Caring for Your Climbing Gear
Properly cleaning and storing your climbing gear after every use will help it last longer and prevent it from failing in the middle of a climb. Taking good care of your equipment can be just as important as having it, and is not a step you should skip.
If you treat your climbing ropes carelessly, they may end up needing an early retirement. When climbing, put a tarp under the rope to protect it from dirt and moisture (most rope bags have one built in). Also be careful to not step on the rope, as this can grind dirt into the fibers and weaken its integrity. After each climbing trip, examine your rope for any frays, discolorations, and other indications of damage like bunching or flat areas. Hang a wet rope to dry before putting it away, and be sure to store it away from direct sunlight, like in a rope bag or a bin.
Ice climbing introduces sharp ice picks and crampon teeth into the climbing environment. Obviously, skewering your rope on one of these sharp points will necessitate immediate retirement of the rope (though if the mishap occurred near the end of the rope, you might get by with cutting the damaged section off).
If a carabiner gate is sticking, check it for gunk. If you can’t find a problem and it still sticks, it’s probably time to stop climbing on it. Make some mark so you know it’s retired, and use it for any number of jobs around the house or garage.
Some climbers use lubricants on their cams, others don’t. If you do, make sure it’s a “dry” oil like cyclist’s use on bike chains. Don’t use WD40—it will attract too much grime. If a cam is sticking, you can also try dipping the head into a bowl of hot water with dish soap. Activate the cam a few times while immersed, take it out of the water, rinse, and dry.
Since climbing harnesses are made with webbing, it's important to retire them after five years at most; maybe even sooner depending on usage. Rinse it off if a climb left it particularly dirty, and if it's not fully clean you can also try using a combination of warm water and mild soap. Let the harness dry and store it away from direct sunlight, and make sure it's not kept near any chemicals.
While slings may not be the most exciting or expensive pieces of equipment, it’s just as important to take care of them and check for damage. Rinse off any dirt or sand with warm water and mild detergent. Don’t store wet, and keep them stored away from direct sunlight.
Before you start climbing, make sure the soles of your shoes are clean. Any grit on the shoes will dig into the rubber as you climb and wear it down much quicker. Wipe them off again when you’re done climbing. If they start to get really funky, it’s okay to machine wash most shoes, just let them hang dry instead of using a dryer. To keep the shoes from being crushed and bent out of shape, avoid storing them in the bottom of your backpack or at the bottom of your gear pile.
If possible, store your crash pad open to help to keep the foam from compressing at the fold.
Inspect Your Gear
At the end of a tiring day of climbing you just want to quickly pack your gear and get back to the car, but since you are going to coil your rope anyway, take the time to check it for fraying. When stacking it at the beginning of a climb, check the rope again for fraying, mildew, or discolorations. Likewise, as you organize your rack, check your slings, harness, and climbing protection for obvious damage.
Transporting and Storage
One easy mistake to make is to throw your gear loose into the trunk of your car or back of the pick-up. Are there also jumper cables back there? What if there is battery acid residue on the clamps that will rub up against a sling? And who knows what other oils and chemicals may have been spilled back there. When transporting your gear, keep it stored safely in a backpack, bag, or bin.
To avoid mildew, never store your gear wet. Hang dry ropes, harnesses, shoes, slings, cams, and anything else with a fabric component.
Remember to check for signs that you should retire your equipment, and, as a rule, replace your gear every five years at most.
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