’ve got your chalk bag on a webbing belt. Before the big squeeze, you simply slide your bag around to your front left hip. And as you do the inch-worm through the chimney, that white gold is on your hip and at the ready for either mitt. Easy.
This is similar to climbing a multipitch route with a pack. Sometimes it can be challenging to reach below a pack to get to your chalk bag, so you may want to slide it to either side for easier access. Using the webbing belt readily allows this.
Another great function of the webbing belts sold with chalk bags is the quick release buckle. Unlike the quicklink scenario above, which could require a pair of pliers and a blowtorch to remove your chalk bag, with the quick release buckle, you can get that sack of powder off your person between burns quicker than Hunter S. Thompson during a police raid.
But seriously, this feature eliminates that dreaded chalk spillage that inevitably happens when you decide to chill or better yet, take a quick nap, on the ground or mat between redpoint burns. While we realize you can unclip the biners in the above set-ups, it’s definitely easier to unclip the buckle at your belly button.
While we realize that everyone is free to fly their freak bag however they please, we strongly suggest rocking the webbing belt that comes with it. It’s simply more functional and easier to use. However, if you’re still super psyched to clip your chalk bag to your harness, we have a solution: our Gym Chalk Bag.
Although this new chalk bag comes with a webbing belt as usual, we’ve also engineered a fastening strap on the back of the bag that snaps directly to your harness. This solution eliminates the added length and weight of the previous scenarios while providing a solid connection to a dedicated gym harness. We understand if you prefer keeping your gear connected and consolidated to mitigate showing up to the gym or crag without your bag. So, if that’s your jam, check out the Gym Chalk Bag. If you go this route, we suggest using our gym and sport climbing harnesses like the Zone or Solution. Reason being, the haul loop on the back of the Zone or Solution is shorter and located higher than the Momentum’s, which allows for the fastened Gym Chalk Bag to sit at the preferred height.
That being said, if you decide that the ol’ carabiner to chalk bag set-up is the only way for you, don’t worry. You’re still cool in our book. Just not quite Heinz Mariacher climbing Rude Boys (5.13c) in 1987 while rocking a chalk bag clipped to his harness with a purple biner cool.
--BD Content Manager Chris Parker