Your climbing gear takes a beating at the cliff and in the mountains. It wears out. It won’t last forever. Lots of falls when you’re working a hard sport route; belaying your friends every weekend while they top-rope through carabiners; dust and dirt ground into your rope at the base of the cliffs; and regular exposure to sunlight all conspire to wear your gear out. Climbing equipment is manufactured with high-quality stainless steel and aluminum, but regular use gives it a beating. Treat your gear right, retire it when it's worn out, and you’ll live long and prosper.
Check Gear Regularly
Check your gear often. Do a quick visual test every time you get ready to go climbing. Retire worn carabiners and ratty quickdraw slings. Besides deep grooves wearing into carabiners from heavy top-roping use, the gates also become prone to sticking over time. Likewise the triggers and moving parts of cams will get sluggish with use. Sometimes a good cleaning and then a few squirts of a dry silicone spray will get things moving again. Don’t use WD-40 or other oils since they tend to attract more dust and dirt in the moving parts.
Storing Your Gear
Don’t store any of your equipment in your car trunk where excessive heat will weaken it or in a garage with household chemicals, cleaners, motor oil, and other automotive supplies. If you live or climb near salt water, the salt corrodes and weakens the metal, and damage is not readily apparent visually.
Keep an Eye on Your Rope
Keep a close eye on your rope and put it in the old ropes home when it becomes old and decrepit. Most ropes last between one and three years, depending on how often you go climbing and how they are stored.
A few rope tips:
- Watch for frayed parts of the outer sheath.
- Feel for soft spongy sections of the rope’s core, especially within ten to fifteen feet of both ends of the rope, which is where you often fall on it.
- Feel with your fingers for thickening inside the sheath, an indication that the core is bunching up from overuse.
- Don’t wait for your precious rope to fail before your retire it and buy a new cord.
- Avoid stepping on your rope. Every step grinds dust and dirt into the sheath and core. Use a rope bag.
- Wash your rope every so often. I usually uncoil it, put it in a large mesh bag, and wash it in the washing machine in cold water with no detergent (some folks will use a non-detergent soap). Afterwards pull it out and leave it loose in a laundry basket for a few days to air dry. Don’t dry it in direct sunlight.
Retire Old Equipment
When your equipment gets old, retire it. Don’t compromise your safety by using old and worn gear. It’s not worth the risk. Just spend the bucks for new stuff and be safe.
Here are a few tips on retiring gear:
- Retire a carabiner if it’s worn from top-roping; deformed from a fall; dropped more than ten feet; or the gate is difficult to open or won’t close properly.
- Retire any metal gear, including carabiners, cams, and nuts, if they’ve been dropped more than ten feet onto a hard surface like a boulder at the cliff base. A visual inspection will not reveal the microscopic stress fractures that occur in the metal after a fall, which reduces the strength and safety of the object.
- Do not entirely trust any fixed carabiners on anchors and never lower off a single carabiner. Many sport routes have fixed biners for lowering. Repeated use wears them out. Likewise the other metal found on sport anchors, including quicklinks and chains, get worn from many lowers as well as other climbers who top-rope directly off the anchors instead of using their own gear.