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|Crack Climbing Glove
|Top Pick: Ocun Crack Gloves
|Best for Sensitivity: Outdoor Research Splitter Gloves
We took the best crack climbing gloves on the market out for a heated head-to-head battle across some of the West’s best crack climbs. In an unusually positive result, both competitors earn awards, but it’s the Ocun Crack Gloves that won our hearts in the end.
We had two questions to answer with this test. The first was the usual: which product is best? But crack gloves bring another question, which has drawn its fair share of debate in the climbing world: are crack climbing gloves worth the money?
Most climbers get by with good old tape gloves. Crack climbing gloves came about in an attempt to be what tape gloves cannot — easily removable and endlessly reusable.
Both pairs of gloves fulfill the basic promise. These are not the only crack gloves on the market — Singing Rock and Climb X both make their own versions — but there’s a reason that these two have risen to the top.
They both offer a distinct take on the role of crack gloves, and both offer a compelling alternative to climbing tape for the right climber. Read on for details.
Note: If you’re looking for climbing gloves for belaying and rappelling, check out our guide to the best climbing gloves.
Top Pick: Ocun Crack Gloves
Relative to the Outdoor Research (and conventional tape gloves), these gloves are on the bulky side.
The outer rubber is substantially thicker than the leather on the Splitter gloves, and Ocun adds a small strip of padding at the knuckles.
The extra material is welcome. The first time I used the Ocuns (on a splitter granite handcrack) I was shocked at how comfortable it was to jam.
Find a constriction and these gloves practically jam themselves — I felt like I could hang all day without discomfort. This is particularly beneficial on rough or crystalline rock, where even tape can fail to mask the pain.
Purists may protest that pain is an integral part of crack climbing, but I found myself climbing more smoothly and efficiently when I didn’t have to worry about painful jams.
This generation of Ocun is reassuringly burly. For one long and brutal alpine crack climb, I wore an Ocun glove on one hand and a tape glove on the other. At the end of the day, I compared the used Ocun glove to the one I left behind — and I could barely tell the difference. The closure system is housed in a rubber flap, so the Velcro is protected from abrasion.
The extra bulk does have drawbacks. Thin hand cracks became less accessible, and I had to modify my jamming technique to compensate. On the flip side, wide hands and fist cracks became easier.
The more serious weakness is sensitivity. While these gloves do allow you to “set it and forget it,” they also insulate away some feedback.
In some scenarios (like chilly days) this is nice, but in others it makes assessing jams more difficult. I didn’t often find myself slipping, but I did notice that precise jams took a little more effort to find.
It’s worth noting that these gloves are a tight fit relative to Ocun’s useful size chart. I like a close fit, but it could be constricting if you’re at the upper limit of a size.
The downsides mean that the Ocun gloves will never entirely replace tape. Especially for thin handcracks, I’ll still reach for my trusty roll.
In general, however, these gloves were a welcome companion. I was happy wearing them for miles of crack climbing, and I never doubted that they would go the distance.
Best for Sensitivity: Outdoor Research Splitter Gloves
Outdoor Research’s crack glove was developed after the first Ocun gloves and sought to mimic the performance while eliminating the drawbacks.
In part, they succeeded. The Splitters are substantially less bulky than the Ocun gloves, which means more sensitivity and a more natural feel.
The Splitter gloves use thin synthetic leather for the outer, which is more flexible than the beefy rubber of the Ocuns. They feel like a closer analogue to tape gloves.
Performance was less consistent. The flexible material is pleasant and sensitive, but without the adherence of tape it tended to fold at inopportune moments. Comfort usually isn’t affected, but precision is.
The Splitters are solid protection, but the thin material means that sharp jams remain painful. Where tape can always be added, the OR gloves allow only one setting, and it’s fairly minimalist.
For both these reasons, dialing in the fit is important.
I’m a Large by OR’s size chart, but just barely. I found that my L/XL gloves were around the right width but too long for my hands, which may have led to more slippage. If you’re close to the limit, consider sizing down on these gloves.
The chief advantages of the Splitters are their sensitivity and lightness. In smooth rock they perform well, and the intimate feel allows easy assessment of jams. Plus, they take up so little space that there was rarely a reason not to bring them along. Clip them to your harness and they’re barely noticeable.
My Splitters are still entirely functional after the testing period, but it’s much more evident that they took a beating. If the pattern continues, these gloves would likely give out before the Ocuns (although they’ve already seen an impressive amount of climbing).
I ended up preferring the Ocuns for their burly no-nonsense attitude, but there’s an argument to be made for Outdoor Research. These gloves offer a more sensitive and tape-like experience, which many value.
For routes or areas where crack climbing is infrequent, the Splitters are a light and versatile alternative to constantly taking tape on and off.
Are Crack Climbing Gloves Worth It?
On to the second question: are crack gloves worth the money?
Doing a bit of math, I calculated that a pair of crack gloves costs the same as 11-12 rolls of climbing tape.
That seems like a lot, but gloves require quite a bit of tape. Unless you’re one of the dedicated gurus making effective reusable tape gloves, a roll goes by in a hurry. Given my normal usage, I estimate that I get 5-7 pairs of gloves out of a normal roll of tape.
For the money, then, crack gloves are the equivalent of 60-70 pairs of tape gloves. This is a useful benchmark. Some climbers may crack climb more days than that in a season, while others might take years.
If you don’t crack climb often, tape is likely the cheaper route. If you’re a frequent flyer, reusable gloves aren’t a bad investment.
Factor in convenience and eco-friendliness and the bargain starts to look more favorable. They aren’t essential equipment, but crack gloves certainly have a place in the gear closet.
How to Choose the Best Crack Climbing Gloves for Your Needs
Because the competition is so limited, choosing a pair of crack gloves comes down to a few simple questions.
Where Do You Climb?
If you crack climb predominantly on rough or crystalline rock, it’s a no-brainer: get the Ocuns. If not, go to the next question.
How Often Do You Crack Climb?
If you need gloves that will take a beating and make mileage comfortable, grab the Ocuns.
If you need a minimalist solution for a pitch here or there, the Splitters will do nicely.
Balance these considerations with what you value in your crack climbing: the Ocuns offer more coverage and a burlier feel, while the Splitters have a little more sensitivity.
What Types of Cracks Do You Climb & What Are Your Strengths?
For wide hands and fists, the Ocuns offer better coverage and more security. Neither of these gloves excelled in thin hands, but the Splitters were preferable because of their low profile (with the right fit they may perform even better). Consider what cracks you use gloves for and choose accordingly.
How We Tested
We took these gloves on a long trip through California and Colorado. We took them up demanding crack climbs from the High Sierra to Eldorado Canyon, on everything from fingers to fists. We even managed to get on some gym cracks to see if performance held up on plastic.
After testing, we rated the gloves in three categories:
How much do the gloves protect my hands? How much discomfort do I notice on difficult or sharp jams?
How well can I feel the rock? How much feedback can my hands give me about the jams?
Even through the rigorous testing, I wasn’t able to take either of these products all the way to failure. Still, we assessed which gloves bore the beating best and which seemed most promising for long-term use.