Designed By Adventure: The Splitter Crack Climbing Gloves

“Designed By Adventure.” At Outdoor Research, our products have been designed by adventure for more than 30 years, with features and fabrics imagined, tested and perfected in the wild. And like our products, our lives and the lives of our customers are sculpted by the experiences we have in the natural, unpredictable environments we love. We, too, are Designed By Adventure.

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Crack climbing conjures up feelings of both love and hate. The feeling of zoning into the movement of hand-over-hand in perfect jams — or the undeniable relief with the sound (thunk) that your hand makes when it slides neatly into a crack — is perfection. But continuous crack climbing brings with it pain and battle wounds (gobbies!), leaving Yosemite and Indian Creek crack climbing junkies screaming for mercy.

An inventive bunch, climbers have for decades prevented the pain and injury caused by crack climbing by crafting athletic tape into re-useable, hand-protecting gloves, wrapping layers upon layers of the stuff over their exposed skin. While this is an innovative solution to the problem, there are a few downfalls to tape gloves. First, they’re hard to make, both time-consuming and complicated, requiring a careful process of intricate and hard-to-remember steps.

Below: Worn out tape gloves

Worn out tape crack climbing gloves

Next, they simply don’t last. An average climber will use ¼ of a roll of tape (often more) per pair of gloves, which many times lasts for only a few long routes before you have to start all over again. At roughly $5 for a roll of good quality tape-glove tape, the implications on your wallet — as well as the waste generated by plowing through rolls of tape — are big. This, ultimately, was the inspiration for the Outdoor Research Splitter Gloves, a quick-and-easy, cost-effective, high-performance and low-environmental-impact alternative to old-fashioned tape crack climbing gloves.

“We were looking at the way climbers use tape on their hands,” says Meghan Martens, Outdoor Research Glove Product Manager, “and how we can make gloves to replicate that, but in a more comfortable, practical, cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.”

The process of perfection: Test, test, test

Martens began working on the crack climbing glove project in 2012. After rolling through half a dozen possible constructions, the design team narrowed it down to two designs and sent the gloves out to be tested.

“Basically, we were looking for a comfortable material against the back of the hand, durability,  minimum bulk so you don't loose or gain a crack size by using the glove, and ease of putting the gloves on and taking them off,” says Hans Florine, crack climbing aficionado, Outdoor Research Climbing Ambassador and one of the main design testers.

The design team also sent gloves to other athletes like Blake Herrington, Nik Berry, Shingo Ohkawa, Jason Nelson and Seattle-based employees who are also passionate climbers. The team then took the “beta” samples to Red Rock Rendezvous, one of the country’s largest annual climbing festivals, and invited attendees to take them for a spin.

Below: The Splitter Gloves

The Outdoor Research Splitter Crack Climbing Gloves


“We mixed each pair so anyone who wanted to participate had a half pair, one sample A glove and one sample B,” says Martens. “Through our Insight Lab, we had an online survey for the participants to share their feedback. We gathered a lot of good info.”

With gobs of feedback from in-house employees, athletes and testers at the Rendezvous, Outdoor Research finally picked the perfect combination of materials and construction for the glove.

The team selected durable, comfortable, polyester synthetic suede for the main fabric, chosen because of its limited stretch, breathability and abrasion resistance.  For the overlay — the fabric layered atop the knuckles for extra protection — they used tough, non-slip synthetic leather.

Sounds perfect. But let’s play devil’s advocate: With kneepads, for example, often worn by climbers who frequently knee-bar on climbs at areas like Rifle, duct tape is often used in conjunction to ensure the pads won’t slide when pressure is applied. 

With that in mind, the challenge of slippage was something the design team had to address. Florine, who has a crack training board and a rock-like fake crack in his extensive home gym, spent time testing different designs to overcome this problem.

Below: The Splitter Gloves

The Outdoor Research Splitter Gloves

He then took the top three designs to Yosemite and analyzed their performance on famous granite crack routes like Moby Dick, Stove Legs, Ahab, Nut Cracker, East Buttress of Middle Cathedral and Outer Limits.

“I found that by building in multiple finger loops and a unique wrist attachment, you would be hard pressed to shift the glove out of a useable protective placement on the back of your hand,” he says.

Florine found the gloves also had an added and unexpected perk:

"A surprising bonus to the Splitter Gloves was that I actually felt more secure with them on in wet cracks than when wearing traditional tape gloves," says Florine. “From now on, they’re going to be my go-to.”

If you’re ready to ditch tape for the Splitter Gloves, shop them here.