What Is Trad Climbing?

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

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

When climbing indoors, or at a ‘sport’ crag, the leader clips their rope, via quickdraws, into pre-existing bolts.

On a bolted route, it is generally safe to fall at any time. Having this high level of safety allows the leader to focus on the physical aspect of climbing up the rock.

rock climbing bolts

When trad climbing, the leader must place their own gear in the rock.

To be safe when trad climbing, the leader must focus on finding gear placements and then select the right piece of gear to fit. This adds a technical and mental aspect to the route.

With a good understanding of trad climbing skills, you can branch out from the indoor walls and sport crags to reach unique places that would otherwise be inaccessible.

rock climbing nuts and hexes

Can I Trad Climb?

Yes!

Learning to trad climb is similar to learning to drive a car. It takes time, effort and commitment. It can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing, or very safe once you become competent.

The articles on this website focus on the physics behind trad gear and the reasons for using different rope techniques. This is so you understand why each technique is used, and therefore you'll be able to adapt them for any situation.

So, learn the skills and practise them safely. Start with small adventures to build up your problem solving ability before you move on to anything bigger. And remember to have fun!

trad climbing girl

Trad Climbing Etiquette

There are different rules when you venture outside of the climbing gym. When you go to a new climbing venue, ask the locals what the special considerations are.

Generally, it all comes down to being polite, respecting other climbers and having common sense. Here are some basic etiquette guidelines:
- Avoid making excessive noise
- Keep your stuff in a small, tidy pile
- Take your litter and human waste home
- Stick to recognized trails to avoid trampling vegetation
- Keep pets on a leash or leave them at home
- Don’t alter the natural environment (never chip holds)
- If other climbers arrive at a route before you, they get to climb first
- If you’re moving slow on a multi-pitch, it is polite to allow faster teams to pass if you have plenty of time and there is no danger of rockfall – but you have every right to say no

Finding a Trad Climbing Partner

There are a few different ways to find a climbing partner, including:
- At the indoor climbing gym
- On a climbing course
- At a climbing club
- Through friends
- On internet forums

However you find a partner, it’s important to assess how safe they are.

A good ‘first date’ is to climb at the gym. Be upfront and honest about your skills but be aware that some people will exaggerate their abilities in order to impress.

If you are unsure of their abilities, have a staff member test you both on belaying and lead skills before you climb together.

Progress to a single pitch crag after the gym. Inspect the quality of their equipment and their anchor building techniques carefully before you move on to more committing multi-pitch routes.

Don’t blindly trust someone with your life until they have proven themselves trustworthy. Stop climbing with someone who does strange or dangerous things. Instead, recommend that they take a course, or read this manual, or both.

learn trad climbing

Route Finding

Some trad routes follow straightforward crack systems, and others weave an intricate path through a labyrinth of small features.

It is wise to scope complex routes during the approach and match the features you see with the guidebook description. Plan the descent too. Even if the main route is obvious, the handholds, footholds and gear placements (micro route finding) may not be so clear.

On popular routes, the clues are:
- Chalked handholds
- Polished footholds
- Lichen and dirt free rock
- Difficulty which matches the grade given

Be careful about continuing if you are off-route. It is usually better to downclimb to the last point when you were definitely on-route and reassess from there.



Your First Trad Climbing Lead

Leading trad for the first time can be pretty scary. Suddenly you're exposed to greater dangers than you would leading a sport route, or following a trad route. Here are some tips for your first few times on 'the sharp end':

Practise Placing Gear
It is important to learn how to place trad gear well before you lead anything. A good way to start is to walk along the base of your local crag and place every piece on your rack in as many different spots as you can find. Get used to placing and removing each size and type of gear.

Assess each piece carefully; which way will it be pulled if you fall? How solid is the rock around the piece? Could it be pulled out by movement in the rope as you climb past? Could you remove it easily?

When you find a place which has three good pieces close together, practise equalizing them together with a cordelette or a long sling to make a belay. Have your experienced partner check the gear and give you critiques about whether it was placed correctly.

The fundamentals of placing gear are easy to learn. But recognising subtle constrictions in cracks and maximising rock-to-nut surface contact is an art only learnt through experience. Practise makes perfect!

Follow the Leader
Once you've practised placing gear at ground level, the next logical step is to follow, or 'second', an experienced leader on a single pitch route. When you are removing the gear, try to understand how they placed it and why they chose that exact place instead of another. Remove each piece and then place it back in the exact same spot.

Lower Your Grade
Choose a route that you find easy. A HVS trad route may equate to around F5+ on a grade conversion chart, but in reality it's much harder to climb the trad equivalent. While the actual moves are the same physical difficulty, it takes much longer to find potential gear placements, and to place gear well, than it does to clip a quickdraw. Also, without a line of bolts and coloured holds to follow, you'll often end up doing many more moves to reach the same point, and not always going the easiest way.

Take Your Time
Have a look around for better gear placements and take time to figure out the moves. Focus on placing each piece as perfectly as it can be. Make slow and controlled movements, committing to holds only when you've explored the best way of holding them.

Make a Belay Plan
It's a good idea to assess the top of the crag first to find potential anchor points and figure out your belay position. Remember what gear you will need for the anchor and make sure to still have it when you reach the top!

Single Pitch
Try a short climb first. If something goes wrong, it'll be much easier to get down from a single pitch than a multi-pitch.

Be Ready
We strongly recommend that you take a course with a qualified climbing instructor. Once you have gained approval from them, you can lead your first climb. Wait until you're ready, but don't postpone it too long or you may never try. Be brave, take your time and focus on making the climb safe. And make sure to have fun!



Learning the techniques of placing gear and building anchors isn't enough to make you a proficient trad climber. Unexpected situations often arise, especially on multi-pitches (such as not having enough rope to reach a solid belay, or retreating from a climb with damaged ropes and poor anchors).

It's important to develop the ability to adapt your trad skills to suit situations like these that do not have a textbook solution. Being able to solve problems quickly is a vital skill which can only be learnt through experience.

So get out there, and climb some rocks!

Trad Climbing Gear > When To Place Gear

'When To Place Trad Gear' is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Where Should I Place Trad Gear?

Trad gear is normally placed in cracks, behind flakes and around blocks. The important thing to remember is that these features are weaknesses in the rock. Some of these features are solid, and some are incredibly unstable and dangerous. To a beginner, these may appear the same. You must pay close attention to how solid the rock is. You can test flakes and blocks by hitting them with your fist; loose rock sounds hollow. Look for fracture lines (super thin cracks) around features and visualize how they are attached. If a block isn't securely attached to the main part of the rock, then look for something else. Gear placed behind loose features is likely to be pulled out in a fall, along with the feature itself. This could potentially hit your belayer or cut your rope.

Because most trad gear relies on friction to stay in position, you must make sure the rock is clean and dry. Gear placed in a crack coated with dust, mud, ice or water is much less reliable.

There are no definite guidelines of exactly which type of protection should be used for each particular situation. The important part of learning to use trad gear is understanding the physics behind it; how and why each piece generates force on the rock.



How Often Should I Place Trad Gear?

Here are some things to consider:

Trad Gear is Less Reliable than Sport Climbing Bolts
It's generally safe to fall at any time on a bolted sport route, whether indoors or at the crag. However, if the same attitude is applied to trad climbing, you'll soon get injured.

Nuts can wiggle out, slings can lift off and cams can walk out of position. This is caused by movements in the rope as you climb past. As a general rule of thumb, you should place two good pieces of trad gear for every bolt you would clip on a sport route.

learn to place trad climbing gear

Where is Your Next Gear?
If gear placements are far apart, poor quality and/or difficult to find, you should place gear at every opportunity. As a beginner, however, 'runout' climbs like these are best avoided.

learn to place climbing gear

Bigger Falls Generate More Force on Gear Placements
Most pieces of trad gear are strong enough to hold an enormous 'whipper'. The gear itself probably won't break. However, the force of a huge fall is more likely to break the rock which holds it in place.

The higher you climb above a piece of gear, the less reliable that piece becomes. Click here for more information about fall factors.

learn to place trad gear

How Good is Your Last Protection?
If the pieces below you are sub-optimal, place solid gear as soon as you can.


Pulling Crux Moves
A crux move will be much harder if you stop in the middle to place gear. If possible, place a few pieces as high as you can just before the crux, and then commit to the moves. Place gear again once past the crux.

Obviously this is only safe if the gear is good and the consequences are minimal.

If the crux section is long, you will need to seek out the best points to place gear during it. Utilize large hand holds or good stances and look for spots where the gear is quick to place.



Consequences of a Fall
When you climb above a ledge, spiky flake, or any other nasty rock feature, make sure to place gear to stop you from hitting it.


The Likelihood of Falling
If the chance of falling is near zero, because the rock is solid and the moves are incredibly easy, you can justify placing less gear.

If the chance of falling is high, because the moves are insecure or the rock is brittle, you should place lots of gear close together.

Be careful of getting into the bad habit of placing minimal gear, even on super easy terrain. If you’re carrying the gear anyway, you may as well use it.

Holds can break or you might find a weird move with no protection. If you placed gear on the easy terrain below, it could save you from a long fall. Easier ground tends to be blocky and slabby – a long fall down this could be fatal.

place trad climbing gear

Safeguarding the Follower
When climbing traverses, make sure to place enough gear to keep your partner safe as they follow.

If there is a traversing crux, you’ll need to place good gear immediately after it to prevent them from taking a dangerous swing if they fall.

placing trad climbing gear

Saving Gear for the Anchor
Make sure to ration out your gear so you arrive at the anchor with a sufficient amount of protection to build a solid anchor.


The Golden Rule
Always keep at least two good pieces between you and the hospital!

Rock Quality

Trad protection is only as strong as the rock it is placed in. Placing gear behind loose flakes or blocks is very dangerous. Not only is the gear unlikely to hold a fall, but it could dislodge loose and sharp rocks which could hit your belayer or cut your rope in a fall.

place trad gear

Rock Type
Granite, limestone and sandstone are the most prevalent types of rock in climbing areas, though many other types exist.

Each rock type has a different strength and probability to have loose features. Generally, ‘soft’ rocks (such as some types of sandstone and slate) are likely to have brittle edges and loose features.

Harder rocks (such as granite) lend themselves to more reliable protection. Even though granite is solid, you will often find loose blocks or bands of
poor quality choss in random areas.

Some types of sandstone are coated with a hard patina of mineral-hardened rock. This makes the surface strong but masks an underlying soft layer. When a cam is heavily loaded, the lobes can punch through the patina into the softer layer, causing the unit to skate out of the crack. For this reason, it’s wise to place protection more frequently in soft rock.

Cams in Poor Rock
Because of the large forces applied outwards on the sides of the crack, cams should always be placed in extremely solid rock. If you fall on a cam which is behind a loose flake, the cam lobes will press outwards and force the flake away from the main wall, meaning that your cam will be pulled out.

If the rock seems a little suspect, try finding a constriction to place a nut instead, since nuts apply far less outwards force when weighted.

Visual Test
Look at the feature and figure out how it is attached to the main part of the wall. If it looks detached, don’t touch it.

Some features have very thin fracture lines around them, which suggest poor rock quality. These fracture lines are sometimes covered in lichen or otherwise hard to see, so look carefully.

Tap Test
If you are still uncertain about the quality of a rock feature, give it a gentle tap and listen to the noise it makes. Loose rock ‘echoes’ and sounds hollow.

If you must climb through a small band of brittle flakes, determine which are the best holds and selectively distribute your weight between them. Pull down on holds, rather than out.

Trad Climbing Gear > What Do You Need?

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

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Helmet

A climbing helmet is the first thing you should buy when you start trad climbing. They protect your head from things falling on you (rocks, equipment, etc..) and also from your head hitting the rock if you fall. Learn more about climbing helmets.

Trad Protection
The leader places trad gear (protection) in cracks and fissures as they climb up. It is then removed by their partner when they follow, so all that is left on the rock are a few chalk prints.

Cams, nuts and slings are used at most climbing areas. Hexes, tricams, ball nuts and big bros could be either essential or useless depending on the area. Each of these are described below. Check which types are most commonly used at your chosen climbing area before you commit to buying a full set.

Tailor your rack to suit each climb. Carrying too much gear will make the climbing harder. Carrying too little will force you into dangerous runouts or constructing poor anchors. Consult the guide book to determine what sizes of gear may be needed for your chosen route.

Rope
While single ropes are most suitable for indoor and sport climbing, they can also be the best choice for trad climbing. However, depending on where you climb, using half ropes could be safer. Not sure which rope is right for you? Learn all about climbing ropes.

Quickdraws
Most trad climbers carry extendable quickdraws in addition to regular draws. These can be used either as a short draw or fully extended, meaning it's quick and easy to extend your gear without carrying extra slings.

Shoes
You probably already know that climbing shoes make standing on small bits of rock a lot easier. Learn how to get the best fitting shoes here.

trad climbing gear

Harness
You can use any climbing harness to trad climb, but you'll benefit from having a comfortable harness with at least 5 gear loops.

trad climbing harness


Belay Device
If you're reading this, you probably already know how to belay. If you don't, you can learn here.

The best belay device for trad climbing is an ATC with a guide mode function. Getting one without guide mode limits your options for belaying and rescue situations.

trad climbing belay device

Cordelette
A common way to equalize gear at the belay is to use either a cordelette or a long (240cm) sling.

trad climbing anchor

Prusik Cord
A prusik cord is used to make abseiling safer and more controlled. Keep it on the back of your harness with your belay gear as you climb.

trad climbing prusik cord


Trad Climbing Protection

Nut and Hexes

Ranging in size from the thickness of a matchstick to the size of your clenched fist, nuts (also called chocks, wires or stoppers) and hexes are inexpensive pieces of trad protection.

A typical trad rack will contain 10-12 nuts and maybe one or two mid-size hexes.

Learn how to use nuts and hexes.

Climbing nuts and hexes on carabiner

Slings

Slings are simply strongly-sewn loops of nylon or dyneema tape. They're available in a range of lengths - your typical trad rack will have a few 60cm and 120cm slings on it and maybe a 240cm, 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. They are incredibly useful for extending gear and equalizing belays.

When buying slings, try to get a different colour for each size. This makes it much quicker to grab the right size when you need it.

Learn how to use slings.

Climbing slings

Tricams

Tricams are designed to work the same as a nut, but can also be placed to 'cam' into cracks.

They are most useful at crags which have many horizontal cracks for placing protection. A typical trad rack will contain one or two mid-size tricams.

Learn how to use tricams.

Climbing tricams

Ball Nuts

Ball nuts are specialist pieces of gear which you are unlikely to need when starting out.

They offer protection in thin cracks, filling the void where even the smallest cams are too big to fit.

Learn how to use ball nuts.

ball nuts climbing

Big Bros

Big Bros are expandable tubes which protect wide cracks. They are lighter and more compact than large cams but are harder to place, cannot be shuffled up the crack and do not work as well in flares.

They are only worth buying if you plan to climb a lot of off-width cracks and squeeze chimneys.

Learn how to use big bros.

big bro climbing

Nut Tool

Nut tools are used to remove gear while following or cleaning dirt from gear placements when leading obscure routes.

They are also useful for leading when you get the wrong sized nut stuck and need to remove it in order to get the right one in.

They are easily dropped, so it’s worth attaching a short loop of thin cord to it. This can be clipped to the rope or gear while you use the tool.

Climbing nut tool for removing nuts trad climbing

Trad Climbing Gear > Cams

This article about climbing cams is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Trad climbing infographic how to place cams rock climbing

Cams are reliable and versatile pieces of trad protection that are designed to be placed in parallel sided cracks, where nuts won't work.

A cam has three or four lobes mounted on an axle. Each lobe is shaped according to a mathematical logarithmic spiral, so the angle between the lobes and the rock is always the same, no matter how retracted the cam lobes are. This means that the cam will work at any point of it's size range (more on this later).

When a cam is weighted, the lobes are forced apart, converting the downwards force into a huge amount of outwards pressure on the sides of the crack. It is this outwards pressure which holds the cam in position.

When you place a cam, the springs cause the lobes to press out on the sides of the crack, creating just enough friction to keep it in position. Because cams rely on this friction, make sure to only place them in clean, dry cracks. Mud, dust, water or ice reduces the friction and can cause the cam to slide out during a fall.

Forces applied to climbing cams when weighted

How To Place Climbing Cams

Step 1

Pull the trigger to retract the cam lobes and slot it into the crack.

Perfect cam placement

Step 2

Release the trigger to allow the lobes to open up and make contact with the sides of the crack.

If the lobes open up all the way, try a bigger size.

How to place cams climbing


Placing Cams > Size

Correct Size

This is the ideal cam size for the crack it is in.

The strongest and optimal placement is within the middle section of the cam’s range of movement. You should aim to place every cam like this.

Climbing cam placement

Too Big

This is 'over-cammed' and will be very difficult to remove. Use a smaller cam if possible.

Climbing cam too big

Too small

This is 'tipped out' and will be very unlikely to hold a fall. During a fall, cam lobes often slip down the crack very slightly before being pressed outwards.

In this case, at least one of the lobes is likely to open completely to it's maximum range, causing the cam to slip out of the crack. Use a bigger cam.

Climbing cam too small

Placing Cams > Depth

You'll need to position cams far enough into the crack to accommodate for the slight slippage that can occur when the cam is loaded. In very slippery rock, a cam may slide out completely when weighted due to the lack of friction.

Try a cam in both orientations to see which way fits better. It’s usually better if the outer lobes are on the main wall, so they are further from the edge. In shallow placements, it’s vital that the outer lobes go on the widest area of the rock.

Climbing cam in crack

Placing Cams > Constrictions

If possible, set a cam above and below a constriction. This traps the cam in place and prevents it from walking. Placements like this are very stable.

Avoid placing cam lobes on tiny bumps or crystals which may disintegrate under load. This could cause the unit to pull out.

rock climbing cam in crack

Placing Cams > Flared Cracks

A flared crack is one which becomes narrower or wider at one side. Cracks can be flared in any direction.

Upward Flares

The placement in this slightly upward-flared crack is very good. If the cam slips down slightly during a fall, it will remain securely in the crack.

Good cam placement flared crack

Warning - When a cam is placed in an extremely upward-flaring crack, as shown below, it could easily 'walk' upwards.

This means that it will either wiggle out of position or be impossible to retrieve. This is caused by movements in the rope as you climb above.

Trad climbing how to place cams rock climbing

You can reduce the chance of this by extending the cam with a sling or quickdraw.

An alternative would be to use a nut or a hex instead.

Climbing cam and hex placed in flared crack

Downward Flares

The downwards flare of this crack is too great for the cam to hold. In the event of a fall, the lobes will continue opening until they reach their maximum, at which point the cam will fall out of the crack.

Cams can hold in very slightly downward-flared cracks, but it is best to look for parallel-sided or slightly upward-flared cracks.

Trad climbing how to place cams when rock climbing

Offset Cams

Offset cams have two lobes which are a size smaller than the other two. They are excellent for protecting flared cracks and piton scars which are commonly found at granite crags.

In a flared crack, place an offset with the smaller lobes further in and the bigger lobes further out.

With regular cams, it is usually possible to orientate the cam so the outer lobe is against the main wall, and not near the edge of the crack. Unfortunately, due to the asymmetry of the design, this is not always possible with offsets.

You don’t need offset cams. But if you frequently climb at venues with flared cracks, a set of offsets will provide protection where nothing else will.

how to place offset cams


Placing Cams in Horizontal and Diagonal Cracks

Cams in diagonal crack

Cams can be placed in horizontal or diagonal cracks.

In these types of cracks, placing your cam with the outer lobes on the bottom makes the placement more stable.

Cams in horizontal crack

Flexible stemmed cams will bend around the edge of the rock and maintain their strength.

Rigid stemmed cams will lever over the edge, causing damage to the stem.

Using Cams Passively

Certain types of cams can be used passively (like a nut). However, in this situation nuts wedge into place better. So unless you've just dropped them all, you'll probably be better placing a nut instead.

Cams and nuts in crack

Types of Climbing Cams

There are too many designs of cam to list here. Different brands tend to be better suited to different rock types (e.g: Metolius Fat Cams are great for soft sandstone, whereas Black Diamond C4’s are more suited to granite). When you go to buy cams, ask the shop assistant which style is best for the rock type in your local area. If you plan to climb on many rock types and in many different locations, any new, flexible-stem design will be good enough to get you started.

Removing Cams

To remove a cam, simply pull the trigger and slide it out. Sometimes you may need to wiggle it around constrictions in the rock. If a cam is stuck, focus on freeing up the lobes which won’t move. Prize them loose with your nut tool. Once all the lobes can move, it’ll be easier to wiggle it out.

How to remove climbing cams

If your cam trigger is unreachable, use the hook on the end of your nut tool to pull it.

How to remove climbing cams with nut tool


Racking Cams

An efficient way of racking cams is to put them in size order on your harness with their own separate colour-coded carabiners.

If you have small cams on a front gear loop and bigger cams further back, they'll be less annoying as you climb.

Cams on harness

Cams Vs Nuts

Nuts are much lighter and cheaper so it’s easy to carry a lot of them. Cams are quicker to place – great if you’re getting pumped and need to place gear quickly. There are usually more options for placing cams than nuts, so it’s better to place nuts when you can and save the cams for later.

Trad Climbing Gear > Nuts

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

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

How to place climbing nuts rock climbing nuts stoppers

Nuts are an essential for every trad climber. They are made of a flexible wire which is threaded through a hard 'nut' of metal. They are cheap, light and durable.

Climbing nuts exert very little outwards force on the rock, unlike cams. Most of the force is transferred in the direction it is being pulled (in most cases, down and slightly outwards from the rock).

It's for this reason that they should be placed in tapered cracks and constrictions, where the crack becomes smaller further down. When weighted (if you fall), the nut becomes wedged further into the crack.

Rock climbing nut forces

How To Place Climbing Nuts

Step 1

When you spot a suitable constriction, grab your rack of nuts and try a few that are most likely to fit. Assess the taper and curve of the crack and the quality of the rock.

How to place climbing nuts

Step 2

Once you've found the best fit, give it a gentle downwards tug to seat it in place.

This will stop the rope lifting it out when you climb past.

How to place climbing nuts in a crack

Step 3

Remove the nut from the carabiner, extend it with a quickdraw or sling and then clip it to your rope.

How to place climbing nuts trad climbing


Placing Climbing Nuts - Tips

Orientation

Climbing nuts are generally non-symmetrical, being wider at one side and also curved. This means they can be placed in four possible orientations.

If your nut isn’t quite perfect, try placing it in a different orientation.

How to place climbing nuts when trad climbing

Surface Contact

You should select the size and orientation of nut which has as much surface contact with the rock as possible.

More surface contact means more 'grip'. A nut with more grip is more likely to stay exactly where you placed it as you climb above.

Rock climbing nuts

Depth

Place nuts fully inside the crack, but not so far that you can't see them.

How to use rock climbing nuts

Remember that your partner must be able to reach with their nut tool to remove them.

How to use rock climbing wires

Constrictions

Nuts are most reliable in tapered constrictions that they fit neatly into.

Nuts in very flared constrictions could fall out due to insufficient surface contact. Nuts in parallel-sided cracks will not work.

Rock climbing nuts placed in a crack in different orientations

Diagonal Cracks

Nuts work best in vertical constrictions, but they can also be placed in diagonal cracks.

Nuts are generally less reliable in diagonal cracks because they are not pulled directly into the constriction when weighted.

Pay attention to which way the nut would be pulled in the event of a fall. If it could be pulled out, try a better placement.

How to use rock climbing nuts

Horizontal Slots

Nuts can also be placed in horizontal constrictions as shown.

How to use climbing nuts

Threading Nuts

Nuts can also be used as a thread. This works best with large nuts. Poke the wire loop through the hole, then clip a quickdraw to it.

However, holes like this usually suggest poor rock quality. Slings are softer on the rock than nuts so try using a sling as a thread in this situation, or look for something else more solid.

How to thread climbing nuts


Opposing Nuts

Nuts can oppose each other to create a multidirectional piece.

This old-school technique is rarely used nowadays because there is usually something else better and quicker to place, especially if you have some offset cams. However, it could help you out if no other gear exists.

Step 1
Place two opposing nuts so the carabiners are close together but not overlapping.

Step 2
Clip a sling into one of the carabiners and pass both strands of the sling through the other carabiner.

opposing climbing nuts

Step 3
Pass the end of the sling through the two strands and also through the carabiner as shown.

opposed climbing nuts

Step 4
Cinch the knot tight to create tension between the nuts. Then clip the sling to the rope.

opposing nuts climbing

Removing Climbing Nuts

To be removed from a crack, a nut will need to reverse the way it went in.

Often, a little wiggle will unseat the nut, enabling it to be pushed up and out.

If this doesn't work, tap it from below with your nut tool.

If that doesn't work either, hold your nut tool under the nut and hit it with a big hex.

Removing a climbing nut from a crack in rock

As a last resort, yank upwards on the attached quickdraw or sling to dislodge it.

Be careful though, this damages the cable over time.

Removing a climbing nut from a crack

Racking Climbing Nuts

Climbing nuts grouped in size order attached to a sling rack

Oval carabiners are good for racking nuts – the large bottom radius helps to stop the wires tangling together.

Nuts prefer to be organized by size and racked in groups of 4-7 per carabiner.

It's common to have 10-15 nuts split onto 2-3 carabiners for a typical climb.

Cramming all your nuts onto one carabiner makes it hard to find the one you want, and if you drop this carabiner, you'll have no nuts.

Top Tip

It's better to rack your nuts on a carabiner with a strong gate-spring.

A weak gate-spring can be pressed open easily, meaning that you will 'rain nuts' on your belayer.

Rock climber drops climbing nuts

Trad Climbing Gear > Hexes

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

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Rock climbing hex how to use hexes climbing infographic

Hexes are an old type of climbing protection that are seldom seen on climber's racks since the introduction of cams. However, they do have advantages over cams in certain situations.

The main advantage of hexes is they will work in dirty, wet or icy cracks where cams are likely to slide out. They are also lighter than the equivalent sized cam. This is especially noticeable in the bigger sizes. They cost a lot less too.

They can be used 'passively' in exactly the same way as nuts; by being wedged into constrictions and tapered cracks.

However, they can also be placed in 'active mode', so that they 'cam' into the crack. When a hex is placed as shown, and pulled downwards, it tries to rotate (green arrows). This rotation applies increasing pressure outwards onto the side walls of the crack (white arrows), which locks it in position.

Rock climbing hex how to use hexes climbing

Placing Hexes - Passive Mode

Rock climbing hex placed in crack how to use hexes for rock climbing

Look for constrictions and treat them just like a large nut. They can be placed sideways or straight in. As with nuts, give the hex a gentle tug to seat it in position, then extend it with a quickdraw.



Placing Hexes - Active Mode

When using a hex in active mode, it's still good to place it in a constriction; they are fairly unreliable in perfectly parallel-sided cracks. (Cams are much better in parallel cracks).

However, because of the hexes' camming action, the constriction doesn't need to be as sharp as it would be for a nut placement.

Rock climbing hex nut in crack how to use hexes trad climbing

What you’re looking for is a crack that you can just fit the hex into. Place the hex so that it has opposite sides making contact with either side of the crack, with the sling coming out diagonally from the bottom.

The important factor to take into consideration is what orientation to use. Try placing it with different sides touching the crack. Place it in the way that fits the tightest, and which 'cams' into position the most when the sling is weighted.

how to use hexes trad climbing

Placing Hexes - Horizontal Cracks

Rock climbing hex placed in horizontal crack how to use hexes for rock climbing

Hexes can be used in horizontal cracks in the same way as vertical cracks. It's often better to have the sling coming out of the top, so it doesn't rub over the edge of the crack.

Removing Hexes

A hex can be removed the same way as a nut in most cases. However, if a hex has rotated into place tightly, you'll have to reverse the way it rotated in order to retrieve it.

Don't be afraid to hit them hard with your nut tool; they're very durable.

Removing hexes for rock climbing


Racking

Most of the time, you'll only be carrying one or two hexes. In which case, you can either put them on the same carabiner with your big nuts (for small hexes), or clip them further back on your harness on their own separate carabiner (for bigger sizes).

If you must carry a full rack, they can be racked in groups of 2-4 per carabiner.

Rock climbing hexes racked with nuts climbing

Top Tip
If your big hexes are jangling around, slide the hex to the middle of its sling and clip both ends together. This way, the metal part only hangs down half the distance.

Rock climbing hex racked on sling rock climbing

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

Trad Climbing Gear > Tricams

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

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Tricams work in a similar way to hexes; they can be placed in 'passive' mode like a nut, and also in 'active' mode.

When a tricam is weighted in active mode, the downwards force is transferred outwards to the sides of the crack (white arrows), just the same as a cam. The head rotates (green arrows) and pushes the fulcrum into the rock while the rails do the same against the other side of the crack.

Tricams are not as reliable as cams in parallel-sided, vertical cracks, since the fulcrum needs a small dimple or constriction to 'rest' on.

Because the fulcrum of a tricam is a sharp point, it bites into soft, wet or icy rock when weighted, making it much better than a cam in these conditions.

How tricams work

Tricam Parts

Parts of a tricam rock climbing

How To Place Tricams

Rock climbing infographic rock climbing

Passive Mode
Tricams can be placed in constrictions just the same as a nut. Because they are generally more tapered than a nut, they will fit better in sharper angled slots.

Place them in exactly the same way as you would place nuts. Look for a sharp constriction which gives as much tricam-to-rock surface contact as possible.

Tricams tend not to wedge in place as well as nuts when used in passive mode. This can cause them to wobble out of position as you climb above. To help prevent this, set them in place with a hard tug just like you would with a nut. Then extend the placement with a quickdraw or sling instead of using just a single carabiner.

How to place tricams

Active Mode
Tricams work beautifully in horizontal cracks or small pockets where cams are too wide to fit properly and nuts would simply slide out when weighted. They can also be used in diagonal or vertical cracks that have dimples or constrictions inside.

To place a tricam in active mode, flip the head over so that the sling is running through the cam rails. Set the fulcrum in a slight dimple or constriction on one side of the crack. Then set the rails against the opposite wall of the crack. Give it a sharp tug to seat it in position.

When you pull on the sling, the tricam will rotate and push the fulcrum into the rock while the rails do the same against the other side of the crack. This is the camming, or 'active', action of a tricam.

Be careful though, if there's nothing for the fulcrum to rest on or bite into, it'll probably fall out when you climb past.

How to place tricams in horizontal crack

Horizontal Cracks
In horizontal cracks, you can place the tricam so the sling comes out from either the top or bottom. However, you will reduce abrasion on the sling by setting it with the sling on top.

How to place tricams in horizontal cracks


Removing Tricams

Think about how the tricam went in. If it’s in an obvious constriction, shuffle it towards the wider spot to pull it out, just like you would with a nut.

You may need to disengage the camming action so it will fit through. Do this by rotating the tricam in the opposite way that you would to seat it.

You can use a nut tool for this. Hook the fulcrum with your nut tool, then use the sling to wiggle the tricam out of the crack. Try not to tug on the sling; that can seat the tricam further into the rock, making it even harder to remove.

How to remove tricams from crack

Racking Tricams

If you take any tricams on a route, you’ll probably only have one or two. Just clip them on with your large nuts. If you take more, you can rack them in groups of 2-4.

Tricams and climbing nuts on carabiner

Trad Climbing Gear > Ball Nuts

Ball nuts are a seldom used type of climbing gear which offer protection in thin cracks, filling the void where even the smallest cams are too big to fit.

They are comprised of two halves: one half is a paddle and the other is a flat ball which tracks up and down a central groove on the paddle when the trigger is pulled or released.

When weighted, the paddle is pulled down while the ball remains stuck in position. As the paddle moves down, it slides over the ball, therefore expanding the whole unit and causing it to lock into the crack.

how to use ball nuts climbing

Ball Nuts: How They Work

The key to using ball nuts is understanding the physics which cause them to lock into the crack:
- Ball travel
- Topology
- Surface texture
- Rock hardness.

Each of these are described below.

Ball Travel

When you pull the trigger, the ball travels along the paddle’s central groove. On most units, the ball can travel beyond the paddle at either end.

how to use ball nuts climbing

During a fall, the ball stays still and the paddle is pulled down a tiny amount. Essentially, the ball ‘travels’ relative to the paddle. This cinches the whole unit tight into the crack.

how to use ball nuts climbing

There will be some amount of ball travel in every fall, but the exact amount depends on the rock type and the placement (see below). The key to using ball nuts is anticipating and accommodating for the distance the ball will travel.

In a typical placement, the ball nut should be placed so the ball starts about 25% of the way up the paddle. When it cinches up in a fall, the ball moves to around 50-70% up the paddle.

how to use ball nuts climbing

If the ball starts at the very bottom of the paddle (so the ball nut is at its narrowest setting), it may be difficult to remove.

If the ball starts close to the top of the paddle, there is a good chance that the ball will ride over the top end of the paddle, therefore causing the piece to fail.

Topology

Ball nuts are best placed in a slight constriction as opposed to an absolutely parallel sided crack. Gear which is better suited to parallel sided cracks are:
- Micro cams (if they will fit)
- Pitons (if you are aiding with a hammer)
- Cam hooks (if you are aiding without a hammer)

In very tapering constrictions, a micro nut will be a better choice. This is because ball nuts are more sensitive to rotating upward/outward with movements in your rope as you climb above.

how to use ball nuts climbing

In addition to getting the ball in an appropriate spot on the paddle, you’ll need to find the best spot for the ball to ‘stick’ in the crack.

Remember that the paddle moves under load, not the ball. If the ball moves too, the whole piece will probably pull out. Look for more texture, a tiny protrusion or constriction for the ball to rest on.

how to use ball nuts climbing

Surface Texture
In completely slick or icy rock, the ball will struggle to grip the side of the crack as the paddle is pulled down. This means the ball nut will slip right out. A slightly rougher surface is much better.

Be aware of tiny crystals or grains of rock which may crunch into dust under the force of a fall. This could cause the unit to expand beyond its limit and fail.


Rock Hardness
Harder rock (such as granite) is much better suited for ball nuts. When weighted in very soft, loose or expanding rock, the ball is likely to travel the full length of the paddle and slip off the end. This is especially true in the smaller sizes.



Ball Nuts: The Placement

Step 1
When you find a suitable placement, grab your rack of ball nuts and try a few that are most likely to fit. Assess the texture and taper of the crack and the quality of the rock.

Step 2
Retract the trigger so the ball slides down to the bottom of the paddle slot. Place it in the crack and release the trigger. Closely inspect the placement to take advantage of every subtle feature.


Step 3
Tug downwards (in the direction of loading) on the ball nut to seat it into position. The ball should now be around 25% of the way up the paddle.

Make a final assessment to check there is no possibility of it cinching up so much that the ball rides over the end of the paddle.

how to use ball nuts climbing

Step 4
Extend the ball nut with a quickdraw or sling.

Think carefully about where your rope will pull on the piece as you climb above. Ball nuts should stay exactly where you placed them. Rotation can make them blow.

how to use ball nuts climbing

Ball Nuts: Removal

To remove a ball nut, you have to reverse the cinching action. For many placements, this can be done by retracting the trigger, just the same as a cam.

If this doesn’t work, the strategy is to get the paddle to slide into the crack further while the ball stays where it is. You can assist this by hooking a nut tool over the ball (if there’s space for it) while you pull the trigger and push the whole unit in.

The ball is made of a softer metal than the paddle. Under high forces (such as in a fall), the ball deforms slightly. This helps it to stay in position and stick in the crack. To remove stubborn ball nuts like this, you can free up the ball by rotating or tapping the paddle in with your nut tool.

Ball Nuts: Racking

Ball nuts can be racked in the same way as nuts: Just put them in small groups on a carabiner.

If you are only carrying one or two, they can be added to your small nut rack.

how to use ball nuts climbing

Ball Nuts: Summary

Armed with a set of ball nuts, you can protect or aid tiny cracks that you’d otherwise have to leave unprotected or hammer in a piton.

If you often climb in venues that feature very small cracks or pin scars, you will benefit by adding a set of ball nuts and the skills to place them to your arsenal.

Trad Climbing Gear > Big Bros

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

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Big Bros are expandable tubes which protect wide cracks. They are lighter and more compact than large cams but are harder to place, cannot be shuffled up the crack and do not work as well in flares.

Once expanded into the crack, one side of the big bro will be higher up than the other. When the higher side is weighted (e.g: if the climber falls), the unit becomes wedged into position.

Rock climbing big bro how to use big bros climbing

Placing Big Bros

Step 1
Find a flat spot in a parallel sided crack. Place the inner tube against the wall.

how to use big bros climbing

Step 2
Press the trigger button and let the tube expand slowly to fill the crack (it can damage the big bro if you push the button and let the tube slam into the rock).

The inner tube should contact the rock at a lower point than the outer tube. Wiggle the tube around a little to get the best fit.

Rock climbing big bro

Step 3
Spin the locking collar to the end of its range and tighten it. This sets the big bro in position.

To get the best fit, wiggle the tube slightly as you fasten it.

Rock climbing big bro how to use

Removing Big Bros

Spin the collar to the end of the tube and compress the big bro until the trigger pops back into to place.

how to use big bros


Racking Big Bros

Big bros should be compressed and racked on their own separate carabiner.

big bros climbing

Climbing Helmets

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

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

A climbing helmet is the first thing you should buy when you start trad climbing. They protect your head from things falling on you (rocks, equipment, etc..) and also from your head hitting the rock if you fall.

Climbing helmets are generally not worn in the gym or on steep sport routes. The main reason is that sport crags tend to be overhanging, making both the leader and belayer safely sheltered from rockfall. Although it’s possible to injure your head in a leader fall, this rarely happens on overhanging rock because the leader will fall into ‘space'.

In any other situation, it is worth wearing a helmet when climbing or belaying. Rocks can fall and gear can be dropped. If you knock your belayer unconscious, they won't be able to belay you!

There are two main types of helmet on the market – rigid shell and foam.

Rigid Shell Climbing Helmets

These are made of hard plastic, with an inner 'cradle' of foam or webbing so the plastic sits away from your head. They are more durable but don't tend to protect from side impact (you falling off) as well as the foam type. They also tend to be cheaper than the foam type.

Rigid shell climbing helmets

Foam Shell Climbing Helmets

These closely resemble a bike helmet (don't use your bike helmet – they're designed for different impacts!). They tend to be lighter than the rigid shell, but are less durable. Be careful about throwing them in your bag then throwing it around or sitting on it!

The most important factor when buying a helmet is getting one that fits your head snugly – it shouldn't move when you tip your head. A sloppy fit reduces the helmet’s ability to protect your head.

Your helmet should adjust to accommodate a hat, and a ponytail if you have long hair. Also, make sure the headlamp attachments are compatible with your headlamp.

Foam shell climbing helmet


Extendable Quickdraws

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

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Extendable quickdraws (or alpine draws) are usually made from a 60cm sling and two snap gate carabiners. They can be used either as a short draw or fully extended, meaning it's quick and easy to extend your gear to reduce rope drag without carrying extra slings.

Extendable quickdraws for climbing

It's great to carry at least a few of these on trad routes instead of fixed length, shorter draws. You could also opt to only carry extendable draws, particularly for alpine routes.

How To Make Extendable Quickdraws

To make an extendable quickdraw, simply attach both carabiners to the sling, then pass one biner through the centre of the other one, clipping the extra two loops of the sling through it at the other end. This can now be racked on your harness like any other quickdraw.

How to make extendable quickdraws for climbing

When choosing carabiners and slings for your extendable draws, there are a few things to bear in mind. You should have a gear carabiner and a rope carabiner, just like you would with normal quickdraws.

You'll need to pick different coloured carabiners so you can distinguish between them. Keeping them consistent between all your draws is good – try silver for the gear end and your favourite bright colour for the rope end. You could try marking one end with tape, but this could be really hard to see whilst hanging on by one finger, and can easily wear off.

We prefer making extendable draws with thinner dyneema slings (6 or 8mm) as they fold up more neatly than thicker dyneema or nylon, reducing bulk on your harness. They will wear out faster than thicker versions though, so be prepared to replace them more regularly.

Nylon dyneema quickdraws climbing


How To Use Extendable Quickdraws

To use extendable quickdraws, clip the draw to your gear, then slip two loops of the sling out of the rope-end carabiner. Pull it out to full extension, then clip the rope in.

Extendable quickdraws for rock climbing
Extendable quickdraws climbing

Occasionally, the sling can become twisted which can result in it being looped around the gear carabiner. It's OK to use it like this if you're really pumped and need to make the clip quickly, but much better to sort it out if you can.

If you fall while the sling is tangled like this, the strands of it will slide over each other, causing it to weaken, just the same as if it was knotted.

Many short draws have a loop of elastic at the gear end to hold the carabiner firmly in place. It's important NOT to use one of these elastics on an extendable quickdraw. If it's twisted in the wrong way it can end up with the sling attached only with the elastic, not clipped through the carabiner. This is easily missed and would be disastrous if you fell on it!

Elastic on climbing quickdraws
Velcro climbing shoes with slings

Top Tip
The velcro on rock shoes quickly kills dyneema slings, so try not to bundle them all into your bag in one big messy heap!

How To Rack Extendable Quickdraws

When following a pitch where your leader has used extendable draws, you can either re-make the draw as you go and rack it onto your harness, or simply sling the whole thing over your shoulder – much easier in a tricky position. Some people prefer to carry them on lead like this too, rather than racking them on their harness.

Wearing climbing slings over shoulder

How To Use Half (Double) Ropes

'How To Use Half Ropes' is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Half ropes (also known as double ropes) are thinner than normal 'single' ropes, and are designed to be used as a pair.

Best Situations to Use Half Ropes
- When climbing a wandering route
- When climbing a long alpine route with an involved descent

Half ropes climbing

Advantages
- Rope drag is reduced on wandering routes where the protection is not in a straight line
- You have more options for protecting your partner when they follow traversing pitches
- They double the length of abseil you can make
- If one rope is cut on a sharp edge, you still have the other to catch you

Disadvantages
- Involves more forward planning
- More difficult to belay
- It's possible to get into a situation where only one half rope would stop you from hitting the ground. They are not designed to be used like this (This is explained later)

Climbing with half or double ropes

Half ropes are marked by a ½ symbol on the end of the rope (a single rope will have a 1 symbol).

Single and half or double ropes

Twin ropes are also available. BE CAREFUL! These are not designed to be clipped individually like half ropes. Instead, you must clip them both into the same carabiners as you climb. They're mainly used for ice and mixed climbing.

Different types of climbing rope are explained here.

Twin climbing ropes


Half Ropes: Leading

Two ropes tied into climbing harness

Designate Your Ropes
Tie in to half ropes just as you would a single, but with one rope on either side of your belay loop.

The left rope will be used to clip gear on the left side of the route, and the right rope is for gear on the right.

Traversing
On a traversing route, it's best to have an 'upper' and a 'lower' rope. The upper rope can help protect the second from taking an enormous sideways swing.

When there are sections of down-climbing, the second will often have worse fall potential than the leader. Plan ahead and place gear high on the upper rope to protect the second.

Rock climber climbing with two ropes

Belay Position
If there is a traverse to the belay, you can protect the second better by building the anchor above the middle of the traverse. Building the anchor to one side could create unnecessary fall potential for the second.

Straight-Up Pitches
On a straight-up pitch, clip your half ropes alternately to each piece. This way, you never rely too much on one rope and you never pull extra slack into the system when clipping a high piece.

Crossing Ropes
Beware of crossing the ropes as you clip gear. It’s possible to trap one rope around a piece of gear, creating very bad rope drag.

Rock climber climbing a traverse with two ropes

Half Ropes: Belaying

Belaying the Second
To belay with half ropes, you'll need an 'ATC style' belay device which has two slots in it. You cannot use a GriGri.

You'll often need to take in or give slack on one rope more than the other to keep the ropes equally tight on your partner.

Simply go through the normal belaying motion, but hold one rope tight while letting the other slide through your hand. Obviously, never let go of either rope.

Rock climber belays with two ropes

Another option is to use guide mode.

Rock climber belays in guide mode with two ropes
Rock climber belays with two ropes

Lead Belaying
Sometimes you'll need to feed out more slack on one rope than the other, as the climber pulls it up to clip.

Once they've clipped one rope higher than the other, you'll need to take in that rope, while giving out slack on the other.

This can be pretty tricky to do well and takes some practise. It helps to keep the two ropes separated in your hand above the belay device. Remember to keep hold of both of them together in your lower hand.



Using Half Ropes in the Belay

Half ropes make building a gear belay much easier, as you can use both ropes to equalize yourself to the gear. Rather than having one central point that you tie into, you can have two, with one rope going to each. Use a clovehitch to attach yourself to the screwgate carabiner at each main point.

Rock climber belays with two ropes at belay

Can You Fall on Just One Half Rope?

There's no simple answer to this. Half ropes are designed to be used together and are fall-tested by the UIAA with a smaller falling mass than for a single rope. The theory is that one rope will take most, but not all, of the force in a fall.

In reality, all of the force goes on one rope if you fall.

You should be very cautious of creating situations where only one rope would hold a large fall. This situation would also reduce the redundancy that is inherent in half ropes on complicated terrain, where there is any risk of a rope being cut by a sharp edge.

If you need to use half ropes 'separately' (e.g. if you have to clip gear to one rope for the first half of a route and then use the other rope for the last half) you should consider using two single rated ropes instead of a pair of halves.

We also recommend using two single ropes (instead of two half ropes) if you are climbing as a team of three.

Some ropes are available that are rated as both a single and a half rope; a perfect compromise!

The Statistics
For a single rope to pass UIAA testing, it must hold five falls of 80kg at a fall factor of 1.77. A half rope must hold the same five falls at the same fall factor, but only with a mass of 55kg.

If half ropes are tested as single ropes (with the full 80kg), most hold between one and three falls before failing.

This means that half ropes are safe to fall on individually. However, they shouldn't be relied upon to hold massive whippers. If you were to take a large fall on one half rope, you should retire that rope afterwards.

How to rock climb with two ropes

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.

Fall Factors and kN Ratings: What They Actually Mean

'Fall Factors and kN Ratings: What They Actually Mean' is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

kN Ratings

kN ratings are shown on all your climbing gear: nuts, cams, slings and carabiners. kN stands for kilo Newtons. 1kN is about 100kg (220lbs for the Americans). So this nut will hold around 900kg.

Climbing nut with kilo newton kN ratings

This is Nelly. She weighs 850kg, so the 9kN nut would hold her weight – just.

But if Nelly climbed above the nut and then fell, she would put more force on the gear. This force would certainly exceed 900kg, causing the nut to break.

Every fall exerts a force greater than body weight – often many times more than your actual weight.

Elephant rock climbing with rope

Your goal as a leader is to reduce the potential force on gear, therefore keeping the climb safe.

The exact force generated depends on:
- The distance fallen
- The climber’s weight
- The length of rope in the system
- Friction through gear in the system
- How dynamic the belay is
- How dynamic the rope is

Elephant rock climbing

Fall Factors

The fall factor is the distance fallen divided by the length of rope in the system.

The higher the fall factor, the more force is applied to protection. This is why a bigger fall puts more force on gear.

If a climber falls 3 meters, when 10 meters up a pitch, the fall factor is 0.3.

If a climber falls 7 meters, when 10 meters up a pitch, the fall factor is 0.7.

rock climbing fall factors

Similarly, a fall taken close to the belay puts a much larger force on protection than the same length of fall taken higher up the pitch.

If a climber falls 2 meters, when 20 meters up a pitch, the fall factor is 0.1.

If a climber falls 2 meters, when 3 meters up a pitch, the fall factor is 0.66.

fall factor climbing

Warning - Factor 2 Falls
If a climber falls 2 meters, when 1 meter up the pitch (falling directly onto the anchor), the fall factor is 2. This puts a large force directly on the belay device which makes it hard to hold the fall.

It is important to eliminate the chance of a factor 2 fall by placing gear immediately off the belay.

factor 2 fall climbing


kN Ratings - Top Rope Vs Leader Fall Forces

Most lead falls have a fall factor of 0.2-0.7 and generate 2-5kN of force on the top piece of gear.

When top-roping, the distance fallen is minimal, therefore the fall factor is near zero. The force on the anchor will be the weight of the climber plus part of the weight of the belayer (around 1kN of force).

If there is slack in the system, the force will be a little higher, but still significantly less than the typical forces on gear during a leader fall.

Kilo newton kN ratings and fall factors explained for rock climbing

kN Ratings - Forces on Climbing Gear

Most medium/large sized trad gear is rated to about 10-14kN. This is strong enough to hold the most enormous fall you'll ever take. In most cases, the gear itself won’t break.

The weakest link in the system is usually the quality of the placement or the rock it is in (e.g: a 14kN nut in a suboptimal placement may be plucked out with a 2kN force).

Warning - Micro Gear
Tiny 'micro' cams and nuts have low strength ratings and will only hold small falls. If you take a massive whipper onto a 3kN nut, it'll probably break.

If your route is protected by small gear, make sure to place plenty of pieces and consider equalizing them to make a stronger point of protection.

Micro nut kilo newton kN rating


Heavy Climbers

The heavier you are, the more force you apply to gear when you fall.

Heavier climbers should consider thicker ropes with low impact-force ratings, which can take more abuse than thinner ropes.

Heavyweights should beef up all anchors, place protection more often and make sure the belayer is able to take the load.

belaying a heavy climber

kN Ratings and Fall Factors Summary

It’s important for a leader to understand when potential forces may be high, and to place gear appropriately to reduce this. High forces can break micro gear, break the rock that holds bigger gear in place or pluck out poorly placed gear.

Extend gear when necessary to avoid rope drag. Rope drag reduces the effective amount of rope available to absorb the impact, which increases the fall factor. Never rely on a single piece of gear, especially if it has a low strength rating. If you're 'cruxing out' above unreliable gear, it's usually safer to down-climb to a place where you can rest and re-think your options.

The belayer’s role is to assist the leader in making these decisions. Often the belayer has a better perspective of the potential forces on gear. Let your partner know if they are creating a dangerous fall potential. You can also help by being ready to give an appropriate dynamic belay.

Aid Climbing Gear – Skyhooks

Skyhooks are often used for aid climbing, but they can also play a (mainly psychological) role on bold trad routes.

skyhook belay

Types of Skyhooks

Hooks come in many different sizes, with each brand being shaped slightly differently. However, for most aid routes, you'll only need the three common types:

- Bat/talon hook (small)
- Cliffhanger hook (medium)
- Grappling hook (large)

Skyhook hooks for aid climbing

Having two of each is recommended so that you can make consecutive moves with the same sized hook.

On harder routes, it is worth supplementing your hook rack with some giant hooks such as the Fish hook.

Harder routes also tend to require pointed cliffhanger and grappling hooks to fit in drilled holes.

To make your hook pointed, simply file the end to a blunt point at around 45 degrees.

Pointed skyhook aid climbing

Make sure to tie your hooks with cord or webbing which is stronger than the hook itself.

We recommend 9/16"(14mm) webbing or 6mm cord in your favourite colour.

With a smaller loop, you can reach higher when aid climbing.

Place skyhooks aid climbing

An alternative method is to tie an overhand knot in a short length of thick webbing and feed it through the hole in the back of the skyhook.

Make sure the knot is big enough so that it won't slip through the hole.

How to tie cord on skyhooks


How To Place Skyhooks

Hooks work best on flakes or incut edges of rock.

Sometimes, a very light tap with your hammer sets the hook into position nicely. But if you hit them in too hard, they are likely to bend, break the rock or spring out suddenly.

Skyhooks hooks for aid climbing

If a flake is just out of reach, you can use the ‘over-reacher’:

- Extend your daisy chain with a quickdraw
- Clip the hook to it
- Tape the hook to your hammer
- Slide the hook up the wall
- Once the hook bites, give it a very gentle bounce test and creep upwards

Skyhook aid climbing

Leaving Hooks as Protection

sea of dreams el cap aid climbing

The average skyhook has a breaking strength of around 2kN; the same as a tiny micro nut.

This is enough to hold your body weight or an extremely short fall.

Sky hooks micro nut
Equalized skyhooks and micro nut

To make your hooks more likely to hold a fall, you can equalize them with other marginal pieces.

Or add a shock-absorbing sling, such as the Yates Scream-Aid.

Other than the fact that skyhooks are extremely weak, there are two main disadvantages to using them as protection.

Sky hook breaking strength 2kN
Aid climbing skyhook on flake

1) Hooks placed on flakes are likely to break the flake. In a fall, the hook exerts a lot more force on the rock than your fingers did when you used it as a handhold.

Solid hand and footholds are not always solid hook placements!

2) When you climb above your hook, it is fairly likely to get flicked by movements in the rope and tumble off the rock.

Sky hook on flake aid climbing
Aid climbing skyhooks duck tape el cap

This can be reduced by using standard office stationary such as duck-tape or blu-tac.

You can also weight the hook down with a bundle of carabiners or that enormous hex you always carry but never use.

Sky hook on flake with hex
Aid climbing skyhooks duck tape el cap

Or even use an upwards-pulling piece of gear to hold the hook in place.

It may seem like a lot of trouble for a marginal piece of protection, but if it's the only thing stopping you from hitting the ground, it'll be worth the effort, at least psychologically.