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How to Extend the Life of Your Climbing Gear

Updated on June 18, 2013
If you have to retire a piece of gear, don't despair. It can have a second life if you are creative!
If you have to retire a piece of gear, don't despair. It can have a second life if you are creative! | Source

If you are a gear junkie, like my boyfriend, you will look for any excuse to buy new climbing equipment. What's that, a fray? Time for a new rope! But gear is expensive, and it's important for both your safety and your wallet that it lives a long and full filling lifespan.

With proper care, storage, and maintenance, your gear can last years longer-- but be diligent, and always retire any unsafe equipment. Sometimes a rope or piece of pro can become damaged and needs to be retired after the first couple months, and it's better to be safe than sorry.

Things that will damage climbing gear:

  • Salt water and salty ocean air causes corrosion of any metal protection or harness buckles. It is recommended to completely wash any metal after exposure to salt water. Lubricant can also be applied before exposure to salty air to provide a short term shield, but it is still recommended to clean after.
  • UV rays will degrade slings, harnesses, shoes, ropes, etc. Store gear out of sunlight whenever possible.
  • Deet, bleach, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, ammonia, and other harsh chemicals can affect the nylon in harnesses, slings, and rope. Metolius notes that: "[e]ven fumes from a car battery can reduce the strength of your slings by as much as 90%." Check out this interesting link that will convince you to keep your gear away from any chemicals!

How to Wash a Climbing Rope

Climbing Rope Care

General Use

  • Extend slings to keep the rope from running over sharp edges in the rock whenever possible.
  • Pull the rope all the way through after leading in the gym, and switch sides for each lead (creates even stress on both sides of the rope).
  • Keep the rope on top of a rope bag, out of the dirt, as much as possible.
  • Avoid stepping on the rope, which causes dirt to grind into the rope and possibly fray on rocks.

Storage

  • As long as the rope is completely dry, store the rope flaked in a rope bag. Never leave the rope in open sunlight if you can help it, because the UV rays contribute to rope degradation.

Maintenance

Even if you are diligent about using a rope bag and not stepping on the rope, it is still recommended to periodically wash the rope. Washing a rope is very simple:

1) Fill your bathtub or a bucket with water and mild soap.

2) Submerge the rope and knead the sheath to remove any dirt.

3) Thoroughly rinse the rope.

4) Let dry completely.

More tips for washing climbing ropes in front load or top load washing machines.

Cutting the Rope

The first 15 feet on either end of the rope usually undergoes the most stress. As the sheath begins to fray, and perhaps separate from the core, note which areas are the worst. If the middle of the rope is still safe, consider cutting the damaged end of the rope. You will, of course, have a shorter rope, so be aware of the new length of your rope and the new midpoint.

Directions on how to safely cut your climbing rope.

Protection

Cams and nuts keep you from hitting the unforgiving ground-- it's important to treat them right!

General Use

  • Avoid dropping any gear onto hard surfaces from 10 feet or more. This may cause tiny fractures that cannot be seen even by close inspection.
  • Keeps pro clean and dry.
  • Slings will degrade more quickly than the metal of the cam, and slings are easily replaced. They should be replaced at least every 5 years.

Storage

Store in a dry, dark area.

Maintenance

Try blowing out any dirt from camming mechanisms using compressed air.

You can wash cams in near boiling water by swishing the cam in the water, pouring dish soap directly onto the cam, and scrubbing with an old toothbrush. Rinse and dry completely, and add lubricant to the mechanisms. Metolius Cam Lube is specially designed for use on cams.

Rock Climbing Shoe Care and Repair

General Use

  • Don't wear your shoes unless you are climbing! First, it stretches and deforms the shoe as you stand with a flat foot on the ground, and second, dirt wears down the sole and interferes with the 'stickiness' of the rubber. It's even worse to bend the heel down and keep your toes in the shoes because it flattens the heel cups.
  • Bring a pair of flip flops or crocks with you to the crag to wear in-between climbs so that you aren't tempted to wear your climbing shoes.
  • It's not a bad idea to have several pairs of climbing shoes: an expensive, tight fitting aggressive pair that you use only on climbs you really need them for, and a less expensive, less aggressive shoe to wear for everything else. This drastically prolongs the life of your expensive climbing shoes and can save you a lot of money in the long run.
  • Practice clean footwork, and stop dragging your toe against the wall when flagging. Dragging your toe will unnecessarily wear out the toes of climbing shoes.
  • Keep shoes as dry as possible.

Storage

  • Don't store your shoes in a hot car, because the glue that holds the shoes together can begin to fail.
  • Don't leave shoes stuffed in your pack where they will get misshapen, and super stinky. Hang shoes from a carabiner on the outside of your bag.
  • Store in a moderate temperature out of direct sunlight.

Maintenance

The first things to go on a climbing shoe are the edges. You can actually try to carefully file an edge back into the sole if you notice them rounding out, but be careful not to change the shape of the edge, or take off too much rubber.

To keep the rubber 'sticky,' brush dirt off the soles with course sandpaper or a wire brush (be careful not to gouge the rubber or change the shape of the shoe).

Dealing with Stink:

Whether leather or synthetic, eventually your shoes will get stinky! To prevent odor,

  • let shoes air dry as soon as possible.
  • clean the inside of sweaty grime with a damp clothe or paper towel.
  • spray with deodorizing agent after each use.

To Resole or Not to Resole:

You have the option of sending your shoes away to be resoled, for a price usually cheaper than buying new shoes. However, it may be a few weeks without the shoes, so you'll want a back up pair.

Send your shoes out to be resoled before holes appear in the rands. It's also possible to resole your shoes yourself if you want to save a little money.

Carabiner Care

General Use

  • Avoid dropping the 'biner onto rock from over 10 ft. It may appear intact, but the metal could have accrued tiny stress fractures, and the safety of the piece could be compromised.
  • Clean after every use near salt water-- the salty air will corrode the 'biner.

Storage

Carabiners should be stored out of direct sunlight.

Maintenance

Cleaning carabiners:

The sharp, solid click of a carabiner closing is a satisfying and reassuring sound to every climber. Unfortunately dirt and other debris can affect the action of the gate, causing it to close slowly, or sometimes, not close at all.

To clean the gate, begin by blowing out any loose debris from the closing mechanism with compressed air. If this doesn't solve the problem, wash the carabiner in warm soapy water (let it soak for a half hour or more), rinse, and let dry.

When the 'biner is completely dry, treat the hinge with a dry graphite or wax based lubricant. Wipe off any excess lubricant. Don't use sticky lubricants like WD-40 that attract more dirt!

Removing burrs:

Burrs can form on carabiners from hanging on bolts, etc. These burrs can cause significant damage to a rope, and can be removed by sanding with 220-400 grade sandpaper.

Harness Care

General Use

  • Do not leave the harness in direct sunlight.

Storage

Keep the harness in the original bag that it came in or, a stuff sack. This will protect the harness from accidental abrasions, sunlight, and potentially harmful substances.

Maintenance

To clean the harness, rinse in warm water, or wash in warm water and a mild soap. *Never use bleach.* Rinse and let dry completely.

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