Used for bouldering (see Styles of Rock Climbing), a crash pad is a firm, folding pad that serves to soften and level the landing zone beneath a boulder problem. Crash pads typically fold in half, and can be worn as backpacks. For the sake of durability and functionality, crash pads are composed of very dense/ firm foam and rugged fabric. In a gym, crash pads are often unnecessary, as gyms typically have wall-to-wall padding beneath their bouldering walls. Still, many gyms use satellite pads—crash pads that guests can drag around in order to place extra padding beneath boulder problems.
For route climbing, a harness is one of the most fundamental pieces of gear. Most climbers wear seat-style harnesses; however, young children and pregnant women often wear full-torso/body harnesses. The weight-bearing parts of the harness include a swami (waist) belt, leg loops, a belay loop and the “hard points” of the harness (or places to which a climber ties the rope). Another critical component of a harness is its gear loops; these are small, minimally weight-bearing loops designed to carry quickdraws and traditional climbing gear.
Like a harness, a rope is also one of the most fundamental pieces of gear for route climbing. Modern climbing ropes are made of nylon and come in two varieties: static and dynamic. If you’ve ever top-roped in a climbing gym, you’ve used a static rope. These ropes have very little elasticity and are therefore appropriate for top-roping and rappelling only. Dynamic ropes, on the other hand, feature a good deal of “stretch,” making them the only safe option for lead climbing. Most ropes are 50–80m in length.
A belay device is the other most important piece of route climbing gear. A belay device is what allows a belayer to catch a falling climber (see Climbing Actions) and—when the climber is ready—lower the climber to the ground in a controlled fashion. There are many types of belay devices, including friction-only belay devices (like ATCs, button plates and figure eights) and self-breaking devices (like gri-gris, the Mammut Smart and Trango Cinch). The belay device is clipped to the belay loop of the belayer’s harness with a locking carabineer.
Chalk, Chalk Bags and Chalk Pots
Chalk—magnesium carbonate—is used by climbers (and gymnasts) to reduce the moisture on their hands. Climbers therefore use chalk to increase the friction between their hands and the rock. In order to carry chalk with them, sport and trad climbers (see Styles of Rock Climbing) wear a chalk bag—a small pouch into which they can dip their hands and can fasten to themselves with a waist belt. Boulderers usually use a similar device called a chalk pot; chalk pots are just like chalk bags, but are larger, lack a waist belt, and stay on the ground. Most climbers use chalk, but a small minority do not; these climbers usually have very dry skin or uncommon convictions. Climbers with sensitive skin should seek “pure” chalk—that is, chalk with no chemical additives.
A brush is a great and simple piece of climbing gear to add to your collection. Brushes allow for the quick and easy cleaning of overly chalked and/or greasy climbing holds. Sport climbers typically carry a small brush in their chalk bag. Boulderers often carry a larger selection of brushes in their chalk pots, ranging from small brushes up to quite large specimens.
A carabineer is a piece of metal gear—the use of which is hardly restricted to rock climbing. A carabineer (or “biner”) is an elongate ring that opens by way of a spring-loaded gate. There are many types of carabineers used in rock climbing—including locking, wire-gate and bent-gate carabineers. All modern rock climbing carabineers are made primarily of aluminum. Climbers use carabineers for many uses, including attaching a belay device to a harness and clipping the rope to a piece of trad gear.
A quickdraw is a piece of climbing gear commonly used in sport climbing. A single quickdraw is composed of a two carabineers attached to each other with a fairly short (3-5”) nylon sling (or “dog bone”). Quickdraws are used in sport climbing; the lead climber wears them on the harness, clips one ‘biner to the bolt of the climb, and clips the rope to the other ‘biner of the draw. A “fixed draw” is the type of quickdraw found in climbing gyms and on popular outdoor routes. These are semi-permanently affixed to bolts with quicklinks, and eliminate the need for climbers to carry quickdraws on their harnesses for that particular route.
Nuts—also called “stoppers”—are perhaps the simplest of all traditional (or “trad”) climbing protective gear. These chockstone-shaped aluminum nuts come in various sizes, and have a strong wire loop strung through them. To use stoppers, trad climbers select a stopper of appropriate size, feed it into a crack with a sufficient constriction, and give it a few quick jerks to seat the stopper into the constriction. Using two ‘biners, the climber then clips a sling to the stopper’s wire loop, and the rope to the sling. Now, if the climber falls, the well-placed stopper catches the climber. (Poorly placed stoppers are another story!)
If you set a nut really well (or firmly) in a crack, chances are decent you (or your partner) will have a hard time getting it out without a nut tool. This blade-like device does wonders for fishing nuts and all kinds of climbing gear out from cracks. Plus, it doubles as a bottle opener.
A cam is a fairly complicated and ingenious piece of gear. Used by trad climbers, cams removable pieces of protection. These mushroom-shaped devices have aluminum lobes attached to the end of a stem. To use a cam, a climber retracts these spring-loaded lobes (by pulling a finger-operated trigger), places the cam in an appropriately sized crack, and releases the trigger. Voila! The cam’s lobes expand into the crack, and the climber clips the rope to the cam using a carabineer. Just like a well-placed stopper, a well-placed cam catches a climber when they fall.
Tricky little pieces of gear to use, these units are placed into cracks such that the side of the head to which the webbing is attached is deepest in the rock. When a climber falls and weights the piece, the webbing is pulled taught, and the head is thus cocked, wedging the gear into place. They can be very effective if placed correctly, but it can be difficult to do so. These can also double as stoppers in a pinch.
Let us know if we’re missing any terms!