How to Check Climbing Gear for Wear and Tear

Safety Tips to Check Climbing Equipment

Climbers at Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park, Maine.
When you're top-roping, your rope and climbing gear gets a workout. Regularly check your equipment to make sure it's safe. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

You are only as safe climbing as the equipment that you use on the rock and in the mountains. Climbing gear gets a lot of use and takes a lot of abuse. Your gear is out in extreme environments; it gets wet; the sun bakes it; it's not always stored correctly; it gets old; and gear just gets used.

Regularly Check Your Gear Out

You need to pay attention to your climbing equipment and regularly check it out to make sure it's functional. At the first signs of wear and tear, you need to evaluate it and decide if the time is right to retire your equipment to the bedroom closet. 

Here is the climbing equipment you need to regularly check and then retire if it is worn, tattered, and torn:

Climbing Ropes

Your rope is your lifeline so you need to regularly check it.

  • Look for worn parts in the sheath, particularly in the last 20 feet on each end.
  • Avoid using a rope that has a fuzzy sheath, tears in the sheath, or if you can see any white core strands through the sheath.
  • Feel the entire rope for irregularities, including flat sections or hard nodules in the core.
  • Retire a rope that has held a long high-impact fall, even if it appears to be fine.
  • Never buy a used climbing rope-you don't know its history.
  • Likewise, avoid lending your climbing rope out.
  • When to retire your rope depends on how much you use it. If you climb a lot, plan to retire a rope every year. If you only climb occasionally, your rope can last three or four years.Read more about climbing rope care:
    Take Care of Your Climbing Rope: Climbing Rope Care Tips

    Webbing and Slings

    Webbing and slings, made from nylon, spectra, or other high-tech materials, wear out from use as well as deteriorate from sunlight and weather.
    • Retire webbing and slings if they are stiff.
    • If the color is faded.
    • If you see abrasion and exterior damage
    • If the nylong on the slings are fuzzy.
    • If the pattern or texture appears irregular.
    • If the sewn part of the sling is abraded.
    • Remember to check your quickdraw slings regularly. They get a lot of use and hold falls. Retire a sling or quickdraw sling if it holds a long fall.
    Read more about webbing and slings:
    • When to Retire Climbing Slings: Slings Wear Out With Use
    • How to Store Climbing Slings: Taking Care of Slings and Webbing
    • How to Clean Climbing Slings: Taking Care of Slings and Webbing


    Carabiners, made from aluminum, slowly wear out when you climb since the rope is constantly running through the carabiners on your quickdraws.
    • Locking carabiners on top-rope anchors wear out fast with the rope see-sawing through the biner.
    • Retire your carabiners and use them on the dog leash if they show signs of age and use.
    • Look for deep grooves worn into the bottom of the carabiner from repeated lowering and top-roping.
    • Note any cracks in the carabiner frame, particularly on the nose of the carabiner, which is the part where the non-hinged side of the gate meets the carabiner frame. Look for micro-cracks. If you see any, retire the carabiner immediately.
    • Toss any carabiners that don't close completely; have sticky gates; have gates that are hard to open; have gates that don't have any resistance; and have gritty gates.
    • Clean your carabiners if the gates stick, particularly if you've been climbing in sandy environments like the Moab desert. Sometimes a gentle cleaning will give new life to your carabiners.
    Read more about carabiner care:
    How to Clean Carabiners: Caring for Climbing Equipment
    All About Carabiners: Essential Climbing Equipment


    Your climbing harness is a key piece of your personal climbing equipment. You use a harness every time you go climb so it gets a lot of use. Harnesses are made of different types of webbing so they do wear out.
    • Check your harness every time you go climbing. Before putting it on, look it over to make sure all the important parts of the harness-the buckles, tie-in loops, and belay loop-are in good shape.
    • Since harnesses are made of sturdy and durable nylon webbing, changes to your harness occur slowly so it's easy to catch problems before they become serious problems.
    • Check out the belay loop. This sewn loop of webbing, which is used for both belaying and rappelling, is as strong as a carabiner when your harness is new. Over time though the loop becomes weakened by exposure to sunlight and heat as well as by use. Fatalities have occurred when a worn loop breaks while climbers are rappelling.
    • If you see any wear and tear on your harness, like a worn belay loop or worn or frayed nylon straps, then retire the harness and buy a new one.
    Read more about harnesses:
    Which Type of Harness is Right for You?
    Parts of a Climbing Harness


    Climbing helmets, like the rest of your equipment, wear out with use and time. Helmets are made from plastic which degrades and weakens from prolonged exposure to sunlight, ultra-violet rays, and heat.
    • Retire your helmet immediately if it sustains a direct hit from a rock or if it hits the rock surface during a fall.
    • Check your helmet before putting it on at the cliff. Look for dents, dings, cracks, and other damage to the helmet shell.
    • Check the nylon straps and adjustment buckles. Make sure they are in good working order.
    • Check the nylon webbing straps, particularly where they attach to the helmet at your ears, and make sure they are frayed, torn, and cut.
    • Store your helmet in a stuff sack. A lot of helmets come with a storage bag. This protects it from sun damage. Also don't bang your helmet around. It's a good idea to carry it inside your pack, rather than outside.
    • Helmets wear out with use. The more you climb, the faster it wears out. Most manufacturers recommend replacing a climbing helmet every three to five years.
    Read more about climbing helmets:
    Climbing Helmets Wear Out: When Should You Replace Your Climbing Helmet?
    Wear a Climbing Helmet: Helmets Save Lives