The human body is an incredible factory of all sorts of sweat and oils that ooze from your skin, and chalk is quite simply used by climbers to absorb that moisture on your hands to help maximise the friction between your skin and the rock. It sounds simple enough, however there’s more to it than grabbing some blackboard chalk, running it through a blender and thinking your rainbow hand prints up the wall are the best thing since sliced bread.
So with chalk being such a necessity to climb - it comes as no surprise to find dozens and dozens of chalk products that are basically the same thing… Or are they?
Here’s a quick little run-down of the chalk we offer at Climb Fit Kirrawee, plus one very special new addition.
Tried and tested - I used this stuff for years without trying anything else! A chunky, rougher chalk that comes at a good value and it does the job - however I found that I go through the chalk quite quickly as it doesn’t really last very long on your hands. I’m fully chalking up between every attempt at a boulder problem. The block variation comes as pure Magnesium Carbonate, but the bagged variation comes with chemical drying agents to really suck the moisture. It’s important with chalk like this to take care of your skin when you’re not climbing, as it can lead to cracks and splits.
A beautiful little package of loose chalk without any additives to either the chalk or recyclable packaging! Touted as a no nonsense high quality chalk, Chalk Cartel comes in either a bag of mixed powder and chunks, or preloaded into a refillable chalk ball. The best part? Every single bag comes with a prize! Ranging from stickers, to gift vouchers for things like climbing gear - or even a set of skis!
And now for something completely different...
Straight from the land of robot waitresses, hedgehog cafes and world cup mega-crushers, Tokyo Powder Industries started with humble beginnings by Mitsuo Yamamoto, who would hide away behind the walls of his climbing gym, slaving over chalk like a mad scientist, hell-bent on finding the perfect chalk.
Dare I say - he’s done it. Here’s a little run down on some of their products and what I think about them.
We were given a sample pack of four of the (many) products that Tokyo Powder Industries produce, to test in a real world review. Pure, Black, Effect and Speed.
What sets Tokyo Powder Industries aside from their competitors isn’t just the lineup of products they offer - it starts right at the beginning of the manufacturing process with how they get the white powder out of the ground - or more specifically, don’t.
Firstly let’s make one thing clear. Writing chalk is a different material altogether from climbing chalk. The stuff you used to draw rainbows with on your sidewalk is traditionally made of Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) and would turn into a paste as soon as you sweat, where as the stuff we want is made of Magnesium Carbonate (MgCO3) - which is technically a kind of salt that won’t dissolve in water. (It’d be a pretty lousy climbing chalk if it did).
Climbing chalk is traditionally mined from the earth and obtained as a process of mining for Magnesite. Tokyo Powder Industries on the other hand, has teamed up with the Japanese salt industry who refines the Magnesium Carbonate as a by-product of the other salts processed from sea water.
What does that mean? Apart from avoiding the obvious environmental problems with mining, it means that the chalk is incredibly fine (but doesn’t feel too silky thanks to a varying particle size), since it’s refined from a liquid state instead of being cut down from solid blocks. It also means that their chalk is free of contaminants and resins which can often lead to a residue buildup on holds and rock. Tokyo Powder is also a very environmentally aware company, that is super transparent in their sustainability and environmental impact through everything from their energy usage to packaging. They even have about half of their staff riding to work on push bikes!
What you end up with is Tokyo Powder Industries: PURE. An unbelievably high quality 100% pure chalk that is the base of all the other products that Tokyo Powder produce. It coats your hands beautifully in a thin layer that lasts longer. You use less chalk and get more grip. It’s so smooth it feels like you’re dipping your hands into some sort of liquid, rather than a powder. Super smooth - but not at all slippery. However, it does mean you’ll have to change the way you chalk up as to not use too much. Some people may not enjoy the fine texture if they’re used to filling their chalk bag up right to the brim. Go easy on the chalk - and if it’s still too difficult, try putting it in a refillable chalk ball or tossing a block of foam inside your chalk bag.
Next up is Tokyo Powder Industries: BLACK. Tokyo Powder’s best seller - this chalk redefines how your chalk can affect the way you stick to the rock. It’s secret lies in a drying additive that isn’t a harsh chemical, but rather a mix of lightly acidic minerals and compounds that are sourced from Japanese Onsen - natural hot springs that have been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. BLACK was by far my favourite with a noticeable difference in friction, despite the weather getting warmer and more humid. This chalk is designed to be so much more than a tool to dry your hands - but a crucial component that sits between your skin, and your project.
Digging deeper now, we enter a world of chalk that aims to affect your climbing in other ways. Tokyo Powder Industries: SPEED and EFFECT are chalks that are infused with essential oils to achieve different effects, without changing the feel of the chalk. The essential oils aren’t subtle either - when you stick your nose in, these guys pack a punch!
SPEED is infused with Peppermint, Eucalyptus and Lemongrass essential oils which aim to help increase focus and concentration to keep you cool and focused on the project send, or when you drop your last bolt hanger, super run out leading the crux pitch of a sketchy multi being blown around by the telltale gusts of an incoming storm. This particular mixture of essential oils also has the benefit of acting as an insect repellant! Hard to test in a gym, but I’m excited to try it out at the crag (just don’t go throwing it around everywhere). I personally found the cooling, refreshing scent definitely helped me focus in and switch off the world.
EFFECT is a mix of Bergamot (a citrus fruit) and Geranium (a flower) essential oils that smells like Musk Sticks, and gives a warming sensation when being used - claiming to be soothing and rejuvenating for your skin. With a smell that’s calming yet uplifting, EFFECT also claims to promote blood circulation. I’m not totally sure if that would change your pump - but maybe that’s just my lack of endurance… Personally, I found the warming sensation very subtle, but after a while it was noticeable in the Australian heat. Maybe not the best option inside a sweaty gym.
Not sure about using any one product? Tokyo Powder encourages mixing different products to find your perfect ratio, to suit your preference - and even has a range of specialty chalk for different conditions, as well as primers, boosters and even hand cleaners. These guys take friction seriously.
Chalk available in our online pro shop. Check it out.