Category Archives: Climbing Equipment

Basic Climbing Safety: Lead Climbing

You would probably put placing gear and building belays high on your list of skills needed for safe lead climbing (these are skills you will have begun to develop from top-roping). There are some additional skills you need to consider:

  • Belaying a lead climber.
  • Belaying a second (belayer at top of pitch).
  • Judging route vs climbers ability.
  • Assessing the dangers of a route.
  • Understanding and following guidebook descriptions.
  • Moving ef ciently over the rock.
  • Abseiling and escaping from the climb.

How do these skills affect our safety, what are the risks and how can we control them?

The risks involved in lead climbing are far greater than in any other form of climbing. You need to carefully consider whether you are aware of and can manage them all. After all remember it is the risk you don't know you are take that are likely to kill you!
The risks involved in lead climbing are far greater than in any other form of climbing. You need to carefully consider whether you are aware of and can manage them all. After all remember it is the risk you don’t know you are take that are likely to kill you!

Climbing safety systems are most often aimed at stopping the consequences of a slip or a fall. In lead climbing, especially when starting out, consider what you can do to prevent a fall in the first place. This may go back to choosing the right route that suits your style, ability and which you have knowledge of. More often than not the actual psychological pressures put on you during lead climbing have a negative effect on your climbing ability. Being aware of these risks and the consequences of a fall are paramount. Taking a lead fall on an easy route often means that there are ledges and slabs to hit on the way down. The chances of injury are higher falling off an easier route than they are on a steeper route with equal protection. Of course the chances of falling off in the first place are lower. The best way to prevent injuries from falls is not to fall off.

“the leader never falls” old max- im from the days of tieing in by wrapping a hemp rope around your waist in a swami belt.

No matter how well chosen your route, there will come a point when you will overstretch yourself and be unable to go up or down. At this point you want to know that you gear placements are good and that the belayer is doing their job well. You can help yourself to reduce the fall by down climbing and also warning the belayer that you are about to fall. Often it is best to accept the fall and jump off rather than fall and slide down the rock.

Leading a route can take a considerable length of time and your belayer may become restless and innatentive. Both belayer and climber should be happy with how long they expect spend climbing a pitch. Even a momentarily loss of concentration by the belayer can result in the climber being dropped.

Despite this though for many people, leading a route is the essence of climbing. There are no quick ways to prepare for the techniques and head games of lead climbing. Learning to lead is mainly about staying as safe as possible by route selection and being coached by others through placing gear; the rest of the game is efficiency, tactics and judgement. The tactics of how to approach a route and break it down into manageable chunks is covered in the tactics section. The head games that are involved in lead climbing are looked at in the mental skills and techniques.

Consider an inefficient leader. They take wires off one gear loop on their harness and clip them back on another, after a while it can take a minute or two for them to find the size of wire they are looking for. They have chosen to place gear mid-move or from a poor hold, if they made another half move they would be stood in balance and more able to clip easily. Having placed their wire it takes a few attempts for them to clip the rope into the quickdraw. Throughout they are understandibly showing signs of stress. Stress makes them a defensive climber rather than a relaxed and lazy climber.



Basic Climbing Safety: Indoor Rock Climbing

Indoor rock climbing if done right and in a considered fashion should be extremely safe. However there are only a few things that you can learn off this webpage and the internet in general. This should be one of the times that you look for some professional instruction and guidance. Even if it just a several being taught how to put a harness on, tying in, belay and lower off correctly.

A good figure of 8 and the quickdraw is clipped properly.
A good figure of 8 and the quickdraw is clipped properly.

In fact most climbing wall insist that you can do the those four things before they let you loose in their facility. Some especially in major cities will check that you can do this with a mini test as well.


Harnesses need to be fitted probably and the buckles securely double based or locked off.  The waist belt needs to be tight enough so it won’t pull down over your hip bone, a good rule of thumb is a fact hand can slide down the front but not a clenched fist.

Tying In with a figure of 8

The Figure of eight is the most common knot to tie in with whether we are indoor rock climbing or outdoor, because it is simple and reliable. Done well it is potentially the only knot you’ll ever need to tie in with.

Belaying and Lowering Off

In order to belay and lower someone off indoor rock climbing, you will need to be able to put a harness on and tie into the harness with a suitable knot like the figure of 8. As well as be able to thread the rope onto the belay device and karabiner properly. Finally you then need to be able to belay properly.

Safe and effective belaying is as important as the anchors and system at the top of the crag. Every year numerous people are injured both inside and out when they are dropped by their belayer. As a fundamental skill of climbing, belaying correctly should be of utmost importance, and requires concentration and communication by both belayer and climber.

Trying to multi-task when climbing should be avoided, eating your sandwiches, drinking a ask of coffee and even having a conversation can take your mind off the job in hand. Belaying properly requires both hands.

Belaying a bottom rope
The Live and Dead ropes in climbing belaying. If you let go of the dead rope the climber can die!!!
The Live and Dead ropes in climbing belaying. If you let go of the dead rope the climber can die!!!

In order to belay properly you will need some coaching from an experienced climber. For the first few times climbing have someone tail the rope until you are ready to do it alone. Many climbers introducing friends to climbing have been dropped at both indoor walls and crags, whilst the novice remains safe it is when the novice belays the experience climber that accidents have more frequently happened.

The correct belaying sequence.
The correct belaying sequence.

The most important thing is to never let go of the ‘dead rope’, whilst still keeping the rope snug as the climber ascends. This is achieve by the pattern in the photo sequence above.

  1. Prepare to take in the rope.
  2. Take in the rope.
  3. Lock the rope off.
  4.  Move both hands to the dead rope.
  5. Swap the bottom hand to starting position below the belay plate.
  6. Prepare to take in the rope. Repeat the process until climber is ready to come down.

Eventually you will shorten this to:

  1. Take in
  2. Lock off
  3. Hand swap
  4. Back to the beginning

In the US they use the acronym, as they do the hand swap slightly differently to the UK.

  1. Pull
  2. Lock
  3. Under
  4. Slide

Caution – Always back up novice belayers and serious consider getting professional tuition to ensure your safety when learning this skill.

At times the climber may climb faster than a belayer can take the rope in, resulting in a lot of slack, if the climber falls there will be a considerable drop before the rope and gear is shock loaded. If you are climbing, slow down when you notice too much slack, if you belaying, ask the climber to pause whilst you catch up.

When the climber reaches the top you need a simple proceedure, talking to each other, making the rope tight before lowering the climber down. Repeating the same proceedure time and again reinforces the trust be- tween climber and belayer and reduces the likelyhood of an accidental drop as the climber weighs the rope.

Lower-off proceedure

1. The climber gets to the top and calls to belayer, “TAKE IN” the climber should look down to see if the belayer is taking in and if possible make eye contact to con rm the belayer has heard.

2. The belayer takes in rope and looks to see if it is tight on the climber. As the belayer feels the rope go tight they shout, “IS THAT YOU?”

3. The climber feels the rope go tight and looks to ensure the belayer has locked off, then keeping a hand on the rope going down to the belayer as a back up, lowers their weight onto the rope slowly, when you have commit- ted your weight to the rope and are happy that you are being held, shout “THAT’S ME”.

4. The belayer pauses, shouts “OK” and then starts to lower the climber in a slow and controlled fashion.


Indoor boulder also has some risk attached to it, in particular you are much more likely to fall. As such whilst the floor is well padded the risk is that you fall onto something or more likely, someone.

Being aware of who is around you when you are climbing is one side of the risk management coin. The other side is when you are not climbing you need to be aware of who is above you. Also not just walking round a corner but giving it a wide birth as someone can be high off the ground on of sight when you go round the corner.

Catching the bum of someone falling off an overhang backwards, you can help turn them slightly in the air so they land facing forwards and onto the mat.
Catching the bum of someone falling off an overhang backwards, you can help turn them slightly in the air so they land facing forwards and onto the mat.

Managing yourself and your children is key, as landing on and being landed upon are extreme painful and have resulted in some horrible injuries. Remember the bouldering wall isn’t a play ground. As an 80kg adult falling from 8ft is not something you want on your or your child’s head.

See the section of bouldering safety for tips on spotting climbers. Indoors the spotter is as much trying to keep the landing zone clear of other wall users as a spotter.



Basic Equipment Maintenance

There are various standards that each and every piece of protective equipment must pass for it to be fit for purpose and saleable, often involving randomized destruction testing during manufacture. As we use and abuse the kit we need to be able to make informed decisions as to when to retire and replace our equipment. This section contain information that will help you with basic climbing equipment maintenance.

General rule of thumb on equipment maintenance and life
  • Metal Equipment – 10 year life span.
  • Webbing – 5 years Storage (On shop shelf) and then ve years use.
  • Ropes – 5 years from the date of manufacture.

It is important to realise that heavy use might reduce these lifespans.

There is anecdotal evidence that metal work in particular can withstand the test of time. DMM tested a featherlite carabiner from the 1960’s which still broke at 20kN, similarly they have run ‘Break what you Brung’ workshops as various events and have found twenty year old carabiners regularly breaking at there cited strength. This is possible because Aluminium hardens with age, which also means that a new wire is slightly plastic and may mould itself into a crack slightly when you fall on it, but and older wire may not. Whilst this shouldn’t compromise the placement it is an interesting consequence of metal ageing.


Checking the wire rope on some nuts for damage. Top, a brass nut showing corrosion. Bottom three wires rejected for showing damaged wires.
Checking the wire rope on some nuts for damage. Top, a brass nut showing corrosion. Bottom three wires rejected for showing damaged wires.

Check your wires regularly, by examining the swaged wire rope for damage, if any of the strands are broken then it is time to replace it (the strength will be effected and the sharp wire may abrade your webbing or rope). Slide the metal wedge down the wire to see what is going on underneath it too.


It is a myth that if you drop a carabiner on the floor from the slightest height it may magically hit a sweet spot, causing micro-fractures and compromising the integrity of the carabiner. Aluminium carabiners are forged at over 400 degrees Centigrade so the metal forms strong molecular bonds that are elastic. However if you drop a piece of gear down and entire pitch and it lands on solid rock then you would be advised to retire it.

All metal work is liable to corrosion especially if you climb at or near the coast. Salt in the air will stick to the metal and stay there slowly corroding the metal whilst it languishes in your rucsac until the salt is washed away. Rinse all hardware in fresh water after climbing at sea cliffs, to limit corrosion. Gear is often anodised, which creates a barrier to corrosion, however, any scratch to the anodised surface exposed the metal underneath to the corrosive environment, so even anodised equipment needs a rinse.


Cams (with all their moving parts) need to be regularly oiled with specific oils like the Metolius cam oil, they can also be cleaned using Metolius Cam Cleaner. Maintaining the cams will prevent them from seizing up and consequently needing to be replaced. Oil the axle which the cams rotate around and make sure all the cams move independently of the axle and each other. Sometimes a long fall onto a cam or dirt will stop the cams moving independently, making the cam less stable when placed. Also the trigger wires can break but can often be replaced by returning the unit to the manufacturer for a small charge. If the unit is over ten years old they will not replace the trigger.

Both cams and hexes have a webbing sling, which will have a lifespan less than the metal parts. These can be replace by the manufacturer at a price. Webbing is more susceptible to damage from UV ligh and also abrades quickly. Abrasion causes more damage than you might imagine.

Destruction tests show a new dynema sling cut completely through 1/3 of the width of the sling, and then abraded across its whole width, will snap first where it is abraded before it tears at the cut. This is why the five year rule of thumb is best understood as a maximum lifespan, as heavy use will result in abrasion all over the sling.


Harnesses may also suffer abrasion, general wear and tear as well as specfic wear points (where the buckles are tightened and loosened every time we put a harness on and take it off and also where the rope is threaded through the strong point of the harness).

A worn harness was the cause of the death of Todd Skinner, a famous and experienced climber, who had order a new harness that hadn’t arrived prior to his climbing trip.


Your rope too needs to be inspected and maintained, the rope’s lifespan of ve years would also be best seen as a maximum life. Heavy use or dam- aged from being weighted over an edge may damage the sheath of the rope or the core, if the damage is severe then retire the rope. You should check your rope every time you use it (you probably do this without realising), as you ake the rope out, feel it run through you hands, feeling for uffy sec- tions or irregularities in the rope, then check these section more thoroughly, if it feels like the core is damaged then it is better to replace the rope than risk your life.

A rope damaged when lowering a climber over and egde.
A rope damaged when lowering a climber over and egde.

Don’t treat your rope badly – don’t step on it, dry it after use if it gets wet, wash it from time to time in fresh water and don’t add your own half way marks with marker pens (which may damage the sheath).

Whilst UV will damage rope just like webbing and slings, it is less of an issue with rope as the sheath with represents about 10% of the overall strength of the carabiner, the remain 90% strength provided by the core is protected, recent tests of insitu abseil tat exposed to an alpine environment, has shown whilst reduced in strength compared to slings the reduction is not as dangerous as slings exposed to UV.  Store your rope away from direct sunlight.



Basic Climbing Equipment

In order to climb safely there are many pieces of climbing equipment that you will need. This is just a short overview of each of those pieces of equipment and some advice on the pro’s and con’s associated with each piece of equipment. Helping to turn you into an informed climber.

In the modern era there are many equipment manufacturers, all of which have to build the equipment to stringent regulations laid down by the UIAA, European Commission or similar body. As such all equipment is safe and fit for the purpose it was designed. Much of the choice comes down to personal preference and dare I say it brand loyalty.

Climbing Equipment

To find out more information on each of the follow pieces  of rock climbing equipment follow the links to individual pages.

  • Harness
  • Helmet
  • Rock Shoes
  • Belay System
  • Rope
  • Karabiners
  • Slings
  • Nuts
  • Hexes
  • Cams

Learn to lead climb courses in North Wales with Snowdonia Mountain Guides


Basic Safety in Rock Climbing

This may seem like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, but taking time to increase our awareness of risk and safety is often overlooked. It’s common sense, when you look at a hazard (like being high off the ground) and the risk (of falling) you will consider ways to reduce the risk.

Many of the dangers at the crag can affect the climber, the belayer and even bystanders. So it is important to keep an eye on the situation around you as it develops and adapt your plans to suit. The key to climbing safely at the beginning of your climbing career is to choose the right crag, grade and route.

Choosing the right climb may seem difficult. Guidebooks are a starting point but local knowledge can be invaluable, so talk to people you meet at the crag or wall, the sales assistant in an outdoor shop and instructors or outdoor centres, most will happily give advice on venues. Eventually you need to assess a crag or a route’s suitability for yourself. Often, just by being aware of a hazard will greatly reduce the risk of an accident.

Its the risks you don’t know you are taking that are likely to kill you.

We’ll consider a simple break-down of top roping, lead climbing and bouldering. The hazards, the likelihood of an accident, any measures we can take to reduce the risk and the residual risk after we’ve taken action. Many of these things are common sense.

You may find the technical side of climbing daunting, but by becoming more aware of risk, ropework and sound judgement you’ll become a safer climber. With regular practice, these skills will become second nature and your safety will increase. Spend time learning ropework and safety skills from a professional instructor or centre. This is one area of your climbing for which there is no substitute for informed instruction.

Learn to lead climb courses in North Wales with Snowdonia Mountain Guides

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