The sports we love are challenging enough without wondering how our gear works, even in the weirdest situations. Manufacturers can't answer most of your questions for liability reasons, guides teach the basics which don't cover many situations, and your friends don't know because it's nowhere to be found online. The goal of breaking gear fear is to answer every question asked about the gear you trust your life to.
This Blog format keeps it easy to work on while keeping it free and searchable for google. It will always be free for everyone but hopefully, we can print this someday!
Section 1 - The Foundation
Chapter 1 - What is gear fear
Assuming you read this book in 10 years and you forget the days when people feared their gear, let me explain. As a new climber, I was screamed at by a climbing partner for accidentally dropping a carabiner 4 feet because of “microfractures”. I was shaking out of fear ascending on a “tiny” 8mm rope. Climbers got violent with us for using their bolts to highline with because it was "weakening" their bolts. I climbed with an engineer who tallied how many times he ascended, weighted or fell on a rope and retired it after it was basically new because ropes are only rated for “7 UIAA falls”. There was a day when people were afraid of whipping even though they had nylon ropes!
When I publish a HowNOT2 episode trying to break gear fear, 10 more questions come back. It’s amazing how many questions people have about their gear! If you had to risk your life doing something with your gear that you were unsure about, it sticks with you. That is why this mission resonates with people. Here is a small sample of what comes in:
*Can you girth hitch a sling directly to a cam thumb loop?
*What happens if you tie a rope directly into a hanger
*Can I get full strength out of a rope using a tensionless hitch? - Proceeds to put the other end in a belay device!
*Are wet ropes dangerous to climb/rappel on
*I’ve kept an unused rope in a closet for 10 years, is it still safe?
*Does dyneema break lower when it's a drop test vs a slow pull
*What happens if I use a smaller diameter in a termination bar?
...And a million knot questions
Let's talk about how reliable backyard science is. We show our entire process in videos for a reason, it is so you understand how it is tested and how reliable the information is. Sometimes we break 30 things to try to answer 1 question, that information is more reliable but not infallible. Please don't confuse those thorough tests with 1-3 break test which is not statistically significant enough to take that information to the grave. We have tested hundreds of old dog bones (climbing quickdraws) and only 2 would have been deadly in a fall. Old gear tests especially need to be taken with a grain of salt. We explore the what-if. It is up to you ultimately to decide if it is safe or not.
Chapter x - How NOT to Die
Before we get into what gear does and say super good enough after every test, let's have a reality check on where the risk lies. It's not your gear! It's you. Don't rappel off the end of your rope and die. Don't override the camming unit on a grigri while belaying and kill your partner. Don't go up el capitan when the weather specifically says.... don't go up el capitan! Learn some first aid, backcountry medicine, and some self-rescue tricks before doing dangerous stuff. Don't swing too far the other way from gear fear to being careless.
***Stats on accident reports or something that instills gear fe
Chapter x - How soft stuff works
It's important to understand the properties of what your gear is made out of. These are the materials used to make your soft goods from ropes to slings, to even your harness.
Nylon - Nylon is a synthetic polymer, actually a family of polymers called polyamides, which are made up of repeating units linked by amide bonds. Nylon is known for its incredible strength, elasticity, and durability, making it a versatile material for various applications. It's also resistant to abrasion and has low moisture absorption, which is a big plus in many industries.
It was invented by a chemist named Wallace H. Carothers back in 1935 while he was working at DuPont. Nylon was first introduced as a synthetic replacement for silk, and it quickly gained popularity because it was more affordable and had better properties than silk. During World War II, nylon was even used for parachutes and other military supplies.
When it comes to the molecular structure of nylon, it's quite fascinating. Nylon polymers have a long, chain-like structure with amide bonds linking the repeating units. These chains can be of varying lengths, which influences the material's properties. The most common types of nylon are nylon 6 and nylon 6,6. The numbers denote the number of carbon atoms in the monomers that make up the polymer chain.
You'll find nylon in various climbing equipment, including ropes, harnesses, slings, and webbing. The material's high strength, low weight, and resistance to abrasion make it ideal for these applications. Climbing ropes, in particular, benefit from nylon's elasticity, which helps to absorb the shock from a falling climber and reduces the risk of injury. In addition, nylon's low moisture absorption means that climbing gear can maintain its performance even in wet conditions, which is a big advantage when you're out in the great outdoors.
That was chat gpt4 but i doubt the water claims it makes. This is a great article on it https://www.cruxrange.com/blog/how-climbing-ropes-made/
Chapter x - How hard stuff works
Aluminum - Climbing carabiners are typically made from a type of aluminum alloy called 7075 aluminum, which is also sometimes referred to as "aircraft-grade" aluminum. This particular alloy is a favorite for climbing gear manufacturers because it offers an excellent balance of strength, lightweight, and corrosion resistance – all crucial factors for dependable and safe climbing equipment.
7075 aluminum is composed primarily of aluminum, with added elements such as zinc, magnesium, and copper. These elements contribute to the alloy's impressive strength and other desirable properties. Specifically, the presence of zinc strengthens the aluminum, while magnesium and copper improve the material's hardness and resistance to stress-corrosion cracking.
One of the key benefits of using 7075 aluminum for carabiners and other climbing gear is its high strength-to-weight ratio. This means that carabiners made from this material can be both lightweight and strong, which is essential for climbers who need to carry their gear up the rock face. Additionally, 7075 aluminum has good fatigue resistance, which allows carabiners to withstand repeated loadings and deformations without failing.
It's worth noting that aluminum carabiners, including those made from 7075 aluminum, need to be anodized to provide better corrosion resistance and a smoother surface. Anodizing is an electrochemical process that forms a protective oxide layer on the surface of the aluminum, improving the material's durability and lifespan.
7075 aluminum is significantly stronger than 6061 aluminum. The tensile strength of 7075 aluminum can range from 74,000 to 84,000 psi (510 to 579 MPa), while 6061 aluminum has a tensile strength of around 40,000 to 45,000 psi (276 to 310 MPa). This means that 7075 aluminum can be almost twice as strong as 6061 aluminum, depending on the specific temper and treatment.
The difference in strength mainly comes from the alloying elements and heat treatment processes used for each alloy. As I mentioned earlier, 7075 aluminum contains zinc, magnesium, and copper, which contribute to its high strength. On the other hand, 6061 aluminum contains magnesium and silicon, which give it good formability and weldability, but not as much strength as 7075 aluminum.
While 7075 aluminum is a better choice when high strength is required, 6061 aluminum is more versatile and easier to work with, making it suitable for a wider range of applications. It's essential to choose the right aluminum alloy based on the specific requirements and demands of a particular project or application.
Chapter x - Trust gear, not rocks
The more gear we test, the less I trust rocks. In most of our outdoor gear tests, it's the rock that fails. Let's just talk about those for a minute since your gear is only as bomber as what you attach to it.
Chapter x - Standards and Ratings
CE certified means it met the EN (European Norms). UIAA certified means it met climbing standards which can be higher than EN standards. NFPA and ANSI is a rope access rating which also have high standards but are different than for climbers. Don't mix up CE with CE as China Export is intentionally logoed similar to CE ("Conformité Européenne,").
Section 2 - The Gear
How it works - exhaustive not exhausting
Tests we've done - long form episodes
FAQs - questions i can use "tests we've done" to answer with maybe a supplemental short test
Chapter x - Bolts
We have an entire book on bolts and you should look over it even if you never plan on installing bolts. A quick summary is that they are super good enough if they are installed correctly. The bolt is often times stronger than the hanger making it difficult to even test bolts and the hangers are stronger than the carabiners you clip to them. If you have some weird chemistry in the air and rock called SCC - stress crack corrosion- which is most often near the ocean, then it can make bolts dangerous. You should be able to easily find out if an area has this issue but if it doesn't they are super good enough. Good news is that steel bends before it breaks (if it isn't corroded) so you can see if hanger is bent out of shape which can happen around 8kN. Also, glue in Ps bend before breaking blah blah blah how bolts work.
Breaking Bolt Fear
*What happens if I clip multiple carabiners in one hanger? The top carabiner gets pulled weirdly and it seems like it could side-load it.
It orientates enough to not break lower but it can chew up the carabiner. Put the jesus draw under everything or clip it to the spin of a biner.
*What if I put a rope directly into a hanger, to rappel on or fix the rope to it?
? A glue in is not notched - is that safe?
Yes, it just can't stick out from the rock or it leverages it weird and it will bend it at a low force but not break it.
? Is a bolt dangerous if it is spinning?
Not necessarily. It means the bolt has loosened up or the bolt wasn't drilled deep enough. If it is a flush hex head then it's a chance it's a powers bolt and that should be retightened if possible because if the nut becomes disengage from the bolt it can come out. If it's a wedge bolt, it may have worked looser but it's still a lot of work to get those to come out which is great if you are trusting your life to it and don't have a wrench.
? Are the grooves made in my carabiner from the hanger dangerous?
Not today. You don't want burrs in the carabiner or it can tear your rope up but often times, if it doesn't grab one thread and pull on it, then ropes moving over metal actually wear them down. The risk is long term if used at high loads. IF a micro-fracture is going to happen from millions of cycles it will start in that weakened point. Normal uses though is not enough to worry about it.
Chapter x - Ropes
Ropes are kernmantle, this means xyz. Weave can have a lot of affect and that is how nylon dynamic ropes and nylon static ropes exist.
IF you are lucky enough to get a strength rating on a rope, it won't be that strong. Knots weaken ropes and only a tensionless hitch keeps full strength but you have to have a tensionless hitch on both sides for that to even matter. If you get X with a knot on either end you get 180% of that in a loop and if you are set up like a top rope, even though it's one pinch point at the top the U shape, you are pulling both strands so you get "loop" strength
How much force do you get on a rope? If you are just rappelling or ascending you are unlikely going to get more than 2x your weight in force. If you fall on a rope this is how FF works.
Not all ropes are meant to fall on and if you plan on just rappelling and ascending a rope, stretch and bounce can be obnoxious to dangerous if rubbing over an edge.
Breaking Rope Fear
*What happens if i take a whipper on a static rope?
It's bad for your back, avoid it
*Can you prussik two ropes?
Yea, it actually grabs better
Gear Fear: The rumor is that wet NYLON ropes are significantly weaker. The instructions that come with the rope say that it is dangerous. Climbing magazine advises not to use a wet rope. Mammut only got 3 UIAA falls before it broke, instead of 7 UIAA like normal. I've been afraid just to rappel on a rope after it got wet from a rain storm I wasn't expecting.
Our Tests: A standard rope and a dry-treated rope absorbed the same amount of water but the dry-treated one took 5 minutes instead of 1 minute. In our slow pull test, the WET dry-treated rope got an average of 12.82kN instead of 15.07kN when it was dry so it did 20% break lower. The standard rope got an average of 13.85kN when it was wet vs 15.45 when it was dry, so it broke 10% lower. We drop tested it as well with a 0.3FF with 40kg and got no difference between any of the tests, wet or dry on either rope.
Super Good Enough: A wet rope technically breaks lower but not low enough to stress out about it. Is it bad for your rope? Yes! If you whip over and over on a wet rope, it does permanent damage to the nylon. Wet ropes might slip easier through your device, so if you are using the smallest diameter your device is rated for, be mindful of having less friction. Wet ropes weigh 50% more than when they are dry so that sucks to carry. Try not to factor 2 fall on a wet rope if you are 80kg, and ideally even when it's dry, but you don't have to worry about your rope magically dissolving if it got wet. Dry-treated ropes are essential when ice-climbing so your rope doesn't freeze and Mammut has proven it lasts longer in Hard Is Easy's abrasion test video because it repels dirt.
? I'm a 300lb climber, is it safe for me to climb?
From a gear strength perspective, yes. Don't take factor 2s and protect your belayer from getting pulled up too hard.
Chapter x - Webbing
Does this deserve it's own thing. Yes mainly for highliners but rope access people use webbing for anchors. Or can slings fall into this category as well?
Chapter x - Carabiners
Aluminum gets micro-fractures from repeatedly getting cycled up close to it's MBS.
Chapter x - Slings & Personal Anchors
Chapter x - Harnesses
Chapter x - Devices (belay, rappel)
Chapter x - Trad Gear
Cams work by squeezing them relative to how scared you are and then placing them in a crack.
Nuts are passive about making sure you don't fall.
Tricams is someone trying to make nuts great again.
Micronuts are stronger than most full-size nuts - just saying.
Placing Cams + Break Tests
Let's start with how to place cams in a rock. If the cam lobe tips are crossed, it is over-cammed and you risk getting it stuck. Place it in the direction of pull. Extend it with a sling if you are zig-zagging up the rock in order to not make the cam walk, or move back and forth getting swallowed by the crack. We broke 1 cam at the end. It slipped at first, then the sling broke at 13kN and then the wire at the thumb loop also broke also at 13kN, and in the process, the axle bent making the lobes all wonky.
Break Testing Climbing Cams
We slow-pulled 6 very different cams. These broke between 8kn and 16kn with the slings usually breaking first, then the wire. The axle would get bent and make the lobes look all messed up!
Metolius TCU Cams over an Edge
It's emphasized not to place cams so they get pulled over an edge. These tests were done in real rock and pulled in a way you are "not" supposed to do it. We placed them in a "horizontal" crack and pulled "down", or at least that is what we simulated. On the first one, the sling broke at 15.57kN and then the thumb loop broke at 18.95kN. The 2nd cam broke where the wire was bent over the rock at 13.42kN, which is plenty to catch a fall. The sling broke on the 3rd one at 7.75kN and on the 4th one at 14.75kN. Going over an edge is bad for the longevity of your cam. It kinked the cables badly and even broke them sometimes, but at the "full strength" that we would have gotten if we pulled it straight.
Metolius TCU Cams over an Edge
We pulled a set of TCU Climbing cams out of granite cracks and broke rocks, slings, and wires. Samples slipped as low as 5.5kn and broke as high as 15.85 which is a huge range. The axle would get bent and make the lobes look all messed up! The biggest takeaway we learned was how much rocks move!
Totems in Real Rock
These cams claim that just 2 lobes can hold your weight. It pulled in a flaring crack at 2kN. It held 14kn placed normal and 8kN when one eye was clipped but all 4lobes had contact with the rock. The shape of the lobes is what gives these the reputation they have of being some of the best cams on the market. They fit piton scars well.
CAMP Tricams are either active or passive protection while rock climbing. We test them in both uses in real rock and we found the noses would bust off since that is a lot of force focused on one single point. *Pink tricam - nose broke off around 11kN.
*Red tricam: 14.29kN sling broke
*Blue tricam: sling went around corner and we took it to 15kn before pulley system failed then it finally broke (where sling touches rock) at 12.27kn
*Brown tricam: 3.8kn and it came out of rock and 14.44kn when we tried again, breaking the sling where it touched the rock
Climbing Nut & Hex Break Tests
We busted some climbing nuts at slacksnap. Nuts appear to be rated based on the wire attached to them.
6kN Nut Tests: 8.8kN
(Brassie), 7.2kN, & 7.98kN
10kN Nut Tests: 11.36kN, 13.28kN, 13.34kN, 14.78kN
Wired Hex collapsed at 13.38kN, wire failed at 11.92kN
Webbing & Hex: 12.62kN, 12.08kN
Nut & Rope: 16.78kN, 20.10kN
Tricam: webbing 12.62kN and roll pin 18.62kN
Nuts in Real Rock
Micro nuts did very well because the cable doesn't bend at the top of the nut, they end up being quite strong. Well placed, they would hold as much as a normal nut
►Number 5 BD Micro Stopper MBS 6kn. Carabiner broke the wire at 9 kn.
►Number 4 BD Stopper MBS 6 kn. Wire broke in bend around nut at 7.13 kn.
►Number 7 BD stopper MBS 10 kn. Wire broke at carabiner. around 13kn
► Wild Country Rock Number 8. Wire broke at carabiner at 9.6 kn.
Short teaser about joker - abrasion test vs the 9mm other rope
There is abrasion testing in the last part of this unicore video, mostly all shown in the short
Chapter x - Aid Gear
Gear you wouldn't want to fall on. Also ladders, portaledges, bags etc.
Breaking Aid Fear
*How strong are micro nuts
Section 3 - Sport specific
Chapter x - Climbing
Chapter x - Highlining
Chapter x - Caving
Chapter x - Canyoning
Chapter x - SAR
Chapter x - Rope Access
Chapter x - Arborist
Chapter x - Wing Sports
Chapter x - Saddle Hunting