If you have been to a climbing gym before, you will have most likely seen at least a few people manically scrubbing holds.
When you’re new to climbing it probably seems a bit excessive and over the top. Are these people crazy? How much benefit are they going to get from a glorified toothbrush?
The answer is: more than you’d think.
So Why Do We Brush?
When you first start out climbing, you will notice that most holds are very beginner friendly. They are easy to grab and have huge holes in them for the full length of your fingers.
These holds are referred to as jugs. And all climbers love them.
As you progress up the grades the difficulty rises and in turn, the frequency of these wonderful holds plummets.
It becomes much more common to see slopers and pinchers, along with various other types of holds.
As you can see, the hold on the left doesn’t have many edges for your fingers to pull on. Sometimes the only thing keeping tension in your climb is a palm on one of these big ol’ slopers.
When climbing on these holds you’re pretty much grasping at straws, and at that point, you’ll take any help you can get.
Yep… you guessed it: Brushing.
When brushing holds, your main objective is to clear it of any muck, grime or grease. This
ensures as much of your skin is touching the hold as possible.
The result is more friction generation. And more friction means more sticking power.
Now, this may sound strange, but I don’t think cleaning the holds is all brushing does to help.
In some cases, it doesn’t make a damned bit of difference.
But what it can do is make you believe that you are going to stick the move. That confidence can make all the difference between finishing the problem, or going home empty-handed.
To Brush Or Not To Brush?
So how do you decide when to brush? That is the question.
When you’re indoors, any time you feel like you’re slipping or sliding on a hold, it might be a sign to give it a scrub.
If you’re outdoors, however, some people recommend scrubbing before, during and after.
If you’re the first person to attempt a route in a while, a lot of the moves might be covered in lichen, moss or dirt. This means it’s usually a good idea to give it a workover before you even attempt a climb.
I’m sure most of you are similar to me and are long-standing members of chalkoholics anonymous. If you are yet to earn your 5 minutes chalk free badge, you might want to brush off any tight holds during your climb for that extra bit of grip.
When leaving a climb it’s polite and good etiquette to give any over-chalked holds a brush down, But I’ll talk more about that later.
So What Is The Best Method To Brush?
So now you understand why we brush, its time to learn how you should brush.
This section is pretty subjective as everyone is different when it comes to brushing.
There is no right or wrong.
Just like with brushing your teeth, everyone develops different methods, rituals, and speeds.
You have the:
- Classic Back And Forth
- Counter Clockwise
- The Razzle Dazzle
- The Rock Sock
- Pulp Friction
Once you have completed your scrubbing ceremony, its usually a good idea to give it a good blow to remove any excess loose chalk. Make sure to close those peepers though, chalk dust and eyes are not compatible.
Like most social settings, there are rules you need to abide by in order not look like a total asshat.
This first one is pretty obvious. If someone brushes a hold they get first dibs.
So, this next one isn’t really talked about much.
Is it okay to borrow someone else’s brush?
We have all been there; you wake up feeling like something out of a George Romero flick, Grab your gear and dash off to work.
Only later, when the blood in your veins is 50% coffee, does it hit you that your brush in your other bag.
Luckily most climbers are friendly. It’s one reason why it’s such a social sport. Once asked, most are more than happy to help, whether it’s letting you borrow a brush or giving you advice on a problem.
In fact, a lot of climbers are happy for an excuse to razzle-dazzle.
If you’re more of an outdoor operator make sure you clean any “tick” marks or excess chalk you leave on the holds. No one wants to be that guy.
So most climbing centers will have wizard staff looking sticks with brushes on. These are to help brush holds that are just out of reach.
It’s just common courtesy to make sure these are back in their designated hangout once you’re done.
What are they made of?
For all you curious climbing monkeys, the main ingredient in the recipe for a modern chalk brush is boar hair.
Climbers have had many different iterations of brushes over the years, from your little brother’s toothbrush to hair straight from the horse’s back, All this before settling on the current choice: boar hair. What you expected? Me neither.
So, when choosing a brush, only one thing remains: Plastic or wood?
I, for one, am part of the wood burhs team as its much more enviromentally friendly. What about you?
Mammut have made a brilliant step forward in the outdoor climbing scene by developing an extendable portable brush. This allows you to get the higher holds on boulder problems with ease. Another product to keep in mind when thinking about purchasing a new brush.