Trad Climbing Gear > Slings

This 'Climbing Slings' article is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Climbing slings are strongly-sewn loops of nylon or dyneema tape. They're available in a range of lengths – your typical trad rack will have 60cm, 120cm and maybe a 240cm length sling on it, but bigger and smaller ones are also available. The length is given as the end to end distance, so the actual length of fabric will be double this.

Slings are incredibly versatile, light, strong and cheap. You'll find them useful on almost every trad route.

The most common uses of slings are to extend or equalize gear, either on lead or at the belay, but they can also be used as protection by themselves.

How to use climbing slings

Placing Climbing Slings - The Basics

The most common features to 'sling' are blocks and flakes. Simply put the sling over the feature and clip it to the rope with a carabiner. If your sling is big enough, you can tie it as a clovehitch around the feature. This reduces the chance of it being lifted off as you climb.

How to use climbing slings
How to use climbing slings

After placing the sling, give it a gentle pull in the direction of loading and wiggle it around to simulate how it may be pulled in a fall or by movements in your rope as you climb above.

Placing Slings - Threads

Slings can be threaded through a hole or behind a feature. Simply poke the sling through the hole, pull it until both ends are even, then clip a quickdraw to it.

Climbing sling threaded through hole in rock


Placing Slings - Trees

You can use slings as protection around trees. This is more commonly done at the belay, though many 'classic' British routes have mid-pitch trees.

Simply pass one end of the sling around the tree and clip both ends together with a carabiner.

There will be less force on the tree if you attach your sling around the base of the trunk. This is especially important with weak or small trees.

Rock climbing sling clipped around a tree

Although not ideal, you can girth hitch trees as shown.

girth hitch climbing slings

Make sure to adjust the girth hitch so it doesn’t bend across the sling, as this puts more force on it.

girth hitch climbing slings

If you have a longer sling, it is much better to tie it off with an overhand knot.

This is stronger and more redundant than a girth hitch.

tie sling around tree

Placing Slings - Blocks and Flakes

A sling around a large block or flake can be a great piece of gear – if it’s solid. Inspect the rock and ask yourself how the feature is attached.

Sling flakes as low down as you can to reduce leverage and be careful of fracture lines which indicate the feature is detached.

Slings can lift off once you climb above, especially if it's windy or if your rope is pulling on it. To help prevent this, you can wedge them in place with another piece of gear as shown.

Alternatively, weight the sling down by hanging something heavy from it, such as a large hex.

Rock climbing sling and nut

Placing Slings - Boulders

It is common to sling boulders as part of a belay. When choosing a boulder, consider the:
- Size
- Shape of its base
- Shape of the socket it rests in or the angle of slope it is on
- Ratio of its height to width

The most stable boulders are large, wide, flat-bottomed and are wedged in place by the ground they sit on. If a boulder rests on debris, is on a sloping ledge, or has a rounded base, it may not be stable.

Placing Slings - Chockstones

A chockstone is a rock which has become wedged in a crack. They are more commonly found in wider cracks and chimneys and can provide great protection when nothing else exists.

Assess how the chockstone is wedged in place and be careful of large ones which could roll out onto you.

Sling chockstones with a girth hitch on one side. If you sling the middle, the force of a fall could lever it out of the crack.

girth hitch climbing sling

Joining Slings Together

If you don't have one sling long enough to fit around a tree, you can join two together. Do this by using a strop bend – this is basically a neat version of a girth hitch.

Remember that tying any knot in a sling, including a strop bend or a clove hitch, reduces the strength of the sling by up to 50%.

Climbing sling tied in a strop bend similar to girth hitch

Climbing Slings - The V-Angle

When placing a sling around a tree or rock feature, it's important to keep the V-angle less than 60 degrees. A greater V-angle could cause your carabiner to cross-load in a fall.

Climbing sling V-angles

How To Rack Climbing Slings

60cm slings are best racked either as extendable quickdraws or fit neatly over one shoulder. You can pull one off whenever you need it, but don't wear too many or they'll tangle together.

Wear rock climbing slings over shoulder
How to wear rock climbing slings over your shoulder

120cm slings can also be worn over the shoulder, with a carabiner clipping the two ends together. Instead of pulling them off over your head, simply unclip the carabiner and pull.

Either length can also be twisted to be racked onto your harness with a carabiner.

For a 60cm sling, hold it on one finger of each hand, and twist one end round a few times. Fold the sling in half and you'll find the strands twist together neatly. Just clip a carabiner through the two ends to rack it.

The same can be done with a longer sling, just double it up first for a 120cm, or double it twice for a 240cm.

Twist climbing sling and rack onto harness

Nylon or Dyneema Slings?

'Nylon or Dyneema Slings?' is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Nylon Climbing Slings

Usually around 16-20mm wide, nylon climbing slings are much bulkier (and more durable) than lightweight 6-14mm Dyneema slings.

This makes them the best choice for situations such as extending a belay device, replacing anchor webbing or attaching yourself to an anchor before abseiling.

Nylon webbing is cheap and easy to buy in bulk. It holds knots better and doesn’t melt as quickly as Dyneema. Nylon will also stretch much more than Dyneema to help absorb forces, thereby dynamically absorbing the energy of a falling climber.

Nylon climbing sling for rock climbing

Dyneema Climbing Slings

Dyneema (also known as Spectra or Dynex) is incredibly strong for its weight and is more abrasion and cut-resistant than nylon. Dyneema can't be dyed, so slings are always white, often with a coloured thread running through them too – this is a nylon ‘filler’ that is used to help hold the sling together.

Dyneema folds up very small so racking them is easy, especially 60cm slings racked as extendable quickdraws. Due to their thin diameter, they can be threaded through small gaps where nylon slings are too fat to fit, and are great for tying-off pitons.

Dyneema doesn't absorb much water, making them a smarter choice for winter climbing where your nylon slings will freeze stiff.

Dyneema climbing slings for rock climbing


Drawbacks of Dyneema Climbing Slings

If Dyneema is the same strength as nylon, but much lighter, smaller and more abrasion and water resistant, why would you ever get nylon slings?

Before you throw out your nylon slings, consider the drawbacks of Dyneema:
- Dynamic absorption
- Durability
- Cost
- Melting point
- Slickness

Dynamic Absorption
Dyneema only stretches three to five percent, so there will be minimal dynamic absorption of falls through the sling – it's all reliant on your rope.

If you fall without a rope in the system (e.g: when attached directly to an anchor with a sling), the resulting fall will be as abrupt as if you were attached by a length of steel cable.

Durability
The repeated flexing of Dyneema degrades the fibers much quicker than nylon, especially when knots are tied in it. Dyneema quickdraws, slings and cam slings need to be replaced more frequently than the nylon equivalent.

Cost
Dyneema is almost always more expensive than good old-fashioned nylon. Buying nylon helps you save money for more important things like climbing road trips.

Melting Point
The lack of stretch means that energy is dissipated as heat rather than movement. As Dyneema has quite a low melting point compared to nylon, the heat generated can damage the material, causing it to fail.

This effect is more apparent when knots are tied in the sling as the strands rub over themselves. Knots in thin slings are also incredibly hard to unfasten if heavily loaded.

Slickness
Dyneema is much slicker than nylon. You can buy nylon cord and webbing off the spool in most climbing shops, and tie it together to create your own cordelette, prusik or sling of the desired length.

Dyneema webbing, however, is only available in finished, sewn products. One reason for this is because a knot tied in Dyneema tends to pull through itself under load.

The exception is Dyneema cord, which you can buy in raw lengths.

Be careful though – the weakness in this super strong material is the knot that you use to tie it together. We recommend using a triple fisherman’s bend with long tails.

triple fishermans bend

The most important part of this knot is how well you fasten it – make it neat, tie it very tight and check it before each use.

The same knot can be used if you must cut and retie your sewn Dyneema slings, such as threading a sling around a feature to back up an abseil anchor.

While a water knot is the preferred choice for tying nylon webbing together, the triple fisherman’s bend is better for thin Dyneema. Because Dyneema is so slick, water knots pull through themselves at a lower force than the triple fisherman’s.

water knot

Nylon or Dyneema Slings - Static Falls

Because of the poor dynamic absorption of Dyneema, it is not suitable for use in situations where the sling or daisy chain alone must hold the full force of a fall, or when there’s very little rope in the system. Examples include:

Falling on the First Piece of Gear
When there is little rope in the system to soften a fall (such as falling on your first piece of gear), you can reduce the force on that piece (slightly) by using a nylon extender rather than Dyneema.

As you climb higher and reduce the fall factor, it doesn’t really matter which material you use.

buy nylon or dyneema slings for climbing

Falling Directly on the Anchor
If you fall when attached directly to an anchor with a Dyneema sling or cordelette, the resulting fall will put higher forces on the anchor than if you were attached with a nylon sling.

Depending on the severity of the fall, this could cause internal injuries, break the sling or break your anchor.

A much better alternative is to attach to the anchor with the rope. If this is not possible (such as when abseiling), make sure not to put yourself in a position where you could fall and shock-load the anchor, even if you are attached with a nylon sling.

buy nylon or dyneema slings for rock climbing

Daisy Chain Fall
When aid climbing, it’s possible to take a static fall on a daisy chain if your next piece of gear fails.

A nylon daisy chain will stretch more than Dyneema to absorb forces in this situation, but a much better solution is to improve your aid technique so that you are never in a situation where you will shock-load your daisy chain.

nylon or dyneema climbing slings

Should You Buy Nylon or Dyneema Climbing Slings?

For most situations, you should focus on using the sling correctly, rather than worrying about what material you should use.

There are no definite rules for when to use either material. Both are good when used in the right way, but neither are perfect. Having a mixture of both on your rack keeps your options open.

The key is understanding the advantages and limitations of each and using your knowledge to select the best type for the situation.