Angle pitons are made from a single sheet of metal that is folded over in a U, V, or Z shape, which reduces the weight of the piton. An eye is drilled through the metal as a carabiner hole. Once all angles had metal rings for eyes but this eventually halted in the 1960s because the ring is easily damaged and the weld on the eye is sometimes weak and can fail under a load.
Ring-Eye Angle Pitons
Ring-eye angles, sometimes called Army angles because they were used by the United States Army in the 1940s and 1950s, were made from soft iron, which conforms to the shape of a crack when the piton was pounded into it. These soft-iron angles were generally left in place as fixed anchors since removing them would damage the pitons so much that they were unusable.
Chrome Moly Angle Pitons
In the 1950s, angle pitons made by Chouinard Equipment (now Black Diamond Equipment) were constructed from hard chrome molybdenum steel, shortened to chrome moly. These hard angle pitons could withstand repeated placement and removal, allowing them to be used on big wall routes in Yosemite Valley. Climbers could then carry only 30 to 50 pitons on routes that required hundreds of piton placements.
Angle Pitons Make Sturdy Anchors
Angle pitons were once the most commonly used pitons on not only aid climbing routes but also free climbs in the days before nuts and cams. Angles are generally easy to place and clean (if they are not over-driven), come in a wide variety of sizes and lengths to accommodate every crack, and provide a sturdy anchor, especially for belays and rappels. The shape of an angle piton allows it to compress and expand in a crack when it’s hammered, making a solid protection point with high holding power. Angles are easy to over-drive, so they are often left fixed in cracks since they couldn’t be easily hammered out without severely damaging the rock.
Angles are Rarely Used Now
The classic angle piton, once made from long stocks of angle stock iron, is no longer the staple of a big wall climber’s rack since various-sized nuts, offset cams, and small cams fit securely in most cracks where an angle was once pounded. Most modern climbers only carry a few angles on their racks, and those that they do carry are often sawed off short. Short angles work great in shallow pods, where they can be tapped in and tied off with a loop of webbing. Angles work great in wet cracks as well as in shallow piton scars and holes, where they can often be hand-placed.
Angle Pitons Come in Six Sizes
The most commonly used angle pitons are manufactured by Black Diamond Equipment and come in six sizes from ½-inch to 1 ½-inch. Most aid climbers only carry the smaller angles.
Baby Angles are Smallest
The two smallest sizes—1/2-inch and 5/8-inch—are usually called “baby angles.” Baby angles are often used as a fixed anchor similar to a bolt in sandstone; they are pounded into a hole drilled in the rock and left as a permanent anchor. Both chrome moly baby angles and Army angles are used as protection on sandstone routes in various climbing areas including the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and in the soft rock desert around Moab in eastern Utah.
Leeper Z-Shaped Pitons
A variation angle is the now-extinct Z-shaped Leeper pitons, which were ideal for creating piton stacks with other angles in side shallow holes and were a staple of every big wall rack in the 1970s. The Leeper angles are still, however, coveted by aid climbers who usually scarf up ones for sale on eBay.