The Best Climbing, Belay, and Rappel Gloves
What is the best way to protect your hands from climbing, belaying and rappelling? We answer that question by testing 16 of our favorite climbing gloves on big walls, crags, and at the gym. We belayed hundred of pitches, rappelled thousands of feet and climbed hundreds of aid pitches in Yosemite. We evaluated gloves on how the performed when leading, rappelling, belaying, and handling carabiners. We also assessed their overall durability. After scoring the results, we tell you what are the best gloves for each of the main needs that climbers have.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
The Black Diamond Transition Glove came out on top because of its great dexterity. Both are made of goat skin, which enables precision handling of belay devices and carabiners. More importantly, both had articulated designs that meant there was no "dead space" in the glove. The gloves fit like, well, they fit like a glove! In comparison, the Petzl Cordex Belay Glove was also made of goat skin but did not have the same precision fit. Most other gloves worked for belaying, but did not have the same dexterity. The Metolius Belay Glove was among the most durable for belaying because it is make of cowhide. However, we found that if you are not going for the precision of goat skin, then you are best off saving a lot of money with a standard glove like the Wells Lamont Leather Work Glove which you can get for $22 for three pairs at Costco. Most fingerless climbing gloves did great for belaying when it came to precision handling. However, we don't recommend them because they all leave your finger tips black. The exception might be on a multi-pitch climb where you want exceptional handling and light weight. For that purpose, the Metolius Iron Hand Glove is our top pick for belaying because it is light, relatively affordable, and relatively durable.
The PMI Heavyweight Rescue Glove was easily the most burly glove we tested and the best glove for rappelling. It has tons of heat and friction moderating cow leather that gives great heat control but at the expense of dexterity. If you want more dexterity, we would go with the Metolius Climbing Glove or the PMI Lightweight Rappel Gloves. Those two gloves managed long rappels well and still provided some confidence when handling carabiners way off the deck. The Metolius is probably our top pick for value, handling, and durability combined. That said, it is hard to go wrong with the Wells Lamont Leather Work Glove, which works good enough for most folks at a fraction of the price. One glove that surprised us with its durability was the CAMP Light Synthetic Glove. For only $23 you get a lot of friction control when handling ropes plus good breathability. The downside was this glove did not handle carabiners as well because of a clunky and slippery feel.
The best fingerless gloves were the Black Diamond Stone and PMI Fingerless Glove. Both had snug fits, great dexterity and a nice feel when handling gear way off the deck. The best full fingered gloves were the SixSixOne Raji New Wave. Both were light, fit tightly, and had great ventilation. More importantly, they had a thin rubber coating on the finger tips that really helped to grab biners. The SixSixOne was by far the best. It is just so thin and light. It is what I take up a mostly clean aid wall like The Nose or on a multi-pitch climb. The MadRock glove is not quite as snug fitting, but still better than a leather glove. The leather gloves that performed the best were the Black Diamond Transition Glove and the Mad Rock Wall Glove.
There were two standouts for leading: the Black Diamond Stone Glove and the PMI Fingerless Glove. Both are made of goatskin and have amazing dexterity and a very snug fit. The Stone glove is a little more protective and burly, the PMI is a little lighter and $8 less expensive. We also liked the Metolius Climbing Glove. It did not have the same dexterity and fit as the first two but is much more burly. It's the glove you see most often on Yosemite big walls. Its synthetic sibling, the Metolius Iron Hand Glove, gives a little more dexterity and breathability but is not as burly. We like it for multi-pitch free climbs and light walls but not as much for burly big walls.
By far the most durable glove was the PMI Heavyweight Rescue Glove. It was burly and had many layers of cowhide. The second most durable was the Metolius Belay Glove that is also made of cowhide. Most other gloves performed about how we expected: the lightweight goat skin gloves were not nearly as durable as the cowhide gloves. Both the finger tips and palms would wear pretty quickly. The surprise came with the Mad Rock Belay Glove and CAMP Light Synthetic Glove that both had thin leather but still managed to hold up on long rappels. In general, we found what you would expect: the thinner the material the less the durability. So, ask yourself this: are you more interested in high performance or value? If you just want value, it's hard to go to go wrong with the Wells Lamont Leather Work Glove, which gives you average durability at a far below average price. However, they are loose fitting and won't give nearly the dexterity of the high end gloves.
Editors' Choice Winners
For fingerless gloves, it was a tough call. We loved the PMI Fingerless Glove and were ready to give it the nod when out of nowhere a new entry, the Black Diamond Stone Glove. took the top position. It was a photo finish and both gloves are awesome. What gave the Stone the edge was the articulation in the hand and just the fact we thought it was really really cool. If you are going to spend $30-plus on gloves that you could in theory make by cutting up and old pair of gardening gloves, they needs to feel really cool. That said, we like how light and simple the PMI glove is and would gladly take it on any El Cap route. For the Best Buy award, it was a runaway winner: Homemade Fingerless Climbing Glove. For a one-fifth the cost of the Black Diamond Stone Glove you can cut the fingertips off a leather glove you find lying around and get something that works. No it won't be as good, but when you are saving $30, you might be okay with that. And, making your own climbing gear is fun!
The Black Diamond Transition Glove is our favorite. We based our decision on this test from our box of 15 pairs of gloves: which did we reach for when we were not testing? The Transition came out ahead because of the articulation that gives it great dexterity. The Metolius Belay Glove also scored very high. It was much more durable than the two listed above but did not have the same subtle handling. For the Best Buy award, again, the non-climbing manufacturer version wins: Wells Lamont Leather Work Glove was a mere $7-8 per pair when bought in a 3-pack. While this glove did not have great dexterity, it got the job done and was fairly durable.
— Chris McNamara
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