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When to Retire Your Climbing Gear

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Quality climbing equipment is built to last and keep you safe. But with time and use, even the most bomber piece of gear can become a safety hazard. The key to getting the most out of your kit is consistent inspection. Outside editor (and climber) Jeremy Rellosa lays out how to tell when it’s time to replace your rope, quickdraws, harness, shoes, and helmet. Or read the full article here

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Video Transcript

JEREMY RELLOSA: Hey, everyone. It's Jeremy from Outside, and today we're going to talk about when to know it's time to retire your climbing gear. So first, we'll look at your rope, and the first few obvious signs you should look out for are in the rope's sheath, which is the outer material of the rope. You should check for inconsistencies like fraying, any flat spots, or any spots that feel particularly mushy, that don't feel like the rest of the rope. These are probably hints that these sections of the rope are not safe to climb on, and thus, the whole rope is not safe to climb on. 

Also, check for things like discoloration. General deterioration can happen over time, especially if your rope has been in the sun, or if it has just been on the rock for a long period of time. I will say that smaller, superficial marks on the rope will probably populate over time with things like rope drag or just general use. Though a lot of the time those smaller little phrase can be OK to climb on, it's always a good idea to inspect them to make sure that the rope is climbable. 

One good way to check if they are actually a serious problem is if the fraying reveals the rope's core, which is the inner material of the rope-- basically, your lifeline. If the frays reveal the core, and you can see into it, kind of like could see into the bone of your arm or something like that, then it's definitely time to retire the rope, and you shouldn't climb on it at all. 

Another obvious sign that it might be time to retire rope is after you take a severe fall. Since there are a lot of factors that constitute a severe fall, and since falls can vary in a bunch of different ways, it's hard to pinpoint exactly when it's time to retire it. But anytime you take a big fall, you should inspect your rope afterward for safety reasons. 

So if you haven't taken a huge fall, and you don't spot these inconsistencies in the rope, one thing you have to keep in mind is just general wear and tear. So a good rule of thumb is that if you climb three to four times a week on your rope, consider replacing it after a year. If you're climbing mainly on the weekends, and you use it like once or twice a week, then replace it after two years. And if you only use it few times a year, that mark goes up to three to four years. 

So next, we're going to talk about carabiners and quickdraws. Unlike rope, sometimes it can be hard to determine whether a piece of hardware is out of commission or not climbable anymore, but let's start with the obvious. So first, you should look out for any obvious cracks or chips in the carabiner. That will probably signal that it's not safe to climb on the biner any longer, although sometimes little dings and signs of wear and tear will occur. Just like a rope, it's always safe to inspect them for any serious damage after each climb. 

So the next thing you should look out for is if the gate can open and close properly. If anything hinders its function from opening and closing as it should, then it's definitely time to retire the carabiner. The same goes for locking carabiners. If the locking mechanism on it can't function as it should, then consider retiring the biner. 

So the next thing to look out for are the dog bones, or the webbing that connects the two carabiners on a quickdraw. Look out for things like general pops in the stitching or just fraying of the webbing, much like you would in a harness or a rope. It's always good to keep track of any time you drop the carabiner because although it might not be visible on the surface, these drops can cause microcracks or things that might hurt the integrity of the carabiner. 

So next, we're going to talk about harnesses. And much like a rope, you want to inspect your harness frequently and check for any things like rips or tears or fraying in the general construction of the harness. Most importantly, you should look at the belay loop and check for any pops in the stitching since that's the most crucial part of the harness. And it's always good to inspect the waist belt and the leg loops for any changes in the construction, like any big holes or tears like I mentioned before. 

And lastly, you'll want to check for the buckles, and if they show a show any signs of cracks or bends in the buckles or any sign that they're probably not safe to use, then the harness as a whole should be retired. 

So next, we're going to talk about helmets. And like a lot of hardware, helmets will generally have a longer lifespan than fabric, like ropes and harnesses. But it's always good to consider retiring your helmet after any big impact on the wall, any severe rock fall. Basically, if you see any huge dents or deformities to the shape of the helmet, it's time to retire it. 

Like a lot of climbing gear, helmets will just populate with a lot of dings and scratches. Generally, it's still safe to climb in your helmet after you see all these marks. But like I mentioned, anything that alters the integrity of the helmet is a sign that you should retire it. 

So next, we're going to talk about climbing shoes, and unlike a lot of the gear on this list, climbing shoes are probably not the most crucial to your safety, as would a harness or a rope would be. But it's still important to inspect them, to keep fresh and updated. The first and probably most important thing to look out for is the rubber tread or the sole on your climbing shoe. Oftentimes, new climbing shoes will have a sharper edge, and they'll feel really grippy. But over time, the edge will round, and the rubber will feel smooth and soft and won't allow your feet to stick on the rock or the holds of the wall. 

I will say that this is very performance-based. So if you feel like you're not getting the best performance out of your shoe, and you're not sticking those holds as much as you'd like, then you can consider resoling your shoes. Another good thing is that, like I mentioned, you don't have to replace your climbing shoe a lot of the time because you can send these in and get them resoled, which means they'll replace the rubber on the bottom without having to just buy a brand new pair of shoes. 

So as you can tell, checking to see whether your gear needs to be retired is complicated and is not an exact science. A lot of the times you'll be eyeballing your gear going with your gut. So if you're unsure, I would encourage you to just check with your more experienced climbing friends. So those are the basics of when to know it's time to retire your climbing gear. Thanks for watching, and we'll see you next time. 

Sup. Next, we're going to talk about-- [LAUGHS]