In the beginning, climbers relied on themselves not to fall - and the odd rope sling - generally climbing well within their limit, but as skills and ambitions grew so did the need for real and dependable security. From the humble beginnings of simple machined nuts slung on rope, home-made pegs, and wooden wedges, climbing hardware has come a long way. Today the rock climber has a vast array of hardware at their disposal; gear that is lightweight, incredibly strong and easily placed or removed one-handed, even while climbing at one's limit.
All equipment is built to such a high standard that often the difference comes down to nothing more than detail and brand loyalty
Although the choice may seem bewildering, with several manufacturers producing their own designs of nut and cam, each claiming theirs is best, all equipment is built to such a high standard that often the difference comes down to nothing more than detail and brand loyalty. The list below is a basic run down of the main categories of protection.
Nuts and wires (or rocks)
(see main picture)
Evolved from those humble homemade machined nuts, wires are the foundation of your climbing rack. These cabled nuts slot into cracks above constrictions, and range in size from a few millimetres to about 25mm. Several dozen may be carried on some routes. Nut shapes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer; some are plain and boxy, while others are more complex, curved and scooped. All designs have their place, but when starting out it's best to choose the plain nuts, as they are easier to place and more importantly, to remove.
Sometimes you'll encounter placements that are too small for anything on your standard rack of wires; the placements are shaped in such a way that there just isn't any secure location. In these circumstances you have to turn to micro wires and offsets - wires designed to fit the thinnest cracks imaginable - flared placements, peg scars and breaks. The strength of these wires varies from bodyweight to 'full strength'. Very often it's the strength of the surrounding rock that dictates the placement's strength.
Hexentric (hexes) and Rockcentric
Used in cracks that are too large for wired nuts, these are large hollow nuts, roughly hexagonal shaped. Although camming devices have encroached into this once popular piece of protection, they do have some advantages - they are very light, robust and cheap. The Wild Country Rockcentric has done much to bring this piece of protection back into general use, due to a 21st century makeover using state of the art design and materials.
The most versatile protection a climber can carry. They allow a broad spectrum of placement possibilities and sizes, due to the designs' sprung adjusting cams. When placed correctly camming devices offer a very high degree of protection and reliance, allowing the climber to plug the unit in quickly and move on, saving time and energy.
Cams sizes cover cracks from the width of a fingertip to the size of your head. The most popular ones cover finger to hand-size cracks.
Cams sizes cover cracks from the width of a fingertip to the size of your head. The most popular ones cover finger to hand-size cracks. The rock type generally dictates how many units are carried - perhaps just one or two for limestone, to over a dozen for granite and sandstone.
There are several different designs of cam - single stems, double stems, twin-axled cams and some with cam stops to prevent the cam from inverting if loaded while opened out. Camming angles vary slightly between models, but all cams currently on sale in the UK use roughly the same angle (13.75° degrees). This is the optimum camming angle, balancing strength (holding power) with the camming range (the size range of the unit).
Designed as a lightweight, cheaper alternative to camming devices, these are simply non-mechanical camming nuts. A camming action can be achieved by wrapping the integral sewn sling around the nut, and they can also be used as conventional nuts. The Tri Cam is considerably lighter and cheaper than a standard camming device plus, due to their smaller size and width, they can often be placed in pods and holes unusable by conventional units. The drawbacks of the design are that they often need to be placed with two hands and inspire less confidence than sprung loaded camming devices.
Working on the action of two opposing wedges, ball nuts are designed to be placed in cracks too small for camming devices. They are used as a non-aggressive alternative to lost arrow pegs (see below). These units are generally fiddly to place and are often unreliable unless great care is taken in their placement, and they can be very hard to remove if loaded.
Although modern non-aggressive protection devices have almost totally relegated pegs to mountaineering and big wall use, in some circumstances they may become a vital part of your rack. Pegs come in three main types. Knifeblades
are ultra thin pegs designed to fit into the thinnest cracks. They allow the climber to utilise cracks too small for even the tiniest wired nut. Lost arrows
cover a similar size range as the small to medium-sized wired nuts. Angles
range from finger (baby angle) to fist size (bong).
If you find a peg in situ, don't put all your trust in it, as their strength is often hard to judge.
The adventure climber, venturing onto compact cliffs where there is no defined ethic about placing pegs, may want to take a small selection of thin pegs in order to expand their protection beyond their smallest pieces. A well-driven knifeblade provides significantly more protection than a micro wire and can greatly improve the security of belays or primary runners.
A bit niche, but such devices as RURPs, birdbeaks and copperheads are primarily designed for artificial climbing (aid), yet they may be worth seeking out if you're seeking out ways of protecting your climb without resorting to bolts. All these pieces provide marginal protection.
How much gear do you need to carry? It depends on...
. If you feel that there is very little chance of falling and you simply want to place minimal protection just in case, then you can carry a limited rack that allows you to cover most possibilities. If you're not confident, then you should take enough protection to allow you to move up comfortably, with each placement providing you the confidence and security to make the next move.
. Knowing what's worked in the past and about what protection possibilities you may encounter can make a huge difference, allowing
you to ditch gear that you know will be of little use.
Below are four basic racks for moderate and difficult outcrop and multi-pitch mountain cragging.
10 wired nuts ranged from 1-10 (Rocks, wallnuts or Stoppers)
5 Rockcentrics 4-8 (or equivalent hexentric)
20 wired nuts (two sets 1-10)
Set of micro wires, including some offsets
7 camming devices (0 to 3)
5 wired nuts (Odd sizes such as 2,4,6,8,10)
5 Rockcentrics 4-8 (or equivalent hexentric)
3 long quickdraws (30cm)
5 shoulder length slings with karabiners (60cm)
20 or more wires
1.5 sets of micro wires
7 camming devices (0 to 3)
3 medium-sized Rockcentrics (4,5,6)
5 shoulder length slings (60cm)
1 or 2 double length slings (120cm)