Climbing equipment

From Academic Kids

A wide range of equipment is used during 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.

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Climber_with_equipment.jpg
A rock climber wearing equipment: A helmet, harness with attached rope, spring-loaded cams and tricams, nuts, quickdraws, and medical tape.

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

Contents

Rope, cord and webbing

See also: Rope, Webbing.

Climbing ropes typically consist of a core of long twisted fibres and an outer sheath of woven coloured fibres. The core provides most of the tensile strength, while the sheath is a durable layer that protects the core and give the rope desirable handling characteristics. The ropes used for climbing can be divided into two classes: dynamic ropes and static ropes. Dynamic ropes have a certain amount of elasticity and are usually used as belay ropes. The elasticity reduces the maximum force experienced by both a climber and their equipment should they fall. Static ropes are not elastic, and are usually used for carrying or attaching equipment.

Webbing is flat rope, that is rope without a core. It is a versatile component of climbing equipment. Modern webbing is often made from exceptionally high-strength material. Webbing is usually tied or sewn into a loop and is then known as a runner or sling.

Runners have many uses, including anchor extension or equalisation, makeshift harnesses, carrying equipment and as a component of quickdraws.

Carabiners

See also: Carabiner, Quickdraw

Carabiners are metal loops with spring-loaded gates, used as connectors. For recreational climbing, almost all carabiners are made from aluminium.

Carabiners exist in various forms; the shape of the carabiner and the type of gate needs to be selected according to the exact use for which it is intended.

Carabiners are also known by many slang names including biner and krab.

Quickdraws are used by climbers to attach ropes to bolt anchors or chocks. They allow the rope to run-through with minimal friction. Quickdraws consist of two snapgate carabiners connected by a short, pre-sewn, loop of webbing.

Harnesses

See also: Climbing harness

A Harness is used for attaching a rope to a person. The majority of harnesses used in climbing are worn around the waist, although other types may be seen occasionally.

Different types of climbing warrant particular features for harnesses. Sport climbers will typically use minimalistic harnesses except with sewn gear loops. Alpine climbers will choose lightweight harnesses, perhaps with detachable leg loops. Big wall climbers prefer lots of padding.

Belay devices

These are mechanical devices used when belaying. They allow careful control of the belay rope. Their main purpose is to allow locking of the rope with minimal effort. Many types of belay device exist, and some of these may additionally be used as descenders.

Sticht plate

The original belay device, named for its designer. It consists of a metal disk with one or two holes drilled through. A wide wire spring is attached on one side. The rope is threaded through from the side without the spring through a locking carabiner and back through the same drilled hole. The locking carabiner is attached to the belayer who is then able to lock the rope at will.

Nowadays, Sticht plates are becoming less popular since more modern designs provide smoother control over the rope and are less prone to jamming, especially when doubling as a descender.

ATC

This is a very popular proprietary design by Black Diamond. It is designed to facilitate slow and smooth feeding of the rope, and has a large surface area to dissipate heat away from the rope. These are a significant improvement over the original Sticht plate device but are used similarly.

Alternative, but similar, proprietary designs include the Trango Pyramid and the Lowe Tuber.

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ATC.saa.jpeg
ATC on locking carabiner
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ATC-XP on locking carabiner

Gri-Gri

See also: Grigri

Gri-gris are self-braking belay devices, designed to be safer for beginners. As opposed to ATCs, rope passing through a Gri-gri is normally locked, and the device requires manual operation to let rope through. They are a proprietary design by Petzl (http://www.petzl.com).

Figure eight

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

It is a aluminium "8" shaped device, but comes in several varieties. Its main advantage is efficient heat dissipation.

Descenders

A descender is used for controlled descent on a rope, that is abseiling or rappeling. Many belay devices may also be used as descenders, including ATCs, eights, or even carabiners.

Figure eight

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A figure eight descender

Figure eights allow fast but controlled descent on a rope. They are easy to setup and are effective in dissipating the heat caused by friction but have a tendency to put a twist in the rope. Due to their excess weight and bulk compared to other descenders many sport climbers avoid them. They are favoured, however, when the rope may become iced.

ATC

ATCs, and the other similar devices, may be used as descenders but they tend to get very hot on fast descents. On moderately long ropes the heat may even be sufficient to melt the rope's outer fibres. In addition, the carabiner to which they are attached will be rapidly worn.

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 prusik 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 (usually the intended direction of movement) but tightly grip the rope when pulled on in the opposite direction. To prevent a jumar from accidentally coming off the rope, a locking mechanism or trigger is deployed. 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. 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.

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 (SLCDs).

Nuts

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Typical nuts and a nut tool

See also: Nut (climbing)

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 Hexentrics.

Nuts are used by simply wedging them into narrowing cracks in the rock.

Nuts are sometimes referred to by the slang term, wires.

Hexcentrics

Hexcentrics are a brand of nut, a hollow eccentric hexagonal prism with tapered ends. Hexcentrics are manufactured by Black Diamond with a large array of sizes. They are typically called hexes.

Spring loaded camming devices

See also: Spring loaded camming device

Better known by the slang term cams.

These consist of two, three, or four cams mounted on a common axle or two adjacent axles, in such a way that pulling on the axle forces the cams to spread further apart. The SLCD is used by pushing on the cam via a pull "trigger" (a small handle) forcing the cams to move together, then inserting it into a crack or pocket in the rock and pulling on the "stem", a rod attached to the axle. This makes the cams expand and grip into the rock face, and it is held in position by small springs. A climbing rope may then be attached to the end of the stem.

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 by the hand. Use of such a device can prevent ligament injuries that are frequently experienced by climbers.

Fingerboards

An apparatus chiefly used for improving grip strength and practising 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 elsewhere with room to allow 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 utilised to improve finger strength and, so-called, "contact strength".

Specialist clothing

In the early days of climbing, many would have considered specialised clothing to be cheating. Several climbers even chose to climb bare foot, an act that modern climbers would find amazing.

Climbing shoes

See also: Climbing shoe

Specifically designed foot wear 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, the shoes are only a few millimetres thick and will have a very snug fit around the feet.

Belay gloves

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A Belay glove

Despite being shunned by the many climbers who claim that belay gloves reduce grip on and control over the rope, 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.

Miscellaneous equipment

Helmet

See also: Helmet

An often disregarded item of safety equipment that has saved many climbers from serious injury or death. A helmet is a tough item of headwear that primarily protects the skull against impacts. In well-developed and popular climbing areas, these impacts are more commonly caused by falling objects (such as pebbles or climbing equipment) than by a falling climber hitting the rock or ground.

Depending upon the type of climbing being undertaken, helmets are more or less common. There are a number of valid reasons for a climber to chose not to wear a helmet, including concerns about weight, reduction in agility or added encumberances. However, the main reason why many climbers chose not to wear a helmet is almost certainly vanity. In a gym environment there is no discernible advantage to wearing a helmet but on multi-pitch routes or ice climbing routes only the most foolhardy would not wear a helmet. Between these two extremes, a personal judgement call needs to be made.

Many climbers refer to helmets as brain buckets.

Tape

Medical tape is useful to both prevent and repair minor injuries. For example, tape is often used to fix flappers. Many climbers, who choose not to rest adequately, 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" is also used to refer to nylon webbing.

Haul bag

A large, 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.

Bouldering mat

See also: bouldering mat

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. Also known by the term crash pad.

Chalk

See also: Chalk

Gymnasts' 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, its use is controversial in some areas. In areas where rain is infrequent (or overhangs on any cliff) bold 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

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Chalk Bag

These are hand-sized fabric bags for holding climbers' chalk. They are usually clipped or tied onto the climber's harness for easy access during a climb.

The chalk is, typically, not loose in the chalk bag. Instead 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 material, which allows some chalk dust to be excreted when squeezed or rubbed.

Nut tool

A small, but vital, piece of equipment. These are thin pieces of rigid metal, a few inches long, with one or more hooks. With luck, they enable nuts to be removed from cracks in the rock and are especially useful after the nut has supported a climber's weight or arrested a fall.

Rope bag

A bag with a tarp, specially designed for storing and protecting a climbing rope.

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.

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