Gear review: Friction Labs chalk

I have sweaty fingers. I mean REALLY sweaty fingers. Most of the times when bouldering in a gym, my fingers have sweated through the chalk while walking from the chalk bucket to the problem I am about to climb. Talk about frustrating!

The truth is that the drier the skin, the better the friction. All moisture between the finger and the rock (or plastic) makes the holds feel slippery. Like in my case, some people have more sweaty fingers than others. Some climbers can climb a number of problems without having to chalk in between climbs. I’m not one of those climbers.

Friction Labs review

I have gone through a number of chalk brands (maybe all of them?) and experimented with liquid magnesium and even Antihydral (a sort of skin thickening lotion used mostly in Europe by athletes with excessively sweaty feet?, makes the skin thicker and reduces sweating) without a noticeable difference. Even liquid magnesium has not had a big impact on keeping my fingers dry. Sure it coats the hand and fingers evenly, but as soon as I squeeze the first holds my fingertips are wet.

Because of my personal degree of finger sweatiness, I got really excited when first reading about this brand of premium climbing chalk, Friction Labs. They claim to be the best on the market and have the highest percent of magnesium in the mix.

I’ve been climbing for over a decade and gone through lots and lots of different chalk brands and types. Some are better than others. Most of the times I’m so frustrated by my sweaty fingers, I’d try anything to make it even a bit better. So when someone says that they are the best (and most expensive), I’m willing to give them a chance to help with my wet finger tips.

Friction Labs compared to other brands

So what is all the fuss about? I’ve learned that all climbing chalk is in fact a mixture of magnesium, heavy metals, impurities, drying agents and several other fillers that keep the magnesium loose and such. Friction Labs claim to have the highest percent of premium quality magnesium in the mix. This is why their chalk outperforms all the other contenders on the market. It’s not about feel, it’s science. The higher amount of magnesium, the drier it keeps your hands.

Friction Labs review
Chalks tested include Bison Ball, Metolius Super Chalk, Evolv, and Metolius Block (graphics from frictionlabs.com)

Friction Labs comes in three different textures. Unicorn Dust is fine, Gorilla Grip is chunky and Bam Bam is super chunky. Regardless of the texture, all three have the same gripping quality. They also have a sort of magnesium ”lotion” called Secret Stuff and a refillable chalk ball. Maybe I’ll review them at some point.

Friction Labs in use

I ordered the Gorilla Grip. I was a bit put off by the price, but was willing to give it a go. The package was nice and shiny and has this nifty gorilla on it with boxing gloves. I rolled the bag open and unclipped the metal binders that held the bag shut. Then I tore the bag carefully open, expecting a ray of light to shoot out of the bag like in the Indiana Jones movie where the bad guys open the lost Ark. You know the movie if you’re my age. If you’re younger than me or haven’t seen the movie, then never mind.

Anyway, in the bag was something that looked like chalk. Ordinary chalk. Nothing special. Just chalk. Well, I guess I was expecting some magical sparkly powder or something.

But when dipping my hand in the bag, it felt different from all the other brands I’d tried previously. The hand instantly felt sticky. Not melted sugar sticky, but dry, friction sticky. You know what I’m talking about.

I took the stuff with me the next time I went out bouldering, but still kept my old chalk at hand, just in case. Boy was the difference clear! The Friction Labs chalk kept my hands drier than my old chalk. I did’t have to chalk up as much on the route and it provided better friction. I even tried dipping my other hand in the Friction Labs chalk and the other in another brands chalk. The result was that the hand with the Friction Labs chalk held the hands dryer for way, way longer than the other brand. And this was just while standing around and not climbing. Imagine what the difference feels like on the rock?

Next time I went out bouldering, I’d emptied all the old chalk away from my chalk bag and replaced it with the Friction Labs chalk. It was a hot day out and I went to try out a problem that I have had trouble with on previous sessions. This time I sent the problem second go. I honestly believe that Friction Labs made a difference. I was immediately sold on the stuff.

The final word

I do have to say that is probably the best climbing chalk out there. But… There’s always a but… It’s expensive. It lasts longer on the fingers than other brand and keeps your hands drier. But how much longer and how much drier? Maybe you get a few extra moves before having to chalk up on a sport route. When bouldering, it helps me to get in a few extra moves before the slippy feeling starts to set in. Is it worth the price difference compared to other brands?

For me the answer is an easy yes. Sure it costs a bit more than other brands. But so what? I have sweaty hands and felt that the climbing is much more enjoyable with Friction Labs. If you don’t sweat as much, maybe the difference is not that obvious. I’m willing to spend the extra dollar (or euro in my case) for a more enjoyable climbing experience. Besides, how much do you spend on chalk in a year anyways? I’m not spending that much on chalk that it really makes a difference. Even if the cost of chalk per year doubles, it still will not make a difference to me.

So give it a try. I think you won’t be disappointed. And if you think you wasted your money, Friction Labs even offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Keep it up Friction Labs. Best in the market.

(I’ve now been using exclusively Friction Labs chalk for three years. I’m still really happy with the stuff and haven’t looked back once.)

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