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Is belaying a leader without gloves an accident waiting to happen?


Original Post
Orphaned · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 11,870

I've belayed many people, but I wouldn't call myself an experienced belayer, since for all the people I've belayed on lead, none of them have ever fallen. Having never caught a whipper, I'm not sure if I'd be able to keep control of the belay. I know that a little slippage through the device is okay, and helps to provide a more dynamic belay. Of course, as a belayer, you'd need to be aware of the situation, and adjust your belay method based on the potential consequences of a fall. Maybe taking in as much rope as possible or even running away from the base of the climb is the best thing to do; I don't know. In any case, I fell on lead once and, fortunately, my belayer was wearing gloves. Had he not been, he might have lost control of the belay, since though he was wearing gloves, they were not full fingered, so he got a little rope burn anyway.

Long question short, when and where do you use gloves when climbing, if ever? There are a few rappels where I believe gloves would have saved me, but I haven't yet burned my hands belaying and I'm wondering if I'm just an accident waiting to happen in this.

Scott McMahon · · Boulder, CO · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 1,425

Well to put things simply, when you ice climb do you belay barehanded? No....

You'll hear stories about the glove being sucked into the device a little, but sometimes you have to wear gloves.

kachoong · · Atlanta, GA · Joined Jan 2010 · Points: 180

My wife uses a single belay glove to belay me since I'm 65-70lb heavier than her. She also says she likes having it with her after three or more rappels in a row, especially when it's a hot day.

Rob Gordon · · Hollywood, CA · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 105

I've never had a problem catching someone on belay without gloves. If you are using proper belay technique, your hand should always be in a position to lock off, so there shouldn't be any rope burn. The pinch technique taught at many gyms does allow for a problem if someone were to fall as you are pinching or sliding your hand down the rope. Some people consider it safer to pull slack, lock off, put your left hand across your body on the locked off side, move your right hand above your left and pull up slack again.

Maybe you should catch a set up whipper or two in the gym so that you will know the feeling before it happens unexpectedly.

Will S · · Joshua Tree · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 1,051
spencerparkin wrote:Long question short, when and where do you use gloves when climbing, if ever?
Ice/snow climbing.
Belaying on super skinny lines (<9.8).
When the rope is really dirty.
When it's cold.

Other than that, rarely. Probably 5% of the time overall, if that.
Tony B · · Around Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 23,195

If gloves feel like a necessity for belaying or rapelling, either one, something is very wrong with the system or technique.
I am not saying that they might present some benefit or margin for you to go faster or something, but friction in the hand is NOT supposed to be the stopping power of the system.

Jasmine Kall · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2008 · Points: 40

I have never worn gloves and caught a few fall with no issues. I do want some thou for rapping and belaying with dirty ropes.

tomtom · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 0

When I'm belaying a climber much bigger than me, I like to have a glove. Especially if they expect to be lowered off from the anchors.

Buff Johnson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2005 · Points: 1,145
Rob Gordon wrote:I've never had a problem catching someone on belay without gloves. If you are using proper belay technique, your hand should always be in a position to lock off, so there shouldn't be any rope burn.
Tony B wrote:If gloves feel like a necessity for belaying or rapelling, either one, something is very wrong with the system or technique. I am not saying that they might present some benefit or margin for you to go faster or something, but friction in the hand is NOT supposed to be the stopping power of the system.
In a sense, I will agree that the device is the main part of the friction/stopping equation of load control. Also, it is a good point that indeed there may be something of a problem to the system itself if you can't control a load.

Two situations I have seen repeatedly are with smaller ropes as to standard belay devices, you lose ability to control a load than you would have had with larger diameters. The other is the leader decision to go for a section without gear, the belayer has no chance at some point of a huge fall; where a planned 20-30 footer is now an unplanned 120 footer. You can only control so much energy with a given device.

So I would offer that even with proper technique, you are at a higher risk of becoming injured and/or losing control without the use of rope gloves.
Ted Farley · · Bozeman, Mt · Joined Feb 2010 · Points: 10

my climbing partners are often 20% more massive than i and I have no problems. I think shithead belayers are an accident waiting to happen though.

John Maguire · · Boulder, CO · Joined Nov 2008 · Points: 195

no

Jasmine Kall · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2008 · Points: 40

I should note that when I am belaying someone much larger then me or with a skinny rope I do add an extra locker to my belay to help increase friction.

Perin Blanchard · · Orem, UT · Joined Oct 2005 · Points: 8,320

If you are ever called on to catch an actual factor 2 fall onto the belay, and are not using a GriGri (or possibly one of the similar pinching auto-locking devices), you will not be able to arrest the fall without rapid, significant rope slippage through the belay device.

In this case, if you aren't wearing gloves, you will either let go of the rope or you will suffer serious burns. (In the case of a GriGri, there will still be slippage, but not as much, and the device will still arrest the fall whether you let go or not.)

In all of the routine, run-of-the-mill climbing falls I've caught (both with a GriGri and with tube-style devices), I've been able to arrest the fall with no slippage. However, in no case were any of these falls even factor 1.

Regardless, I always wear gloves, even when belaying single pitch sport routes with a GriGri. There always exists the possibility of making a mistake, or something else going wrong and causing the rope to slip during a fall. Wearing gloves means I have at least a chance of recovering control without injury.

Ty Harlacker · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 200

No.

Crag Dweller · · New York, NY · Joined Jul 2006 · Points: 125

i don't think gloves are necessary but they sure are nice. for one thing, the dirt and aluminum oxide that builds up on ropes is pretty nasty and gloves keep it off your hands. more importantly, they add friction to the rope w/o adding it to your hand. and, they protect your hand from getting pinched in the belay device. better to get your glove pinched than your hand.

Ross Keller · · Parker, CO · Joined Oct 2002 · Points: 190

Hmmm...here's the gear you really need:
Experience, Proper training/technique, situational awareness.
Funny - can't find those at the store.

John Keller · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2001 · Points: 5

I've always used gloves to belay a leader (except in the gym). I was trained that way 30 years ago and have found lots of reasons to continue the practice. I agree that most times if the belay is done properly it isn't really needed and is just a matter of comfort. However, determining when they are needed isn't easy and, as pointed out by many people thus far, includes a number of factors. Likely this is different for different people and we can argue all day about the relative probability of failure that glove or no-glove represents. Another way to think about it is from the other end of risk; consequences to belayer and climber. When gloves are needed the consequences of not having them are pretty bad. I've seen and read about way too many badly burned hands (not just surface damage but down to the tendon level as well) and too many dropped leaders. Yeah, there was probably something wrong about the belay technique but, like so many of our climbing systems, it's damn nice to have the extra backup of the gloves.

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,107

i know there are people out there that highly recommend using belay gloves, but to be honest with you i have always found gloves to be either slippery or cumbersome. it seems like they make it hard to really clamp down on the rope. i feel much more secure belaying without one.

Ed Wright · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2006 · Points: 285

Been climbing for 43 years, have caught tons of lead falls, have never used gloves. Short answer: NO.

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

It's basically the same issue as whether or not to wear a helmet. The folks who say you don't need gloves are in exactly the same position as people who say they've been climbing for years without a helmet and have never needed one. I've climbed for 52 years and never had a head blow. Does it follow that helmets are not a good idea?

I've also caught tons of leader falls. One of them was a factor-2. The catch was successful and the leader virtually unscratched, but there would have been an entirely different outcome without gloves, because several feet of rope ran through the belay before the leader stopped. It only takes a fraction of a second for that to happen.

There is absolutely no question that the rope will run through any atc-style device if the fall is severe enough. What severity means in any particular case has to to with the fall factor and the amount of system friction. Even a factor-2 fall can have substantial system friction, if the rope runs over the edge of the belay ledge or some other feature below the belayer. You won't know unless or until it happens to you, and the vast majority of falls (including some long ones with good system friction) are trivial to hold. This can lull you into a sense that your device will hold the non-trivial ones too. It won't, and the slipping threshold gets smaller and smaller as the diameter of the rope goes down.

By the way, using just one glove makes no sense. The non-braking hand will get burned too if the rope runs. See, for example,

mountainproject.com/v/injur…

You can climb for years, perhaps a career, without ever having to hold the type of fall that requires gloves. But if such a fall happens and you aren't wearing gloves, not only can the burns be very severe, (like down to the bone), but the potential for injury to the falling leader at the bad end of an out-of-control belay is also substantial. You will have failed in your duty as a belayer and may have to cope with some serious burns to boot.

Like many things in climbing, it's a personal choice whether to take measures for a very low probability event.

Tony B · · Around Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 23,195
Perin Blanchard wrote:If you are ever called on to catch an actual factor 2 fall onto the belay, and are not using a GriGri (or possibly one of the similar pinching auto-locking devices), you will not be able to arrest the fall without rapid, significant rope slippage through the belay device. In this case, if you aren't wearing gloves, you will either let go of the rope or you will suffer serious burns. (In the case of a GriGri, there will still be slippage, but not as much, and the device will still arrest the fall whether you let go or not.) Wearing gloves means I have at least a chance of recovering control without injury.
That's just strange...
Given that I've caught two ~factor-2 falls in my life when my partners (July 1995, John Cioci Fiddler on the Roof, & Spring 1996, Gary Stetler, on Over The Hill), went right past me and past the belay... and that I've never worn a belay glove in my life or used a grigri free climbing... And that I've never been burned by the rope or hurt while belaying or dropped the climber...

I think it is quite a bit less cut-and-dried that you make it out to be. I think that your reduction of the probabilities is way way off.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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