Instructor Top Tips: What do we Always Carry?
Have you ever wondered what a professional instructor carries on their trad harness for climbing in summer conditions?
Well; a selection of slings, some locking karabiners, an HMS karabiner, a belay device with suitable karabiner, prusik loops and a nut key plus a couple of extra toys like a Revolver and a Tibloc. Maybe a knife, maybe an adjustable lanyard and possibly a first aid kit... simple!
The actual gear you take on a climb (nuts, cams, extenders etc) will always vary
based on your personal preference and the style of the route. This is a look at the equipment that Climb Cornwall staff routinely carry on their harnesses to help them climb, guide and instruct.
We hope you find this article useful, but please remember, there is no “one-size-fits-all” in climbing, you’ll always need to make your own decisions about what to take with you.
Most importantly, if you don’t know how to use something properly, then you shouldn’t be carrying it!
120cm sling – These are great for threads, spikes and trees, as part of your anchor construction, for creating an improvised lanyard, extending a belay plate when abseiling and for many parts of improvised rescue procedures.
On multi-pitch, sea-cliff or mountaineering routes we may add a couple more 120 slings. Each party member would be expected to be carrying at least one of their own.
240cm sling - Some people believe these are ‘too big’ but we think they’re great to throw around big boulders or trees and build belays with. These too can be so useful in improvised rescue scenarios. Plus, an 8mm, 240cm dyneema sling twists down to the size of your average fist! That’s not that big – we definitely think it’s worth it.
For multi-pitch routes, we’ll often carry two 240cm slings within the party, so we can use one on each belay if necessary.
A 90cm Edelrid “aramid” sling - Constructed with a very tough sheath, these are much stiffer than a dyneema or nylon sling and can be great for wiggling through awkward threads.
We use screw-gate karabiners (rather than twist-locks, triple action or twin gates) because it provides a simple and consistent thing for our clients to check.
3 directional screwgates – Simple and lightweight, primarily used when building anchors.
For multi-pitch routes, or when climbing with more than one second, we may add a couple more.
HMS screwgate – Specifically rated for loading across the entirety of the top bar and generally used for building anchors these are also useful if you need to belay or lower using an Italian Hitch.
Personally, we like the DMM Boa as it has loads of space for multiple clove hitches.
On multi-pitch routes we would expect each member of the party to be carrying an HMS and couple of directional screwgates of their own.
Belay device with the appropriate locking karabiner - Belay devices used for trad should have the capacity for two ropes - for use with with half ropes and to carry out abseil retrievals. They need to work effectively with their karabiners as well as the amount of load and the diameter of the rope/s you’re using.
An oval or HMS karabiner is usually best – one with enough space to tie off the plate if needed. Generally, we find those with built in retainers or plastic clips to prevent cross-loading are more hindrance than help.
We don’t usually recommend assisted breaking devices for trad climbing use.
When guiding and instructing our staff will often use a device with “guide-mode” which prevents rope passing back through the device and allowing the belaying of two seconds simultaneously.
Prusik loops - Whether you use a purpose made loop or tie your own with accessory cord, prusiks are essential for abseiling and many elements of improvised rescue. It’s important to test that your prusik loops work with the diameter of rope you use, and that they work on both double and single strands.
For multi-pitch climbing our staff normally carry 2 loops and we would expect every other member of the party to carry their own loop too.
Nut key - Some people may prefer a nut key with a springy ‘leash’ so that they can’t drop it. If you get one with a rounded end or rubber covering it doesn’t hurt your hand as much when you bang it, unfortunately nothing will stop your knuckles getting scraped on the granite every now and again though!
These items are things we may choose to carry to help us do our jobs as guides and instructors. They may also have uses for recreational climbers but the scenarios where this applies are many and various, so please don’t feel you should be rushing out to buy all of this (although a small first aid kit is always a good thing to have with you!).
DMM Revolver locking karabiner – This is a karabiner with a small pulley wheel built into the top bar. They reduce friction significantly in any hoisting system which can make things much easier in an improvised rescue scenario.
Petzl Tibloc – A basic rope clamp. Useful for hoisting or hauling.
A knife – For improvised rescue scenarios (but only as a last resort) or on routes where you may need to equip a descent or retreat.
Generally, we do not recommend a knife as a standard piece of equipment - any scenario involving cutting climbing equipment has the potential to go very wrong very quickly.
Adjustable lanyard (not pictured) - Specifically designed for attaching to an anchor, these are a great tool when operating at the top of a crag, and much more suitable than improvising a lanyard with a sling. They have limited use for the recreational trad climber.
Small first aid kit (not pictured) – For multi-pitch routes where we’ll be coming back to the bags (rather than a mountaineering route where we carrying everything) then you may see us carrying a small first aid kit clipped to our harness (it’s not much use in the bags at the bottom!)
Most of what we carry is interchangeable or multi-use - the last thing you want is a highly specific device that you can’t use once you’ve dropped its special karabiner or to be stuck with an inflexible system that you can’t adapt when you arrive at the belay, having already used your two slings on trees further down.
Whatever it is, the equipment you carry it is just the toolkit - understanding the principles of its use is what leads to effective application of techniques which, with practice, will lead to an ability to creatively apply knowledge to adapt to a variety of scenarios.
We’ve tried to keep this article as generic as possible without focusing on too many specific brands but where we think a particular bit of kit is really good we’ve named the manufacturer and model.