Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
Slings play a huge role in all forms of climbing, especially in traditional summer and winter climbing and mountaineering, were they are used both to extend protection, as well as providing protection themselves, looped over spikes or threaded through holes or around chock stones.
These are most commonly slings of 60 cm (aka: Shoulder length or 4 foot) and 120 cm (aka: double length or 8 foot), but may also include snake slings, cordelletes and daisy chains.
The big problem is how best to carry these slings, so as to make them quick to deploy and to reduce tangles. Making the wrong choice can result in a great deal of frustration and can prove dangerous, but get it right and you can fully exploit this crucial bit of gear to its full.
This short article will look at the pros and cons of several different racking techniques.
OVER THE SHOULDER
This is the most common technique, with the sling being worn bandolier style. With 60 cm slings this is an easy technique, but with 120cm much more care should be taken. If the sling is simply doubled up you will tend to find one loop will grow longer than the other, and it will no doubt get in the way, or slowly strangle you. This technique can also make it very hard to remove if you have multiple slings of the same colour (all 120cm slings should be different colours). A better technique is to clip both ends together with a karabiner (SG or PG), which keeps the sling in place and has the added advantage of allowing you to wear the 120cm slings under your 60cm slings (60cm’s on one shoulder, 120cm’s on the other), as you can simply unclip one strand and pull the sling out from around your body. If no krab is available then you can ‘butterfly’ your sling so both loops stay an equal length. Ideally Cordellets shouldn’t be carried over the shoulder as they tend to end up a mess.
Of all the sling types bar far the most appropriate for this technique is the snake sling (aka Rabbit runners), as this is removed by unclipping one eye and pulling the sling from around the body (a 120cm or 4 foot sling works best as once both eyes are clipped it forms a closed 60cm sling). Longer snake slings work in the same way as traditional 120cm slings.
PROS: The sling tends to stay out of the way unless climbing on very slabby ground, and is generally easy to remove if you‘re not wearing a rucksack.
CONS: The sling can easily become tangled and be hard to remove, especially when wearing a rucksack (always put the rucksack on THEN the slings). If you’re using an axe with a leash you can often find it impossible to remove your sling, and the same goes if your unable to swap hands on a hold, with the sling being over the opposite shoulder to the hand that’s holding on. If karabiners are clipped to slings they can hang down and obscure the feet, and again may tangle or clip into other slings. There is also a slight chance of strangulation if the sling gets caught in a fall.
AROUND THE NECK
The sling is simple placed around the head.
PROS: Allows easy removal when wearing a rucksack or using leashed tools. The sling can be clipped behind a rucksack chest strap so it stays out of the way on slabbier ground.
CONS: Although this technique has many advantages over the shoulder sling, there is a much higher risk of strangulation, and so is best avoided (if you fall and the sling gets caught on a piece of pro it will probably cut your head off…gulp).
The sling is folded, knotted and racked on a karabiner.
PROS: This method keeps all slings tidy and out of the way until they are needed.
CONS: By far the worst technique as it requires an extra racking karabiner, takes up space on the harness for no real benefit, and worst of all makes the slings very hard to deploy one handed. A lot of climbers who’ve been on training courses will use this technique as many instructors use this method. The reason they use it as they need so many slings, but for leading this just doesn’t work that well.
A karabiner is clipped to each ends of a 60cm sling, then one karabiner is passed through the first (threading the sling with it), and is clipped back into the loop that is formed, thereby creating a 30cm sling (a 15cm sling can also be achieved, but is only worth doing so with 10mm to 7mm slings). To transform back into a sling unclip either karabiner from all but one strand of the sling and pull.
PROS: This is a great technique that allows you to carry the sling on your harness, giving you the flexibility to use it either as a traditional extender or as a 60cm sling. This allows much longer extenders to be quickly deployed.
CONS: Theexstenders are slightly more bulky on the harness, and some skill is needed to quickly deploy them. Care should be taken that the 60cm extenders are kept in reserve.
LARKS FOOT METHOD
This uses one sling to rack several others, with the sling being worn over the shoulder, with the rest halved and larks footed to the main sling. The technique can be further improved by adding a karabiner to both loops, so as to reduce the likely hood of a sling coming loose. This only works with 60cm slings.
PROS: This is a simple way to carry a lot of slings easily, plus gives you easy one handed excess with practice. It also makes it easy to hand over all your slings to a partner in one go.
CONS: Unless care is taken in making sure the slings are neatly larks footed, and pulled tight, then slings will come loose and be lost.
With this the sling is folded to make it approximately 30cm long and clipped to a karabiner and then twisted repeatedly then clipped back into the krab. This creates a ’sprung’ sling, which will be much shorter.
PROS: A good technique, being fast and simple.
CONS: Although this works well it’s best saved for longer slings, as it takes up room on the harness that would be better served by the extender method.
RACKING A CORDELETTE
There are two main ways to rack a cordelette. One is to form one of those fancy enclosed loops, where the cord is enclosed in several raps of cord, or you can just shorten in into several loops and tie it with a overhand knot. The first method, although very neat, takes time, and so the former tends to work best. The cordelette should ideally be clipped off with a chunky HMS.
RACKING A WEBELETTE
The webelette is much neater and compact than a cordelette (it’s more expensive to cut up for abseils though!), and should be racked by forming it up into several loops (60cm), then all tied with an overhand, with either one or both bites being clipped off to a racking SG krab.
RACKING A DAISY CHAIN
A daisy chain is always a pain to rack while still larks footed to your belay loop. Some people rap it around their waist and clip if off short back at the belay loop. This is neat, but has the major disadvantage that very often you’ll find you invariantly cross clip gear into it when racking, meaning it can’t be unclipped. A second method is to pass the daisy through your legs and clip it to the rear of your harness. For this technique to work well you need to make sure there is enough slack so that if you fall off you don’t end up with a nasty shock (the harness will raise up in a fall remember). For this reason I find having a sling dangling loose between my legs as I climb a bit of a pain. My favourite method (but far from ideal) is to shorted the daisy by clipping two or three loops along it’s length then clipping if off to the front racking loop on my harness.
Like daisy chains racking aiders can be a pain, as they will always be bulky and prone to tangles. The best method is to take the grab loop and pass it through all the steps, clipping it back into the aider’s krab. This will hold all the steps together and allows you to deploy them rapidly by simply unclipping the grab loop, were upon all the steps will tumble down.
Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram