How many Quick-draws?
When you’re racking up for a route the number of quick-draws you take tends to confuse many, finding that they often have too many, or too few. Quick-draws are vital for avoiding rope drag on long routes, and for reducing the risk of protection shifting or being pulled out - so getting the correct number, as well as the right selection, is vital.
Before I talk about my ideas on ‘how many’ lets quickly look at the 4 main types you should be using.
Short: This length of sling would be between 10cm and 15cm and would be used on solid protection, protection where the line is straight up (so no drag), or when the critical difference between (real or imagined) between breaking your legs or just brushing the ground could be ten or twenty centimetres. This length is also ideal when making hard moves next to the protection (if you’re a wimp) as its short length can give the impression you’re on a top rope!
Medium: These are your meat and veg draws, not being too short, nor two long, and around 17cm to 25cm.
Long: 30cm slings are ideal for long pitches and critical gear (such as wires or finely placed cams), being long enough to move easily and take up the shock and knots as you climb above. These should be open slings made from thin dyneema (I like 8mm ones), so you can larks foot fixed pegs, loop small spikes or thread holes. Although these may make you look a bit nerdy, or like a beginier, this length is ideal for trad climbing.
Alpine: These are 60cm 6mm or 8mm dyneema slings that are formed up to make an ‘alpine draw’, allowing you the maximum extension on protection, as well as using them on spikes, belays, threads, pegs and critical pieces. These long draws should also be used to created ‘nested runners’, where you have two or more pieces close together (say before a run out section), with the sling clove hitched to both pieces, equalised and clipped in with a locker or both its carabiners back to back (safer than a locker). You can add a 120cm 8mm dyneema sling as a draw but this tends to be best racked on the back of your harness with a 240cm dyneema sling, as it’s rare to need a 120cm sling as a draw, and that one sling takes up twice the space of a 60cm one.
I always try and avoid ever having slings around my neck - bandolier style - as it can turn into a mess of tangled slings and crabs, the slings will hang down and hide you feet on slab, and if you’re hanging on to a good hold with one hand and need a sling, it will invariably be slung on that side of your body. They are also a pain if you’re using a pack while climbing, or have a top with a hood. I also don’t like having slings around my neck for the obvious reason that in a fall the slings can hang up on gear or spikes - a potential killer. This actually happened to me once when descending a climb, the sling around my body hooking onto a flake as I jumped down. To say it was a jolt is an understatement!
By having your slings as draws they can do double duty as both quick-draws and slings, and are always at hand, plus they already have two krabs attached.
So how many
Well my answer to this question will no doubt be contentious - but I would say just fourteen mixed quick-draws are all you need. Here are my reasons.
- Any more than 14 and you’re sport climbing!
- If you’re climbing confidently and in control, then 14 quick-draws is the right amount as you should only need to put in protection every body length, and this number will do that (add in cams that don’t need extending and on an average route you’ll get about 1 runner every body length. If you find you don’t have enough then perhaps you need to move back a grade and build up your confidence in yourself and your gear, as the gear is only there if you fall, not a reason for pushing on (you put in gear to climb - not climb to put in gear). Just think about when you lead routes two grades below your limit, how you place a good runner than climb on. Placing too much gear is the best way to sap your strength and fall off, and so instead you should aim to place good pro, then climb on a body length until you get your next piece.
- If you need to bunch runners than use your alpine draws to make ‘nested placements’ instead of using up two or three quick-draws. This will be both more effective and less wasteful.
- 14 quick-draws give you enough variety to be able to deal with most placements you’ll find on a pitch, with a good mix of long, short, alpine draws etc.
When trying to avoid drag it’s worth thinking of your pitch like a pyramid, and that the longest draws tend to be used up low down, but that the higher you go the less important the issue of drag becomes, so shorter draws are OK. On a straight up crack you can used any quick-draw length you want, but when it meanders it’s worth really having a good strategy for keeping friction down on your runners (the DMM Revolver is great for helping in this regard, as well as carabiners with a larger rope bearing section). Most often climbers get scared and place too short a runner earlier on, meaning the drag is high later, when they’re more tired and strung out.
How you select what you take on route may well be dictated by the rock type, if you have a single or double rope (on long mountain pitches with a single rope having only alpine draws works best) as well as personal preferences, but here’s what I’d take:
- 2x 10cm express quick-draws
- 4c 17cm express quick-draws
- 4x 30cm open sling quick-draws
- 4x 60cm alpine quick-draws
Note on racking
The length of these draws has the advantage off allowing you to taper the length when racked, as well as giving you a 50/50 split on right and left racks (so you should be able to get the right quick-draw with either hand). By clipping these draws into your harness front loops (so hardware comes behind them), starting with short, medium, long then alpine, you help to keep longer pieces away from you legs, and keep the racking ordered. When I climb I tend to rack everything on the two racking loops close to my hip bones, with draws at the front, then 3 krabs of wires behind on the right, and my cams on the left.
I’m sure that climbers will find times when they need more, or find themselves at the top with most of their draws still clipped to their harness, but then this is just a guide, and if you want to look like a sports climber than you can carry more!
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