How to Inspect Your Climbing Gear and When to Retire It

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Climbing gear should be regularly inspected to make sure it’s not only functioning optimally, but also safe to use. Most of us know this, but in practice, may not examine this critical safety equipment as often as we should. Now, as we're all stuck at home and away from the cliffs due to the pandemic, it's an excellent time give your gear a check-up. This guide breaks down how to inspect soft and hard goods, what to look for, and when to retire your climbing gear.

Climbing Rope

Your rope should be lightly inspected before each climb, as you flake it out feeling for any soft or flat spots. After every couple weeks of regular climbing, or after catching a big fall, do a closer inspection of your rope.

  • Visually inspect, looking for frayed areas the sheath or an exposed core. If you can see the core at all (the white inner strands underneath the colored sheath), it is time to retire your rope.
  • Look for discoloration or sun fading.
  • Do a tactile inspection: Slowly flake the rope end to end, looking for any soft or flat spots. This will most commonly be found in the 20 feet closest to the ends of the rope, as these are high wear and tear areas.
  • If you feel a flat or soft spot, you need to test for a coreshot. Create a small bight in the rope (fold it into the shape of a little alien head) where the weakness is, and see if you can touch both sides of the rope together without any gap in between. If you can, the rope is coreshot.
  • If the coreshot is close enough to one of the ends, you can cut it off with a heated rope cutter. You can also use a knife and then burn the end of the rope with a lighter to prevent fraying. If you do cut off one end, note that this will make any middle marks inaccurate. This is extremely important and rappelling accidents have occurred for this reason. Your rope may also not be long enough for rope-stretcher rappels and lowers after this.
  • If the coreshot is closer to the middle of your rope, it is time to retire the rope.

Harness

Just like climbing ropes, your harness should be inspected before each climb, looking for obvious fraying. Do a more serious harness check after every couple weeks of use.

  • Check for any fraying or tears along all of the webbing straps, waist belt, and leg loops. If you pull on a fray and it starts to unravel, the harness needs to be retired.
  • Inspect the belay loop for wear and tear. Some belay loops have brightly colored warning threads that will show through to alert you when the outer threads have been damaged—but most harnesses do not have this feature.
  • Closely check each stitch point for fraying or loose ends.
  • Look for discoloration or sun-fading.
  • Check the metal buckles for cracks or burs, which may cause damage to the harness fabric.
  • Ensure that each gear loop is intact.
  • If any critical point of the harness has excessive wear—belay loops, tie-in points, buckles, and waist belt—the harness needs to be retired.

Webbing, Slings, and Cord

You also need to regularly inspect all other soft goods in your quiver—that means quickdraw and cam dogbones, personal anchors, and all other webbing, slings, and cord.

  • Inspect for any fraying, tears, or abrasions.
  • Feel for stiffness. Old slings that have long been exposed to the elements may become stiff. Stiffness means a lack of dynamic action, which could cause a sling to break when shock loaded.
  • Check the sewn part of slings for fraying or abrasion.
  • Check cord for torn sheath material, an exposed core, and coreshots.
  • Look for discoloration or sun fading.
  • If the slings on your cams need to be replaced, some manufacturers will do so for a small fee.

Carabiners

Carabiners are among the most ubiquitous pieces of gear for climbers and undergo constant wear. It’s important that you regularly check all carabiners in your gear pile, from quickdraws to bail ‘biners.

  • Do a visual inspection ensuring that there are no cracks, burs, or corrosion in the metal. If you find any of these in your inspection, the carabiner needs to be retired.
  • Check the areas within the carabiner that hold the rope, as these are the most high traffic zones and will inevitably groove out over time. A slight groove is not necessarily a cause for concern, but once grooves become deep or have sharp edges, retire the carabiner.
  • Look for any loose or missing rivets on the carabiner.
  • Make sure that the gate opens and closes fully and quickly. Oftentimes sand and other debris can work its way into the gate’s hinge and prevent smooth action. If this is the case, you can clean carabiners by boiling them, scrubbing with a toothbrush and solvent-free dish soap, and lubricating with a dry lubricant (dry lubes do not attract dirt and dust).
  • Make sure that if there is a locking mechanism it is fully functional. If it sticks, it can often be cleaned by the same method described above.

Belay Device

To ensure the safety of you and your partner, inspect your belay device. You will be looking for much of the same issues as you would in a carabiner.

  • Check for any cracks, excessive wear, metal burs, or grooves where the rope contacts the device. If you find any of these, retire the piece.
  • If there are any mechanical parts to your belay device, like the camming mechanism on a Grigri, make sure the action is smooth and works properly.
  • If there are any plastic components such as the lever on a Grigri, check closely for any cracks.
  • Like a carabiner, the rope can wear grooves into belay devices over time. There are too many belay device options on the market to list all guidelines here, so check with the manufacturer, but if you notice it becoming more difficult to brake the rope or the edges become sharp, retire the device.

Cams and Stoppers

When placing your own protection, you want to make sure that the gear itself is solid. Regular inspection and maintenance of cams and stoppers will ensure that they are safe and reliable.

  • Check cams and stoppers for any cracks, excessive wear, corrosion, or burs. Retire the piece if any of these are present.
  • Make sure the action on your cams is smooth and fully retracts and snaps back into place. If any of the cam lobes stay open, it will be difficult and dangerous to place. If cam lobes are sticking, they can be cleaned and lubricated by the same method described above to clean carabiners.
  • Check all trigger wires for frays or broken wires. Many manufacturers sell trigger wire repair kits.
  • Look for any loose or missing rivets on a cam.
  • Inspect the stem for bends or cracks.
  • Check to make sure that stoppers are not deformed or dilapidated, as this could make them difficult and dangerous to place.
  • Inspect the wires on stoppers for bends or frayed metal.