Last update: November 2021
Friction Labs’ loose chalk products are very popular among climbers but are on the pricier side. This review assesses the performance and value of Unicorn Dust (fine), Gorilla Grip (chunky), and Bam Bam (super chunky) to help you decide if these products are right for you.
In addition to Unicorn Dust, Bam Bam, and Gorilla Grip are Friction Labs’ two other most popular climbing chalks. The three chalks have put Friction Labs on the map and come in 1oz, 5oz, and 10 oz bags. While these are undoubtedly high-performance chalks, their price point makes them somewhat controversial. Are they worth the investment?
Overall, Unicorn Dust, Bam Bam, and Gorilla Grip are excellent products. They’re easy on the skin, offer excellent coverage and grip, and last a long time. Climbers of all skill levels can use these chalks for both indoor and outdoor climbing.
In short, these chalks are worth the extra money if you’re looking for the best climbing chalk on the market.
Read on for a more detailed breakdown of the features and ingredients of each of these products.
- Better coating than its competitors
- Keeps your hands drier for longer
- Has exceptional staying power
- No additives, which makes it more suitable for sensitive skins
- On the pricier side
- Packaging is somewhat impractical and not recyclable
Friction Labs’ Unicorn Dust Review
Unicorn Dust fine chalk is arguably the star of the Friction Labs lineup of climbing products. Friction Labs markets Unicorn Dust as its finest formulation of high-performance climbing chalk. According to Friction Labs, Unicorn Dust gives you unrivaled moisture absorption and better grip than competitors’ chalks. But is this really the case?
Grip/Friction and Staying Power
One thing we agree with Friction Labs on is the fantastic grip that Unicorn Dust provides. It’s tricky to quantify what exactly makes Unicorn Dust work so well. In short, we feel that it just makes you that much more ‘sticky’ on the wall. Despite being ultra-fine, you get a long-lasting grip and find that holds feel that extra bit more secure.
Part of what makes Unicorn Dust so effective is how it dries out your hands. This gives you a bit of extra grip and makes holds feel more secure even once the chalk has rubbed away. With other brands of chalk, you will often notice right away when the chalk starts to rub off. You generally need to reapply almost immediately.
Unicorn Dust seems to have some residual effect, though. So, you can keep climbing without needing to reapply your chalk immediately. You might even get away with an extra move or two without needing to reapply. As such, you get away with using slightly less chalk throughout a session than you might using the cheap stuff.
One of Unicorn Dust’s greatest strengths is its coverage. The chalk does a better job of getting into all the nooks and crannies of your hands. This makes a big difference when working with awkward climbing holds and provides you with better friction.
Part of the reason Unicorn Dust gives such good coverage may be due to how fine it is. We noticed immediately how easy the chalk is to apply, too. Often, it was enough to dip our hands into the chalk bag once to get a very even coating of Unicorn Dust.
This ease of use may make Unicorn Dust a great tool for beginner climbers. You won’t need to spend time applying several layers of chalk and trying to get a proper coating on your hands. So, you can focus your energy on the route itself.
Suitability for Sensitive Skin
Climbers with sensitive skin types should have an easier time using Unicorn Dust than many other types of chalk. FrictionLabs claims that Unicorn Dust is less drying and irritating to the skin than its competitors. Generally, we found this to be true. While Unicorn Dust seems to be effective at keeping moisture on your hands to a minimum, it doesn’t dry them out.
One of the primary causes of skin problems for climbers is excessive dryness. As such, we expect that Unicorn Dust should be suitable for climbers with sensitive skin. The chalk does a good job of protecting your skin from cracking and damage without irritating it.
Friction Labs packages its loose chalk in distinctive, coffee bag-style packs. The packaging feels pretty sturdy, so we weren’t worried about accidentally puncturing or splitting it. However, the bag being finicky to open seems to be a fairly common complaint.
Still, we feel that the packaging could be a bit better in regards to preventing spillage. You can’t completely seal the bag that the chalk comes in. Instead, the bags have the same kind of clips that you get in coffee packaging. You bend these to close the chalk bag, but this is far from being an airtight seal. In addition, these clips can be a bit of a pain to reseal. You have to fold them back into place and make sure they are correctly fastened to the bag. With most other types of loose chalks, you simply seal the bag with a zip loc. With chalk balls, you usually tie it off with a knot. So, this feature does feel like a weakness in some respects, compared to these other, sturdier options.
Another consequence of this packaging is that excess chalk tends to get everywhere. Even when you seal the bag, it’s basically inevitable that some small amount will spill out. This can get annoying, and you feel like you’re wasting good chalk each time you open the bag.
Lastly, a common complaint about Friction Labs is that their packaging is not recyclable. Whether or not this detracts from the product itself is clearly debatable and is a subjective matter. However, climbing is a sport that revolves around the environment. So, it does feel like a shame to use accessories or gear that will most likely end up in landfills later.
Value for Money
This is perhaps the main point of controversy surrounding Friction Labs’ products in general. While they do outperform their competitors, the brand’s chalks often cost two or three times as much as normal chalk. Some climbers argue that the chalk isn’t worth the money for this reason alone.
However, climbing with top-quality chalk might make the difference between sending or falling off a route. Friction Labs refines all its chalk from high purity magnesium carbonate and doesn’t use any unnecessary fillers in their products.
It is worth keeping in mind that Friction Labs chalk lasts much longer than many other chalk brands. This means that, over time, you’ll likely use less chalk than if you went with a generic chalk manufacturer. Does this make the price difference between the two is essentially negligible? It’s hard to say but is worth considering when discussing how economical Unicorn Dust is.
Still, the fact of the matter is that not everybody is willing to pay so much for a bag of chalk. Friction Labs likely makes some of, if not the best, chalk on the market. However, when you’re choosing between the best climbing chalks already, the differences between them can feel very minor.
Ultimately, we would suggest that the chalk is worth the price for climbers interested in a quality product. In the upper echelons of sports, tiny differences in gear or technique might make the difference between first or second place. So, if you need the highest-performance chalk that you can find, then Friction Labs might be for you. However, if you’re less picky about the chalk you use, you might want to consider a more affordable brand.
Friction Labs’ Bam Bam Review
Bam Bam is another popular climbing chalk by Friction Labs. The blend is essentially at the other end of the spectrum, though, being the chunkiest chalk that the brand has on offer. You can think of this as the brand’s alternative to block chalk. We definitely noticed the difference in how long Bam Bam lasts and impacts your grip. As a result, Bam Bam is slightly more economical, as a little goes a very long way.
Grip/friction and Staying Power
Being the chunkiest chalk in the Friction Labs line, Bam Bam has arguably the best-staying power, too. Some climbers argue that the chunkier the chalk, the longer it lasts; the act of breaking the chalk down helps it really work into your skin. Bam Bam forms a thick, consistent chalk layer across your hands, and we found that it was very easy to distribute evenly.
We felt that Bam Bam was supremely long-lasting even compared to the other chalks in the Friction Labs lineup. You don’t get any slimy feeling or residue from the chalk, either. Overall, holds felt securer and stickier when we used Bam Bam, compared to chalks by other brands.
Suitability for Sensitive Skin
Friction Labs refines their chalk from the highest-quality ingredients, and Bam Bam is no exception. We found that Bam Bam does a great job of drying out the hands. However, the skin itself never seemed to get dry or irritated. In addition, Bam Bam is very effective at protecting your hands from cracking, cuts, and abrasion.
Perhaps one of the best things about using extra chunky climbing chalk is that it tends to be less messy than finer, standard chalk. This is definitely true of Bam Bam and arguably an advantage it has over Unicorn Dust. When you use fine chalk, it’s often tricky to prevent residue or chalk spilling out of the bag. You’ll often find white powder all over the place after a session using finer chalk. This is a minor gripe but can be annoying, especially if you end up getting chalk on your regular clothes or car.
We found that this wasn’t much of an issue with Bam Bam. The chalk is so chunky that you can basically just grind down individual chunks when you need them. This means that you aren’t going to lose any chalk by accident unless you tip the bag over while it’s open somehow.
In our opinion, the standard Friction Labs packaging works much better for chunkier climbing chalks. Since you don’t have to worry about excess chalk powder as much, it isn’t such an issue if the bag isn’t totally sealed. Our only main critique with Bam Bam’s packaging would be that it isn’t recyclable.
Value for Money
As with the other Friction Labs chalks, Bam Bam is considerably more expensive than most other brands’ offerings. However, Bam Bam has a definite advantage in performance compared to different brands of chunky climbing chalk, too.
In addition, we would argue that Bam Bam lasts a bit longer than Unicorn Dust and Gorilla Grip. So, while expensive, you’ll be using considerably less chalk over time than you might with cheaper brands. This is good stuff and absolutely worth the extra cost if you’re on the hunt for the best-performing chalk out there.
Friction Labs’ Gorilla Grip Review
Gorilla Grip chunky chalk is essentially Friction Lab’s mid-range product. Chunkier than Unicorn Dust but finer than Bam Bam, it’s versatile and suited to all types of rock climbing. Gorilla Grip is essentially a 50/50 blend of climbing chalk and chalk chunks. So, it may be best suited for climbers looking for something thicker than a fine powder but don’t just want chunks.
Grip/Friction and Staying Power
Like Bam Bam and Unicorn Dust, Gorilla Grip provides climbers with excellent grip and coverage. Given that it is a mixture of chunks and chalk powder, it’s relatively easy to get the consistency you want out of the chalk.
Also, we found it very easy to get a good layer of chalk on our hands with Gorilla Grip. You really only need to dip into the bag once to get an even layer across the palms and fingers. You generally need to use much more chalk with other brands to get such good, even coverage. As with Unicorn Dust and Bam Bam, Gorilla Grip lasts considerably longer than other chalks. You don’t need to worry about using too much chalk with any of these blends.
Suitability for Sensitive Skin
Gorilla Grip predominantly contains high-quality magnesium carbonate. As such, it’s very effective at absorbing moisture from sweaty hands without drying out the skin. Like Unicorn Dust and Bam Bam, it also protects hands well from cracking and other types of damage. Even after long-term use, we didn’t find Gorilla Grip to cause any dryness or irritation, compared to similar products from competitors.
Gorilla Grip comes in the same style of bag as Unicorn Dust and Bam Bam. So, the durability and design of the packaging are the same. Complaints about the packaging not being recyclable or difficult to seal and open therefore also apply.
Still, the fact that Gorilla Grip is a mixture of chalk powder and chunks means that it doesn’t spill too easily out of the bag. In that sense, the packaging is slightly more practical than it is for loose chalk.
Value for Money
Again, more or less, the same arguments for and against the other chalk blends apply to Gorilla Grip. This is a product that offers better performance than most other chalks, no question. It has great staying power, isn’t too hard on your skin, and offers excellent grip.
However, this is expensive chalk, albeit a high-performance one. We would still argue that it is reasonably economical due to lasting so long, but this is subjective. If you aren’t looking to buy the absolute best chalk that you can, then the price may indeed not be worthwhile. You might want to look at competitors’ chalks instead, which generally cost a fraction of the price.
What Ingredients does Friction Labs Climbing Chalk Contain?
One of Friction Labs’ selling points for their climbing chalk is its ingredients. The company produces all of its chalk with the highest quality magnesium carbonate. This is unusual for climbing chalk, as many other brands sell chalk, a mixture of magnesium and calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is essentially the same substance as chalkboard chalk, and it gets slimy when wet or sweaty. Magnesium carbonate, on the other hand, binds the moisture on the inside of its structure.
Unlike other chalk products, Friction Labs does not include any fillers in its chalk. This also means that Unicorn Dust, Bam Bam, and Gorilla Grip are free from drying agents. These chalks contain such a high concentration of magnesium carbonate that adding fillers to the mix is simply unnecessary. This is why the company also markets its chalk as being ‘responsibly refined’ in the USA.
What’s more, Friction Labs chalk is vegan. So, plant-based climbers can confidently use any of their chalks without worrying about the origins of their ingredients or whether it was tested on animals.
Which Climbers Should Have Friction Labs Chalk in their Chalk Bag?
In our opinion, Friction Labs chalk is suitable for essentially anyone who rock climbs. No matter what type of climbing you do, you’ll likely find one of the three chalk blends suits your style. In fact, using high-performance chalk may be more appropriate for beginners. Doing so is going to help you to have the best possible experience while climbing.
As the finest of the lot, Unicorn Dust would probably be the best choice as gym chalk. Additionally, it would be the best option for sport climbing, where every second counts. Bam Bam offers the best-staying power overall, being the chunkiest of the blends. Gorilla Grip lies somewhere in between and is a great all-rounder. We would favor a hardier blend like Gorilla Grip or Bam Bam for outdoor climbing in general.
However, this ultimately comes down to personal preference. Some climbers may simply like finer chalk over something more chunky, or vice versa. As such, we recommend experimenting and seeing which type of chalk works best for you. There is no substitute for trying the product yourself and seeing which one you like the feel of best.
To conclude, these three chalks that Friction Labs manufacture are some of the best climbing chalks out there. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for chalk that is super chunky or something that resembles a very fine powder. The brand has the perfect chalk for you.
The only possible caveat here may be the price point, which does put some climbers off buying Friction Labs products. If that isn’t a deterrent for you, though, then we would highly recommend any of these chalks to climbers of all levels. They might just end up being your new favorite chalk!
Emily has been climbing on and off for years and is an avid follower of the sport. She has mostly focussed on sport climbing and bouldering, both in gyms and in the great outdoors in Australia, the UK, and the Faroe Islands. At present, Emily is mostly focussed on improving her climbing technique and bouldering at her local gym in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands.
- Friction Labs official site (here)