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How to Prevent a Hidden Danger of Trad Climbing—Snapped Carabiners

When tackling trad routes, every piece of protection counts. Use this quick, easy hack to reduce the risk of cross-loaded carabiners on your slung cams, keeping your fall as short and safe as possible.

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Picture this: You’re 30 feet up a vertical splitter, feeling confident and placing protection every seven-or-so feet. You enter the crux—an overhanging bulge with thin feet—and your foot slips, knocking into the cam at your feet and rotating the rope-side carabiner by 90 degrees. In a fall, the load is now on the carabiner in its weakest possible orientation—the minor axis; the carabiner is cross-loaded and could even snap.

The snarled-up carabiner sits just below you now, out of reach by hand unless you can downclimb several moves without pumping out. Do you: a) Punch it through the crux, hoping for the best, and place another piece as soon as you can? Or b) Risk your onsight by downclimbing to the piece and fixing the carabiner’s orientation?

The answer may not be as straightforward as you think. Some years ago, while trying the overhanging hand crack Talking Holds (5.10a) in Squamish, British Columbia, I picked Option A and punched it above my gear with the sideways clipper. I greased off the crack only to be greeted by a loud PING! as the now-weakened carabiner snapped under my 150-pound frame, sending me for a long fall into space. An attentive belay kept me off the deck—I was lucky. However, this situation could have been entirely avoided with an unsuspecting hero: the lowly rubber band.

Rubber-Band Power

Rubber bands can do far more than secure a rolled-up newspaper or tightly wrapped bag of quinoa. On a pre-slung cam, a snug rubber band can hold the carabiner and sling in place, much like the factory-made rubber end of a quickdraw dogbone. These rubber ends can be kicked, slapped, and called mean names, and they still won’t let the carabiner cross-load on you. Plus, they make the carabiner easier to clip with gloved hands when mixed climbing, and they won’t let the carabiner flip upside down when you fumble, terminally pumped, for a high clip.

Cam and Rubber Bands

How to Set Up

  1. Remove the carabiner from the cam’s sling and get your rubber band ready (Figure 1).
  2. Put the rubber band around the sling (Figure 2), introducing a half-twist and doubling the rubber band over (Figure 3) until it’s sitting firmly in place around the sling (Figure 4). A thick rubber band, like that found on supermarket broccoli, prevents rolling and will be fairly durable, but you could try a standard one as well.
  3. Clip the carabiner back onto the sling in the newly created loop, in the proper orientation (Figure 5).

Heads Up: A Caveat!

Be warned, this gear hack isn’t without drawbacks. If a loop forms in the sling—which typically only happens with longer, shoulder slings, not the shorter ones sewn onto cams—and gets clipped through the carabiner, as can occur, say, inside a backpack, the carabiner will no longer be clipped to the cam sling but will instead be just through the rubber band, turning your little fall into a Weekend Whipper. (See the video, “Safety Video – The Danger of Open Slings,” below for more.) Moreover, a tightly wrapped rubber band will make your cam more likely to walk unless its sling is properly extended, as the rope’s constant tugging will rotate the cam out of place.

So why bother using a rubber band if the result could be so catastrophic? Aren’t you best off just risking cross loading? And is this article clickbait bullshit?

Great questions. This gear hack is best viewed as another tool in your trad climber’s toolbox, one to whip out situationally and that, like any climbing practice, requires vigilance. Personally, if there is only a single piece (or two) keeping me off the deck, and especially if I am redpointing the pitch—where I know exactly which carabiners are prone to being kicked and cross-loaded— I feel better going for it knowing that my carabiners are sitting where they should be.

Weekend Whipper: One Cam Rips, Another Unclips. Massive Fall Ensues.

Anthony Walsh is a digital editor at Climbing.