This is how you take care of your climbing gear and recognize damage

The cold season is slowly saying goodbye, the snow cover is receding. This creates space on the mountain for grippy rock - high time to get the climbing gear out of hibernation and start the first vertical adventures of the season. The moment is extremely favorable, either to bring the equipment into shape or to replace it in the event of damage. It goes without saying that no compromises are made when it comes to safety-related equipment. We look at the care of ropes and the like - for more durability and more safety.

A contribution by Fabian Reichle - Bächli Bergsport

You will learn that in this article

  • Replacing the rope: How to recognize damage
  • Store and care for a rope optimally
  • Recognize defects in the climbing harness
  • How to take care of your climbing harness
  • Check the belay device: Here's how
  • identify damage to carabiners and quickdraws
  • This is how you keep your climbing helmet in good shape
  • Conclusion on material care
Before the rope is reinserted into the belay device in the spring, it's worth a checkup. Image: Chris Taljaard | Unsplash
Before the rope is reinserted into the belay device in the spring, it's worth a checkup. Image: Chris Taljaard | Unsplash

Anyone who doesn’t go climbing regularly in the hall during the winter or even defies the horrible temperatures outside on the rocks will inevitably have to rummage through the cupboard with their climbing equipment by the beginning of spring at the latest.

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However, the blind grip on the stored material is a bad one: the rope plagued by wind and weather, the climbing harness worn through and the worn quickdraws - climbing up the vertical is negligent and sometimes life-threatening.

If you dampen the euphoria for your own benefit and take the time you need to take a close look at your own equipment, you are well advised. Because the maintenance of safety-relevant material is not witchcraft, and the detection of defects is certainly not.

With just a few simple steps you can give your material a longer life and with an eye for detail you can quickly see when an item has died and needs to be replaced.

Replacing the rope: How to recognize damage

Rope manufacturers usually tabulate when a rope should be replaced through natural use. Logically, more regular use has an impact on the service life.

The current opinion is that a rope has to be replaced after 10 to 12 years, even if it has been stored optimally and has not been used.

One that is used weekly has already peaked after a year. The year of manufacture and other information can be found at the end of the rope on the so-called CE marking.

When a rope should be replaced often depends on how often and how intensively it is used. Image: Brook Anderson | Unsplash
When a rope should be replaced often depends on how often and how intensively it is used. Image: Brook Anderson | Unsplash

There are certainly less conservative opinions here and it is quite conceivable that a rope can continue to be used even after heavy use as long as there is no obvious damage. However, opinions differ here, after all ropes are unfavorable examples when it comes to turning a blind eye.

If you have reservations, replace old and often used copies - if only because of the psychological factor.

A rope will definitely be replaced if it has the following characteristics:

  • If it came into contact with (battery) acid or other aggressive liquids.
  • If there is obvious damage from the sheath to the core.
  • If there is palpable damage or a fracture of the core. The rope is significantly thinner in these places.
  • If damage to the enamel is visible, this can be recognized by traces on the mantle.
  • When it is stiff and no longer allows optimal handling.
  • If it has been shortened several times and no longer offers realistic use for planned tours.
  • If it's used and comes from a source you don't know.

Heavy falls, abseiling too fast, rope-on-rope friction, stone chips and the like take a toll on a rope and require not just a seasonal check, but immediate checking before the next use.

This control works with eye and hand. Bad injuries on the rope are obvious. If you run a rope through your hands, you will feel breaks, cuts, and heat damage. You check the core by allowing the rope to slide through your hands in a slight bend. Soft and broken spots are quickly noticed. You can usually spot discoloration, a furry coat and the like immediately if you look closely.

If you let a rope run through your hands, breaks, cuts or heat damage are often noticeable.
If you let a rope run through your hands, breaks, cuts or heat damage are often noticeable.

Store and care for a rope optimally

In addition to mechanical or obvious damage, an intact rope can also be strained by incorrect storage. So it should generally be stored in a dark, dry and cool place. Best taken lying down and clean without squiggles.

The trunk of the car is an unsuitable storage location due to the large temperature fluctuations, as is long-term exposure to the sun, since UV radiation accelerates the aging process of the material.

By the way, you can easily wash ropes. If it is very dirty, it is best to clean it with lukewarm water and a mild detergent for synthetic fabrics. It can even be put in the washing machine, but only at a maximum of 30 degrees in the gentle cycle for wool without a spin cycle.

For the reasons mentioned (UV radiation), you don't dry the wet rope in the midday heat, but you lay it out – that's important, please don't hang it – in a shady place for a few days.

Incidentally, the advice about ropes also applies to cords and slings. Small but important difference: After dynamic falls, if you survive them at all, a replacement is necessary.

Recognize defects in the climbing harness

Climbing harnesses are very similar to ropes in terms of durability and maintenance. This is because both are made of synthetic fibers. Therefore, the frequency of use is a catchy topic. A belt that is buckled on several times a week will wear out more quickly than one that is only used sporadically - similar to a rope.

Although a high-quality climbing harness made of polyamide will serve you well for up to 10 years, other special fibers will last less. The decisive factor is the respective instructions for use and recommendation of the manufacturer. An intact climbing harness is retired when it has passed its peak.

Age alone, however, is a vague matter. In addition, the way you climb also plays a decisive role. If you are primarily projecting and tend to fall a lot, climb close to the hook and are therefore firmly secured, your harness is under a quasi-permanent load. Signs of wear appear earlier. The material also suffers when your favorite routes are in cracks or through chimneys where the belt rubs against the rock.

The leg and rope loops of the climbing harness should be carefully inspected.
In terms of wear and tear, the leg and rope loops of the climbing harness should be inspected carefully.

You put the main focus on wear and tear on the leg and rope loops. Slight traces are no reason to panic. However, if safety-relevant areas are worn through, become thin and slowly disintegrate, the climbing harness belongs in the recycling or in the garbage.

Incidentally, some manufacturers work with differently colored material cores – as soon as these become visible, the alarm bells must ring. You also check all the seams. If these are open, the belt should be replaced.

The parts of the climbing harness are also made of metal. In addition to typical defects such as cracks, the main concern here is wear and tear due to prolonged use. When buckles become sharp over time and act as de facto knives, a new strap is needed.

Incidentally, the climbing harness, like the rope, must also be inspected directly after a serious fall or other external influences. Damage in the form of wear and tear will come over time, but physical forces can also render a new harness useless directly on the climbing route.

In the case of metal parts on the belt, apart from typical defects such as cracks, the main concern is wear and tear due to prolonged use and the associated risk of sharp edges.
In the case of metal parts on the belt, apart from typical defects such as cracks, the main concern is wear and tear due to prolonged use and the associated risk of sharp edges.

How to take care of your climbing harness

There are also some parallels to rope when it comes to storage and care: no contact with aggressive liquids, avoid long and direct sunlight, moisture and dirt. You always have to dry wet climbing harnesses in a cool, dark place, otherwise the material will harden and lose a lot of its load-bearing capacity.

A climbing harness should always be stowed away individually. Slings, exes or even ropes belong on the belt when you are wearing it, not when it is stored in the closet.

Just like the rope, you can wash your dirty harness without any problems: at 30 degrees, on a wool program and without a spin cycle.

Check the belay device: Here's how

Whether tuber or semi-automatic, the belay device, together with rope and harness, is one of the elementary aspects to avoid sometimes life-threatening situations. Therefore, special attention is also paid to this device. Two things are relevant here: the rope must not be damaged and the mechanics must function perfectly.

Over time, the material on your belay device will wear out. This is not per se about the heat that is generated when the rope runs through - this tends to damage the rope - but about the friction on the belay device in and of itself.

This wear is clearly visible to the naked eye. The respective manufacturers indicate how much it can take. However, the general credo applies here: If the device is still operational but you don't feel comfortable, then replace it.

The mechanics of the belay device must function properly and the rope must not be damaged.
Whether tuber or semi-automatic: the mechanics of the belay device must work perfectly and the rope must not be damaged.

Another point is physical damage. Check your belay device for sharp edges and other material defects. Even small scratches can severely damage your rope at neuralgic points if it runs over it.

Be careful if your device falls to the ground. Internal damage can occur, especially with semi-automatic machines, which you probably won't even notice, but which can lead to failure in use. The rule of thumb here is: In the event of a fall of 5 meters or more, the belay device will be replaced anyway, anything below that is a matter of personal judgment.

What should be clear: take action if your device is not working properly. Resistance to use and the like are good reasons for a new purchase.

Caring for a belay device is pragmatic: avoid scratches and falls, as simple as it may sound. Where you can lend a hand yourself is with the cleaning. Regularly clean all moving parts if you have any. And remember, the maintenance of the belay device primarily serves the durability of your rope.

identify damage to carabiners and quickdraws

They enjoy a wide range of uses and serve as a link on the body and on the rock: carabiners. And even if metal does not have a maximum lifespan, it suffers over time from the constant stress of climbing.

The assessment can be carried out in a similar way to the belay device by examining the wear and tear of the material. The most relevant point is certainly at the contact point, or rather the passage of the rope. It's worth looking at the aluminum models in particular. The material is super light, but not as hard-wearing as, for example, stainless steel.

The friction can cause sharp edges. In other words, if the loss of material is acceptable but the risk of a cut in the rope is too great, the carabiner should be thrown away.

With quickdraws, it is not necessarily the carabiners that are the weak point, but the connecting piece made of synthetic fibers. Image: Juan Goyache | Unsplash
With quickdraws, it is not necessarily the carabiners that are the weak point, but often the connectors made of synthetic fibers. Image: Juan Goyache | Unsplash

Worn metal is evident. There are less hairline cracks that can occur when carabiners fall on the ground. These are not visible to the naked eye, but can expand under further stress and lead to the carabiner breaking. As with the belay devices, the rule of thumb applies: A carabiner is replaced from a fall of 5 meters or more, even if it looks flawless.

Again obvious are snaps and twist locks that don't work properly or even small parts that are missing. Springs and rivets in particular are weak points in the carabiner construction and are the most likely to give up the ghost.

Be careful with expresses, by the way. Note that the weakest part here is not primarily the carabiners, but the connecting piece made of synthetic fibers. Open seams are a no-go, you should also be skeptical if your quickdraws are permanently hanging in a wall outside, exposed to wind and weather as well as UV radiation.

Beware of polysportive use. Karabiners that are under constant strain - for example when slacklining - do not belong on the climbing route for secondary use.

This is how you keep your climbing helmet in good shape

The life expectancy of an undamaged helmet is around 10 years. From then on, at the latest, the protective performance decreases significantly. The plastic suffers even more from the direct sun - if you climb outside very often, your helmet will wear out after half the time due to the radiation.

If you get hit by a stone or if the helmet experiences another impact, you should generally think about a new purchase. If your head protection breaks, it will be replaced in any case.

If you look at the outside, you also have to pay attention to the inner values: not only the shell, but also the protective foam is relevant for the helmet. If this has come loose, this is an indication of damage caused by external influences or a production error. Either way, the helmet should be replaced in such a case.

The life expectancy of an undamaged helmet is around 10 years. Image: Patrick Hendry | Unsplash
The life expectancy of an undamaged helmet is around 10 years. Image: Patrick Hendry | Unsplash

You also check all straps, buckles and adjustment options. If these elements do not work perfectly, it can be fatal. Your helmet doesn't fit properly, slips and then doesn't protect you enough.

However, caring for your climbing helmet is very simple. You can wash the inner foam with lukewarm water, for heavily sweaty parts you can use a little soap. Then you rinse it off thoroughly.

Stickers on the helmet are a constant theme. Are these harmful to the material? Generally yes. Many helmet shells are made from ABS plastic (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene copolymer for the chemically savvy) which is tough on impact and weather resistant - polypropylene is also used which has similar properties.

These materials are resistant to oils, alcohol and water; but not against solvents found in paints and adhesives. In extreme cases, an adhesive can actually destroy a helmet.

However, some manufacturers offer harmless adhesive pads on which stickers can be placed. Use this if you want to give your headgear a personal touch.

With freshly tested equipment, nothing stands in the way of starting the climbing season on the rocks. Image: Tommy Lisbin | Unsplash
With freshly tested equipment, nothing stands in the way of starting the climbing season on the rocks. Image: Tommy Lisbin | Unsplash

Conclusion

The climbing equipment literally saves your life in the worst case. It is therefore essential to regularly check them for signs of wear and tear - not only after a fall, but especially when you have enough time at home and get your material out for the season in vertical terrain.

There are obvious and hidden flaws that you must recognize. And even if modern equipment for climbing is extremely hard-wearing, disposal is the key when in doubt. In order to give your equipment as long a life as possible, regular care and careful storage is necessary. If you pay attention to these things, nothing stands in the way of a carefree climbing trip.

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About Bächli mountain sports

Bächli mountain sports is the leading Swiss specialist shop for climbing, mountaineering, expeditions, hiking, ski touring and snowshoeing. At currently 13 locations in Switzerland, Bächli Bergsport offers its customers expert advice and high-quality service. Published on LACRUX Bächli mountain sports periodically exciting contributions to the topics climbing, bouldering and mountaineering.

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Credits: Cover photo Greg Rosenke

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