When we started this traveling/climbing lifestyle a few years ago, our first port of call was Kalymnos, the land of 40m routes! Originally we scoffed a little at the concept of belay glasses. They seemed like expensive, slightly unnecessary climbing “bling”. After about 2 weeks we were seriously considering what we were going to do about our necks. Craning your head backwards trying to keep an eye on your climber for up to an hour at a time on route, day after day is pretty taxing on your neck. Physios can be pretty expensive when you are travelling about and although massages are nice, getting them weekly (which was what we were going to have to do at this point) was going to start adding up.
For around 100 euros, we purchased our first pair of belay glasses on the premise that was going to be cheaper than the endless massages we were going to be needing. We felt like they paid themselves off after just one day. Three years later, neither of us has experienced the dreaded “belayers neck” again.
1. CU Belay Glasses
The first pair we bought were the CU glasses. Pretty simple design. In 3 years the only thing that has gone wrong is that the necklace part wore out after about a year. Not bad considering the amount of abuse they get. It did take a couple of days to get used to them. As long as you don’t move around too much (if you do you get motion sickness) they are pretty good.
We have found through the occasional use of other peoples CU glasses that there are some subtle differences in the magnification depending on which “generation” you buy. You get used to it pretty quickly.
Lessons learnt the hard way are: don’t look into the sun, and when the uv is high, wear sunnies under them or you get that sunburnt eyes feeling. (I know when the uv is high as my eyes will start to feel wind burnt… and then I’ll find I’m sunburnt too even though I’ve been in the shade all day!)
The other bonus of these glasses are they are really light. They feel like they weight almost nothing on your face. Even though they feel fragile, we have dropped them several times, crushed them up against the rock and sat on them, they are still in great condition.
A) The CU belay glasses
B) Nose piece. Comfortable but when you are in a hurry trying to get them on, it is possible to poke yourself in the nose or eye with them. The forks have a rubberised coating but you still want to be careful with them. The forks also tend to catch your clothing or your hair if it is long and/or tied back. The simplicity and compact size of the nose piece makes it easy to wear sunglasses under the belay glasses without feeling like you are wearing scaffolding on your nose.
C) Arms. Best feature of the glasses, titanium frame so near impossible to snap. They always spring back into place and never feel like they are “squeezing” your head. No pins, screws or hinges to drop out or break.
D) Earpiece. Rubberised tips, make the arms easy to slip on without taking out an eye, though you still have to take a little bit of care, as they are obviously a little bit more pointy than a regular pair of glasses. As we recently found out, if the rubber on the nose forks breaks you can use a little bit of rubber from the earpieces to replace them – clever!
2. Y & Y Belay Glasses (Classics)
We purchased our second pair of glasses at a much cheaper price of about 60 euro from a company called Y&Y. They fold up like normal glasses and the nose piece is a lot like a normal pair of glasses (apart from the odd semi circle out the front). So far they feel a lot more comfortable to wear although our necklace broke after about a day.
There are a lot more pieces on these than the CU’s that could go wrong but the comfort factor so far is making up for it. My theory is that the pieces are those that you should be able to get from any optometrist.
A) The Y & Y belay glasses
B) Nose piece. Super comfy, sits nicely and is easy and quick to put on/take off or move down your nose if you need to glance around. The odd shaped semi circle part of the frame that sits out infront of the nose piece adds a bit more strength to the frame and makes a heap of sense as you can grab it with you fingers to move or remove the glasses, without worrying about smudging dirty finger marks on the prisms – very clever idea.
C) Arms. Like your everyday sun or prescription glasses. This means the Y & Y glasses fold up nicely and compactly but there is a higher chance of busting a hinge if you drop it / sit on it. In our second week of use, one of the screws fell out and was lost, rending them temporarily useless. We returned them to the shop and so far so good with the new pair. I guess the screw is standard size for a set of glasses and could be easily and cheaply replaced by an optometrist but if it does happen, that’s the end of that for using them for the day.
D) Ear Pieces. Once again like standard sun or prescription glasses. Putting them on and wearing them seems familiar and comfortable.
Lastly the glasses case is quite compact and comes with a mini carabiner so you can hang it off your harness if you really want to show off your bling at the crag (nice touch from an advertising viewpoint).
3. Belaggles Belay Glasses
We have been seeing these more and more at the crags this year, so we put out the call to our friends to see if anyone had used them. We received the following feedback from our friend Susy G. (For those of you not from Australia we have added translations, where necessary, for Susy’s colourful turn of phase.
No photos of the Belaggles just yet but when we find someone that we know on the road that has a pair, we will have a look at it’s features.
“Belay glasses. Like Google Maps, or in-car GPS, 10 years ago, we hadn’t heard of ‘em and didn’t know we needed them. Now, for a bunch of us, belay glasses are a standard item in our climbing kit, and belaying without them is like using a street directory to find your way: unthinkable, and a pain in the neck.
Hands up now – who didn’t snicker behind your hand the first time you saw someone wearing belay glasses? The first product to hit the market, CU, have a nerdy professor look, which now seems acceptable, but just a few years ago, they were just plain weird.
I bought CU belay glasses in Kalymnos in 2010, and was happy as a clam for a couple of years (are clams really happy? Not according to this guy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtoZs5pkq0k). CU owned the market, uncontested, and then as happens with unique market leading products, others come out with variations on the concept, and boom – we the climbing consumers have choice. I have seen 4 different belay glasses products on the market, there may be more. The ones I’m going to focus on for this review, are Belaggles.
On the climbing gear freak scale, I rate myself an 8 out of 10. So when I saw a pic of climbing crusher babe Sasha di G, sporting a pair of pink Belaggles, I had no hesitation in committing gear adultery, cheating on my beloved CUs even though they’d given me service and loyalty for years.
So how did the match up play out? Well, it would seem all that glitters, is not gold.
First of all – the Belaggles glass prisms are set in chunky plastic, and they are heavy. How heavy, you ask? I don’t know, but they feel unpleasantly ‘present’ on my schnozza (Aussie slang for nose) . You won’t forget you have these babies on, and you may find yourself yelling “allez allez” in the hope of getting your climber more quickly to the anchor just so you can get the darn things off.
Let’s talk about arms. Who remembers Fred Nicole, the boulderer with the monster forearms even bigger than those of Aussie hardman Malcolm Matheson? OK, now, picture Adam Ondra’s puny kangaroo forearms (edit note – writer’s view of Adam Ondra’s forearm size may not match the point of view of blog owners :). Well, right there is our metaphor for comparing Belaggles to CUs: Nicole’s forearms are the Belaggles, and Ondra’s, the CU. So with the Belaggles, there’s a heck of a lot more arm on each side of your face and that means a big reduction in peripheral vision.
Still on the topic of arms – because the Belaggles’ thick plastic arms are rigid rather than flexi like the thin bendy steel arms on CUs, they don’t have any “give”, and those with big noggins (Aussie slang for head), (like my mate Rob-dog (Ausie slang for a good mate i.e person’s name – “dog” – a term of dubious endearment), tell me that Belaggles put uncomfortable pressure on the sides of their head. I have a small head (although it houses a HUGE brain), so that’s not an issue for me.
What is an issue though for me, and it’s a big one, is that my belay glasses need to sit on my nose along with the prescription glasses I wear. However, due to the chunky plastic frame in which the prisms are set, there’s not enough room above the bridge of my nose for both my glasses and the Belaggles. To get around this, I can sit the Belaggles lower on my nose. But then I need to tilt my head back to see my climber, which defeats the purpose for which they’re intended – to reduce pain and injury from constantly tilting the head back. Doh!
On the positive side for Belaggles – they fold up like sunglasses, and come with a compact zip up case which I like. The case can be clipped onto a thin biner so you can tote the Belaggles around on your harness – good for multi-pitching. Belaggles come in a range of colours, which is kinda cool. You can match ‘em to your harness or chalkbag, if you’re so inclined. ( my pink-o-phobic friend, Bernie, refuses to wear mine though). The clarity of vision provided by the Belaggles’ prisms is excellent, and the frames are rugged. For me however, the positives don’t outweigh the downsides.
I do use my Belaggles – but they are relegated to indoor climbing, along with my old shoes and harness, simply for the convenience of having a grab and go gym kit. Sorry Belaggles – you were a pretty distraction that held promise for a long term relationship, but have ended up being an occasional fling.”
4. Y & Y Plasfun (New 2017)
First, it has to be said, I’m a huge fan of the new Y & Y Plasfun. The comfort and ease of use is magnified greatly from the last model that we reviewed in 2014.
The neck holder is super comfortable and yet stretchy enough to put on over a helmet, which is super handy when you on belay. The nosepiece fits perfectly and leaves no marks on your nose. It is also very light, to the extent that you tend to not even notice the weight.
The plastics version seems a lot more robust compared to the original metal version that we broke twice in a week. We’ve put this pair of Y+Y through a pretty brutal trial in the last few months and it’s come through very much intact.
The plastic frame extends nicely past the prisms, which has been handy in the few occasions that we have dropped the glasses or tapped them against the rock or other hard surfaces while they were hanging around our neck.
As with all belay glasses for its primary purpose, it works well with good additional peripheral vision.
These are definitely my new favorites and glasses of choice!
After a couple of years of full time use of these glasses, we have made several observations about using them.
1. Don’t fully wear them until your climber is a few bolts or pieces high into the climb (5-10 metres). Usually I wait til I can see the full body of the climber in the prism before I put them on. Any lower and it is easy to miss a foot slip and misjudge how high above you the climber actually is. This can be accentuated if the belay glasses have a slight magnification factor.
2. Don’t offer them to someone who has never used them before on lead belay. For first timer users they can be quite nauseating until you get used to them and get into the habit of not moving your head around too much. Practice wearing them a several of times belaying someone on toprope before you lead belay someone with them on.
3. While wearing these glasses you will always have a blind spot in front of you. Before you start belaying make sure to have a good look at your surroundings. If your climber falls and you get pulled into or up the cliff face are there any overhangs, projecting pieces of rock, tree branches, stalagtites etc that you might be pulled into/impaled on. Have a look at the area you are standing in to. Are you going to trip over / stand on anything if you aren’t looking down and you shuffle around a bit while on belay?
4. Every now and then while wearing the glasses have a little look down and around to make sure your rope is running ok and there are no knots in the rope pile. With the glasses on you tend to be more focussed on looking up as you aren’t looking down to rest your neck every now and then. Make sure the rope isn’t coiled up or caught up on a ledge in your blind spot.
5. If you are using these glasses make sure that you have a knot in the end of the rope when lowering (best practice anyway), as you tend to get tunnel vision lowering a climber off a long route and miss the end of the rope coming up.
6. Keep them in the case provided (all of the glasses reviewed have good ones) when you take them off , scratching the lenses is pretty easy to do if you chuck them on the ground or dump them straight into your pack.
7. Avoid at all costs looking directly into the sun with them on. If the sun is about to come onto the crag above your climber, you are better off removing them.
8. Even not looking directly into the sun you tend to get a lot ambient light reflecting into your eyes (even in the shade) especially if it is a glarey, overcast day or if you are by the ocean etc. Personally we have found that this can give you the occassional sore or blood shot eyes if you are wearing them all day belaying. Not sure if this has any lasting effect on your eyes but given that most of the belay glasses seem to have a slight magnification factor to them, perhaps not always wearing them ie. on shorter routes to give your eyes the odd rest might not be a bad idea. You could obviously counter act this by wearing sunglasses as well, which you seem to be able to do (some more comfortably than others) with most of the belay glasses.
You can get these glasses in many online and climbing stores, we suggest Pinnacle Sports online or visit them in person to try some on for yourself :).
Peta is a traveling climber and also a climbing guide. Having worn glasses for many years before having laser eye surgery, she appreciates the finer points of good optical equipment and has a healthy respect for the value of good eyesight and protecting your eyes.
Susy is our guest gear reviewer for the Belaggles. She has been known to also roam far and wide for a climb. With a cheesy grin, a quirky sense of humour and the ability to crank down hard, she is always good value for a day at the crag.