The first reusable, sticky rubber crack gloves I ever saw were worn by a German climber named Arne (pronounced “Arnie”).
In September 2008 I was driving over Tioga Pass to Yosemite when I saw a climber hitchhiking on the side of the road. This was fortunate timing, as I had been wondering what I was going to do about my lack of a climbing partner. Furthermore, I was resolved to climb Astroman and the Rostrum on this visit; I’d lusted after those legendary routes since I started climbing at 11 years old, but in spite of several previous trips to the Valley, I’d never managed to find the right partner or opportunity to attempt those long, demanding free climbs. Part of the challenge was that I harbored a selfish fantasy of leading every pitch of both routes. Arne (short for Arnold) turned out to be my guy.
He had already done Astroman and the Rostrum, and said he would be happy to follow me up them on one condition–“Don’t make me climb the Harding Slot [on Astroman],” he said. “Let me jug the rope.” Fair enough! I unlocked the doors and released him from the vehicle (just kidding).
Before I roped up with Arne, I’d never seen nor heard of rubber crack gloves. I’d only known of people using athletic tape to protect their hands from getting bloodied in relentless jam cracks.
Naturally, given the tough, stubborn roots of climbing’s culture, there is a traditional stigma against using any kind of gloves at all for crack climbing. Tape has oft been derided as “cheating,” long before these efficient, modern rubber gloves came about. Even my wife, who unabashedly refers to herself as a “toprope queen,” gave me some ribbing when I recently acquired a pair of Ocun Crack Gloves. “You can wear them on multipitch routes,” she said, “but I better not be seen with you wearing those at Indian Creek” (where most routes are only about half a ropelength).
When we started dating in 2009 I was of the opinion that tape was mostly not necessary except for offwidth climbing or on long pitches of relentless “cups,” where the crack is too wide for hands but too small for fists–an insecure size that can easily lead to bruising over the middle knuckle on the back of the hand. With cracks that are a perfect hand-size or smaller, gloves are less useful unless you are learning how to jam or trying to conserve skin. “Perfect hands” equates to perfect jams, while thin hand cracks are more difficult because the climber can’t fit their hand all the way inside the narrow crevice, making the jams less secure–all the more reason not to add bulk to your mitts.
Besides those concerns, tape gloves take time to construct; it’s impossible to make each one perfect, and once they are on, you’re most likely going to be wearing them the rest of the day. Plus, you end up consuming a lot of tape over the span of a trip.
I still prefer to climb without gloves as much as possible, but thanks to these Ocun Crack Gloves that are easy to take on and off, no time is wasted and I can pick and choose if I want to wear gloves at all depending on the climbing I’m about to do. This is especially handy on long routes where you don’t want to waste daylight, and when you might only want to use gloves for one particular pitch. It’s even common now to see photos of pro climbers wearing crack gloves in spite of the snarky comments that inevitably arise on Instagram. It appears logic is winning out: saving time, materials and skin just makes sense.
The Ocun Crack Gloves are beefy compared to their top competitor, the Outdoor Research Splitter Gloves. The OR gloves are designed to be thinner, presumably for better performance in thin-hand cracks. I specifically ordered the thicker Ocun gloves because I’d much rather have something beefy that turns those bruising cupped jams into a more enjoyable experience, than a thin glove for a crack I can barely fit inside as it is.
The Ocun gloves are made with a “microfiber stretch suede and a highly sensitive adhesive rubber,” according to the company’s website. There is also a thin strip of mesh padding across the knuckles, which I like. The Velcro strap that secures them around the wrist fits under a flap of rubber that keeps the strap tucked out of the way while climbing, so there’s basically zero chance of the strap rubbing against the rock and coming undone. Securing the strap with one hand does take a little practice, however.
My one complaint is that it can be challenging to find the best size. The circumference of my hand is 8.5 inches, which puts me firmly in the “large” category, according to the chart on the Ocun website. Company representatives advised me to err on ordering the larger size if I found myself between sizes on the chart. While my pair fit pretty well–with no excess material bagging up anywhere–they do feel a little constricting and I wonder if there might be a way to make them a tad more comfortable without sacrificing performance. It’s hard to say if that’s possible. Either way, they are still superior to tape gloves, which, as I mentioned earlier, are never perfect, with slight variations in fit and quality because you’re making them with one hand. Get one wrap a bit too tight and you’re cutting off circulation; too loose and the glove quickly tears apart.
So far the Ocun Crack Gloves have served me well on solo-aid missions in the desert and on long free climbs in the Black Canyon. In spite of my wife’s threats, I’ll probably take them to Indian Creek as well. Back in 2008, I made my share of jokes about the fruity appearance of Arne’s crack gloves, but 10 years and umpteen gobies later, I’m no longer laughing.
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz learned how to hand-jam on the Center Route (5.9+, 3 pitches) of Cynical Pinnacle, South Platte, Colorado, when he was 13 years old. His older cousin, Ryan Franz, gave him some basic instruction: “Stick your hand in the crack, and try to touch your thumb to the base of your pinky.” Derek sent, and thus began his early crack addiction.
Protects the back of your hands well for crack climbing
Thickness of the gloves turns painful “cupped” jams into something much more enjoyable
Reusability saves time otherwise spent making tape gloves
Reduces waste by saving tape
Thickness is not ideal for thin-hand cracks or smaller
Might be tricky to find the size that is most comfortable without sacrificing performance (don’t want them too tight or too baggy)