Usually half of a roped climbing day involves belay duty. Looking up to ensure the safety of your climbing partner can cause neck pain, fatigue, and even overuse injuries. Driven to avoid these pitfalls, German Albi Schneider set out to find a solution; first utilizing mirrors, then realizing prisms would provide the desired functions. After several prototypes and revisions, CU Belay Glasses were launched into the market in October of 2007.
Belay glasses have been slowly gaining acceptance ever since. They are odd looking when worn and belayers seem to act weirdly, staring straight ahead, apparently talking to themselves, while their climbing partner scales the rock above. Strange looks aside, the cervical spine remains neutral, avoiding the pitfalls that can be caused by the extreme neck extension angles used while on belay.
The original CU Belay glasses have been joined by various incarnations from a few other brands. Gear Institute obtained samples from Power’n Play USA, Belay Specs, Metolius Climbing, and Y & Y Vertical. They are differentiated mostly by frame material (steel or plastic), although the Clip Up from Y & Y Vertical is a clip on for existing sunglasses/prescription glasses. Functionally they all follow the same premise: a pair of prisms directs the climber image through a roughly 60-degree change so the belayer can see overhead while their eyes face forward, eliminating the neck angles that have to be maintained to fully view the climber above.
All sampled versions of the belay glasses perform the image rerouting function admirably. Some have taller or wider fields of view but the differences were minimal. They all require waiting until the climber is around 12 feet up the route to be truly usable as the climber must be overhead by a certain distance to come into the field of view. Looking underneath and above the belay glasses for the initial part of the route becomes natural with practice, avoiding having to put the glasses on after the climber has started. As the climber progresses, minor changes in head angle or standing position allow tracking.
Without belay glasses, standing further and further away from the climb to keep the climber in view as they progress is normal, but belay glasses negate this need, increasing safety for both parties. Running the glasses for a full pitch is not a problem, the climber is still clearly visible with all the glasses at rope’s end.
The only problems associated with belay glasses relate to the sun coming overhead and use with prescription glasses. The prisms can cause a nearly blinding flash of light if the sun suddenly comes into the field of view and you cannot wear a visor while using the glasses. Usability over prescription glasses or sunglasses is claimed but employing them in this manner is not at all optimal. The Y & Y Vertical Clip Up solves some of the problems by being fully compatible with sunglasses and prescription glasses. Also of note is the ability to mold certain aspects of the metal framed glasses for a personalized fit.
I guide several days per month and sport climbing is my preferred poison. Both demand that I belay often and for long periods, sometimes up to an hour at a time if my partner is working a sport route to the bitter end. Although I have never experienced debilitating neck pain while belaying, I have felt cervical discomfort after long and consecutive days of belay duty. Belay glasses totally eliminate all discomforts and pains associated with belaying and I cannot fathom a reason not to give them a try. Yes, you will look dorky, but you know what looks worse? The neck collar you could be sporting if you do injure your neck! Try out a set of belay glasses next time your buddies pull them out at the cliff or gym. They do take a little getting used to but the benefits will soon be as clear as your climber’s prism adjusted image.
As mentioned, most of these models perform pretty much exactly the same, with only minor differences in their design. If you’re looking to buy a pair for yourself, we recommend trying them on and finding the ones that feel the best when worn.
Brand, Model Name, Verified Weight (glasses only) MSRP and Contact for all samples tested:
|Power’n Play||CU Belay Glasse||1.1oz||$120.00-$140.00||powerplayusa.com|
|Metolius Climbing||Belay Glasses||1.7oz||$59.95||metoliusclimbing.com|
|Belay Specs||Belay Specs||2.0oz||$65.00||belayspecs.com|
|Y & Y Vertical||Plasfun||1.3oz||$59.90||yy-belayglasses.com|
|Y & Y Vertical||Clip Up||1.1oz||$69.90||yy-belayglasses.com|
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