Quickdraws, sewn slings (which include sewn runners, etriers, daisy chains and gear slings) and bulk webbing/cord are all basic gear needs of climbers. Here's an overview of what these items do and how best to shop for them.
Warning: Reading this article does not make you a climber. Always seek out competent or professional instruction if you're new to climbing.
A quickdraw consists of a sewn nylon extension with 2 carabiners. Multiple quickdraws are essential for leading bolted sport-climbing routes and useful for traditional leading, where you are placing protection such as cams and nuts. They are designed to attach the rope through anchor points during a climb. This is done to protect the lead climber and, at the same time, reduce friction by straightening out the line the rope travels during the climb.
How do they work? The top carabiner can move freely and act as a hinge. The bottom, rope-clipping carabiner is secured by a rubber insert (or a tightly sewn bottom carabiner hole) to allow for easy rope-clipping and to reduce the chance of the carabiner becoming cross-loaded along its minor axis (sideways).
Quickdraws come in many shapes and sizes. While inherently similar, there are nuances to each brand and model that make researching your purchase beforehand worthwhile. Your decisions include:
Shop REI's selection of quickdraws.
A: Several reasons.
Q: Can carabiners also become unclipped?
A: YES! During a fall, the quickdraw could become unclipped from the bolt or the rope. This could be caused from 1) a twist in the quickdraw, or 2) The top carabiner getting caught in the bolt, or 3) The bottom carabiner being clipped into "backwards" or the gate facing the wrong way. Be sure to clip the top carabiner into the bolt and the rope into the bottom carabiner such that both gates are facing away from the direction of travel. And make sure not to "back" clip. "Back" or "backwards" clipping is when you clip the rope into the bottom carabiner of the quickdraw from "front to back" instead of the correct "back to front."
Q: What is "Z" clipping?
A: "Z" clipping is when you grab the rope that you are about to clip into a quickdraw from below the last bolt and quickdraw (instead of from above that last bolt). This can happen when bolts are close together and you grab the rope without paying attention to the location of the last bolt. The risk is usually not in a 'draw unclipping, but in your upward progress being suddenly halted as you fight against the rope as it goes back and forth through the 2 quickdraws. This can cause you to fall. If you do this by mistake, just unclip the lower 'draw to sort out the tangles. Don't forget to re-clip it as a backup once the rope is running straight again.
Q: How many quickdraws should I buy?
A: Most sport routes can be led with 12 quickdraws, so this is a good start. If you find yourself gravitating towards longer sport routes (more than 30 meters), you'll probably need 16 to 18 and some routes require 24 or more! Hint: If the route requires a 70-meter rope or longer, you'll probably need more than 12 quickdraws. Fortunately, many route guidebooks will tell you how many you need.
Q: What am I giving up if I buy the cheapest quickdraws I can find?
A: All quickdraws are UIAA and CE certified, but a bargain quickdraw means you might suffer a little in terms of performance, strength and weight. It might have a simpler, less ergonomic and slightly heavier shape. This may result in it being more difficult to manipulate (clipping onto or off of the rope and onto or off of your harness). Again, test them in the store to see which quickdraws work for you.
Q: How should I carry my quickdraws while climbing?
A: Most climbers clip their quickdraws to their harness gear loops, usually to the left and right front gear loops. You can orient the gates facing in or out—it's your preference.
Q: Which way should I orient the carabiners on my quickdraws?
A: In most situations, it is best to orient the carabiners on your quickdraw facing the same way on the sling rather than facing them in opposite directions.
Sewn runners, often called slings, are simply pieces of webbing sewn in different lengths. They are used like a quickdraw but are longer so the rope can run straighter. They can also be used to set up an anchor.
They come in a variety of lengths, widths and weights.
Common sewn runner widths are 8mm, 10mm, 18mm, 9/16" and 11/16", and they seem to get skinnier and lighter every year. Generally the thinner you go, the lighter and more compact your runners. The wider you go, the longer they will last and the less likely they will get cut or abraded.
Like quickdraws, runners are available in Dyneema, Spectra or pure nylon (see materials description above). Dyneema and Spectra blends are more resistant to UV degradation.
Q: Do I need sewn runners for sport climbing or just for trad climbing?
A: Sewn runners are most useful for trad climbing, where you are placing cams and nuts and the route winds back and forth. Some particularly crooked sport climbs may require single or double length sewn runners to minimize rope drag, but this is rare.
While quickdraws have their place on trad climbs, there are 2 good reasons to use single- and double-length slings (runners):
Sometimes, quickdraws are useful on trad routes, especially in medium to long lengths. I might use them when I'm clipping fixed gear, like pitons left in place or after I sling a block. If the route is fairly straight and steep, and the gear is multidirectional and cannot be pulled out with an upward pull, I will use quickdraws and save valuable time on longer routes.
Q: How many and what length sewn runners should I buy for a trad rack?
A: If you are placing lots of gear, consider at least 12 single-length runners and 4 to 6 double-length runners. Plus, get 2 triples (or 2 cordalettes) for the anchors.
Q: How should I rack (carry) my slings?
A: You have a few options:
Shop REI's selection of runners.
Also called "aiders," these are essential for aid climbing. They are basically little 1" nylon webbing ladders with 4 to 8 steps for moving upwards once you have clipped a piece of gear. Nowadays, they are always sewn together, but back in the day, Royal Robbins and Yvon Chouinard had to tie their own together with bulk sling.
For general aid climbing, get 1 or 2 pairs of 5- and 6-step aiders. These usually have reinforced steps with an extra half step at the top to get extra high for your next aid placement. Look for hand loops to help you pull up and bounce test, ballast loops to clip a little with onto if it is really windy, and a comfortable design with reinforced steps so it is easy to get your feet in and out of.
Q: How do you set up etriers for aid climbing?
A: For fast-and-light "easy" aid climbing (A 1), 1 etrier for each foot suffices. For more technical aid climbing (A 3), 2 etriers per foot make moving up and hanging out on your etriers much more comfortable. Other considerations:
Q: How do I carry etriers while I am free climbing?
A: If you are changing back and forth from aid climbing to free climbing just clip off your etriers on the back of your harness while leaving them rigged.
Q: Are there any other uses for etriers?
A: One or 2 etriers can be just the thing when you are free climbing on a route that has a few moves above your ability. Just pull out the etrier, clip it in and aid climb over the hard section. This is called "French free" climbing. Consider a small alpine aider—available from several manufacturers—that comes stuffed in a tiny stuff sack and can be clipped to a gear loop on your harness.
Shop REI's selection of etriers.
Daisy chains are an essential component of an aid-climbing setup and work hand in hand with etriers. Daisy chains connect the etrier to the harness so you can't drop the etrier. This allows you to rest on the daisy chain by hooking it with your fifi hook.
For general aid climbing, buy 2 of different colors to easily identify each aider and make sure they are both longer than your "reach." The Dyneema ones are lighter, less bulky and more resistant to UV.
Q: What's this I've heard about a new faster system of daisy chains and etriers?
A: Yes, there is a new system popular among speed aid-climbing aficionados that uses buckles instead of ladder rungs or daisy loops. It is fast and infinitely adjustable, but many top aid-climbers still prefer the traditional versions.
Q: What about other uses?
A: Daisy chains are also nice at the top of a sport climb as a temporary "rest" anchor while you set up a top rope. Be sure not to permanently attach a daisy chain to the belay loop as this creates excessive wear to the belay loop. Instead, a daisy should be girth-hitched throughout the rope tie-in point and removed after each climbing day and inspected for wear.
Shop REI's selection of daisy chains.
Gear slings are padded pieces of nylon webbing that you wear over your shoulder to carry all your protection, slings and quickdraws while trad climbing. They are more or less essential if you plan on leading trad climbs where you'll need to carry nuts and cams. The other option, carrying your gear on your harness gear loops, is limiting. There's usually not enough space and, if you are climbing laybacks, corners or chimneys, it's better to be able to slide your gear out of the way so it doesn't interfere with your climbing. There is nothing worse that shimmying up a layback or chimney with a harness-racked Camalot that is pressed into your hip and not allowing you to get closer to the wall.
Gear slings come in a few variations, from single slings (adjustable and not) to double shoulder slings, which are most commonly used for aid climbing. Make sure you buy a gear sling that is comfortable for you and fits. Most adjust to fit a wide range of sizes.
Q: Do I need a gear sling for sport climbing?
A: Fortunately, no! Sport climbing is all about freedom of movement and going light. Most sport climbs are face climbs where you don't need to wiggle through chimneys or press your hip against the wall during a layback. So it is OK to rack your gear on your harness gear loops. Besides, you won't have much gear anyways, just a few quickdraws.
Q: What is the best way to rack my trad gear on my gear sling?
A: Generally you rack nuts first, then cams, then quickdraws or alpine quickdraws. Nuts are usually racked 3 to 6 per carabiner, whereas cams usually have 1 carabiner per piece. Other scenarios:
Q: When do I need to use a double gear sling?
A: Gear slings that allow you to carry gear on both sides of your torso are primarily for aid climbing, where you often have at least twice as much protection. While comfortable for this, they are not recommended for traditional climbing because it is more difficult to move your gear around from side to side to get it out of the way for climbing in chimneys or corners, for example.
Shop REI's selection of gear slings.
Every good climbing shop has spools and spools of bulk webbing and cord. It is a great place to make specialty items such as cordalettes, prussiks and tied slings, as well as to buy larger sections to rig top-rope anchors.
Bulk webbing comes in "climbing specification" and "military specification." Climbing spec is thicker, heavier and slicker, whereas military spec is thinner, lighter and has a rougher surface texture. Both are very durable, but climbing spec is the stronger choice. The most common widths are 1", 11/16", 9/16" and ½". Bulk webbing is only available in nylon, because Spectra and Dyneema webbing are so slippery that they cannot hold a knot and need to be sewn closed. Tie your nylon webbing with a water knot and make sure you leave long tails (at least 2" long).
Cord is usually nylon and comes in diameters of 1mm all the way up to 9mm, sometimes greater. The most useful sizes for accessory cord are 5mm, 6mm and 7mm. Spectra can sometimes be found in specialty uses, such as threading large nuts.
Shop REI's selection of webbing and cord.
By Michael Silitch
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Last updated: 02/18/2014
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