What are the Different Types of Rock Climbing Hardware?

Dan Cavallari

The rock climbing hardware a climber will need will vary according to the type of climbing being done. Some types of rock climbing require more hardware than other types, though just about all climbing types require some similar rock climbing hardware, such as a rope, a harness, and specifically designed rock climbing shoes. Specific rock climbing hardware may be designed for a specific activity: ice climbers, for example, will need ice screws, ice axes, and crampons, while sport climbers will need only the most basic equipment. Boulderers will require even less equipment and may not even need a harness.

Ice climbing requires different hardware than rock climbing.
Ice climbing requires different hardware than rock climbing.

The carabiner is the staple piece of rock climbing hardware, regardless of the type of climbing being done. Most climbers own several carabiners of varying sizes. These metal loops feature a spring-loaded or movable gate that allows a rope to be passed through into the center of the carabiner, known as a "biner" for short. Some biners feature a locking gate to prevent the gate from opening accidentally during use. The size and shape of the carabiner will help determine its best use, as smaller carabiners are best for certain types of anchors, while larger ones are good for belaying — or supporting — another climber who is handing from a rope.

Ice climbers need ice axes to climb vertical surfaces.
Ice climbers need ice axes to climb vertical surfaces.

Climbing pro, which is short for protection, are pieces of rock climbing hardware that are set into cracks and crevices in the rocks. These pieces often feature a wire loop on the end, through which a carabiner can be passed. The carabiner is connected to a piece of fabric webbing, and another carabiner is attached to the other end of the webbing. The climbing rope can be passed through this last carabiner, thereby effectively creating an anchor for the climber. Protection comes in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and functions; the simplest types are nuts, which are specially shaped metal nubs that fit into small cracks. Larger cracks require larger rock climbing hardware called cams, which are spring loaded and finger lever-activated. These pieces of equipment can be contracted when placed inside a crack, and then expanded once it is in position.

Ice climbers and mixed climbers — climbers who climb both rock and ice at the same time — will use thin tubes called ice screws to set anchors. These ice screws are threaded so they can be screwed into the ice, and the tip of the ice screw is usually sharp enough to penetrate the ice. The exposed end of the ice screw will feature an opening through which a carabiner can be placed.

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