Thoughts

Grappz – a replacement to finger tape?

If you play jiu-jitsu long enough you’ll probably encounter some finger pain.  Whether it come from over-gripping, aggressive grip fighting, grip-intensive techniques like spider guard, or just accidentally getting a finger caught in the gi, jiu-jitsu will find a way to make your fingers ache.

Traditionally there have been two ways to deal with finger pain.  The first way is to just treat it like every other jiu-jitsu related injury and ignore it.  The second way is to tape your fingers.  Neither way is particularly desirable…the ignore it method of injury management – despite widespread use – is not particularly efficacious.  Tape definitely helps cut down on the pain and can protect fingers from further injury – but to properly apply it takes practice, time, and patience.  I’d rather spend my time on the mat instead of sitting next to it – and thus Grappz were a product I was excited to try out when they came on the market last summer.

First I’ll start off with a disclaimer:  When I originally wrote this article I gained nothing for writing this review. At the time I had purchased two pairs of Grappz with my own money, been given a pair by my coach after I lost a pair at the gym (he had a pair that did not fit him) and was sent one free pair from Grappz in response to an email I sent the company with my unsolicited feedback about the long-term durability of the first generation Grappz.  I was told that my concerns were rectified in the second generation Grappz and when they were being produced I would be (and was) sent a pair.

Updated Disclaimer: Over five months later I have purchased another 3 pairs of Grappz for myself and two pairs for my wife.  At this point I was asked by the company if I would like to become an affiliate and have a referral link which would provide 20% off to the customer as well as $5 to me.  I accepted (and the link to Grappz above is that referral link) but I will be donating the money I receive from the referral link to RAINN.org, an anti-sexual violence non-profit charity.  So, if you would like to buy a pair of Grappz, get 20% off, and support a charity then you are in luck!  My review is still my own words is a reflection of my honest opinion.

This review is both of my experiences wearing the first generation Grappz as well as a comparison between the first and second generations.

Do they actually work?

Anecdotally?  Yes, Grappz are a solution to jiu-jitsu induced finger pain.  Are they better than tape in terms of pain management and injury prevention?  My unscientific experience with them says that they are nearly as good as tape.  If you want to cling to every grip like you’re hanging for your life over a deep crevasse tape is probably a better choice.  But – they do help with pain and inflammation.  If I train without taping or using Grappz I cannot put my wedding ring back on afterwards.  I have to wait several hours or ice my finger before it will fit again.  If I tape or wear Grappz I am able to put my ring back on immediately after training.

Then why not just use tape?

Taping two fingers together takes a couple of minutes.  If you want to tape all of your fingers on both hands you really need to count on it taking at least 10 minutes.  If you rush you’ll find that the time you ‘saved’ is lost when you have to remove poorly applied tape (too loose, too tight, or quickly unraveling itself) and start all over again.

At the end of training the tape has either assisted you in removing it (by coming off halfway through your training) or has somehow merged into a single monolithic entity that has no beginnings and no ends and is just about impossible to remove.

And while tape is less expensive than Grappz, the price difference isn’t as dramatic as you might think.  The first generation Grappz lasted a little over 40 training sessions, which meant that I was paying $0.75 a class for them.

Lets do some seat of our pants math to figure out what Monkey Tape (a premium BJJ specific finger tape) costs per class:

  • 4x 15 yard rolls cost $15 + $3.96 shipping.
  • 4x 15 yard rolls of tape adds up to 2,160 inches of tape
  • It takes about 30 inches of tape to tape one finger completely.
  • 2,160/(30*8) = 9 classes worth of taping 8 fingers
  • $2.11 per class
Whats left of a roll of Johnson & Johnson Coach tape

That price is probably high because the pinky doesn’t need as much tape… and maybe you’ll only want to tape 4 fingers per class.  But even cutting that price in half we are still looking at $1.05 per class.  Switching to Johnson and Johnson Coach tape (my favorite non-BJJ specific tape) will reduce the cost significantly, but adds complexity to the process.  In my experience a fair bit of tape gets wasted because the strips are torn too narrow or too wide and are unmanageable for taping fingers.

So – I don’t use tape anymore because it is a pain in the ass to put on, isn’t significantly more effective, and isn’t much cheaper!

Putting on Grappz

Grappz look like bizarre mittens and putting them on is very similar.  You have to make your hand pointy to get it inside of the cuff of the glove – they are fairly snug.  After that its just a matter of putting your index and middle finger in one of the finger sleeves and your ring and pinky finger in the other.  Your thumb is left uncovered (and if you need thumb support know that Grappz do not provide any!).

They shift a tiny bit every now and then while rolling, but the adjustment to get them back is tiny.  While some protective gear like kneepads feel like they are constantly in need of adjustment, Grappz largely stay put.

Grappz 1.0 vs Grappz 2.0

The first gen Grappz is on the left while the second gen is on the right. The red stitching was my attempt to get some extra life out of them after some stitching began to fail.

The second generation Grappz are different in a couple ways.  First the fabric feels heavier and is less stretchy.  They are noticeably tighter feeling – possibly because of the fabric – because otherwise they appear to be the same size.  I wore a large in version 1, but might have to get an XL for the new style because they are really tight.

The pinky seam needed a lot of reinforcing…hopefully the new central seam will hold up better.

One important difference is they have moved the seam from the pinky-edge of the hand to the middle of the glove.  This results in a lot less linear distance of stitching and hopefully the relocated seam will be more durable.

Finally, the next major change is the stitching around the palm.  Before it was just a single line of running stitch, but now it is doubled when viewed from the front, and is far more extensive from the back.  I’m not well versed in stitches…but the new stitching appears far more robust.

 

 

Gen 2 on the left, Gen 1 on the right – viewed from inside of glove.

 

The thread used for the stitching now feels like a synthetic or a blend, and is noticeably thicker than before.

How are Grappz 2.0?

I haven’t yet worn my new Grappz while training.  I’m worried that they are too tight, but I’ll find out when I train tomorrow.  I’ll update this post to include my thoughts.

If they are too tight I can say with confidence that I will be ordering a size up and trying again – I think that the improvements look like they’ll greatly increase the longevity of the gloves.

My fingers don’t hurt even after training 4 or 5 days a week, and for that I’ll happily deal with my funny looking combat mittens/ninja turtle fingers/chameleon toes/Vulcan salute.

Live long and prosper.

Training Update:

The verdict is that the new ‘large’ is slightly smaller than the previous large…so I’ll be ordering an XL.  Basically if you get Grappz and they cause your knuckles to hurt they’re too tight.  Will update again once I get a chance to train with properly fitting Grappz 2.0

Update 2:

The XL’s fit like the old larges did – which means they fit really well.  They are far more robustly constructed – I have had zero pulled stitches so far (wearing them ~4x a week for about 6 weeks) and expect them to last considerably longer than the first generation Grappz.

Update 3:

A new version of Grappz is out, although this time it is more of an incremental improvement than a complete redesign like version 2.0.  Lets call it Version 2.1.

v2 on the left and v2.1 on the right

v2.1 covers the seam that runs along the inside of your wrist and changes the sizing a little bit.  While I was an XL in v2, they v2.1 XL’s are too large for me.  I’ve got a pair of larges on the way and will update when they arrive.

I tried a variety of methods to mark my Grappz so that I can more readily identify them at the gym (and more recently so I can make sure I don’t grab my wife’s extra-small’s instead of my own!) and have found that stitching a simple pattern into the back of the hand is the easiest way to do so.

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