I’ll admit, when I first started seeing people with belay glasses, they were generally old white guys in gyms. I thought the glasses were a gimmick or just not worth the money unless you were rich, lazy, and elitist. Then, on a climbing trip to Spain, my partner was having some neck issues and couldn’t look up, so we rented a pair for the first few days. They were life saving (literally). My partner didn’t have to constantly be in pain to belay me and belaying was generally way more comfortable. It took a couple rounds of wearing the glasses to get used to them, but once I did, I couldn’t imagine belaying without them. If they hadn’t cost a small fortune at the time, I would have bought them on the spot.
Belay glasses use prismatic lenses which take in the view from above and reflect it back to your eyes straight on. Basically, it’s like a pair of mirrors angled perfectly for you to see what’s above you without having to look up and since it’s reflected twice you don’t see everything backwards. The glasses then go on like any other pair of glasses or they can sit in front of sunglasses or prescription glasses.
With belay glasses, I can keep my head in a relaxed position as though looking straight ahead and still be able to watch my climber above me. No more “belayer’s neck.” With a good pair, I’ve found that I actually see my climber better through the prisms than when I’m just squinting up at them. Because of this, I have a better idea of when they’re climbing, clipping, or taking a break and I can accurately adjust how much rope I give or take. Without the glasses, I tend to alternate between looking up and stretching my neck. With them, I don’t have to compromise between my own comfort and watching my climber in case they fall. Bonus: if my partner is projecting a route, I’m happy for them to take their time since I don’t have to hold an uncomfortable position.
Belay glasses aren’t an essential piece of gear like a belay device or a harness is, but they make a huge difference for single pitch sport or any type of indoor rope climbing. Even for multi-pitch climbing, I can stash the glasses in their case and clip that to my harness when I’m climbing or rappelling.
So yes, belay glasses do look a little silly and a good pair will likely burn a small hole in your wallet. But they do make belaying easier on the neck and for those of us who spend most of our time looking at computers, that makes all the difference.