How Good is Your Gear?

Ultimately, gear placements are either good enough or not good enough - when the only thing between you and the floor is the gear that you have placed, every other consideration goes out the window!

We use a system to codify how good a piece of gear is, which helps to teach the fundamental principles of what makes gear good or not.

Consciously running through this process in all of your placements will help you move toward consistently good gear placement.


Rock Quality

If the rock quality is fundamentally poor, the placement will be too.

  • Is your gear going into part of the cliff, or just a rock/boulder/flake attached to the cliff?

  • Is the rock crumbly or solid?

  • Does it move?

  • Does it sound hollow?

  • Does it vibrate?

All of these are key warning signs that the rock quality is poor, so find something better if you can.


A good piece of gear will stay where you've placed it if you've properly accounted for all other factors, forcing or wiggling the gear out to 'test' it proves only that you can get it out when you're actively trying to (which one would hope is the case for the sake of your second).

Consider the type of loading a piece of gear will undergo, and if the movement of the rope will move the gear in the placement.

  • Is the gear going to move in the placement?

  • Can you extend it enough to prevent this?

  • If the placement crumbles, will the gear drop into a worse position?

Direction of Load

Gear is designed to be loaded in a certain way - a nut will pull into a constriction and wedge in place - it will not work if the crack you've placed it in widens towards the direction of load.

Similarly, a cam loads along its stem, they are not designed to be placed perpendicular to the direction of load (although they are often easier to place this way!)

There is some tolerance in gear for its use out of line with the direction of load, but the further away from true it is, the less reliable the placement.

  • Is the wire, sling, or cam-stem pointing in the direction of load?

  • Does it bend the gear over an edge?

  • Will the direction of load change if the second falls as opposed to the leader?

Rock Contact

With nuts & hexes the amount of the gear’s surface area in contact with the rock dictates the pressure applied [to the rock] - the smaller the surface area (the less gear touching), the greater the pressure, and the more likely the placement is to fail.

  • Look at the front and back of the nut, would it work better the other way around?

  • Look at each corner (there are 8 - top, bottom, front, back, left and right)

Cams don’t have the same kind of contact as a nut because the lobes are curved.

  • Is each cam lobe touching the rock?

  • Is each cam lobe using the middle third of its range?

  • Are the cam lobes balanced (both front and back pairs equally opened)?

Application and What ifs

  • Is there anything that will change in certain circumstances?

  • Will the direction of load be different for a leader fall or a seconder fall?

  • Could anything cause a carabiner to be loaded over an edge?

  • Is the carabiner gate at risk of scraping open?

  • Will the rope be pulled into a position where it could jam or cause drag?

Rating Your Gear

It's important to run through this process in order.

1. Rock quality – if the rock quality is poor then there's not much point continuing with the rating process - consider using an alternative placement if you can.

2. Movement - if you cannot prevent it, rate it in the position it will move into.

Now that you've ascertained the rock quality is good enough to place gear in and identified any potential movement you can:

3. For each placement, select a initial rating:

10 – A large and secure tree, a thread or a spike if the direction of load is appropriate.

9 – Hex or nut in the top third of normal size range.

8 – Cam or nut in the middle third of normal size range.

7 – Nut in the bottom third of normal size range.

6 – Micro cam or micro nut.

4. Direction - consider the direction of the placement compared to the direction force will be applied if it’s loaded.

In line - no deduction

Within 15 degrees - minus 1 point

Within 30 degrees - minus 2 points

Within 45 degrees - minus 3 points

Will the stem, wire or sling will bend over the rock when loaded?

If it will - minus 1 point

5. Rock contact - deduct a point (or more) if it’s not 'perfect'.

For nuts and hexes:

Look at the FRONT left, right, top and bottom corners - minus 1 point for each that is not in contact.

Look at the BACK left, right, top and bottom corners -minus 1 point for each that is not in contact.

For cams:

Are the lobes in the middle third of their range? - Minus 1 point for each lobe that is not .

Is the cam balanced (each lobe should be opened the same amount on each side, back and front)? - Minus 1 point for each lobe that is out of line.

Use of Equipment