How old is too old to climb on?
November 23, 2009 2:41 PM   Subscribe

I've always thought that rock climbing soft gear had a life of 10 years. Others are now telling me that is doesn't age if looked after properly. Is there a definitive answer?

I used to do a lot of sport climbing and have heaps of gear. I want to restart after 10+ years off. I have some rope that is around 12 years old, but used only one and some static line around the same age that was used a little bit more. Is it safe to use? What about my slings and dog bones? All my old gear has been stored in a dry dark place.

FWIW, I've bought a new harness and static line to do some solo top-roping.
posted by dantodd to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you've got any doubt about the durability of your gear you should replace it. The biners would be fine but I'd replace all the slings and dog bones. I certainly wouldn't be leading on a 12 year old rope.
posted by foodgeek at 3:03 PM on November 23, 2009

If you told me you were belaying me with a 12 year old rope, it would be the last time we climbed together.
posted by 517 at 3:10 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to buy climbing gear for a large, national chain. The answer to this question really depends on how your rope was stored, and what size it was.
If the dynamic rope was stored away from sunlight, damp, or excessive heat, and was not subject to gases or fumes from volatile petro-chemicals (like gasoline) AND if it didn't take any lead falls - you've reduced a lot of the risk.
The other big risk is in how it was coiled for storage. The best way is to just loosely flake it into a heap into a rope bag (Metolius used to make one). The worst way (one that could cause some memory in the fiber, and thus some damage) is to have 'coiled' it the way some folks coil electrical cords.
The last issue is if you kept a rope journal - which hopefully recorded many times it was used, and for what, and how many, and what kind of falls it took. Lead falls are most destructive, with top-roping coming in second. Top-rope falls are particularly hard on the last six feet of so of the rope end the climber is tied into. When I climbed I used a rope that had a different pattern on half the rope, and always tried to tie into the opposite end from the last climb. Most new ropes have a 'rated life' for number of falls they can take - here's the Bluewater chart. In general, thicker ropes can handle more falls, but it really varies a bit by manufacturer.
Ropes are very expensive, but modern, dynamic climbing rope is also very durable.
Ask at a local climbing gym for more guidance.
posted by dbmcd at 3:16 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks foodgeek and 517. Sounds like the conventional wisdom hasn't changed.

Does anyone know of any tests or studies that support this?
posted by dantodd at 3:17 PM on November 23, 2009

Here's what Beal has to say about their soft goods. The longest lifespan they state is 10 years of "very occasional light use". Petzl seems to agree. This seems to be the longest lifetime a manufacturer is willing to state regarding their soft goods; BlueWater suggests 5 years.

Most manufacturers state that harnesses are good for three to five years of light use. Personally, I can never get a harness to last more than 2 seasons before I wear through enough webbing to expose the safety indicators. All soft goods degrade over time, and I would be highly suspect of anything over 10 years old. Almost all soft goods manuals have ominous statements like:

"All harnesses’ structural materials degrade over time; to ensure your safety, retire any harness that is more than 7 years old even if it has been properly stored and/or never used."
(taken from the manual for Arc'teryx harnesses)

Of course, manufacturers need to cover their asses and also have an interest in selling you shiny new gear.
posted by strangecargo at 3:18 PM on November 23, 2009

Oh, and static line really isn't optimal for top-roping. You want something with some dynamic give, to protect you from the 'thunk' when you fall. I know climbers use them all the time, but they're crazy anyway...
posted by dbmcd at 3:18 PM on November 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks dbmcd.

I should make it clear that I do not intend to use any of my old gear. I just was just thinking out loud.
posted by dantodd at 3:20 PM on November 23, 2009

I should make it clear that I do not intend to use any of my old gear.

Don't completely discount it; you could use the rope to make a giant ball which could make neighborhood dogs and cats happy.
posted by quin at 3:48 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't completely discount it; you could use the rope to make a giant ball which could make neighborhood dogs and cats happy.

That's a monkey fist knot, they really do make good pet toys.
posted by foodgeek at 3:57 PM on November 23, 2009

Cf. your partial namesake, Todd Skinner [mefi].
posted by dhartung at 4:05 PM on November 23, 2009

If it's been hardly used and then stored well I think the risk is minimal. Myself, if the rope had a sheath that still new and shiny I wouldn't be too bothered that it was 12 years old.
I don't think there's been a single case of a rope breaking under weight just because of age - always a sharp edge is involved, and sharp edges don't discriminate.
If climbing ropes were really so fragile and unstable it would call their safety into question even when new.
posted by Flashman at 6:13 PM on November 23, 2009

Please disregard Flashman's advice in favour of the manufacturers'.
posted by Dr. Send at 10:48 PM on November 23, 2009

Don't use a static rope for a toprope, please. It's just not a good idea and it stresses your anchors (and your body) more than necessary.

Honestly, a 12-year old rope may be in fine shape, or the core may have deteriorated. The first few falls may be fine, and it might become less dynamic after that. You don't really know. If you keep an eye on SteepAndCheap and other closeout retailers, you can score good ropes for $100-140.

Cams, nuts, 'biners....sure. Soft goods? Not so much. Gear is cheap compared to the consequences of it failing.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:48 AM on November 24, 2009

Response by poster: Re: Static Line for top roping - I'm using the static line in a solo top rope scenario with an ascender (not that I know of any other way!) as per manufacturer's recommendations. There is no chance of slack building up in the system.

I agree that using a static line for top roping is stupid especially with the relatively small difference in price.
posted by dantodd at 2:04 PM on November 24, 2009

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