When to Retire Climbing Gear
By Larry “Tool Guy” Arthur
Most climbing equipment is packaged with manufacturer’s recommendation for usage, maintenance and longevity, in accordance with directives from CE and UIAA (industry standards association). In addition to presenting a formidable recycling challenge, this labeling does in fact make pretty interesting reading.
For instance, “It is highly recommended that you replace connectors (carabiners) every three years.” This takes into consideration average use, storage, effects of corrosives, oxidation, etc. On a practical note, only you know the history of your equipment’s use. If gear has not seen any trauma (falls or other extreme forces, contamination, excessive wear or abrasion) and is in good working order, it may be your judgement to continue use beyond that of the manufacturers and governing body directives.
In general, metal does not weaken solely with age, but it can be weakened by factors not readily apparent or actions that are seemingly benign such as tossing your rack onto the garage floor and forgetting about it over the winter. In this scenario, aluminum can react with caustic alkali hydroxides that are emitted from the concrete slab. This can cause corrosion, which can then be accelerated if the aluminum is in contact with another dissimilar metal (this is why you will see corrosion first at gate pins on carabiners or where aluminum cam lobes contact the steel axle or springs on a SLCD). Battery acid is another matter, and can weaken nylon ropes, slings and harnesses, causing even invisible damage.
Short story: heed the advice on the tags. These are intended to inform you of important details about the care, maintenance and storage of your climbing (life support) gear. I strongly advocate the “when in doubt, toss it out” philosophy … ie when you (as leader) have lost confidence in a piece of your gear it’s time to replace it. Trust your gut—nagging doubts while you are nose-to-stone at the crux, pumped and staring at that mysto booty piece placed far far below will only weigh you down.