Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Heading out on a road trip with classic trad destinations on the list, climbers will witness a spectrum of clipping techniques: rope clipped right to the cams while crack climbing at Indian Creek, quickdraws to Tricams at the Gunks, and slinging horns on wandering alpine routes in the North Cascades. Each of these approaches has its advantages and disadvantages, and choosing the correct strategy can help you move quickly and stay safe at the same time.
There are two approaches: connecting the protection straight to the rope with a carabiner (clipping direct) or putting something between the piece and the rope. Quickdraws are easy to use, but less versatile for other purposes. Slings, sewn loops of nylon or Dyneema (also called runners), come in single-length (60cm) and double-length (120cm) options. In a nutshell, there are two clipping choices (direct or to a draw) and three kinds of draw choices (quickdraws, single-length runners, and double-length runners). The key is figuring out when each is appropriate.
This means the piece of protection is simply connected to the rope with a carabiner. Clipping direct is quick: Place a piece and clip the rope. But, as a climbing mentor of mine once said, “Never take a shortcut unless you have a lot of time.” Clipping short increases drag as the rope zigzags from piece to piece. Eventually it will require Olympic squat strength to overcome that drag. Also, without a draw to absorb movement in the rope from climbing, pieces of protection tend to “walk,” meaning they move out of their original placement. In the best case scenario, this means the piece is hard to remove; in the worst case scenario this means the piece comes out of the crack.
When to use it: Clipping directly works best on smooth, steep, straight lines—splitter cracks on desert sandstone or Squamish-grade granite. Clipping direct on the first piece reduces the length of a potential fall, thus reducing the chance of decking. However, the lower on the route that clipping direct is employed, the more rope drag it causes later on.
When traversing, adding draws lowers the protection point and adds several feet to any potential fall. Since traverses tend to be straightforward, clipping direct typically won’t add drag.
Quickdraws are often seen as a sport climbing tool, but they have their place on the trad climbing rack. Quickdraws are easy to handle, unclip off the harness, and clip to the gear and rope. However, their lack of flexibility makes gear prone to walk. They should be avoided with stoppers, hexes, and Tricams.
Single-length slings offer a balance between ease of placement, absorbing rope jiggle, and lessening rope drag. When rope drag might be an issue, use the full length of the sling. These can be racked over the shoulder by both the leader and the follower (fig. 1).
Double-length slings are more cumbersome but useful for slinging horns, chickenheads, and other natural protection. Instead of draping the slings over the rock features, make a slipknot, place that around the rock feature, and then tighten it into place like a necktie (fig. 2).
Double-length slings are also advisable when pulling roofs, putting together a long pitch, or other rope drag–prone situations. Double-length slings can be unwieldy to store. Rack them by folding a few five-inch sections in the hand, wrapping the remainder around these, looping a small bight through at the top, and clipping it to a carabiner (fig. 3).
This can be time-consuming, so you can store it as an alpine draw (fig. 4) or double up the sling, twist it tightly, bend it in half again, then clip it to a carabiner. Another option is to double it up and then put it over the shoulder, like a single-length sling.
When to use it: Single-length runners are best when a climb wanders right or left from the main line. They’re ideal for connecting passive pro to the rope. Double-length runners work best for slinging natural protection, as well as when used underneath large roofs or features.
Kel Rossiter is the owner and lead guide for Adventure Spirit Guides, taking clients throughout the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and beyond. He is a certified AMGA Alpine and Rock guide and holds a doctoral degree from the University of Vermont in educational leadership.