Belay Gloves: Rack ’em or Sack ’em?

Belay gloves protect your hands from fast moving ropes, hot belay devices, aluminum oxide flakes, dirt, cactus spines, and spiky bushwhacks that can all take a toll on our skin and may have us slipping off our projects or even losing control of the belay.

Maybe you’ve been belaying glove-free since before I was born, or perhaps they weren’t mentioned by the omniscient man-bun teaching your gym’s lead class. Do you really need another thing to go rock climbing? Isn’t all this capitalism ruining the spirit of climbing anyway!?

I can sense your skepticism and respect it; but belay gloves are worth your attention whether your concern is firing the rig (sending) or avoiding the deck, here are some reasons why.


THE GOOD

Protection from rope burn.

This is the number one reason to wear belay gloves.

If a fall exceeds the braking force applied by the belay device the rope WILL slip through the device and slide through your hand; creating heat, burning your skin, and involuntarily causing you to let go of the brake. Not good.

Gloves will allow you to control the belay during the slippage, and eventually catch your partner.

You probably think you don’t take falls that hard. However, it may surprise you to know that rope slips through most belay devices in falls BELOW a Fall Factor 1. Variables including rope thickness and treatment, type of device, hand strength, and fall energy influence this slippage. For example, a hard fall may be easier to catch barehanded on a stiff, old, fat rope; but if you expect the same experience with a thin, dry-treated half rope you’ll be sobbing into your bandaged palms at your partners funeral.

By the way, an ATC starts to slip at 1.8kN. Oh, and sorry sport weenies! The Gri-Gri also slips, albeit at a higher 3.9kN. (Both values based on 10mm rope with a 300N hand force.)¹

Clean, healthy, and resilient skin when doing a lot of rope handling.

Pads wearing through quickly? Blisters on your palms? Wearing gloves for the non-climbing abuse of the day may be just what you need to keep your skin healthy enough for MORE CLIMBING.

Protection from foreign objects stuck on the rope.

Imagine sliding your brake hand quickly down the rope to feed slack for a clip, if a thorn or stick is stuck on the sheath you may be left with painful stab that could threaten your control of the brake. I’ve even had my gloves protect me (partially) from poisonous cactus sap encountered on an adventurous route in Morocco’s Anti-Atlas Mountains.

Soft, supple skin sticks superbly.

Excuse the alliteration.

A day of belaying without gloves is sure to leave you skin glazed with aluminum flakes, dry, and stiff. If you’re trying to stick to that sloper rail you’ll want as much surface area contact with the rock as possible. Soft skin will deform better into the rocks subtleties and improve friction for the send!

Rappel and lower with more control and speed.

It’s not always the best idea to rappel quickly, but a pair of gloves will make those quick retreats a safer and more comfortable endeavor. You’ll also be able to grab that hot, spit-sizzling belay device immediately to get “OFF RAPPEL!” and go to the bar ASAP.


THE CATCH?

Cost: $8. You don’t need to buy the branded #belaygloves for $40. Just grab those gloves lying around or pick up some cheapies from the hardware store. Dirtbag approved.

Time: A few seconds on and off. I use loose hardware store gloves that don’t require a thumb wrestle to put on.

Grip: Your skin actually grips the rope better than a smooth glove; although I’d be surprised if you noticed a difference. Oh, and you may be a bit fumbley in your new gloves but you’ll get used to them.

Sex: It would be negligent not to mention; if you belay in gloves you’re gonna need to climb extra hard in order to attract a mate. They’re just not sexy yet, but we’ll get there.


Conclusion

Don’t be a fool; wrap your tools! We rely heavily on our skin in the pursuit of climbing glory, why not protect it? Your partner will thank you too; or just look at you funny…


¹Titt, Jim. “Belay Device Theory, Testing and Practice.” Bolt Products, Germany, www.bolt-products.com/Glue-inBoltDesign.htm.

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