Aid Climbing Equipment

Probably more so than in any other type of climbing, you're now in for the true "nuts and bolts" of the sport. This section details the range of equipment used in aid climbing, and builds on all the gear and techniques described in Chapter 10. If you're not interested in aid climbing, this section may hold all the drama of a hardware catalog. But if you've become intrigued with the subject, you'll find this material both thorough and fascinating.


Clean aid relies heavily on standard free-climb-ing equipment. You'll simply need more of it.

Chocks and camming devices: Because you'll be setting placements every several feet, a long pitch can require more than 50 assorted chocks and camming devices. The sling attached to each piece should be as short as possible to help you get the maximum elevation gain out of each placement.

Carabiners: While a minimum of 40 free cara-biners are needed on an aid racket's not unusual to use 80 on a long pitch and more than 100 on a particularly difficult pitch. Many aid climbers prefer oval carabiners rather than D carabiners be cause ovals minimize the unnerving shifting that occurs when a D takes your weight. Regardless of the shape, you should be able to open the carabiner gate whenever you wish, even while it is holding your weight.

Small nuts: Aid racks include specialty small nuts, beyond those on free-climbing racks. These tapered nuts are often used instead of thin pitons, but they are not as strong. They are designed to support body weight, and may fail if fallen upon.

Two general styles of nuts are available. The first is a smaller version of a normal tapered Stopper. The second style has both horizontal and vertical taper and is more secure in flaring cracks and old pin scars (piton scars).

The heads of small nuts are made from aluminum, brass, or stainless steel. Aluminum and brass bite into the rock and hold better in marginal placements, but steel nuts are less likely to deform and fail if you take a fall on one of them.

Ropes: The tough duty of aid climbing usually requires 11-millimeter or 12-millimeter kernmantle ropes, 165 feet long. The haul line is typically an 11 -millimeter or 9-millimeter line which doubles as a backup rope and a second rope for long rap-pels. If your route entails pendulums or other unusual problems, you may need a third rope.

Hero loops: Very short slings are useful for aid climbing. These tie-off (hero) loops—4 to 6 inches long—are threaded through fixed protection in place of a carabiner. Climbers usually tie their own out of '/2-inch webbing. You'll use many of them if the route has a lot of fixed bolts or pitons. They are also used to prevent the loss of stacked pieces (described later), and to tie off partially driven pins. Also carry at least six regular-length slings for establishing anchors, extending placements to reduce rope drag, and other normal rock-climbing uses.

Chock picks: Picks used for aid climbing should be sturdy, because you'll often hammer on the pick to tap out lodged nuts.

Gloves: Over and above their value for belaying and rappelling, gloves protect your hands while "jugging" (ascending the climbing rope with mechanical ascenders) and removing protection placements.

Rock shoes: If the route involves only a small amount of aid, normal free-climbing rock shoes perform best. If sustained aid is anticipated, boots with greater sole rigidity provide a better working platform and more comfort. Some new boots on the market provide a rigid arch support and good torsional rigidity for aid climbing, yet have a flexible toe and a sole of soft friction rubber for good free-climbing capabilities.

Energy-absorbing slings: These slings increase security when climbing above placements of questionable strength. In a fall, the slings limit the shock delivered to the protection. Their use, however, limits the amount of elevation gained from the placements to which they are attached.


In addition to equipment normally used in free climbing, you will need a selection of gear that is used for both clean aid climbing and for aid that involves placing pins.

Etriers: These ladder-like slings (fig. 11-1) allow climbers to step up from one placement to the next when they are clipped to a chock, piton, or other aid piece. Consider the intended use when

Aluminium Step Aid Climbing
Fig. 11-1. Types of etriers: a, sewn; b, tied; c, the frost knot. Tied etriers require twice their finished length plus 10 inches for each step (overhand knot) and the frost knot. A 60-inch e trier with five steps (four overhand knots) takes 170 inches of


Fig. 11-2. Tied daisy chain making or buying etriers. For alpine climbs, minimize weight by using a single pair of etriers made of 9/ 16-inch or 11 / 16-inch webbing. For most aid climbing, four- or five-step etriers made of 1-inch webbing are standard. Etriers should be long enough to let you step smoothly from the top step of one to the bottom step of another that has been clipped into a piece at arm's reach above.

Tying your own etriers lets you tailor their size to your own. However, commercially made or home-sewn etriers are preferred for routes with extensive aid because they remain open for foot placement when weighted. Metal-rung etriers have the same advantage and are less prone to blow in the wind, but they can cause more pain if they do hit you or your partner.

Some climbers use two pairs of etriers while aid climbing; others use a single pair—it depends on the nature of the route and on personal preference. Likewise, some climbers prefer to attach a short grab sling to the carabiner loop of their etriers.

Daisy chains are tied or sewn slings with a loop—formed by a knot or stitching—every 3 to 6 inches (fig. 11-2). The proper length for you is a daisy chain that, when attached to your harness, reaches as far as your raised hand. Attach a carabiner to every loop (or every other loop) in the chain so you can quickly clip into an aid placement and rest on your harness.

Carry a second daisy chain, without carabiners in each loop, for other purposes, such as attaching yourself to your ascenders while jugging or for preventing loss of etriers if a hook placement fails.

Fifi hooks function somewhat like daisy chains but are attached to your harness with a sling only 2 to 6 inches long (fig. 11-3). You can quickly clip the hook into an aid piece, allowing you to rest on your harness. Be careful. If you release the tension or change the angle, it could comc unhooked. Aid

Fig. 11-3. Fifi hook with sling

Fig. 11-3. Fifi hook with sling climbers usually carry one fifi hook for use on bolt ladders and fixed pitches.

A double rack, with equipment slings on both sides of the body, distributes the weight of the hardware (fig. 11-4). It improves your balance and

Sling Gear Climbing
Fig. 11-4. Double rack

comfort and reduces the neck strain caused by a single rack. If it's built right, a double rack can also serve as a chest harness as you jug up a rope with mechanical ascenders. Some climbers carry a single rack in addition, for their free carabiners or as a supplemental free-climbing rack.

Skyhook Aid Climbing
Fig. 11-5. Two-point belay seat; note the anchored climbing rope.

A belay seat with two- or three-point attachment is a great creature-comfort during hanging belays (fig. 11-5). One urgent warning: never let the belay seat be your sole means of attaching to an anchor. Clip in from your harness to the anchor with the climbing rope as usual—and then set up the belay seat for comfort.

Mechanical ascenders (fig. 11-6) serve the same function as prusik knots but are stronger, safer, faster, and less tiring. The devices are a requirement for sack hauling on big walls.

All ascenders employ a cam, allowing the ascender to slide freely in one direction on a rope but to grip tight when pulled in the opposite direction. They also have a trigger or locking mechanism to keep them from accidentally coming off the rope. Some triggers are difficult to release, decreasing the chance of accidental removal but making it harder to get them off when you want to. If your ascenders are made of cast aluminum, back up their frames with webbing to reduce the danger created should they break.

If you plan to use ascenders for cold-weather climbing, look for a pair with openings large enough to accommodate heavily gloved hands. Carabiner holes at the top and the bottom of the ascender come in handy for a number of purposes, such as sack hauling. If the ascender doesn't have

Fig. 11-6. Mechanical ascender with backup sling; ascender is attached in preparation for diagonal ascent.

Fig. 1 IS. Hammer sling properly used

Climbing Bat HookSky Hook Aid Climbing

Fig. 11-9. Hook types: a, sky hook; b, Logan hook; c, bat hook.

these holes, you'll have to attach slings for clip-in points.

Piton hammers have a flat striking surface for cleaning and driving pitons, and a blunt pick for prying out protection, cleaning dirty cracks, and placing malleable pieces (fig. 11-7). Hammer shafts should be long enough to forcefully drive pins, and short enough to fit comfortably in a belt holster. The shafts should also be sturdy and taped for protection. A carabiner hole in the head is useful for cleaning pins and malleable pieces.

Attach a sling to your hammer that allows full arm extension when the hammer is in use (fig. 11-8). If you happen to drop the hammer, it will just hang below your feet on the sling. Be sure to check the sling regularly for wear.

Hooks come in many shapes and forms, and are most commonly used to grip ledges or small holes

Fig. 1 IS. Hammer sling properly used

(fig. 11-9). With etriers attached to the hook, you have a rather delicate placement for moving upward. Hooks should be made of chrome-moly steel (for strength), and the non-hook end should be wider and curved (for stability). Attach slings to the bottom of your hooks with a girth hitch, positioned so that when the sling is weighted, the "legs" (lower end) of the hook are pulled into the

Fig. J J—7. Piton hammer styles: a, Mjollnir; b, Chouinard; c, less adequate.

Fig. 11-9. Hook types: a, sky hook; b, Logan hook; c, bat hook.

Sky Hooks Climbing

Fig. 11-10. Hangers: a, wire; b, wire hanger on a bolt; c, keyhole; d, regular hanger on a bolt.

rock. To accomplish this, the sling should hang from the rock side of the hook.

Sky hooks look almost like giant fish hooks and are useful for small flakes and ledges. Greater stability is achieved on some routes if the tip of the hook is filed to a point, which can be set into small holes drilled at the back of tiny ledges. Fish hooks, or ring claws, are like large sky hooks and are used to grip larger flakes and ledges. Logan hooks are L-shaped: the wide style is stable on tiny ledges and flakes, and the narrow style can be used in shallow pockets. Bat hooks are basically a narrow-style Logan hook with a pointed blade, allowing their use in shallow '/4-inch holes drilled for their use.

Wire hangers (fig. ll-10a and b) are loops of wire 1 /8 inch or 3/32 inch in diameter, with a slider to cinch the wire tight over bolt studs and rivets (basically, bolts with a wide head). Small tapered chocks (Stoppers) with wire slings can also be used for this purpose, with the chock itself acting as the slider to tighten the wire against the bolt stud. However, because the chocks have a longer wire loop than the wire hangers, you won't get as much elevation gain from them.

Regular hangers and keyhole hangers serve a similar function to the wire hangers, but are shaped pieces of metal rather than wire loops (fig. 11 -10c and d). They are useful, especially at belay anchors and for fixed bolts that have no hangers. Keyhole hangers have the metal between the bolt hole and carabiner hole filed out to allow placement over rivets and buttonhead bolts.


To master the full range of aid-climbing techniques, climbers must have a knowledge of pitons and bolts.


Modern pitons—or pins—are made of chrome-moly (hard) steel. Rather than molding to cracks like the malleable pitons of old, they mold the crack to their form. Because of the damage that pitons cause and because of improvements in clean-climbing hardware, piton use has declined greatly. They are still important, however, on overhanging rock and very thin cracks. For winter mountaineering, when cracks are filled with ice, they may offer the only viable means of protection. To fit the diverse cracks encountered on rock walls, pitons vary tremendously in size and shape

The Realized Ultimate Reality Piton (RURP) is the smallest piton, a postage-stamp-sized, hatchet-shaped pin used in incipient cracks. It will usually support only body weight and derives what little strength it has by minimizing the leverage between the piton and carabiner supporting your etriers. Some styles come with offset sides for use in corners.

Birdbeaks are similar to RURPs but have a longer arm for attaching a carabiner or sling. Generally they are easier to place and remove.

Knifeblades are long thin pitons that have two eyes—one at the end of the blade and a second in the offset portion of the pin. They come in different lengths and in thicknesses between J/8 inch and V16 inch, and they are commonly used to fit many cracks that are too thin for tiny nuts.

Lost arrows are similar to knifeblades but have a single eye which is centered and set perpendicular to the end of the blade. These too arc commonly used pitons that come in several lengths and thicknesses (5/32 to 3/g inch). They are very good in horizontal cracks.

Angles are pitons formed into a "V." The V varies in height from ]/4 inch to l'/2 inches (smaller ones are most popular). Their strength is derived from the metal's resistance to bending and spreading. Angles and other large pitons have largely been replaced by modern free-climbing hardware.

Leeper Z pitons obtain their thickness through their Z profile as opposed to the V profile of an angle. These pitons are very solid and work well for stacking because of their short length, useful in bottoming cracks.

Bongs are large angle pitons that vary from 2 to 6 inches in width. In addition to their use as pitons, they can double as large chocks. Camming devices like Friends have largely replaced bongs.

Sawed-off pins are handy on routes that have been heavily climbed using pitons, leaving shallow pin scars. Several 3/4-inch an<^ 1 -inch angles with a few inches cut off the end are useful for shallow placements.

Malleable hardware (bashies)

Malleable hardware (fig. 11-12) is designed to hold weight by melding the soft head of the placement to the irregularities of the rock. The security

Homemade Aid Climbing Protection
Fig. 11-11. Piton (pin) types: a, lost arrow; b, knifeblade; c, shallow angle; d, Leeper Z; e, angle; f, large angle; g, bong; h, birdbeak; i, RURP.
Rurp Piton
Fig. 11-12. Malleable head types: a, copperhead; b, aluma-head; c, circlehead.

of these bashies varies greatly, and it is difficult to gauge their strength, making them last-resort equipment.

Copperheads (fig. ll-12a) have a swage of copper attached to one end of a short cable that has a loop at the other end. They are placed by pounding the copper head into an irregularity in the rock. They tend to form well and are more durable than similar pieces with aluminum heads (aluma-heads).

Aluma-heads (fig. 11-12b) arc not as tough as copperheads but are more malleable, so they tend to be used for the larger sizes, while the smaller heads are usually copper.

Circleheads (fig. 11-12c) consist of a wire loop with an extra copper swage on the loop, which is pounded into the rock like a copperhead. They are used in horizontal cracks.


Chapter 10 includes a section on the use of existing bolts found on climbing routes. Bolts permanently scar the rock and alter the style of a climb, and very serious consideration should be given before placing one. Proper bolt placement is a special skill, beyond the scope of this book. Bolt placement is best left to the skill and judgment of very experienced climbers.


Climbers undertaking a big wall have other specialized equipment to consider.

Pulleys will be required to ease the chore of sack hauling. They receive much abuse, so they must be durable. Pulleys with bearings and larger wheels operate more smoothly.

Haul bags carry your clothing, water, food, sleeping bag, and other non-climbing paraphernalia. A good haul bag should have adequate cargo capacity, a solid haul suspension, durable fabric, an absence of snag points, and a removable backpacking harness system. Duffels can be converted into haul sacks by reinforcing the wear areas. A top cap to the haul bag is a good idea to protect the knot connecting the sack to the haul line and help reduce snagging problems while hauling.

Cheater sticks allow you to clip a carabiner into a piece of hardware beyond your reach. Although rarely needed, they are often used to avoid "top stepping" in etriers. Cheater sticks should have a means of holding a carabiner solidly while you clip in with your arm fully extended.

Knee pads protect your knees, which are regularly in contact with the rock during aid climbing. Pads should be comfortable and allow good circulation.

Portaledges or hammocks: Portaledges, which are lightweight cots, offer greater comfort from a single point of suspension than hammocks. Unfortunately, they are much heavier and bulkier. As with belay seats, climbers must always be anchored to the rock when using this equipment.

If you take on a big wall, safeguard important equipment with tie-in loops to attach anything you might drop. Bring gear that will get you through the worst possible weather, because there's not likely to be any easy way to retreat. Be sure your equipment is durable and beef up any item that could fail, such as water containers. Select only the sturdiest, and reinforce them with duet tape.

Continue reading here: Aid Placements

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  • Michael
    How to use climbing bashies?
    1 year ago
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    How to sling aid hooks?
    2 years ago
  • Matteo
    How to make a hero loop for climbing?
    6 years ago
  • Constance Hodges
    How to use skyhook aid climbing?
    10 years ago
  • Juanita Hudson
    How to tie a sky hook climbing?
    10 years ago
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    How to use aid hooks for rock climbing?
    10 years ago