Performance & Feeling of Chalk

CHALK REBELS grew out of a personal frustration with how I saw chalk being used by climbers. I still remember buying my first block of chalk 30 years ago. That one was 50 grams and seemed to last me for months.

Fast-forward to today and we’re seeing a steady inflation in the amount of chalk climbers buy. Manufacturers are putting bigger and bigger bags on the market: 1kg, 5kg, and more! Am I the only one who thinks that’s insane? Even 1kg feels like a lifetime supply of chalk to me.

We’re also seeing a massive influx of climbers. Climbing is more popular than ever before. And that’s good! More people in the outdoors means more people who care for the environment. I think overall the climbing community is doing a pretty good job in preserving our outdoor playgrounds.

But more climbers using more chalk can’t be good. Chalk is not entirely without impact on the environment and our health. So if we’re going to continue to use chalk, we’d better get smart about it. Cue CHALK REBELS.

The very mission of CHALK REBELS is to educate about chalk use and create the best possible grip products so we can minimize the impact our chalk use inevitably has.

Michael Pollan has this wonderful quote about nutrition: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." It adapts pretty well to the climbing world: “Use chalk, not too much, mostly liquid.”

So far science hasn’t found a material better to improve friction than magnesium carbonate for climbers. It’s simple. It’s cheap. And it works.

Most chalk is the same in terms of performance, with one notable exception: Upsalite®-based chalk offers up to 10x absorption. In terms of purity the answer is pretty simple again: chalk from mining is less pure than chalk from seawater.

The formula to get maximum performance out of chalk is actually pretty simple: use a thin layer of the purest seawater-based magnesium carbonate you can find, optionally boosted with Upsalite®. That’s the formula we used to develop our liquid chalk products.

But. Performance is only half of the reason why climbers use chalk. Chalking up has become a ritual. It helps us focus. A bit of “white courage” often helps us climb a little harder. And this is the area where feeling matters.

We can safely state that chemically most chalk is the same. But not all chalk feels the same. And feeling matters. Quite often feeling and performance are actually inversely correlated.

Our performance formula guides us towards the finest possible chalk, applied in a thin layer on the skin. But to most climbers such a “silky smooth” chalk feels “wrong”. There’s a reason why “chunky” chalk is popular.

We see something similar with liquid chalk: liquid chalk actually is the best way to apply chalk in a very thin layer for maximum performance, but many climbers don’t like liquid chalk because of the way it feels. Again, feeling matters.

And the same is true for chalk balls: not as good as liquid chalk to apply that thin layer but better than powder in terms of performance. Still, many climbers prefer to crunch up chalk with their fingers instead. Once more, feeling matters.

With our Upsalite®-based Magic Chalk, I think we made the best possible liquid chalk based on our current scientific understanding. We’re confident we made a formula that offers both the best performance and a great feeling for those who like liquid chalk.

Now, what about chalk powder? So far we have steered away from developing chalk powder products because we use three criteria to guide product development. We always ask these three questions:

  • Is it good? Actually, just good is not enough. Can we make the best product? 
  • Is it simple? Can we make a product that is simple to use? 
  • Does it harm? Can we make a product that reduces harm?

We chose to create liquid chalk first because it fits all three criteria. Yes, it’s possible to create the best product in this category, because most liquid chalk is cheap garbage from China. Yes, we can create a product that is simple to use and dries fast. Yes, we can create a liquid chalk that does less harm because it leaves less traces and creates less dust.

For chalk powder, the answers to those questions were less favorable when we started CHALK REBELS. No, at the time we did not estimate we can make the best chalk powder, because most chalk is the same. No, creating a simple chalk powder product is hard, because getting the feeling right is hard. No, we found it hard to create a chalk powder product that does less harm.

But maybe something has changed? Maybe we’ve learned something? After 2 years my answers to these questions now are different. Yes, we can make the best product, because of what we learned with Upsalite®. Yes, we can make a simple product that feels good to sue. Some secret magic here. Maybe, maybe we can make a product that does less harm because you’ll use less of it.

2/3. Maybe we should give this a try … We have the performance nailed with Upsalite-based liquid chalk, maybe now is the moment to start work on improving the feeling of chalk powder?

Photo Alexandre Debiève - Unsplash

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