Last update: November 2021
Black Gold is Black Diamond’s top loose chalk product combining regular chalk and high-performance Upsalite, a patented “super material” with less moisture for better grip. In this review, we go over its performance and value to help you decide if you need it.
However, if you regularly find your hands drying out, cracking, or even tearing, this chalk won’t do. Indeed, it’s been scientifically engineered to enhance grip by removing moisture from the skin. Those with already dry hands simply won’t need the added effect of the Upsalite. The only exception would be if you plan to climb in hot and humid conditions.
Overall, we recommend Black Gold to anyone suffering from sweaty hands. If you have dry hands or sensitive skin, then you would be better off looking at the liquid version of Black Gold (or Friction Labs Secret Stuff) that offers better moisturization by adding water to the mix.
- Super effective moisture control
- Scientifically engineered to enhance grip
- Plastic-free packaging
- Lasts longer between applications
- Resealable package for a mess-free experience
- Creates a lot of dust (like any loose chalk)
- Not suitable for climbers with dry hands or sensitive skin
Regular, old magnesium carbonate (or chalk as we more commonly call it) does a decent job of increasing friction by absorbing oil and sweat. Climbers have been using it since the mid-1950s to climb longer and harder. The mark of good climbing chalk is how well it controls moisture/oil build-up – and how long this effect lasts from a single application.
To raise the bar on both of these measures, Black Diamond created Black Gold chalk. So, let’s see what it is and how it performs.
Regular Loose vs. Scientifically Engineered Chalk
Working along a ridgeline or scrambling up a mountain is going to make you hot and potentially nervous. This results in a reduced, slippery grip – especially the fingertips. Having your most trusted chalk in your bag makes a real difference to your performance and helps with confidence. To rate how Black Gold holds up in tough situations, we need to set the context.
Regular Loose Chalk
Climbing chalk, like weightlifting and gymnastics chalk, is typically made with magnesium carbonate. Most trusted chalk from climbing companies exclusively uses this ingredient. Loose chalk is convenient to leave in buckets in commercial gyms and to stash and apply during a climb. It’s also easy to produce, relatively cheap, and effective enough for the vast majority of people.
Black Diamond’s Pure Gold is 100% Upsalite. This makes it much more absorbent than Black Gold, which is itself more absorbent than White Gold. Some climbers buy this to mix with their regular loose chalk, others use it in its concentrated form to pre-coat hands before their regular chalk. Either way, Pure Gold is a high-performance solution and is only required by those with seriously sweaty hands.
Black Diamond has created Black Gold chalk as a pre-mixed solution containing its regular White Gold chalk and enough Upsalite (Pure Gold) to offer twice the absorption of regular loose chalk.
Attributes and Performance
To effectively rate how Black Gold works, we’ve broken it down into the categories below. Generally speaking, we’re comparing how it works relative to regular loose chalk. We’ll also go over the difference between the chalk products in BD’s lineup.
Black Gold has been scientifically engineered to enhance grip through its 10% Upsalite content. One gram of Upsalite equals millions of pores covering a surface area of 800 sqm. This kind of absorbency certainly interests rock climbing mountaineering professionals. But the ultimate question is does it do enough to justify its price over all the chalk already on the market?
Friction/Grip, Texture, and Feel
There’s a dry, fine stickiness to Black Gold that’s hard to describe. Inevitably, discussion of its effectiveness at creating friction is going to be a bit subjective. If you naturally have drier skin, you may not notice any performance difference between Black Gold and Black Diamond’s regular White Gold product. Certainly, the initial texture and feel are similar to standard chalk – if a little grainer and drier feeling.
But remember, this is regular chalk scientifically engineered to have twice the absorption. Its texture may be similar to typical magnesium carbonate, but the hyper absorbent Upsalite should make it perform better – particularly in high-stress situations, like climbing a route harder than what you’re used to.
Coverage and Staying Power
There’s a noticeable effect on the moisture in your hands when you apply this chalk. It feels like it draws out twice the moisture and creates an immediate texture and grip. And because it’s relatively fine, coverage is good. It feels easy to tell when you’ve fully coated an area. Black Gold also feels like it’d be possible to apply to just the fingertips when crimping. The application is easy enough overall, and each bag we checked out had a few chunks in there to make it even easier.
Like with all loose chalk, the mess can be a problem. If you tip the bag directly into your chalk bag, some of this can be avoided. This is certainly no messier than other loose chalk brands though. Typically, finer brands of chalk build up on indoor holds more rapidly, requiring frequent brushing down. While Black Diamond Black Gold will inevitably do this, a light coating of this stuff is as effective as a heavy one of other chalk. This could help with build-up versus an additive-free blend.
Also, it’s good to note that the package contains no plastic and is resealable, which helps to keep your chalk dry and not spill everywhere on the way to your climbing spot.
As we’ve seen, the hyper absorbent Upsalite makes your hand extra dry, which may be an issue for climbers with sensitive skin and naturally dry hands. If you are in this situation, then we would recommend starting with BD’s regular chalk and seeing if that’s effective for you.
Some people might benefit from the liquid version of Black Gold that includes water to help with moisturization. However, as with most liquid chalks, it also contains alcohol, which can be abrasive for sensitive or dry and cracked hands.
This is a tricky category. With a cost of approximately $1 per gram, it’s certainly more expensive than your average chalk. However, if used sparingly, a small amount of this will go further than your classic chalk. But when working along a ridgeline two, it’s easy to dip your hands reflexively at every chance. Whether or not regular chalk, scientifically engineered is worth the increase in cost versus regular chalk depends on you. We didn’t do the math on whether buying pure gold to mix with regular chalk is a better value proposition.
If you’re lucky enough to have naturally dry hands, this product is unlikely to be worth it for you in most situations. However, if sweaty fingertips are a frequent problem that’s caused you problems, this could be worth a look. It’s not that much more expensive than regular chalk.
If you’ve got greasy hands, it’s worth trying a bag of at least once. Next time you’re climbing along a ridgeline two and your fingertips are slippery, it won’t seem expensive.
Black Gold vs. Classic White Gold
To make it simple, White Gold is just regular magnesium carbonate with a fine, slightly chunky, texture. There are no additives, fillers, or drying agents.
Black Gold is 90% of the above and 10% Upsalite, a patented and extremely porous magnesium carbonate material (1).
The added dryness from the Upsalite is immediately apparent. But it mainly makes a difference in climbing terms for those with sweaty fingertips.
Black Gold is 90 magnesium carbonate, 10% Upsalite. Magnesium carbonate is mined (primarily in China) as magnesite then later purified into the chalk we use to climb. Like most mining industries, this is far from clean. This environmental effect is worth remembering next time you’re scrambling up a mountain with an inch of chalk on your hands.
Upsalite was created in a Swedish lab and is sometimes referred to as “impossible material”. It’s a record-setting compound for surface area and water absorption. According to Black Diamond, it can absorb approximately up to 10x times the amount of moisture as magnesium carbonate.
Both materials are vegan and inorganic.
We highly recommend Black Gold to anyone suffering from sweaty hands. If it’s something that’s regularly a problem, a product like this can improve your performance and confidence.
There’s also a good case to be made for using Black Gold when climbing somewhere hotter than you’re used to. Unfamiliar locations and hot weather both increase perspiration. But if you’re lucky enough to have dry skin (as a climber), there’s not much to see here.
- Black Diamond’s official site
Originally native of Oregon, Gab has been living and climbing in Europe for the last five years. He started indoor bouldering after reading Eiger Dreams of Jon Krakauer before falling in love with rock climbing. He’s planning to spend most of 2022 scouting the Alps for the most beautiful crags!