How to choose the best crack climbing gloves
Whether you’re new to crack climbing, or a seasoned crack climbing extraordinaire, chances are good that you’ve considered purchasing a pair of crack climbing gloves at some point during your climbing career.
While many old school crack climbers still swear by the benefits of the old “tape glove,” many climbers have made the switch to manufactured crack climbing gloves that purport to provide a whole host of different benefits to climbers as they squeeze and jam their way up a crack.
But what are crack climbing gloves and do you really need them?
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about crack climbing gloves, which is why we’re here to help you understand how they work and how they might help your climbing.
Let’s start by discussing what crack climbing gloves can do for you:
Do I really need crack climbing gloves?
Anyone who has ever been crack climbing knows what it’s like to leave the crag at the end of the day with hands that are bloodied, bruised, and scarred. In the pursuit of a send, climbers can do some serious damage to their hands, especially after multiple days of cragging.
Thus, many crack climbing enthusiasts use gloves to help protect their hands from injury as they inch their way up a climb.
Traditionally, these gloves were constructed from tape and provided a decent amount of protection from rough rock. However, tape gloves can generally only survive a few climbing sessions before they end up in the landfill, or worse - left behind at the crag.
That’s where proper crack climbing gloves come into play: these professionally manufactured gloves are purpose-built for daily use and abuse by crack climbers. They help eliminate waste produced by a continuous stream of tape gloves and keep your hands protected, all at the same time.
That being said, many climbers still eschew crack climbing gloves, claiming that they’re expensive and not worth the money.
However, while crack climbing gloves involve a larger initial investment, they tend to cost about the same as 10-12 rolls of tape and survive for substantially longer. Therefore, crack climbing gloves are, in the long-term, a more environmentally option that’s easy on your wallet.
Plus, most crack climbing gloves feature a velcro closure system, which is easy to take on and off in just a few seconds. So, you can wave goodbye to walking around the crag all day with dirty, taped hands. What’s not to love?
What to look for in crack climbing gloves
While crack climbing gloves are a solid investment for most crack climbers, it can be difficult to decide on just one pair of gloves.
Although there aren’t too terribly many different models to choose from, it’s often tricky to figure out which pair is right for you. When shopping for crack climbing gloves, be sure to look out for these key features:
No one wants to wear heavy gloves, so weight is certainly a concern with crack climbing gloves. Modern crack climbing gloves tend to be quite thin, however, so usually weight isn’t too much of a concern.
That being said, however, some crack climbing gloves now feature some built-in padding, which adds weight, lowers breathability, and decreases your sensitivity to the rock.
If you’re looking for breathable and highly sensitive crack climbing gloves, then you might need to sacrifice on padding and opt for a lightweight pair of gloves.
Like any regular pair of gloves, you’ll want to make sure you crack climbing gloves fit you well before you head out to the crack.
An ill-fitting pair of crack climbing gloves will either be so tight that your fingers go numb (not ideal while climbing) or be so loose that they slide around and fail to protect you from the rock (also not ideal while climbing).
Thus, proper fit is paramount with crack climbing gloves.
Most companies make a number of different sizes for their climbing gloves, allowing climbers to choose the pair that, well, fits like a glove.
Every company is different, however, so unless you have a chance to try the gloves on in person, you should check out the manufacturer’s website for a sizing chart and select a size accordingly. If you’re between sizes, it’s probably best to size down.
When it comes to materials, not all crack climbing gloves are created equally. Generally, the higher quality crack climbing gloves will incorporate some rubber, stretchy suede-type fabric, padding, and some velcro to provide a mix of durability, friction, sensitivity, and comfort on the rock.
Cheaper crack climbing gloves are often made exclusively of rubber, which can feel a bit weird on your hands, or thick leather-type materials, which limit your sensitivity to the rock. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which materials you are most comfortable with while climbing.
The main reason to buy crack climbing gloves is to protect your hands through an endless series of handjams in rough rock. The most protective crack climbing gloves will offer full back-of-the-hand protection as well as some protection of the fingers up to the first knuckle.
Others will also offer some protection for the front of the palm.
However, all this protection often comes at the price of comfort and sensitivity. Usually, the most protective gloves feature thick pieces of rubber or leather that can feel big and bulky on your hands.
Other times, all of the protective layers of crack climbing gloves can make it difficult to pull off a precision jam at higher levels of climbing, so it really all comes down to what you value in your crack climbing gloves.
The last thing you’d want is to buy a pair of crack climbing gloves that are so uncomfortable you can’t even stand to wear them.
Much of this comes from sizing your gloves correctly, but materials and design play a big role in comfort, too.
Some crack climbing gloves accomplish high levels of comfort by reducing the bulk and stiffness of the protective materials. Unfortunately, this can result in less overall protection for your hands while climbing.
On the other hand, some crack climbing gloves feel more comfortable than others because they use wide elastic bands to wrap around the fingers instead of integrated leather or rubber finger holes.
While these elastic bands may feel more comfortable, however, they are less durable than rubber and leather alternatives.
For some people, crack climbing is an incredibly painful suffer-fest. Thus, a good pair of crack climbing gloves can help reduce the pain we feel when we dig the back of our hands into the rock.
Most crack climbing gloves achieve high levels of user comfort by padding the back of the hand to protect us from the rock.
Almost always, the more padding in the glove, the more comfortable it will be when your hand is smushed into a small crack. However, increased padding means heavier weight, more bulk, and decreased sensitivity to the rock.
One of the benefits of a tape glove is that it provides some protection for your hands without sacrificing friction. Especially in slick rock or in wet conditions, friction can be really important for crack climbing.
Many crack climbing gloves are built specifically with friction in mind, using high-quality rubber around the back of the hand or synthetic leather to help you stick to the rock. Rubber-based gloves, however, tend to be less comfortable and breathable than synthetic leathers and fabrics, so it’s a bit of a trade-off between friction, breathability, and comfort.
No one likes to buy gear, only to have it fall apart after a few uses. In the world of crack climbing gloves, however, not all models are built equal in terms of durability.
The most durable crack climbing gloves tend to be made of mostly rubber and synthetic leather, with minimal elastic or other fabric textiles.
While there are a few different crack climbing gloves out there today, there can be only one winner of our head-to-head gear match-up.
If we were going to choose just one of these five great crack climbing gloves, we’d have to choose the Ocun Crack Gloves for their unparalleled mix of durability, friction, padding, and comfort.
When compared to the other models in our review, the Ocun was built with higher quality materials and designed specifically for the high-end climber that likes to get after it on tricky crack climbs.
Although all of the padding in these gloves might decrease one’s sensitivity to the rock, the quality of the gloves’ construction makes them feel comfortable and useful in the most difficult of terrain.
At the end of the day, however, it’s about finding the right pair of crack climbing gloves for your needs. Whether you are looking for ample hand protection or lots of extra padding for those tricky hand jams, there’s a pair of crack climbing gloves out there for you.