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When to Retire Climbing Gear

When the only things keeping you from a pile of rocks below are a harness, a rope, and a carabiner, it’s important to make sure your rock climbing equipment is in good shape. Weather conditions, age, and wear can all damage your gear to the point of not properly functioning.

Follow these tips for identifying damaged gear, and remember: when in doubt, throw it out.

Retiring Climbing Gear

Climbing Ropes

If your rope fails while climbing, there’s very little that can be done to avoid a tragic accident. For this reason, it’s important to pay extra attention to your climbing rope and know when it’s time to replace it.

Barring any big falls, ropes provide about three years of casual use (think weekend warriors) and one year of constant use (climbing multiple times per week). If you climb only a handful of times each year, you’ll be able to get about five years out of your rope.

Ice climbers should always retire a rope if it gets skewered by an ice axe or crampon.

Warning signs of disrepair include fuzziness along the length of the rope and areas of flatness, as opposed to the solid cylindrical structure; both indicate unraveling in the rope’s structure, creating a point of delicacy. When your rope loses its stretch or gets stiff, it won’t absorb the shock of a fall as well as a new rope would. Be sure to check your rope for signs of damage on a regular basis, and especially after taking a fall on it.

Belay Devices

When belay devices wear down from use, they tend to develop a sharp edge or two. Those edges can in turn damage your rope irreparably and without warning, possibly leaving your climber in a sticky situation.

Hardware should be replaced after it has lost at most one millimeter to wear. In order to recognize this, be cognizant of how your belay device looked brand new and how it ages. Similarly, if your belay device has gotten nicked somehow, make sure it’s not in a spot that comes into contact with the rope. If it is, it’s time for a new one.

Carabiners

Your biners are effective only if they lock properly, which means that you should regularly check to make sure the gates and hooks are meeting properly, and that the return spring is functioning. If something seems off, try cleaning the piece and oiling the pins and return system; if it’s still not working correctly, then it’s time for retirement.

Climbing Harnesses

The signs of a damaged climbing rope—fuzziness and fraying— as well as bunching and tearing also apply to harnesses. If you notice any of these things on your harness, it’s time for a replacement. The tie-in points are the most vulnerable, as they are frequently subject to friction from the rope. Conduct a quick inspection of your harness before climbing, paying close attention to tie-in points and keeping an eye out for possible cuts on the webbing.

Storing your equipment properly will help keep it in good condition. Be sure to store your climbing gear in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight, and never store your gear wet.


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