It’s nearly spring and rock season is around the corner. Over the past few seasons, your climbing gear has likely been sitting in a bin, getting beat up at a climbing gym or abused on the ice. Either way, it’s a good idea to take the time to inspect all of your equipment before jumping into spring and summer climbing.
From ropes and harnesses to climbing shoes and quickdraws, the climber’s rack can be light and minimal, but every piece plays an important role in keeping you safe. While some climbers like to use their gear until it nearly falls apart, remember that everything has a limited life span and replacing old or damaged gear should be a priority. If you’re climbing with a new partner, be sure to inspect their rack and rope before heading up. Below are seven pieces of gear that need regular inspection and replacing. For top gear from the 2017 Outdoor Retailer winter show visit here.
Helmet: The plastic and foam used to make a helmet weakens and breaks down over time from ultraviolet rays and use. Petzl recommends replacing your helmet no later than 10 years after the manufacturing date, less for light-weight helmets. The more you climb with your helemt, the sooner it will need to be retired.
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Always replace your helmet after a significant impact, if the buckles don’t work, if pieces are missing or it does not fit well. Inspect it on the regular, looking for cracks, dents or damage. Don’t sit on your helmet at the crag and keep it hidden from sun exposure unless you’re wearing it. Helmets save lives every year, so get in the habit of wearing it.
Tip: Use the helmet best suited for your activities: hardshell for ice climbing, shelled foam for cragging.
Harness: Deciding when to replace your harness can be a difficult thing because their lifetime depends on a number of factors, such as the climbing style, and location. Companies suggest lifetimes from one to 10 years, depending on the brand and year of production. Some things that can affect the strength of a harness including: abrasion, cuts, wear, falls, heat, UV rays and corrosives.
There are five things to keep in mind about your harness. Are there signs of wear and tear? How often do you use it? How hard do you use it? Where have you been using it? Where do you store it? Times that you want to replace it: any holes or rips in the material or material is burned or singed, heavy abrasion to the webbing or torn threads, bar tacks are showing wear, buckles are damaged in any way, webbing is faded from UV rays, after a sever fall (even it not obviously damaged), if there is any doubt about its dependability.
Tip: If one or both gear loops sit too far back, your harness is too small. Having the right fit is always important for safety and comfort.
Rope: There is not exact lifetime of a rope, which makes it hard to know when they should be retired. There is a fine line between getting the most out of your investment and risking your life. Some rope companies have online videos of how to inspect your rope. Every rope comes with a manual that is always worth reading.
There is a lot of technology that goes into modern climbing ropes and many options on the market. But the basics still apply: they are made of a core (strength of rope) and a sheath (protects the core), can come in static or dynamic and lengths vary from 20 metres (glacier travel) to 100 metres (big roof routes).
Almost all ropes come with a fall rating from the Union Internationale des Associations d’Alinisme (International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation or UIAA) that range from five to 12 (the number of high-factor falls the rope can handle before replacement). High-factor falls are not small whippers, but are the big impact ones.
There are a number of things that weaken your rope: age (even if you haven’t used it can become less dynamic), UV rays (degrade sheath), friction with carabiners (generates heat), water and dirt. Signs of wear include discolouration, flat spots, core shots and stiffness. If in doubt of your rope’s dependability, ask more experienced climbers.
To protect your rope, use a rope bag, switch ends for leading, don’t was often and limit high-factor falls. Inspect your rope every time you climb by flaking it out and running it through your hands. If you have any doubt about your ropes integrity, get a new one and turn your old one into a rope rug.
Tip: Ropes make a good insulating layer to sleep on if you’re forced to spend a night in the mountains.
Shoes: Climbing shoes can make or break a day of climbing. The old approach of buying shoes that are too small for your feet no longer applies (most of the time) because shoe technology has improved. If you intend to buy a climbing shoe that is too small, be sure it will stretch so your feet are comfortable. Of course, this depends on your experience level and the type of climbing you are using the shoe for.
There are two ways to up your footwork game: to purchase new shoes or to resole your existing ones. There are upsides to both, but the best time to do either is when your shoe is not performing optimally. Many climbers go for the resole, but get this done before you wear through the rand to keep the price of a resole down. It’s common for the average climber to go through two or three pairs of shoes or resoles a year.
Tips: The cleaner your footwork, the less you will drag your shoe and wear through its rubber. And only wear your shoes for climbing, bring flip flops to walk around in between climbs.
Carabiners: Carabiners or “biners” come in many shapes, sizes and strengths and have been used by climbers for over 150 years. Most climbing biners are made of aluminum allow consisting of aluminum and zinc. Steel biners are used for industrial applications and are heavier. After production, biners go through a tensile testing to be sure they can handle the minimum of 20kN or 2,222 kilograms (along the major axis with a closed gate) and 7kN or 680 kilograms (along minor axis and major axis with open gate). There are other tests for worn biners and gate functions.
Biners are designed for different purposes and you want the best biner for the job. The parts of a biner include: gate (standard, wire, straight vs. bent and double), spine, rope basket, runner end and nose. The types of locking mechanisms include screw, twist and magnet.
Biners can break if they are not used properly: if the nose gets caught on a bolt or if the biner is cross-loaded. Using biners takes practice and experience. Be sure to extend quickdraws when needed and don’t kick or shift biners as you climb past them.
You should retire your biner(s) when: a gate rubs or sticks open and won’t improve after cleaning (applies to “screw” on screwgate), if the surface has been significantly worn (anodization wear is normal), if the biner is bent or does not close properly, if there is damage beyond scratches and if it has been in a fire or near chemicals.
It’s impossible to know if a dropped biner is safe, so best to junk it. Not worth risking your life over a $10 piece of equipment. You know what your biners have been through, so make the best call every spring as to whether it’s worth the risk of using potentially unsafe one.
Tips: Wash your biners in citrus-based bike cleaners and let it dry to help remove dirt. And if you come across fixed biners at an anchor that are worn through, replace with new ones.
Cams and Nuts: Cams and nuts go through a lot of abuse, from catching falls to being thrown around in your gear bag. They are designed to be strong, but not invincible and are often damaged. They come in dozens of styles, shapes and weights and knowing when to retire old or damaged cams and nuts is paramount.
Any bend in the axle of a cam can compromise its strength, even if it appears to be working well. Always inspect and clean the cam’s springs to be sure it will work as intended and the lobes will lock in place when used. Dents on lobes is expected, but any major deformation could prevent it from working under load. The slings wear over time from UV rays, use and falls. Some companies will re-sling your cams for a small price.
Climbing nuts are tough but the wires can be damaged and wear over time. Inspect it for sharp burrs and frays. If they burr is on the non-weight-bearing loop
Inspect your climbing nuts for sharp burrs or frays that can damage or tangle your sling or quickdraw. You can remove shall burrs with a file or nail clipper, but if there are major pieces of wire that look suspect, retire the nut. If there are bent or damaged wires near the head, it’s best to scrap it, especially for a micro-nut.
Tip: If you come across a fixed cam or nut and intend to clip it, back it up with another piece of protection above or below.
Slings and Dogbones (the webbing of a quickdraw): Can come in many sizes, lengths, widths and shapes and are often made of nylon and/or ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (dynex, spectra, dyneema). Differences between the two: nylon stretches more, nylon aborbs more water, nylon has a higher melting point, nylon holds a knot, nylon is less resistant to cutting. Many slings are made of both materials.
Main factors that wear slings and dogbones: abrasion, water, falls, exposure to UV rays, saltwater and harsh environments. If you use a dogbone or sling properly, they can last a long time. Most manufacturers don’t give a lifespan other than from two to five years from the date of manufacturing. It comes down to you inspecting your slings for: fuzziness, cuts, discolouration and fading.
Slings are dogbones wear faster than most of your climbing gear and are relatively inexpensive to replace. Many climbers replace all of their slings at the start of their season and dogbones every few years depending on wear and use.
Tips: If you come across a fixed sling, inspect it (especially the parts hidden by rocks, bolts or trees where rats or falling rocks could have damaged it) and replace or back it up before trusting. Considering how much a sling weighs, it’s always worth packing a few extra for longer routes.
Belay Device: There are lots of belay types and styles on the market, but they should all be inspected regularly. Especially tube-style devices that wear quickly from lowering and rappelling. The edges can become sharp and dangerous.
Auto-lockers also need to be cleaned and inspected from time to time for wear and tear on curved edges or stopping plates. If you notice any sharp edges, grooves or other wear and tear, replace your belay device immediately.
Tip: Learn how to belay/rappel using a munter hitch in case you drop or damage your belay device on a multi-pitch.