Friction Labs Chalk Review

My favourite chalk bag...and Friction Labs Chalk...  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
My favourite chalk bag...and Friction Labs Chalk...
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Back in 1975 when John Allen completed the first free ascent of Great Wall it was considered as ‘invalid’ due to his use of chalk, quite remarkable seeing that these days it is considered a basic commodity. However, basic an ingredient though it is – is there a difference between the differing brands of chalk that are available?

Background

It was a few years ago when I first noticed that chalk isn’t necessarily just chalk and that performance does vary. There was one particular moment when I was trying the classic gritstone problem West Side Story and things weren’t going quite going to plan. My climbing partner was having better luck, as he could successfully hold the crucial knuckle wrapping crimp with his left hand (which I couldn’t). In a last ditch attempt to complete the problem I jokingly grabbed his chalk-bag for luck - things were getting that desperate - then proceeded to latch, grip and complete the move I had previously found impossible (only to fail slightly higher).

Moving on to present day, this event is something that I had virtually forgotten about until I heard about Friction Labs Chalk. Friction Labs specialise in ‘premium’ chalk, something of a new concept to many, but after my experience several years ago it struck a chord and offered an explanation as to why simply using another brand of chalk had made a difference.

Nathan Lee on the offending crimp of West Side Story  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Nathan Lee on the offending crimp of West Side Story
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Technical

Chalk consists of both Magnesium Carbonate and Calcium Carbonate. The former traps moisture on the inside, leaving the surface feeling dry; the latter pushes water to the outside, resulting in a dampness and moisture.

So, why use the latter?

In short, because it’s cheaper. Magnesium Carbonate costs more – a lot more - and if you wish for that increase in performance it’s going to cost and this is the point that many will baulk and stop reading. To put it into context, 5oz of Friction Labs Chalk comes in at £11 in comparison to the market average that I would say is nearer £3.00 - £3.50.

Whilst I hate focusing reviews around price, realistically this is the question that everyone wants to know: is it worth it?

In Use

I’ve already recounted one example of my experiences with other premium chalk, but how did Friction Labs compare throughout day-to-day use?

Over the past few months I have alternated between Friction Labs Chalk and standard chalk for limestone sport climbing (on-sight + red-point) and bouldering.   What I noticed immediately was the same as before: your hands creep less on the holds. This was the reason for my being able to hold the hold on West Side Story all those years ago. This lack of movement has the added benefit that your skin tends to drag less and as a result stay in better shape (less creep > less dragging > less tearing > less flappers etc..). On more than one occasion I have failed to complete a project not due to strength, but to skin – hence saving what little I’ve got is something I am willing to pay for.

The sign of a soggy hand: pink tips, flappers and generally pretty shoddy skin  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
The sign of a soggy hand: pink tips, flappers and generally pretty shoddy skin
© Rob Greenwood - UKC
The Friction Labs Effect: the hand stays chalked up for longer  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
The Friction Labs Effect: the hand stays chalked up for longer
© Rob Greenwood - UKC


The next thing I noticed was how infrequently I chalked up. Friction Labs chalk seems to stick and hold onto your hands for much longer than standard chalk, something became all the more noticeable when I went back to using my old chalk-bag. On redpoints this meant that I didn’t need to chalk up as frequently, hence I didn’t have to hang around quite as long en-route. Given that my project throughout the duration of this review was a roof/overhang I was grateful as ‘time’ was something of the essence! In addition to this, because you use less of it you go through it at a slower pace - hence that extra money you've spent buying it actually lasts a bit longer than it would usually.

The only drawback I could find, and it’s quite a tenuous one, is that when conditions are truly awful (i.e. the rock is greasy) then the benefits unsurprisingly disappear – it’s not a miracle worker. Visit somewhere like LPT or the Diamond on a bad day and this stuff isn’t going to save you. Also, if it’s a windy day the financial implications of your bag inverting are slightly more severe than usual…

Finally, it's a matter of personal preference but this review wouldn't be complete without mentioning that there are three different 'blends' available: Unicorn Dust (Fine), Bam Bam (Super Chunky) and Gorilla Grip (Chunky). I personally favoured the chunky end of things, as for some reason or another - maybe it's just my imagination - but I've always found superfine chalk a little off-putting/slippy. 

Is this technically yawning, gurning and yawgurling? Either way he's off...  © Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing
Gareth Cokell on my most recent project, The Free Monster at Water-cum-Jolly, a route so steep that factoring in more time to chalk up was not an option

Overall

So, is it worth the price?

This is a premium product for a performance user, hence not for everyone. If you take your bouldering/sport climbing seriously then I would recommend  trying out some of the smaller sachets that are available for sale, the difference is noticeable – particularly when you switch back to your old chalk.

The only problem is that once you’ve tried it you will soon begin to find it very difficult to go back to using standard chalk so be warned! I for one will be using it this winter for projects out on the Grit…


What Friction Labs say:

Friction Labs is the best chalk you’ll ever use, once you’ve tried it there’s no going back to your old brand. Now for the first time the innovative blends of white powder are now available in the UK.

Developed by a group of long-time climbers who were in search of increasing their performance. After years of obsessing over the rubber and fit of their shoes but totally ignoring the quality of the powder on their hands they saw an opportunity to develop something new.

For people who say “chalks just chalk” Friction Labs will change your mind. Recently a team of world-class geologists and chemists conducted independent tests on the five most common chalks for rock climbing. The results were clear: Friction Labs chalk is the purest chalk out there.

Unicorn Dust, Bam Bam and Gorilla Grip are the 3 blends of Friction Labs, they are all chemically developed in the same way so picking one just depends on your own personal preference of the texture.

MORE INFO: Friction Labs Website

BUY NOW from:
logo£17.00. Bam Bam, Gorilla or Unicorn - which one are you? All in stock now.
See this product at the Joe Brown - Snowdonia shop
logoAvailable at Harrogate Climbing Centre, with 10% off for our members!
See this product at the Climbing Centre Group shop
logo£2.35. From £2.35.
See this product at the The Depot Climbing Centre shop
logo£2.35. Unicorn Dust, Gorilla Grip and Bam Bam – 1, 2.5, 7.5 and 10oz from £2.35 to £17.00 with free UK delivery
See this product at the Outside Ltd shop
logo£2.35. You'll get sweaty fingers using our new website - too much good stuff!
See this product at the Needle Sports shop


For more information visit Friction Labs Website


10 Sep, 2015
The Metolius block chalk is 100% Mag Carb and costs £1 for 2oz, you can also buy 500g (17oz) of pure magnesium carbonate off ebay for less than £10 delivered. Why is this stuff any different?
10 Sep, 2015
Same question! A quick search on Amazon shows many brands of chalk that are 100% magnesium carbonate and much cheaper than Friction Labs -- so it doesn't seem like the presence or absence of calcium carbonate can explain the full price difference. Is the theory that not all magnesium carbonate is created equally? If so, why?
10 Sep, 2015
There are actually a bunch of different chalks available at the moment. Since this is a comparison between chalk A and chalk B its essential to know which the first chalk was for this review to be meaningful. For instance maybe chalk A was a particularly poor kind of chalk and thus almost any other brand would be considered much better when compared to it. In the same vein it would be much more useful to review several different chalks together rather than just one type on its own. For instance another reviewer, on UKB, reckons, that Beta chalk is almost as good as Friction Labs but a fraction of the price. The implication here is that there are just two types of chalk, Friction Labs and all the others. For marketing purposes I'm sure that's just what Friction Labs would like us to believe but for a serious review that's misleading. Metolius, Moondust, Rock Technologies, Beta chalk, Edelrid, Camp, and Snap are just some of the other competing brands. How about a proper head to head review of at least 5 of the more popular types of chalk? That would be so much more useful than this which reads more like an advertisement to me.
Hi all, I had a suspicion that this review would stir up some controversy simply because of it's price (!!) and the fact that the actual difference between it's performance vs. it's competitors isn't something that I have tried to test scientifically. It's an expression of my opinions/experiences at the end of the day, not fact. To allay people's fears it is worth mentioning that I have used a lot of differing types of chalk, hence would like to think I have a reasonable appreciation of what is out there (and how they perform). There are some I find too fine, others I find dry my skin too much, but for the vast majority I have found actual performance much for muchness. Friction Labs Chalk did feel different and if this sounds like an advertisement then please accept my apologies. It would be interesting to hear feedback on other people's experiences, after all this is one of the benefits of the forums - lots of opinions from lots of different people (and not just mine!!). Finally, I'd be open to the idea of a Comparative Chalk Review (but it might take a while to do properly). p.s. the following link has the percentages of Magnesium Carbonate used by Friction Labs and other brands: http://trade.mountainboot.co.uk/where-to-buy-friction-labs-chalk/
10 Sep, 2015
Now i think its more because it sounds like bollocks. TBH. Chart is kind of meanless, for a start this 'wunderchalk' claims to have almost 0.80.. 0.80 of what exactly? Seem like they have cherry picked data. As someone else has mention, many other brands are 100%, so would that be 1.00 on that chart or?
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