By: Nate Schumacher

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Rock Climbing | Climbing Gear

For most of us, our gear is our treasure: something we meticulously clean, inspect, display for our friends to admire and painstakingly organize (Don’t believe me? See the raddest gear sheds here). The thought of retiring it is difficult, but you know what they say: it hurts to let go, but sometimes it hurts more to hold on. I’m here to convince you to retire your cherished climbing gear before the point of no return.


According to manufactures, nylon products have a shelf life of 10 years once made. This is true for all nylon products including (but not limited to) slings, harnesses and ropes. Once the product is more than 10 years old (even if unused) the manufacturers say to retire it.

Now, I know most of you don’t have a lot of unused nylon gear laying around for 10 years so here’s the good stuff.

The expiration of used gear depends on how often you use it. Manufacturers suggest:

Two to three times a year = an expiration date of eight years after purchase  
Couple times a month = an expiration date of three years post purchase
Multiple times a week = retire it at least once a year

Wait, there’s more!  You would also want to retire the gear if it has been exposed to any chemicals or unknown stains. I know what you’re thinking….unknown chemicals? Consider what might be sharing the car floor with your rope – batteries? Gasoline? Cleaning solutions? 

It can be particularly hard to retire a rope. It’s been with you through good times and bad, some may even consider it their best friend, but you've got to do it. For detailed information on retiring climbing ropes, check out this article in Rock and Ice.


With all climbing hard goods, like carabiners and cams, look specifically for wear on the gear. Generally speaking, it's okay for the paint to be worn down but be leery of any significant wear.

What is significant wear?

I hate to say it, but you have to use a bit of common sense here. It is generally when you can look at the carabiner and see nicks, small cracks, fractures or divots from continuous rope wear. A cam’s wear and tear can be seen if you look at the tread of the cam lobes. Imagine it's like a tire tread on a car. When the tread is getting really low, you want to retire the gear.

Other reasons you might want to retire your hard goods is if:

  • Gates no longer easily close. That means the springs in the gate are giving out
  • You drop it from a high height and there is visible damage on the gear – then it is time to get a new one (check out what BD has to say about dropped gear here)
  • You mess with it. Don’t try filing it, modifying it or fixing it…this is a huge no-no. All user manuals strongly warn you to not alter the gear in any way


Commit to inspecting your gear on a regular basis – maybe it’s Monday nights during Walking Dead or just a quick review before leaving the crag. Here’s my rule of thumb: if I’m thinking about retiring gear, it means I am questioning the gear….and to me that means I don’t want to be climbing on it anymore!

As our friends at BD remind us: Keep in mind that only YOU know what your gear has been through. If your instincts tell you that the gear is dubious, then retiring it is a good idea. Confidence in your equipment is not only key to climbing at your limit but helps you stay relaxed and having fun.