Photo Credits

Rock Climbing in J-Tree

A rock climber leading a trad crack line in Joshua Tree National
Park, California

Image © Greg Epperson :

Climbing Gear Inspection

I've always struggled when providing guidance on the inspection and retirement of all forms of climbing gear. Not that I don't have a clear picture of industry standards, but because I've never had all the data I would have like to support my approach. Climbing equipment manufacturers have seemed reluctant to provide clear guidance on retirement to institutional equipment users...until now. At the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE) Conference, Petzl stepped up and provided some answers.

Petzl Presentation

Worn CarabinerAt AORE, Petzl Technical Information Manager, Rick Vance, presented a workshop on equipment inspection and retirement. Vance has a climbing and mechanical engineering background. What makes Petzl well suited for advising the outdoor recreation and education field is their global experience with industrial customers. Petzl has worked with their industrial clients to help them comply with workplace safety standards.

Rick Vance not only provided some clear answers, but Petzl also provides extensive resources that document and help institutions comply with the advice. This includes written and video guides to inspecting various types of equipment, software for tracking inspection, and forms for tracking equipment. This is all available for FREE on the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) inspection area of Petzl's website (more on this below).

Two Fundamental Rules

Two basic rules stood out in Vance's presentation at the AORE Conference and are applicable to all climbing equipment:

Ten year maximum lifespan for textile products: Most climbers are aware that the strength of textiles (rope, webbing, plastics, etc.) degrades over time even if they are not used. Ten years is the maximum lifespan of a textile product under ideal conditions–they can certainly wear out sooner. Wondering about those old Joe Brown helmets many programs seem to have sitting around? Toss 'em!

One millimeter maximum wear on metal products:
This surprised me a little. One millimeter isn't much. It is approximately twice the width of the period at the end of this sentence. I've seen carabiners on top ropes setups wear three or four times this much in a day of heavy use with gritty ropes. The issue is not strength–carabiners with rope a rope worn groove are typically stronger. (Anyone know why?) The concern is compatibility with other equipment. The best example of incompatibility is carabiners with a sharp rope groove that can, and recently have, cut ropes.

Petzl Resources

Frayed Rope SheathOverall the Petzl inspection guidance seems right on–as it should be given Petzl's vast engineering and climbing expertise. The video and text guidance on equipment inspection are valuable for any type of climbing program as well as individual climbers (a couple of my dirtbag climbing partners really need this). The inspection tracking software and forms are focused on a more rigorous inspection system than most climbing programs currently conduct...not necessarily a bad thing.

Petzl's website provides video guides, a written "checking process," and inspection forms for each of the following types of equipment:

•  Energy absorbers
•  Anchor devices & quickdraws
•  Mobile fall arresters
•  Belay devices
•  Ascenders
•  Helmets
•  Connectors
•  Ropes
•  Crampons
•  Descenders
•  Harnesses
•  Lanyards
•  Ice axes
•  Pulleys

The downloadable Petzl "Easy Inspect" software has versions for Mac OSX and Windows XP (no Windows 7 or Vista version apparently). This is essentially a computerized version of the inspection forms and might be useful for programs managing massive amounts of equipment.

Petzl's inspection resources are designed around Petzl equipment, but most are readily employed with other manufacturer's products. The guidance doesn't address inspection of items Petzl doesn't manufacture–including rock protection–however the same or similar basic concepts apply. Visit Petzl's PPE inspection resources.

QC Lab

Rope Testing RigIt is more widely known, but another excellent source of information on climbing gear use, misuse and retirement is Black Diamond's "QC Lab" blog. Written by Kolin Powick, BD's Director of Global Quality and a mechanical engineer, the blog provides answers to equipment usage questions climbers may encounter. It often includes equipment testing images that I find fascinating and informative.

Recent topics covered in the QC Lab blog include: Dangers of rope worn carbiners, Re-slinging Camalots & C3's, Retiring old ropes, Connecting two slings, Autoblock misuse. Strength of old fixed slings, and, primarily for entertainment, Gear from Ukraine. The blog used to have it's own home on the BD site, but can be found by searching the broader "BD Journal." The links here take you to a seach for "QC Labs" on the BD site.

Stay Tuned & In Touch

Equipment inspection is a topic OSI plans to continue addressing. Drop us an email or reply to this post if you have questions, something to contribute, or suggestions on additional resources. Climb on!

OSI Services

OSI can work with your program to establish procedures for maintaining climbing gear. We have also reviewed safety practices, established climbing programs, located climbing venues, and conducted climbing staff trainings. Contact us if you are interested in safety, management and training support for your climbing program.

"In 2009 Montana Yellowstone Expeditions contracted Alex Kosseff to help set up a climbing component of our wilderness-based youth development program...I can’t speak highly enough of Alex’s professionalism and commitment to helping develop and run the best program possible for MYE...He proved himself to be flexible, invited feedback and was respectful of perspectives and opinions different to his own. He is committed to excellence and this showed in all aspects of his practice. I would not hesitate to recommend Alex to any program considering using his services.

     —Ellen Sagmyr, Program Director, Montana Yellowstone Expeditions

Posted by

Alex Kosseff

on 1/31/11
Field SafetyProgram ManagementTools & ToysResource


Thanks for the post man. I just downloaded the inspection software and plan to do an inspection soon (the right way) for my climbing camp.

By Mike Fisher on 03/19/2011 at 12:44 PM

That software is really cool. Just tried it out. It’s getting close to climbing season so I better do an inspection soon.

By Cody Yen on 03/19/2011 at 06:43 PM

Resources like the one you mentioned here will be very useful to me! I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.
Kilimanjaro Climbs

By How to climb Kilimanjaro on 08/08/2011 at 10:10 PM

I just couldn’t leave your website before saying that I really enjoyed the quality information you offer. Will be back often to check up on new stuff you post grin ! ! VISIT THIS : Facts about Kilimanjaro

By Facts about Kilimanjaro on 08/23/2011 at 09:39 PM

Speak Your Mind

Non-member comments moderated before posting. No spam or unrelated links please. Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.
Articles by Category
Free Resources

10 Steps to Better Risk Management - Free DownloadNew! 10 Steps to Better Risk Management - learn quick safety steps for your program. Download free guide. Go»

OSI Newsletter Icon - Signup for OSI's Free Email NewsletterThe Outdoor Safety Newsletter covers risk management for outdoor activities. Go»

Facebook Outdoor SafetyLike OSI on Facebook for current news & discussion on wilderness risk management. Go»

By OSI's Alex Kosseff AMC Guide to Outdoor Leadership, 2nd Ed AMC Guide to Outdoor Leadership
5 Star Rating
Learn More»

© Outdoor Safety Institute LLC • Terms of Use & Privacy PolicyContact Us