Are Micro Fractures Real?

What’s the truth behind micro fractures? Are they something we should actually worry about?

By Gear Guy | January 5th, 2018

QUESTION

 

Climbing gear is obviously the reason why we are all broke and live out of cars. In regards to buying used gear and inspecting our own, how can we tell if the pro has micro- fractures and/or other hard-to-notice flaws?

—Taylor Kay

Old, broken carabiner found at the base of El Cap. Not a micro fracture, because even if you drop a biner off El Cap, you wont find any microscopic fissures anyway!. Photo: Jarek Tuszyński.
Old, broken carabiner found at the base of El Cap. Not a micro fracture, because even if you drop a biner off El Cap, you wont find any microscopic fissures anyway! Photo: Jarek Tuszyński.

 

In the late 1970s “micro fractures” ignited a panic on a scale only slightly less than that of the great bank run of 1929. No one jumped off a cliff, but the fear of these nearly invisible cracks persists although no one has actually seen one in decades, and I haven’t heard of a single accident attributed to them.

Micro fractures did appear in what are now decades-old Chouinard carabiners. They radiated from the holes drilled to accept the gate pins, and you could clearly see the cracks. This was a manufacturing flaw and was corrected, but the tale has jumped from generation to generation by way of the coconut telephone, where each retelling slightly alters the story, making it unrecognizable at some point down the line. Usually the story is about dropped gear that somehow got invisible cracks. Well, aluminum, the stuff climbing gear is made of, is soft. Take a hammer, beat on a carabiner and see if you can crack it. This is where we are today.

Don’t worry about micro fractures. Do worry about the economic conditions that have you living in a car, unless you are a “dirtbag” in a Sprinter van. Whether you are rich or poor, the problem you have with purchasing used gear is the same you have with eating a stranger’s leftovers. If the seller is a trusted friend, the gear is probably fine. Mind you, I am talking only about hard gear such as nuts, cams and carabiners. I’d rather put on someone’s used underpants than tie into a pre-owned rope. Next!


This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 247 (January 2018).


Also read Gear Guy: Anchor Inequality—Do Self-Equalizing Systems Really Work? 

Leave a Reply

Notify of
avatar

Is a Flat Rope Safe?

What does it mean that my rope is “flat” ?

read more

Caution, Tight Shoes

My shoes are painfully tight. Is that good?

read more

Can I MacGyver a Belay Loop Replacement?

With a PAS? A girth-hitched sling? Sounds sketchy, you say…

read more