How Durable is Trad Gear?

How durable are cams, nuts, etc., and when is it time to replace them? What are some best gear-racking techniques? Gear Guy has your answers.

By Rock and Ice | May 10th, 2016

I am learning to trad climb and don’t trust the gear. How durable are cams, Tri-cams, etc., and when is it time to replace them? Also, what are some best-practice gear-racking techniques? Gear loops, of course, but I also noticed different types of slings. Pretty sure it’s mostly a matter of preference.

—George Grzyb, Carteret, NJ

Chouinard Equipment #2 Camalot, still in action.Cams and Tri-cams (and nuts and hexes) can last for many revolutions around the hot ball in the sky, or disintegrate in a blink when a meteor slams into the Earth.

Too vague? Then consider this: I’ve had old-style Friends, Stoppers and other pieces of pro since the 1970s, and although today’s gear is lighter, more versatile and works miles better, I could still rack up with those relics and, after a few squirts of oil to get the cam lobes working properly again, climb with confidence.

You would have to place cams or nuts or any pro about a billion times to wear them down to the point of needing replacement. With use, the aluminum cam lobes can wear and this might change the angle slightly, but I’ve not noticed that it makes a real difference outside of cosmetics. Nuts, as their edges wear off, actually become less “sticky,” and are easier to place and remove. “Seasoning” improves performance.

The parts that will wear out and need replacement are slings and trigger wires. Badly frayed or nicked slings should be sent to a reputable tailor and replaced—ask their manufacturer for a recommendation. Broken or frayed trigger wires you can replace yourself, but, unless you can field strip an HK P11, you should let a pro take care of this chore as well. Again, ask the manufacturer; some will do this for you for a nominal charge.

I’ve never had to replace a wire on a wired nut—when a wire strand breaks, just throw the dud away.

I wouldn’t worry so much about “abuse” on your hardware as much as I would fret over learning how to properly place the gear. My recommendation: Practice on toprope. Place, test, then remove your own gear. Cleaning gear will teach you more about placement integrity than placing it. Aid climbing, which I find as tasty as turnip pie, is actually the best coursework. Aid your nuts up the Salathé and you’ll return a “master of nutcraft.”

The answer to part two of your question is, as you noted, a matter of preference. What do you like? I prefer to rack cams and nuts on my harness gear loops, smaller gear to the front and bigger stuff to the back. I put the overflow on either a purpose-built over-the- shoulder gear sling, such as one from Metolius or Black Diamond, or a full-length runner if the weight isn’t so much. If you are talking a real ton of gear—nailing up the Sheep Ranch, for example—get a double-sided big-wall gear sling. Yates, Misty Mountain, Metolius, Fish, and BD all have them. Gear Guy has spoken!

 

This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 225 (April 2015).

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