Climbing Glove and Belay Glove Buying Advice

Buying Advice
By Chris McNamara ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab - Saturday March 13, 2010

There are a literally hundreds of gloves you can use for climbing. To narrow down your selection, the first thing to ask yourself is what you are most likely to use them for. There are three main activities below and any glove that excels in one application will not do as well in others.

Click to enlarge
Four styles of gloves. From left to right: synthetic mountain biking gloves, goat skin work gloves with cowhide reinforcement, cow hide fingerless gloves, synthetic fingerless gloves with cowhide-reinforced palms.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Click to enlarge
Four styles of gloves. From left to right: synthetic mountain biking gloves, goat skin work gloves with cowhide reinforcement, cow hide fingerless gloves, synthetic fingerless gloves with cowhide-reinforced palms.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Belaying
Belaying is the most common use of a climbing glove. For belaying, you are looking for a glove that is full fingered so that your finger tips will be protected. You also want dexterity for handing biners and the belay device, especially if you are climbing way off the deck where dropping anything causes problems. Finally, you want good durability, especially if you belay a lot at the crags. If your gloves are not durable and you use them a ton, they will be shredded in a few months.

Leading
The only time most people lead with gloves is on a big wall. For leading, it is crucial to have fingerless gloves so that you can confidently handle carabiners and cams. Second, the fit needs to be precise. Gloves that are too loose will require extra effort and time to manipulate biners and gear. Lastly, with all fingerless gloves, the durability of the finger tip is essential. Once the seams at the finger start to go the gloves usually unravel quickly. It is important to have double stitching at the edges of the glove.

Rappeling
A heavy duty rappel glove has a ton of cowhide leather that is reinforced in all the key places. This means that that the glove is more durable and that you will better be able to manage the heat when on long rappels. The trade off is that a truly great rappelling glove usually is not good for belaying because it does not fit tightly and give you extra dexterity.

Sizing
As with shoes, fit is everything when selecting a climbing glove. Our general rule of thumb: when in doubt, buy a glove that is smaller rather than bigger. Since you are dealing with leather and synthetic materials that stretch, even if you buy a glove too small it will probably stretch out to be just right. If you buy a glove too large, it will always be too sloppy to confidently handle carabiners.

Materials
There are three main materials used in gloves: cowhide, goat skin, and synthetics. Cowhide is the most durable leather but also has the least dexterity and requires some time to break in. Goat skin has great dexterity but is not nearly as durable has cowhide. Synthetics are generally even less durable, but are less expensive and much more breathable. Many gloves use a combination of all three materials. In general, if you are looking for great durability you want all cowhide. If you want great dexterity and durability, get goat skin. If you are looking for the lightest and most breathable glove, get synthetic or mostly synthetic gloves.

Durability
There are two main areas to look at when assessing durability: stitching and materials. Usually the first thing to go on a glove is the material at a major wear point, usually the finger tip. Generally a tight-fitting goat skin glove will wear out the fastest in that area. The second area that goes is the stitching around the fingers. Look for a glove that has burly stitching if durability is important to you.

Wrist Closure
Some gloves use Velcro wrist closures while others do not. What is best comes down to personal preference. We prefer low-profile Velcro closures. Big Velcro closures feel bulky. No closure at all can be nice for getting the gloves on and off fast, but the gloves usually feel a little less precise.

Clip-in Points
Some people prefer clip-in points built of bomber and easy-to-find webbing that is sewn into the wrist part of the glove. Others prefer a more low key clip-in point hole on the wrist. We find that even cutting your own little hole into the glove works fine. So this is one aspect we would not get too fixated on.


Professional Tip #34 From the Trenches
Tape the palm of your brake hand before you put on your leather rappel glove for those high speed descents. Your hand will not get heat blisters and you will be able to control the descent at a higher speed then ever before possible. You'll be smoking while the other guy is getting blisters and screaming in pain.
Chris McNamara
About the Author
Climbing Magazine once computed that three percent of Chris McNamara’s life on earth has been spent on the face of El Capitan—an accomplishment that has left friends and family pondering Chris’ sanity. He’s climbed El Capitan over 70 times and holds nine big wall speed climbing records. In 1998 Chris did the first Girdle Traverse of El Capitan, an epic 75-pitch route that begs the question, “Why?” Outside Magazine has called Chris one of “the world’s finest aid climbers.” He’s the winner of the 1999 Bates Award from the American Alpine Club and founder of the American Safe Climbing Association, a nonprofit group that has replaced over 5000 dangerous anchor bolts.

Chris is a graduate of UC Berkeley and serves on the board of the ASCA, and Rowell Legacy Committee. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or ChrisMcNamara.com. He also runs a Lake Tahoe Vacation Rental.