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Climbing equipment

A wide range of equipment is used during rock climbing. The most popular types of climbing equipment are briefly described in this article. The article on protecting a climb describes equipment commonly used to protect a climber against the consequences of a fall.

See also the Glossary of climbing terms for more equipment descriptions.

Rope, cord and webbing

Climbing ropes are typically of kernmantle construction, consisting of a core (kern) of long twisted fibres and an outer sheath (mantle) of woven coloured fibres. The core provides about 80% of the tensile strength, while the sheath is a durable layer that protects the core and gives the rope desirable handling characteristics.

Ropes used for climbing can be divided into two classes: dynamic ropes and static ropes. Dynamic ropes are designed to absorb the energy of a falling climber, and are usually used as Belaying ropes. When a climber falls, the rope stretches, reducing the maximum force experienced by the climber, his belayer, and his equipment. Static ropes stretch much less, and are usually used in anchoring systems. They are also used for abseiling (rappeling) and as fixed ropes climbed with ascenders.

Modern webbing is often made from dyneema, which is usually stronger and lighter than nylon. While 12 mm dyneema slings have a tensile strength of around 22kN, a one-inch (25-mm) tubular climb-spec nylon webbing has a tensile strength of about 20 kN (4000 pounds). Some webbing is hollow core and is advantageous because rope can be placed inside of it, preventing damage to the sheath of a kernmantle rope if it hangs over a sharp edge. Webbing is inexpensive when compared with climbing rope.

When webbing is sewn together at the ends (using reinforced stitching), it becomes known a sling or runner, and if you clip a carabiner to each end of the sling, you have a quickdraw. Webbing has many uses such as extending the distance between protection and a tie-in point, an anchor extension or equalization, securely anchoring a belayer (typically when the climber is heavier than the belayer), creating makeshift harnesses, carrying equipment, and as a component of quickdraws. Webbing is usually tied (using a water knot or beer knot).

Carabiners

Carabiners are metal loops with spring-loaded gates (openings), used as connectors. Almost all carabiners for recreational climbing are made from a light weight aluminum alloy.

Carabiners exist in various forms; the shape of the carabiner and the type of gate varies according to the use for which it is intended. There are two major varieties: locking and non-locking carabiners. Locking carabiners offer a method of preventing the gate from opening when in use. Locking carabiners are used for important connections, such as at the anchor point or a belay device. There are several different types of locking carabiners, including a twist-lock and a thread-lock. Non-locking carabiners are commonly found as a component of quickdraws.

Carabiners are made with many different types of gates including wire-gate, bent-gate, and straight-gate. The different gates have different strengths and uses. Most locking carabiners utilize a straight-gate. Bent-gate and wire-gate carabiners are usually found on the rope-end of quickdraws, as they facilitate easier rope clipping than straight-gate carabiners.

Carabiners are also known by many slang names including biner (pronounced beaner).

Steel carabiners are normally used by instructors when working with groups as they are harder wearing than aluminium alloy, but are much heavier.

Quickdraws

Quickdraws (referred to as "draws" by many climbers) are used by climbers to attach ropes to bolt anchors or protection. They allow the rope to run through with minimal friction. A quickdraw consists of two non-locking carabiners connected by a short, pre-sewn loop of webbing. Alternatively, and quite regularly, the pre-sewn webbing is replaced by a sling of the pre-mentioned dyneema/nylon webbing. This is usually of a 60cm loop and can then be tripled over between the carabiners to form a 20 cm loop. Then when more length is needed it can be made back into a 60cm loop offering more versatility than a pre-sewn loop. The carabiner meant for clipping into the protection generally has a straight gate, to decrease the possibility of the carabiner accidentally unclipping from the protection. The carabiner into which the rope is clipped often has a bent gate, so that clipping the rope into this carabiner can be done quickly and easily.

Harnesses

A harness is used for attaching the rope to a person. Most harnesses used in climbing are worn around the pelvis, although other types are used occasionally.

Different types of climbing warrant particular features for harnesses. Sport climbers typically use minimalistic harnesses, some with sewn-on gear loops. Alpine climbers often choose lightweight harnesses, perhaps with detachable leg loops. Big wall climbers generally prefer padded waist belts and leg loops. There are also full body harnesses for children, whose pelvises may be too narrow to support a harness appropriately. These harnesses prevent children from falling even when inverted, and are either manufactured for children or constructed out of webbing. Some climbers use full body harnesses when there is a chance of inverting, or when carrying a heavy bag. There are also chest harnesses, which are used only in combination with a sit harness; this combination provides the same advantages as a full body harness. However, test results from UIAA show that chest harnesses can put more impact on the neck than sit harnesses, making them slightly more dangerous to use.

Apart from these harnesses, there are also caving and canyoning harnesses, which all serve different purposes. For example, a caving harness is made of tough waterproof and unpadded material, with dual attachment points. Releasing the maillon from these attachment points loosens the harness quickly.

Canyoning harnesses are somewhat like climbing harnesses, often without the padding, but with a seat protector, making it more comfortable to rappel. These usually have a single attachment point of Dyneema.

Belay devices

These are mechanical friction brake devices used when belaying. They allow careful control of the belay rope. Their main purpose is to allow locking off of the rope with minimal effort. Many types of belay devices exist, and some of these may additionally be used as descenders, for controlled descent on a rope, that is, abseiling or rappeling.

There are passive camming devices and active camming devices. Passive camming devices rely on the brake hand and a carabiner to lock off the rope. Sticht plates and the Air Traffic Controller ATC are examples of passive camming devices.

Active camming devices have a built-in mechanism that locks off the rope without the help of any other pieces of equipment. A GriGri is an example. The offset cam in the GriGri locks off the rope automatically to catch a falling climber, much like a seatbelt in a car locks off to hold a passenger securely. The GriGri fails at around 9 kN of force.

However, a GriGri, with its technology, often makes belayers become less vigilant. The GriGri is not a hands-free belay device. One mistake with the GriGri is reverse threading it. Reverse threading means to thread the GriGri the wrong way around, rendering the camming action useless. However, in a fall, with a reverse threaded GriGri, bending the rope sharply under the GriGri provides more than enough friction to hold a falling climber.

An example of traditional belay is the Body Belay or the Hip Belay, where the rope is wrapped around the body to provide enough friction to catch a climber. This is often used in Alpine climbing, where the routes are easy, and the belay must be fast.

Ice climbers often use a boot belay, where the rope is wrapped around one boot, thus providing friction.

Rappel devices (descenders)

These devices are friction brakes which are designed for descending ropes. Many belay devices can be used as descenders, but there are descenders that are not practical for belaying, since it is too difficult to feed rope through them.

Figure eight

Sometimes just called "eight", this device is most commonly used as a descender, but may also be used as a belay device in the absence of more appropriate equipment.

It is an aluminium (or occasionally steel) "8" shaped device, but comes in several varieties. Its main advantage is efficient heat dissipation. A square eight, used in rescue applications, is better for rappelling than the traditional 8. Because of the "ears" or "wings" on the rescue 8, there is less chance of forming a girth hitch whilst rappelling very quickly.

Figure eights allow fast but controlled descent on a rope. They are easy to set up and are effective in dissipating the heat caused by friction but have a tendency to put a twist in the rope. Holding the brake hand off to the side twists the rope, whereas holding the brake hand straight down, parallel to the body, allows a controlled descent without twisting the rope. Because of the many bends it puts into the rope, an 8 descender can wear a rope quicker than a tube style belay/rappel device. Many sport climbers also avoid them because of the extra bulk an 8 puts on the rack. However, many ice climbers prefer to use the 8, because it is much easier to thread with stiff or frozen rope.

Rescue eight

A rescue eight is a variation of a figure eight, with "ears" or "wings" which prevent the rope from "locking up" or creating a girth hitch, thus stranding the rappeller on the rope. Rescue eights are frequently made of steel, rather than aluminium.

Rack

This consists of a 'U' shaped frame, attached to the belayer's harness, into which snap multiple bars that pivot from the other side of the frame. The rope is woven through as many of the bars as are required to provide sufficient friction. This arrangement allows for variations in rope diameter and condition, as well as controlled rate of descent.

Ascenders

Ascenders are mechanical devices for ascending on a rope. They are also called Jumars, after a popular brand.

Jumars perform the same functionality as friction knots but are stronger, faster, safer and less effort is needed to use them. A Jumar employs a cam which allows the device to slide freely in one direction but tightly grip the rope when pulled on in the opposite direction. To prevent a jumar from accidentally coming off the rope, a locking carabiner is used. The Jumar is first attached to the climber's harness by a piece of webbing or sling, and then the Jumar is clipped onto the rope and locked. Two ascenders are normally used to climb a fixed rope. For climbing a fixed rope attached to snow anchors on a steep slope, only one Jumar is used as the other hand is used for holding the ice axe.

Another type of ascender allows rope to feed in either direction, slowly, but locks up when pulled quickly. Such self-locking devices allow people to protect solo climbs because the amount of rope is automatically adjusted.

Slings

A sling or runner is an item of climbing equipment consisting of a tied or sewn loop of webbing that can be wrapped around sections of rock, hitched (tied) to other pieces of equipment or even tied directly to a tensioned line using a prusik knot, for anchor extension (to reduce rope drag and for other purposes), equalisation, or climbing the rope.

Daisy chain

A daisy chain is a strap, several feet long and typically constructed from one-inch tubular nylon webbing of the same type used in lengthening straps between anchor-points and the main rope. The webbing is bar-tacked (sewn) across at roughly two inch intervals (or, in the past, tied) to create a length of small loops for attachment. Unlike the use of similar devices in backpacking, daisy chains in technical rock climbing are expected to be of sufficient strength to be "load bearing," i.e., capable of withstanding forces sustained by the anchor system in a fall.

Though daisy chains are sometimes used by free climbers as a type of chicken sling (a quick attachment used from harness directly to a belay anchor), and for ad hoc purposes similar to those of the backpacker, the canonic use for a daisy chain is in aid climbing, wherein the leader will typically attach one end to the harness, and the other to the top-most anchor placement (by carabiner or fifi hook), particularly after having ascended in etriers as high as possible. This allows the leader to hang from the daisy chain while preparing the next anchor placement. The closely spaced loops allow fine-tuning the length from harness to anchor, thereby allowing the best possible reach for the next placement.

Daisy chains should not be confused with etriers (aka aiders) which are short ladders made in the same way, but with larger loops, also used in aid climbing, nor with load-limiting devices often known as screamers (from their first trade name) designed to simulate a dynamic belay.

Protection devices

Protection devices, collectively known as rock protection or pro, provide the means to place temporary anchor points on the rock. These devices may be categorized as passive (nuts, Hexentrics, etc.) or active spring-loaded camming devices (SLCDs).

Nuts

Nuts are manufactured in many different varieties. In their simplest form, they are just a small block of metal attached to a loop of cord or wire. The most popular styles are tapers and hexcentrics. They are sometimes referred to by the slang term, wires.

Nuts are used by simply wedging them into narrowing cracks in the rock, then giving them a tug to set them.

Hexcentrics

Hexcentrics, usually called hexes, are a type of nut, a hollow eccentric hexagonal prism with tapered ends, usually threaded with tape. They are manufactured by several firms, with a range of sizes varying from about 10mm thick to 100mm wide. Sides may be straight or curved.

Spring loaded camming devices

These consist of three or four cams mounted on a common axle or two adjacent axles, in such a way that pulling on the shaft connected to the axle forces the cams to spread further apart. The SLCD is used like a syringe, by pulling the cams via a "trigger" (a small handle) which forces them closer, inserting it into a crack or pocket in the rock, and then releasing the trigger. The springs make the cams expand and grip the rock face securely. A climbing rope may then be attached to the end of the stem via a sling and carabiner.

Tricams

A Tricam is a passive or active device consisting of a shaped aluminium block attached to a length of tape (webbing). The block is shaped so that pulling on the tape makes it cam against the crack, gripping the rock tighter. Careful placement is necessary so that the "cam" does not loosen when not loaded. It is generally not as easy to place or remove as a SLCD but is much cheaper and lighter, and often is the only thing that will work in situations like quarry drill-holes and limestone pockets. The smaller sizes can work well in old piton scars, and can also be used passively as nuts.

Indoor training equipment

Various items of equipment are employed during climbing-specific training.

Grip savers

A small device that can help in developing the antagonist muscles to those used while gripping with the hand. Use of such a device can prevent the ligament injuries that are frequently experienced by climbers.

Fingerboards

An apparatus chiefly used for improving grip strength and practicing grip techniques. They generally consist of a variety of different-sized pockets and ridges that one may hang from, or upon which pull-ups can be performed. These are usually mounted above a doorway, or anywhere that allows the user's body to hang freely. Also called hangboards.

Campus boards

A series of horizontal rungs attached to an overhanging surface that may be climbed up and down without the aid of the feet. When used properly, campus boards can improve finger strength and so-called "contact strength".

Bachar ladder

A ladder made by stringing large diameter PVC piping on webbing and climbed without using the feet. Improves overall upper body strength as well as core strength when used well.

Specialised clothing

In the early days of climbing, many would have considered specialised clothing to be cheating. In fact, the first climbers considered an untucked shirt or unbuttoned sport jacket a sign of weakness. Several climbers even chose to climb bare foot, an act that modern climbers would find amazing. In the 80s and early 90s, the trend was to wear tight, brightly-colored clothes. The trend, now, is to wear looser fitting clothing.

Climbing shoes

Specifically designed foot wear is usually worn for climbing. To increase the grip of the foot on a climbing wall or rock face due to friction, the shoe is covered with a vulcanized rubber layer. Usually, shoes are only a few millimetres thick and fit very snuggly around the foot. Stiffer shoes are used for "edging", more compliant ones for "smearing". Some have foam padding on the heel to make descents and rappels more comfortable.

Belay gloves

Belay gloves have been shunned by climbers who claim that gloves reduce grip on and control over the rope. For other climbers, belay gloves are a useful aid for belaying on long climbs. In particular, when lowering a climber they remove the possibility of rope burn and the subsequent involuntary release of the rope.

Belay gloves are constructed from either leather or a synthetic substitute. They typically have heat resistant padding on the palm and fingers.

It is very important to use gloves if using a classic or body belay.

Miscellaneous equipment

Helmet

The climbing helmet is an often-disregarded piece of safety equipment that primarily protects the skull against impact forces and/or falling debris. Helmets have saved many climbers from serious injury or death.

Based on a number of factors, climbers may or may not decide to wear a helmet: the type of climb being attempted, concerns about weight, reductions in agility, added encumbrances, or simply vanity. Additionally, there is less incentive to wear a helmet in artificial climbing environments like indoor climbing walls (where routes and holds are regularly maintained) than on natural multi-pitch routes or ice climbing routes (where falling rocks and/or ice are likely).

Tape

Medical tape is useful to both prevent and repair minor injuries. For example, tape is often used to fix flappers. Many climbers use tape to bind fingers or wrists to prevent recurring tendon problems. Tape is also highly desirable for protecting hands on climbing routes that consist mostly of repeated hand jamming.

"Tape" can also refer to nylon webbing.

Haul bag

A haul bag refers to a large, tough, and often unwieldy bag into which supplies and climbing equipment may be thrown. A rucksack or day pack often has a webbing haul loop on the top edge.

Haul bags are often affectionately known as "pigs" due to their unwieldy nature.

Gear sling

A gear sling is usually used by trad (traditional), or big wall climbers when they have too much gear to fit onto the gear loops of their harnesses. The simplest forms are homemade slings of webbing; more elaborate forms have padding and two slings on each side.

Bouldering mat

A bouldering mat is a thick mat used to soften landings or to cover objects that would be hazardous in the event of a fall. They typically consist of a 2-6 inch thick foam section covered with a robust fabric covering. Many brands have integral handles and may easily fold into a reasonable dimension for carrying. Bouldering mats are also known by the terms crash pad and sketch pad.

Chalk

Gymnastic chalk is a powder that improves grip by absorbing sweat. It is primarily magnesium carbonate but often with added magnesium sulfate which acts as a drying agent.

For environmental reasons, the use of chalk is controversial in some areas. In areas where rain is infrequent (or under overhangs on any cliff) bold and unsightly chalk marks can build up on popular routes. In places where rain is more common, the chalk residue can form thick deposits. As a result, chalk coloured to match various rock types and biodegradable alternatives are now becoming available.

Chalk bag

These are hand-sized fabric bags for holding climbers' chalk. Chalk bags are usually cylinder- or pouch-shaped and have openings that are controlled by drawstrings. The inner fabric is usually fleece, which traps chalk powder. The outer fabric may be brightly coloured or patterned. Chalk bags are usually attached to the back of a waist belt for easy access by either hand during a climb.

The powdered chalk may be loose in the bag, or, increasingly, a chalk sock, or chalk ball, is filled with the chalk and this is placed into the chalk bag. Chalk socks are pouches made from a porous sock-like material that allows some chalk dust to be excreted when squeezed or rubbed. They allow just enough chalk to be released while keeping the remainder contained.This prevents the unnecessary scattering of dust that loose chalk often causes.

Resin

Resin is sometimes used in bouldering. It is principally used to increase friction between the climber's shoes and the rock by providing a slightly stickier surface. It is made of dried tree resin in the form of a powder. The powder is usually bound inside a cloth with a suitable cord. Forming a ball at one end and a free cloth at the other. The resin may then be applied by tapping the resin ball on the rock. Excess is removed by whipping the rock with the free cloth.

Nut tool

A nut tool (or nut key) is a small piece of equipment used to extract nuts from cracks in rock that cannot be extracted by hand; they are especially useful when a nut becomes tightly lodged in a crack after supporting a climber's weight or arresting a fall. Made from a flat piece of sheet steel about 20 cm long, a nut tool has a hook at one end and a handle at the other. In order to shift a particularly stubborn nut, a nut tool will sometimes have to be hammered into place.

Rope bag

The rope bag is designed for storing and protecting climbing rope. The bag, in addition to carrying the rope, also usually unfolds to provide a flat piece of material or tarp to place the rope on during climbs. The tarp protects the rope from dirt and rock that might impair integrity by causing hard-to-see micro-cuts in the rope's sheath or internal core. When conditions are very wet, a large plastic bag, such as a garbage bag, may also be used.

Webbing

Webbing or tape is a length of nonelastic nylon or spectra, or a combination of the two. Climbing-specific nylon webbing is generally tubular webbing, that is, it is a tube of nylon pressed flat. It is very strong, generally rated in excess of 9kN, or about 2,020 foot-pounds of force. Spectra is even stronger, often rated above 20kN (about 4,500lbf) and as high as 27kN (about 6,070lbf).

Generally, webbing is made into loops for use as climbing equipment. Such loops, called runners, slings, or quickdraws, have many uses in climbing, including racking gear, building anchors, extending a piece of protection, or even attaching directly to a rock or a tree for an anchor. These loops are made one of two ways--sewn or tied. Both ways of forming runners have advantages and drawbacks, and it is the individual climber that chooses which to use. Generally speaking, most climbers carry a few of both types. It is also important to note that only nylon can be knotted into a runner. Spectra is always sewn because the fibers are too slippery to hold a knot under weight.

Standards

There are two major standards bodies for certifying the safety and reliability of climbing equipment:

  • CEN (European Committee for Standardisation)
  • UIAA (International Federation of Mountaineering Associations)

Any products sold in Europe must, by law, be certified to the relevant standards. There is no such requirement in many other countries, although most manufacturers voluntarily follow UIAA or CEN standards.

References

External links

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