Crystal Chalk First Impressions
We first got our hands on what we have started calling "Crystal Chalk" in early May. We worked with our manufacturer to adapt the formula to climbers' needs in three iterations and have now settle on something we feel is worth testing. I have personally tested it in a couple scenarios now and I think I can now highlight its strengths and weaknesses.
Initially COVID-19 limited our testing quite a bit. Gyms were closed and the only place to really test it was home. This is where Crystal Chalk really shines: the home gym or hangboard. It leaves absolutely no dust which greatly cuts down on the cleaning. Most home training regimes consist of lots of reps of exercises with plenty of rest time in between, which gives you plenty of time to apply the gel.
As you can see from the picture above, the crystal gel does leave a slightly white residue on your fingers but it is far less than chalk powder or even traditional white liquid chalk. I'm not even sure this is from the crystal gel or simply residue from touching the chalk-covered climbing holds in the gym.
I found quite late in testing that how you apply the gel matters. One unfortunate side-effect of our little samplers is that they make it hard to apply enough gel. You want a large pea-sized dollop of gel in your hands. Also, unlike traditional white liquid chalk, Crystal Chalk only seems to start working optimally once you have applied your second layer. Quite by accident I found out that I want to apply my first layer of gel 5-10 minutes before my first climb, then re-apply a little at the beginning of each climb.
My second serious test was on easy roped single-pitch outdoor sport climbs. I totally messed up the application (way too much) and did not feel like using it again in that session. I switched to our Chalk Cream and was satisfied with that for outdoor climbing. No extra chalk powder was used in those outdoor sessions. The climbs were moderate up to my maximum grade. After those outdoor sessions I had a pretty negative impression of Crystal Chalk. Traditional white liquid chalk seems to simply be so much better.
My final serious test was last night on indoor single-pitch climbs at my limit (7th grade). We've been testing our white Chalk Cream in this scenario for a while now and are satisfied enough with the quality to justify the expense of ordering a first large batch. But what about the Crystal Chalk? I decided to give it another go yesterday. I did a two-hour climbing session on short (16m) indoor routes at or over my current limit (7b/7c) and used nothing but Crystal Chalk.
After the relatively negative experience with the little samplers, I put the last batch in a traditional white aluminium tube. This made dosing a whole lot easier. The gel really looks and smells like disinfecting hand gel, something people are intensely familiar with these days. And I heard at least one guy comment "Why is that bloke disinfecting his hands before every climb?". It summarises the experience of applying Crystal Chalk pretty well: it really feels like applying disinfectant. Dries a little slower and doesn't have the strong alcohol smell of white liquid chalk.
The product really starts to shine on the second and third application. I have no clue why it is like this and will ask the lab. My impression is that unlike white liquid chalk, the effect stays longer and lasts between climbs. White liquid chalk works short-term and you need to keep applying it. I didn't use it during warm-up and I regret that now. Starting application early really seems to be the way to go and may explain my negative experience I had with the product on the outdoor session.
At this point I need to give a little caveat about skin type. My skin type is relatively dry and non-sweaty. My partner Tianyi's skin type is the opposite. When using traditional chalk or liquid chalk, Tianyi feels like she needs to chalk up after 5-10 moves. I tend to only chalk up halfway up the climb with powder chalk and last even a little longer than that with our Chalk Cream. Tianyi Will chalk up again about half-way with liquid chalk. Chalk performance is different for everyone so I guess it's only fair to tell you what my skin type is.
On yesterday's climbs I felt absolutely no difference in performance between traditional liquid chalk and our new Crystal Chalk. The place where I feel I need to chalk up is the same, near the top of the climb, and at that point I prefer to simply push through. I also did one set of two climbs at my limit without rest in between and without re-applying fresh Crystal Chalk before the second climb. I fell off on the last move of the second climb because I made a technical mistake. On the second climb I did feel like chalking up several times but was forced to push through.
We're still avoiding indoor bouldering gyms because of COVID-19 but since Crystal Chalk performs similar to traditional liquid chalk for my skin type, I am confident I can make the switch to only Crystal Chalk for indoor bouldering. I'll report back on that once I've had a chance to test it extensively.