Sunday, October 12, 2014

Friction Labs Chalk Review

Friction Labs Chalk Review 

The logo for Friction Labs Unicorn Dust

For bouldering, there are three essential tools: shoes, chalk and pads. Of these three, shoes probably get the most attention which makes a certain degree of sense. But the fact is that most of us really have no clue about the nature of the stuff we put on our hands to keep them dry. I have been increasingly frustrated with the chalk manufactured and sold by the bigger names in the industry, noticing that its texture and drying power seemed "off" somehow. I was also concerned about the nature of the "drying agents" and the lack of transparency in regard to the actual ingredients involved. Some of this I addressed a few years back in a post called "The Chalk Review" 

Since then some better chalks have emerged including that branded and sold by Mammut which I have used successfully in the past. However the most interesting development is an entirely new company, based in Colorado, called Friction Labs which has basically taken the approach of creating and selling via mail-order pure pharmaceutical grade chalk designed specifically for different kinds of climbing situations.

Kevin at FL was kind enough to send some samples my way that I had the opportunity to try out over the past few months, mostly in RMNP and the gym. There are three varieties of texture called Bam Bam, Gorilla Grip, and Unicorn Dust. Across the board, I was struck immediately by the excellent "hand" of the different chalks, what I would describe as a dry and slightly tacky feel when your fingers rub together. This tended to remain the case when actually gripping holds even the slippery and conditions-dependent gneiss of Lower Chaos Canyon. Kevin at Friction Labs explained that the key is the high percentage of magnesium carbonate which acts to trap moisture inside the chalk. Other chalks contain larger amounts of calcium carbonate which lacks this absorbent capacity, not to mention other unspecified filler materials. I recommend you read the chemical analysis posted at the FL website, something that to my knowledge no other company has done previously.

Personally I preferred the chunkier harder texture of the Bam Bam variety but I recommend you try out each of the different textures to see which suits your skin and climbing style the best. The only caveat is the price as it is much more expensive than other climbing chalks. However the subscription plan price includes free shipping and handling, an arrangement which is a real plus in making sure you always have the good stuff at hand, so to speak. Otherwise if you are left at the mercy of the local climbing shop's stock, you may be stuck with one of the "other" chalks, something that I have found makes a real difference, especially if you are working problems right at your limit.

For serious climbers, I think this is a great development and a chance to help a small start-up providing a very high quality product and service at a reasonable price. If you are looking for an extra tool for getting better results from your valuable climbing time, I strongly recommend checking them out.

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