Replacing carabiners and slings

I don’t know about you but I love climbing safety videos. Nothing gives me more confidence when climbing than knowing that my gear will not fail. In order to have this confidence it is important to know when personal protection equipment (PPE) should be retired. As with other gear the mantra “when in doubt retire” holds true here too. So far I have covered Ropes and Harnesses and here I will go over slings and carabiners.

Our experience

We purchased the Black Diamond quicksilver quickdraws with our rope in 2008. They received about the same amount of use as our rope, namely between 150 and 200 days. The carabiners themselves appear to be fine with only light oxidation on the gate being of concern. The oxidation developed after climbing in Thailand for a few months. But Black Diamond says light oxidation is normal and after looking at the strength testing of used carabiners in the links below I have renewed confidence that the carabiners won’t be a problem in the near future.

Carabiners

The dynex slings on the other hand were looking a bit fuzzy, and they had some looping. Not the worst I’ve seen people using but enough to give me pause when I’m hanging at my bolt staring at them. We had a friend coming to visit so we took the opportunity to have some inexpensive dogbones delivered. Here are a couple pictures of our retired slings. When compared to the pictures below they probably had some useful life left but we didn’t want to end up somewhere in dire need of new slings and have limited options. Plus it is always better to err on the side of caution than to push it.

Looping

Stitch

SlingRetire

Slings

Slings are typically made of nylon or dynex/dynema and have different properties. If you are interested in specific qualities and respective pros and cons you can read about it or watch a video about “how to break slings” at DMM.

We have had quickdraws with both dynex and nylon and we prefer nylon. They tend to be wider which helps keep them in the proper orientation upon clipping into a bolt. They are a little heavier, which for sport climbing isn’t a big deal, but could be an important consideration when traveling internationally. You can shave pounds off of your rack by getting ultra-light equipment effectively saving you from paying extra money when taking budget airlines with strict weight limits.

Assuming you are using your quickdraws properly they will last for a long time. Given the number of manufacturers out there it is impossible to cover them all. We own Black Diamond, Trango and Petzl equipment and their recommendations are included. I tried to include some other manufacturer recommendations I found during my research.

Starting with Trango I came up with nothing as far as specific recommendations. They suggest you check often but don’t give you any resources to do it.

Petzl doesn’t take a precise stand on when to retire your gear. Rather they suggest you inspect often and retire as needed. As mentioned in previous posts they provide a good resource on their website with videos and pictures to assess the condition of your slings and retire accordingly. All the pictures to the right are considered retirement worthy according to their website. If you compare their slings to our slings I would say their pictures are slightly worse.

Mammut provides this handy table on their website to determine when you should retire your slings. They also have a good description of retirement worthy hazards, such as battery acid, petroleum-based fuel, ect. to avoid at all cost while using your gear.

I checked out the Omega Pacific website and the “support” section of their website is under construction. Further searching yielded no recommendations on useful life.

Mad rock suggests their slings should last 4 years with normal wear and tear. Of course what constitutes normal wear and tear is up to the user and you should retire anything that causes you doubt.

Edelrid says that the maximum life for slings is 10 years under optimal storage and with no use, 6 years with occasional and appropriate use, and with frequent or extreme use safety can be compromised rapidly so check often.

Black Diamond suggests up to 10 years from the date of manufacture for plastic and textile products. The typical life span of a textile product is two to five years. They also remind us of the “Factors that reduce the lifespan of climbing gear: Falls, abrasion, wear, prolonged exposure to sunlight, saltwater/air or harsh environments.” Be sure to check everything after exposure to any of these factors.

CarabinerRetire

Carabiners

With proper storage and no wear and tear carabiners should last indefinitely. Of course we don’t buy PPE to store, so given varying degrees of use how long can you expect to trust your carabiners?

Madrock says there is “no limitation to the life of the carabiner.” But that the “useful lifetime depends on environment and use.” A carabiner should be “retired if it has any of the following: a crack, burr, sharp edges, gate rivet that is loose or bent, weak gate spring, significant wear, or any deformity.”

Edelrid mentions that carabiners can last an unlimited amount of time under proper storage conditions. With occasional use and no wear and tear they should last 10 years. With frequent use and load catching you must check often. There are no specific time limits when you use your gear regularly.

Black Diamond reiterates that the lifespan for metal products is indefinite. Although with normal use and proper care, the typical lifespan of a metal product is three to ten years. Not to mention the actual lifespan of your gear can be longer or shorter depending on how frequently you use it and on the conditions of its use.

Here are their specific suggestions from their FAQ page on what to look for when retiring aluminum carabiners:
1) Check for good gate action: The open-gate strength of carabiners is roughly 1/3 of the closed-gate strength. If a biner has a gate that rubs or sticks open, it should be cleaned and lubed. If this does not improve gate action, the biner should be retired. The same holds true for any gate locking mechanism.

2) Check for excessive wear: If you can feel that the rope-bearing surfaces of the biner are significantly worn (wearing off the anodization is normal after a few uses) the biner should be retired.

3) Check for deformation: If a biner has been loaded such that the body or nose has deformed—or the carabiner gate rivets have been bent (this usually results in poor gate action)—the biner should be retired.

4) Check for nicks or deep scratches: If a biner has nicks or deep gouges beyond the normal light scratching that occurs in use, it should be retired. Carabiners are more susceptible to surface damage near the nose hook or within an inch of the bending radii of the body.

5) Has the carabiner been exposed to extreme heat? If a biner has been exposed to “extreme heat” (i.e. a fire) it should be retired and destroyed due to possible negative affects to the heat treatment the carabiner underwent when it was made.

6) Has the carabiner been exposed to harsh chemicals or excessive corrosion? If your carabiner has been exposed to aggressive chemicals (like battery acid, petroleum-based fuel, ect.) its a good idea to retire the biner. Likewise, any corrosion beyond the normal thin gray/white oxidation layer that forms on exposed aluminum should be grounds for retirement, especially if it starts to affect gate action (see #1).

In closing: Keep in mind that only YOU know what your gear has been through. If your instincts tell you that the gear is dubious, retiring it is a good idea. Confidence in your equipment is not only key to climbing at your limit but helps you stay relaxed and having fun.

A few closing notes

Most manufacturers seem to take the same stance on carabiner and sling useful life. The bottom line is to frequently check your gear and when in doubt throw it out. If you are interested in the results of various tests of old retired gear to boost your confidence or make you realize you should retire that stuff you are using you can check out the links below.

Black Diamond QC labs has test results from their archives and includes the answer to everyone’s dying question “what happens if I accidentally peed on my rope?”

If you are curious about the best way to tie two slings of various materials together the results can be found over at Black Diamond here.

Have you retired gear? How long did it last you? Add your experience in the comments below.

Be safe, Climb on!

One Response to “Replacing carabiners and slings”

  1. Mark said:

    Our worst wear was on our dedicated top-rope draws that had been lowered through for a whole season on a rope that had significant aluminum oxide (black) build-up. Come fall those top-draws were GROOVY. Every year its a pair of locking biners and some scrutiny on the slings. Those close-ups of the biner crack are going to give me something new to look for.


    November 29th, 2010 at 11:24 am

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