Protection (climbing)

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To make climbing as safe as possible, most climbers use protection, a term used to describe the equipment used to prevent injury to themselves and others.[1]


Types of climbing

There are a number of ways to "protect" a climb, varying according to the type of climbing:

Lead climbing

Lead climbing is the climbing system in which the lead climber places protection (temporary or permanent anchors) in the rock establishing the climbing route. The rope is clipped through carabiners (often made especially for lead climbing called quick draws) which are in turn connected to the protection. The belayer pays out rope during the ascent, and manually arrests the climber's fall by locking the rope.

Top roping

Instead of leading the climb, when top roping, the climber arranges anchors for a rope at the top of the route before attempting the climb. The rope runs from the belayer, on the ground, through the anchor at the top of the route, and back down to the climber. There will be almost no slack in the rope should the climber fall.


Bouldering is climbing routes that are generally horizontal in nature, without rope. As these routes are low to the ground, other types of safety equipment are appropriate:

  • Bouldering mat. A bouldering mat or crash pad is a padded foam-cell mat placed on the ground below a climber. This reduces the chance of injury from a fall.
  • Spotting. The spotter stands below the climber and attempts to direct a potential fall. Generally, the aim is to stop the climber from landing badly, and especially to stop the climber's head from hitting the ground.


Although free solo climbing is done without any protective gear, solo climbers do sometimes use protection. A climber may place a piece of protection and clip into it with a short tether for safety during a difficult move, then remove the protection and continue the ascent. There are also pieces of equipment such as a Silent Partner which fill the role of a belayer, allowing a lead climber to climb without a partner.


The gear used to protect climbs varies:

  • Slings are loops of nylon webbing (also called "tape"), or rope, or some other material. They can be tied around rock spikes or trees, threaded; through natural holes in the rock, round natural chockstones in cracks, or through artificial anchors such as metal hangers, chains, or rings.
  • Metal nuts or chocks can be placed in constrictions in cracks and attached to carabiners with wire or nylon slings.
  • Spring loaded camming device (SLCDs) are devices that use a spiral shaped cam that expands into a crack as it is weighted. These can be placed even in parallel and outward flaring cracks.
  • Bolts can be pre-placed in pre-drilled holes in the rock and then clipped by the climber with a carabiner. Bolts are usually found in situ. It is very unusual to place bolts as one climbs, as it involves drilling and gluing, but it is sometimes necessary on exploratory routes and particularly when aid climbing on new routes.
  • Pitons can be hammered (or hand-placed if loose enough) into thin cracks and clipped (through an "eye" in the piton) to a carabiner.
  • Skyhooks are talon shaped pieces of strong metal that can be hooked over very small ledges and flakes in the rock and secured to a carabiner. Usually found more in aid climbing they are occasionally used in free climbing, as extremely marginal protection.

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