If you are reading this article, then you are probably a beginner like me who wonders if wearing gloves can help you climb easier. So I did a little experiment and decided to share my findings with you.
At the time of the experiment, I’ve had a total of 7 hours of active rock climbing time. I found that wearing gloves can greatly reduce the pain you feel from your hands. It’s effective when used on big holds but becomes a liability when grabbing smaller ones. Sports tape protects your hands less but is more useful when grabbing more difficult rock holds.
Let’s read more about the experiment and find out how it can be useful to you.
What happens to your hands when you rock climb?
As a beginner, you’ll notice that the first to get tired or sore during a rock climbing session are your hands. Your hands fail first because your fingers are weak or your hand skin is still thin and too sensitive to pain. Or even both. But although your hands fail, it is highly likely that the rest of your body isn’t as tired.
On my first climbing sessions, I climbed using my bare hands like most rock climbers do. I observed that although my forearms were tired, I knew I still had enough strength to climb more if only my hand skin didn’t feel as painful as it was. And I’m glad that I stopped whenever it got painful for my hands. If I had continued without any sort of protection for my hands, it would have given me a flapper.
A flapper is a torn skin on your fingers or palm. This skin injury is minor but is nasty enough to force you to stop climbing until it heals.
But with enough climbing, a rock climber’s hands become more meaty and develop thicker skin. Try checking out the hands of the advanced climbers in your gym.
What gloves did I try and how was climbing with them?
As a small experiment, I’ve set the simple criteria below:
- Pain reduction – How good are the gloves for reducing pain?
- Hand dexterity – Will the gloves be helpful or become a liability on certain holds?
Full Fingered Gloves
First on the list are full fingered gloves. I used my old bike gloves made of nylon, spandex and rubber for the grip.
Pain reduction (4 out of 5). Although the bike gloves were thin, they did give my hands good protection. Grabbing on jugs (big holds) was not painful even on 45 degree walls. At the end of the session, what stopped me from climbing were my pumped forearms and not the hand skin pain. I also felt that my whole body was more tired because I had more active climbing time.
Hand dexterity (3 out of 5). They were good for jugs and most beginner walls. But it became a liability when I tried it on intermediate walls. The problem I encountered when grabbing on smaller holds was that there was not enough friction between my fingers and the gloves. The sweat inside my gloves made my fingers slippery inside it. I had to squeeze the smaller holds harder to ascend it. I tried it on slopers, which relies primarily on skin friction to hold onto, and had the similar problem of my hands being slippery inside the gloves.
For complete beginners, using the full fingered gloves will help you a lot. The rock holds you’d be grabbing are most likely big holds anyway.
Next on the list are fingerless gloves. I used my weight lifting gloves made from nylon and rubber.
Pain reduction (3.5 out of 5). Like the full fingered gloves, it gave my hands good protection. Grabbing on jugs was even less painful due to the thick rubber padding it had on the palm area. But having exposed skin meant that parts of my fingers still felt painful. But it was a necessary trade-off that we will discuss in the next criteria.
Hand dexterity (4 out of 5). Having exposed fingers meant that it was painful for the fingers but also easier to grab smaller holds. There was no issue of fingers slipping inside the gloves because I used my skin to directly touch the smaller holds. I tried it on sloper holds and had the same problem with my palms being slippery inside the gloves.
Fingerless gloves would be great for when you start climbing intermediate walls. These gloves won’t give you the issue of fingers slipping when grabbing smaller holds.
Our last item on the list is sports tape, also known as athletic tape or kinesiology tape. This is what I’ve seen advanced climbers use and for good reason that I’ll dissect below.
Pain reduction (2.5 out of 5). What I like about the sports tape is that it is so versatile! You can select which part of your hands you’d like to strategically reinforce with it. At the time of the experiment, I applied sports tape on areas where my calluses developed. That would be at the ball of my palm and the fleshy part between my finger joints. But due to the tape being thin, the pain reduction wasn’t as good as its glove counterparts in this experiment.
Hand dexterity (5 out of 5). The best part about the sports tape is that it doesn’t become a liability when climbing! The tape is form fitting. You can adapt it to whatever shape your hands are. I tried it on jugs, smaller holds and sloper holds and I never had an issue of hands slipping because of it. My hands were dexterous enough that it felt like I was climbing barehanded.
At the time of writing, I’m working my way to finishing the higher level intermediate walls. And I can attest to the fact that sports tape works best for advanced holds like crimpers and slopers. Sure, the tape offers less protection. But at this stage, I already have thicker hand skin and stronger fingers.
This simple experiment showed me the different pros and cons of using gloves in climbing.
Gloves and sports tape are great climbing aids for beginners! They will help you develop thicker hand skin and grip strength. At the same time, you will avoid getting flappers. I found it very useful as a beginner and you probably would too!
Using gloves on your first sessions will reduce your hand pains and give you more climbing time. With less pain, your body will be able to focus on learning basic climbing mechanics. You’ll have more time to learn how to use your legs better and conserve upper body strength.
I hope this article was helpful to you! You can also read how I spent my 20 hours of active rock climbing time and use it as a guide. If you enjoyed reading this, then share it to your friends! And if you enjoy reading more content like this, then subscribe to my mailing list. Have fun rock climbing! Be good at anything fast and be a rad rookie! 🙂