Gear Review: Crack Glove Round-up

The author on Rickety Kate at Frog Buttress

It’s only March, but the devoted are starting to filter back toward Frog Buttress. Having been denied their crack fix following the hot, dry conditions and extended closures that characterised 2019, the dedicated (and potentially disturbed) crack acolytes of South East Queensland are willing to endure hellish temperatures and absurd humidity to eke out some early season sends. Godspeed, you mental bastards.

In times like these, a little help goes a long way when attempting to execute secure jamBs in the smooth-walled fissures. Enter the Crack Glove – also known as the Cheater Glove, or the Aid Glove, or the Hand Shoe. Such accoutrements are not without their critics, however they have quickly become a ubiquitous feature of modern trad climbing. In jest, I myself have slandered and/or libeled the controversial crack glove from time to time, but after sustaining debilitating gobies on my right hand following repeated abuse, I allowed that they might be a fine idea. I’ve since tested a variety of brands and will describe their various virtues and foibles shortly.

Crack gloves can help avoid boo-boos like these

But first, let’s talk about the elephant in the room – are crack gloves cheating? It must be said that the use of these items DOES make crack climbing easier, and substantially less painful. But that’s not to say they should be considered unfair means. Chalk, sticky rubber shoes, kernmantle nylon ropes and spring loaded camming devices all represent technological advancements that first ascensionists did not enjoy. If you’re hell-bent on purism, feel free to ditch your shiny gear and solo every route in the buff while spectators offer polite golf-claps and try to avoid gratuitous glimpses of your junk. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of style, not ethics – the use of crack gloves is a personal choice, and such use does not have a negative impact on other climbers, and is therefore largely irrelevant. I have spoken.

I’ve roadtested four types of crack gloves in a variety of locations, including but not limited to Frog Buttress, Tasmania, Socaire (Chile), Marumbi (Brazil) and the Chalten Massif (Argentina). Each have their pros and cons, so let’s try to nut out if there are any clear winners in the field.

Tape Gloves

Tape Crack Gloves
Constructing a pair of tape gloves at Socaire, Chile

The OG of crack gloves, these are ghetto versions of the gloves which are now commercially available. Made from strategic layering of athletic tape, they offer protection from the rugosities of stone, although without the benefit of sticky rubber. This has led to a perception that tape gloves are a little more “legit” than other gloves, which might be a selling point for some. There has been some commentary regarding the lastability and sustainability of such gloves, and some are of the opinion that a manufactured glove represents a more permanent solution. I believe this perspective to be somewhat overstated, having used a single pair of tape gloves for more than two seasons whilst observing that gloves which are ostensibly more durable can wear out in a similar time frame. One thing is for sure – the tape glove is an economical option.

Advantages
Cheap
Effective
Rugged
Old School Street Cred

Disadvantages
No friction benefits
A real pain in the arse to remove (say goodbye to your wrist hair)
Have a tendency to get rather filthy
Finger loops can stretch over time and I have clipped a thumb loop into a carabiner more than once

Cost
About $10 for a roll of tape, which should do for at least 2-3 pairs of gloves

Durability
Above average

Summary
7/10 – These are a solid, no-frills option for thrifty tradsters. 

Outdoor Research Splitter

Outdoor Research Splitter Crack Gloves
Putting the OR Splitters through their paces on the FA of Captain C-Bomb and the Mulleteers, Cape Pillar, Tasmania

If I had to pick one word to describe these gloves, it would be “flimsy”. Ostensibly, the idea was to produce a lightweight and flexible glove, but in reality, the construction feels weak and formless. Instead of a thick, solid outer, OR has gone for a primarily fabric build with thin sections of rubber. These have a tendency to delaminate over time, and the fabric tends to stretch and warp. This results in a fit that I find loose and insecure, as well as finger loops that lack durability and structure. This is not exactly a glowing endorsement, but it could be a matter of horses for courses – some climbers may find the looser fit to be less constrictive and more natural than some of the burlier models.

Advantages
Lightweight
Flexible
Intimate tactile feedback
More natural and less constrictive than other models

Disadvantages
Not particularly durable
Wrist strap remains unprotected and vulnerable
Poor fit
Fabric finger loops stretch and warp quickly
Expensive

Cost
$64.95 at K2 Base Camp

Durability
Low

Summary
5/10 – Flexible and breathable, but with significant design flaws.

Ocun Crack Gloves

Renee Helm models the you-beaut Ocun gloves on Iron Mandible at Frog Buttress

The venerable Ocun glove has fast become the weapon of choice for most crack climbers. There are many good reasons behind this, and this model represents the current apex of technology. The thick rubber outer is a godsend for friction and protection, while the microfiber suede segment offers flexibility for cupped hands and fists. The fit is snug and is shaped well for the contours of the hand. The finger loops are durable, and although stiff at first, soften nicely over time. Previous models had a major design flaw in a weak wrist strap, but this has since been rectified with an ingenious flap and velcro system that has greatly improved the durability and lifespan of these gloves.

Advantages
Good fit
Stick like shit to a blanket
High level of protection
Durable
Flexible
Affordable

Disadvantages
Quite thick, which can be annoying for thin hand cracks
Thick construction inhibits breathability and produces sweat
Finger loops tight to begin with, can reduce circulation and increase pump before properly broken in

Cost
$49.95 at Pinnacle Sports 

Durability
High

Summary
9/10 – These are probably the best crack gloves on the market and deservedly popular.

Singing Rock Craggy
This little-known Czech company has attempted to swing some of the market share from Ocun with a similar and largely applaudable model. The Craggy offers most of the benefits of the Ocun glove, albeit with two noticeable departures. The burly rubber outer is not punctuated by a flexible fabric segment, and therefore feels somewhat stiffer and less pliable than the Ocun variant. I personally found the rubber to be so burly that the subsequent reduction in sensitivity was a little disconcerting. Additionally, the finger loops are a weird bit of design, comprised of sewn elastic loops. Although I’ve tested these gloves for less time than other models, I was not necessarily disappointed in the construction, but would be concerned about the security of these elastic attachments following heavy use. If and when these fail, I’ll be sure to update this information.

Singing Rock Craggy Crack Gloves

Advantages
Form fitting
Great friction
High level of protection
Durable

Disadvantages
Quite thick, significantly reduces sensitivity
Thick construction also inhibits breathability and produces sweat
Finger loops inhibit circulation prior to breaking in, as well as exhibiting potential for eventual failure
Ever-so-slightly more expensive than the Ocun gloves.

Cost
$54.95 at Pinnacle Sports 

Durability
High

Summary
7/10 – While the Ocun gloves are certainly superior, the Craggy presents a decent alternative if availability of the former product proves limited.

Zen and the Art of Climbing is not affiliated with any of the aforementioned brands. This is an independent review and I earn approximately 0% or less in commissions.

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
March 2020

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?

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