When to Renew Your Climbing Equipment

Climbing equipment unfortunately does not last forever, but thanks to the safety standards of official bodies and numerous studies and tests by users and manufacturers, we know when we should retire the pieces of our equipment before they become dangerous for our safety. We will summarize here in a very general way how long the maximum period of use of climbing equipment should be, even if it is apparently in good condition.

Climbing gear - how long can I keep using it?

One of the most recurring questions among people involved in climbing is the longevity and durability of gear. Keep in mind that these two terms, longevity and durability, although closely related, cannot always be used as synonyms because they represent two different things, especially when we are talking about climbing or mountaineering equipment.

When we talk about longevity we are referring to the capacity of a product or a specific material to age without losing the qualities for which it is intended. Thus, a pair of nylon pants that we have not taken out of the closet can maintain its qualities almost intact because, even if there has been an imperceptible degradation, the demand on this garment is not very high. However, a nylon climbing rope should be discarded after a period of time since its manufacture, even if it has not left its bag, because, as a safety material, its requirements are much higher than those of a garment.

Durability is a similar concept in which the material and time of use are also taken into account, but it is determined by the state in which the product is. Using the same examples, a pair of pants with holes caused by wear and tear can continue to be used beyond aesthetic conventions, while it would be dangerous to use a rope that has suffered a cut even on the first day of use. The rope has not reached its maximum longevity, but the cut section should no longer be used.

Barrabes
Taking care of materials extends their life

It is clear from these definitions and the examples used that when the safety variable is added to the terms longevity and durability they are drastically reduced. This is due to the fact that climbing gear is constantly tested and follows rigorous regulations that the product has to comply with during its useful life and any affection causes these minimum parameters to cease to be fulfilled.

The question is to know which these factors are that can affect gear lifespan. Usually they have to do with the physical condition of the product but sometimes they are simply the time that has passed since that item was manufactured and imply that it has to be discarded even if it appears to be in good condition.

How to Check the Working Condition of Climbing Gear

Climbing equipment must be rigorously checked. We should always do it before climbing, but it is also not a bad idea to check it when we are picking it up in your bag or backpack to anticipate any failure that our equipment may have and, thus, anticipate the repair or replacement that is necessary and not take us unpleasant surprises when we go to start climbing.

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Visual Inspection

This is the simplest of the checks. Ropes with many loose threads, cuts or deformities should no longer be used, as well as thicknesses that do not match those indicated in the technical data sheet should alert us. Faded colors in ropes and textile parts of harnesses are also an indication of outlived longevity or loss of resistance due to the consequences of ultraviolet radiation.

On hardware such as carabiners, belay devices or helmets, any erosion, impact, dent or bent area should alert us that something is not quite right. It is rare that we have not noticed that a piece of hardware has not suffered damage, but sometimes a impact during a fall or while carrying the material hanging can damage sensitive materials, as happens with helmets when worn outside the backpack or suspended from the harness.

Touch Inspection

If visual inspection serves to quickly check for any anomaly that may affect safety, tactile inspection does the same but in more detail and is particularly necessary in textile elements such as ropes or harnesses where changes in material density may go unnoticed at first glance.

Barrabes
Check gear with your eyes and hands before storing it - always a good precaution.

In the case of ropes, bending them slowly and paying attention to the passage of the rope through your hand as you coil the rope across your shoulders can give you a lot of information about their condition, paying special attention to the ends, which is one of the areas most prone to damage due to the fact that it is the area that receives the most falls and where most of the knots are tied. If you want to know more about how to take care of your ropes and textile climbing equipment you can follow the link where you will see all the steps for rope and sling care and washing.

Touch inspection is also useful on devices with moving parts such as progress capture pulleys, some belay devices and cams, where we can check if all parts articulate as they should or some maintenance or repair is needed. On this last section of caring for climbing gear we wrote an article that we invite you to reread to increase the durability of your equipment.

How long does climbing gear last?

Normally we should not be concerned about material degradation, since we assume storage under proper conditions (clean, dry, with space and ventilation and away from sources of light and heat) and in such cases most synthetic materials can withstand decades without appreciable loss of strength. However, we have already mentioned that when we introduce the safety factor into this variable, things change. In laboratory tests and with the appropriate precision instruments they do perceive notable losses of strenght in textile elements in ropes and slings that have not left the warehouse and have not been exposed to dangerous elements; in textile material the simple passage of time affects strength and this is a warning both for the store that sells it and for the consumer who uses it, so you should not buy an old rope or continue to use it after a prudent period of time.

Barrabes
Sometimes it's not so obvious when we have to stop using a piece of gear

In addition to time, factors that can occur due to poor storage or transport such as impacts, humidity and heat or, especially in the case of nylon, ultraviolet radiation can have a very negative effect on the durability of equipment.

Moisture is another enemy to avoid for the preservation of climbing equipment: it causes hydrolysis in the polyurethane or the polycarbonate, as well as oxidation on metallic elements and the proliferation of organisms that deteriorate the textile parts of our equipment. When such humidity is accompanied by saline conditions, the shelf life is drastically reduced.

In certain latitudes we must beware of another invisible enemy. Excessive heat can modify and even deform the thermoplastic structures of our climbing equipment, a fact that occurs in summer in closed places exposed to the sun, so we should never use the trunk of a car to permanently store our equipment or try to always look for places sheltered from direct sun when we are traveling and we have no other choice.

This said, let's make an estimation of the longevity of the most common products in climbing.

Climbing Ropes and Slings

It is one of the most studied and specified elements of our equipment and yet the longevity indicated is not the same for all brands. It is generally accepted that there is a useful life which is the sum from manufacture before first use and from first use until it becomes convenient to retire. The first term is called storage time and is generally assumed by the manufacturer and the store; the second is called use time and is assumed by the person who buys the rope or sling. It is usual that the sum of the two times, storage and use, does not exceed 10 years of useful life (5 years of storage before the first use and 5 years of use) although this time, like any estimate, should be corrected downwards according to the circumstances of use of the rope.

It is never a good idea to use a rope in poor condition and this, although obvious, does not seem to be of much concern to the climber collective, which tends to extend the use of ropes beyond their maximum recommended time of use and the objective appreciation of their condition. Consult the technical data sheet for the service life of your rope and respect it for your safety and the safety of those who are roping with you.

Climbing Harnesses

While ropes are made from nylon (some have a polyester sheath) harnesses, although their main component is polyamide, often have a diverse combination of materials ranging from polyester to UHMWPE (high molecular weight polyethylene) to the metal elements of the buckles.

Generally, harnesses tend to show their weaknesses at the tie-in points. Visual and tactile inspection is essential in these cases and we should never continue to use a harness that has shown signs of wear. Sometimes manufacturers make it easy and incorporate wear indicators in the harnesses, some threads differentiated from the rest of the harness that go inside and appear when the wear can already affect safety.

We can say that we should not use a harness for more than five years from its first use. However, experience shows that sweat, dirt and above all the wear produced by friction with the rock and the material, as well as the abrasion of the rope lead to recommend to stop using a harness in less time if the use has been of medium or high intensity.

Helmets

Made from expanded polystyrene and ABS plastic in most models or from expanded polypropylene and polycarbonate in high-end helmets, helmets are one of the essential parts for passive safety and are not usually well cared for as they are one of the bulkiest individual pieces of gear and are therefore often transported on the outside of bags and backpacks, exposing them to impacts and pressure.

By their very nature it is common for them to present certain marks of use that are not usually worrying, such as scratches or small bumps, but which should be monitored because they may be the beginning of a subsequent deterioration. Likewise, stickers and adhesive materials can damage and weaken polycarbonate shells (it is more difficult in ABS shells), so we recommend not to place adhesives on the helmets unless provided by the manufacturer itself.

Although many manufacturers recommend changing the helmet at three years of age, if we do not use it intensively a suitable time to change the helmet may be between five and size years as long as they do not present obvious deformations or other integrity problems, which in those cases the change should be immediate. However, helmets made of expanded polypropylene (EPP) tend to have greater durability, so the longevity of helmets depends firstly on the condition they are in and secondly on the material from which they are made.

Climbing Hardware

Metallic gear is a particularity in climbing and that is stated in a sentence: Shelf life is not limited in metallic products. The significance of this is that any metallic element can be used indefinitely if it has not suffered damage or failure in its mechanisms because metals used in climbing equipment have no loss of strength over time.

From this statement we would have to start listing the exceptions such as fatigue breakage under cyclic stresses, gears and moving parts that become misaligned, wear due to friction with moving parts such as the rope, etc. Thus, despite the seemingly eternal durability of the metal parts of climbing equipment, the care that must be taken with these parts is of the utmost importance.

The erosion produced by the continuous passage of the rope, which also sometimes drags small particles of sand, creates over time grooves in the belay devices and descenders, belay rings and carabiners and any other type of metal element on which the rope slides. These grooves are normal and are not a cause for concern when they are shallow, but when they are very pronounced and generate sharp edges it is time to stop using that carabiner, descender or belay device.

Thus, unlike textile parts such as ropes or webbing where degradation occurs even in the best conditions of conservation, the durability of a metal climbing element would be unlimited if it were not for the use and environmental conditions, usually humidity, and also wear and tear due to use.

We hope you found this article interesting. If you have any doubts about this or any other mountain issue, we are looking forward to assisting you both in our physical stores and on our website. We look forward to seeing you!

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