Very soon the UK is getting Friction Labs’ new chalk products. We’ve got our hands on some to test out and give you the lowdown. Our tester, Beth gives her fully tested review of the chalk ball, followed here by her review of the full fantastical selection of loose chalk. It’s true, there are many types of chalk. We never knew, but we do now and so can you:
FrictionLabs loose chalk
The aesthetics of the loose chalk bags are pleasing and make me think that I’ve invested in a brand that will deliver. The packets are reminiscent of vacuum packed coffee bags and I almost wonder if George Clooney is going to come give me a shoulder rub while I chalk up.
However, my environmentally conscious self does wonder how necessary the robustness of the packaging is and how much is for show. Of course there is the matter of lasted freshness, but does this matter with chalk? I’m not knowledgeable on magnesium carbonate enough to answer that, but there is no information on the website or packaging to pacify us greenies out there. Even so, like a magpie I was drawn to the shiny product and would certainly be intrigued enough to pick this up in a shop if it were next to other, plainer looking, chalk products. It’s worth noting that the packages come with a twist tie. However, despite real effort to tie mine up tight, it did keep uncurling and I had a very chalky bottom on my rucksack.
The three chalks are the same product as the ball but have different textures and are branded as “performance chalk”. Friction Labs suggest that until they have a refill for the ball that you use the Unicorn Dust as this is the finest.
Bam Bam Super Chunky
Bam Bam Super Chunky and comes in a neat red vacuum packed bag. I took this chalk to climb on Yorkshire gritstone, famous for jamming cracks. Instantly I loved the sensory experience in breaking up these large clumps of chalk, they did really feel drier than other chalks I have used and produced that “snappy squeak” when breaking up.
I was able to cover my hands more thoroughly than with the ball. The chalk made my hands feel drier and I felt more secure making bold moves and actually did my first real fist jamming. I genuinely felt more confident to making big moves knowing my curled up fist was not going to slip out due to excess sweat – the chalk had my back on that one.
Another thing I noticed was that there was hardly any loose chalk in the air which is unusual as I often get it in my mouth or eyes if my partner is chalking up above me and I didn’t even notice it. With the chunky chalk you are not really dipping your hand into chalk, more breaking it up so this could have been a factor here.
Overall, I would recommend this for those who like the sensory experience of chunky chalk but also don’t like a lot of fine chalk in the air. It worked really well on big moves involving whole hands and fists on a very warm day.
Unicorn Dust is a very fine loose chalk. I took this to a soft sandstone sport crag to test the ability of friction on often sandy and insecure holds. Straight away I noticed it was a bit messy to transfer from package to chalk bag. This can only be expected from such fine chalk (although some small chunks still remained). The rock type I was climbing was very sandy and this chalk did a great job in making me feel more secure.
It was also a hot day and my hands were sweating more than usual and I noticed wasn’t chalking up incessantly as I usually would. The only thing that was a little more obvious than the previous chalks tested was the amount of chalk in the air when I applied to my hands. It was noticeable to my belay partner too. This can only be expected with such fine chalk however it was not overly irritable to the throat as other chalks can be.
The fourth variety of chalk I tried was the Gorilla grip, at the same sandstone crag as above. It was an even hotter evening (27 degrees!) and I was definitely feeling the need for friction on my hands! Again this chalk held its own and I didn’t feel the need to apply too much. I noticed that the chalk did leave quite a mark on the rock though so might not be popular with the local non-climbers however it’s also easily rubbed off. I’m not sure this is anything to do with the Gorilla grip itself or just that I noticed it more than when I tested the others.
Gorilla grip was more chunky than Unicorn Dust and I preferred this sensory reasons and the fact it was less messy to transfer to chalk bag. I preferred the Gorilla grip as it was a happy medium between the three loose versions. The three different loose chalks only differ in texture, so it really is only a matter of preference.
Here’s my summary of both the loose and ball chalk:
The only “sticking point” is the price. Around £6 will get you 70g/2.5oz and around a tenner will get you 142g/5oz. Of course for higher Magnesium Carbonate purity, which has no drying agent or impurities, it probably costs more to produce, hence the additional cost. Whether this appeals to the average UK climber, I’m unsure. Some retailers offer a smaller pack – 1oz for around £2.50, which means you can test it out with less financial commitment, which seems like a great starter option, if you’re unconvinced of the benefits.
Friction labs Chalk: The Verdict
In terms of post-climbing dryness, my skin does feel much better and less dry than it usually would having used the chalk around 6 times in 10 days. I did also notice that it was much kinder to the respiratory system than other chalks I have used. I also think I probably used less as it was so effective so you have to consider this when looking at cost. I have to admit it’s going to be hard to go back to other chalks I have used and I might just be a Friction Labs convert. We would absolutely love to hear what you think about this new product. When you give it a go, will you tell us what you think?
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