Belay Glasses Guide

neck pain

Belaying is a Pain in the Neck

If you’ve ever belayed someone for more than 10 minutes, you know that tilting your head back to look up at your climber isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world

No matter how much we twist, move and walk around, the fact remains that keeping an eye on your climber requires placing your head and neck in uncomfortable positions for long periods of time.

What happens then is either the belayer gives their neck a break — meaning they often aren’t watching their climber, or they do keep their eyes on the climber — and end up with neck issues after a long weekend of belaying.

In the end even the most diligent belayers usually end up looking at their climbers less than they should – bad for the climber who is getting a less attentive belay, and also for the belayer, who doesn’t become aware of things like falling rocks or climbing gear until it’s too late.

Belay Glasses

Using prisms to bend light, belay glasses allow climbers to look pretty much straight ahead, yet see climbers who are right above them. The first belay Glasses came into the market a few years ago but at around 100 Euro(about 150 USD imported) were out of reach for many climbers. Their funky outer space look was also a turn off to some. Over time though, climber’s necks trumped their wallets and the CU glasses proved successful — more and more people accepted belay glasses as a useful tool.

Today, belay glasses are a common sight at European crags and becoming more and more popular around the world. With price being the main complaint with the CU Belay Glasses, a number of other companies have started making cheaper belay glasses. The most prominent ones as of 2014 are:

CU Belay Glasses   $120 USD / €97.50

cu belay

photo – powernplay.com

The granddaddy of belay glasses. Popular in Europe, well reviewed, and available in a variety of colors, just a bit pricy.

Belaggles ~$90USD

belaggles

photo – belaggles.com

A unique plastic-based design that comes in various neon colors. Looks pretty good by most accounts and is easy to put on one handed.

Belay Specs $80

belay specs

photo – belayspecs.com

Made in the USA, a simple but effective spring steel design that boasts great fit and large prisms.

Y&Y Belay Glasses $80

photo - yybelayglasses.com

photo – yybelayglasses.com

An all new low-profile design from France, the frames are very similar to real glasses.

Belay Shades $45

Belay-Shades-square_large

photo – Blicard.com

Essentially TV Shades with the prisms turned the other way, these are the most affordable belay glasses on the market.

*Prices given without shipping.

Belay Glasses Must-Haves

In theory belay glasses are just prisms on a glasses frame that allow you to look up while looking straight ahead. In practice, a lot of thought goes into their design.

Peripheral Vision

When belaying, we want to be aware of our climber, but we also need to be aware of our environment – what our hands are doing, where we are in relation to others, whether there is something in front of our feet that could trip us, whether someone is about to bump into us from the side, etc. Therefore, any pair of belay glasses absolutely needs to let you see the world around you.

Fit

If it don’t fit you can’t use it. Spring steel based frames like the CU and Belay Specs will fit all variety of heads quite well, while folding glasses like the Belaggles and Belay shades are less forgiving and we recommend trying them on before buying if possible. The Y&Y glasses are folding glasses which strike a balance by using a springy frame that’s quite flexible.

Besides the fit on the head, the fit on the nose is also crucial. We found that this can vary quite a lot from person to person. Those with “hook noses” or noses with a prominent bridge will generally have no trouble wearing any of the glasses. Those with less prominent noses or lower nose bridges should go for the steel frame or Y&Y belay glasses, which use glasses-type nose pads.

Glasses Compatibility

Most belay glasses are made to be compatible with normal eyewear. Whether they succeed is another story. Belay glasses with the straight Oakley-style sport frames that lightly squeeze the temples rather than hug the top of your ears are generally better in this regards than glasses-style frames. The nose piece also makes a difference. Belay glasses for those who already wear glasses need to be able to sit on the nose further from the face than the existing eyewear.

One-handed operation

Putting on your glasses with one hand isn’t just about looking cool, it’s about being safe. Belay glasses are great when you have to look up, but when the climber is still on the ground in front of you, you want your normal field of view unobstructed so you can spot them and give them the best belay possible until they’re high enough that the belay glasses will be effective. In general this means you should belay with the glasses off until the 3rd clip, and then you can put the glasses on.

Since each climb then essentially involves putting on the glasses while the climber is climbing — one handed operation is key. In fact, we’ve found that with practice, all of these glasses can be put on with one hand , however the folding style glasses fare better in this regard.

If you suffer from neck or back issues, belay glasses are worth their weight in gold. There’s a surprising amount to consider when buying them and a lot of thought has gone into their design. We hope this guide helps you buy the right pair for you.

 

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