At a time in my life when I am able to climb only infrequently, it is ironic that I can pretend to have my first foray into being a Professional Climber. I exaggerate grossly of course, what I actually mean is that I have been given a pair of belay glasses to review, here on my widely read blog. Despite being given them for free, I will attempt to write an honest review (in the hope Patagonia pipe up and pay for my next trip to Norway due to my journalistic integrity).
I remember first seeing belay glasses some years ago, worn by a rather elderly lady at the base of a route, perhaps in Pembroke. I genuinely thought they were a wind up. Sometime later I saw they were real. It was only when in Spain, doing a three day overhanging redpoint that it dawned on me they might not be such a silly idea. So when I saw that Y&Y Belay Glasses were offering free pairs for reviewers, I submitted myself as an obvious candidate due to my vast readership. They replied, pointing out that my ‘climbing blog’ doesn’t actually feature much climbing but that they would send me a pair anyway. Oh, Y&Y, there was a time...
Belay glasses use glass prisms for a ‘half-periscope’ effect to mean you see upwards rather than forwards when looking through them. This means no craning ones neck when one belays. The prisms are quite small so it’s just a portion of your field of vision – want to see elsewhere, just look over or under them.
The build quality seems very good indeed. They wouldn’t take kindly to being sat on, but I can’t realistically conceive how they would make them much stronger. The image quality is also excellent, I assume the prisms must be actual glass and not plastic given the weight, but that weight penalty is worth it for the clarity. They come with case, accessory crab, cord, cloth and even a small screwdriver for tightening the arms. Having solid glass prisms doesn’t make for very light specs, but the only time I have noticed this is when I lift them up to sit on my head – then they feel a little unstable. James can attest that they fit over normal specs with no probs.
The climbing wall staff loved me taking this photo
In use, they are surprisingly easy to get used to. The first few metres of your partner’s climbing are a bit odd as you see his head in the specs but can still see his feet above the specs. Once a little more off the deck, it all becomes very normal and you quickly learn to keep your head relatively still. One big advantage is that they encourage you to stand closer to the wall so the climber is above you, just as not using them encourages you to stand further away to lessen the looking up. Another is that you have this image in the middle of field of vision, which lessens the tendency to get distracted and wander your gaze around the room. One big disadvantage is that you look like a dork. But you did anyway, right?
So, who would buy a pair of these and are they worth it? Well, I think they would definitely be worth it for anyone who has neck pain from looking up – but I guess those people are probably aware of belay glasses already. The other main group of people they would benefit is anyone doing a lot of Redpointing (indoor or sport) – where the climber is hanging and rehearsing moves for long periods. That said, they would prevent neck pain developing, so if you climb a lot they are worth considering. There is no getting away from the fact that for the vast majority they are a luxury but at £50 I think they represent good value for money in terms of the product. Whether that will translate into value for money in terms of usage, will depend on the individual.
Would I buy a pair? With my current level, probably not, but if I was back up to three times a week, yes, I think I would. Especially if I could split the cost between two people. If I was off on a sport climbing holiday, I’d be even keener to get a pair. I am not sure I would bother taking them trad climbing given the other amounts of stuff one has to lug about and the infrequency one can stand right at the foot of the crag (actually, I probably will, for the sake of testing them).
In terms of criticisms I am not sure I can think of any really. I mean in terms of this version of this product. Sure, you could say belay glasses are unnecessary, fragile, heavy, restrict your view, are distracting – but they are what they are – glass blocks worn on your face. It’s a bit like levelling criticism at a car because it has four wheels and needs room to park it.
It should be noted, there is one other make of these glasses that I am aware of, but I can’t comment about if they are better or worse (the others are significantly more expensive though).
Y&Y Belay Glasses can be found here.