5 Gear Choices For Increased Safety On The Hills

When the lock-down restrictions ease, the numbers going hill-walking in Ireland will undoubtedly increase, some will be experienced and returning to the hills, others newer and less experienced.

This extra increase in participation will no doubt put extra pressure on the mountain rescue services, all while they try to keep their own volunteer members, and their families, safe from harm.

Mountain Rescue advice for safety on the hills

Mountain Rescue teams have issued advice for people to be cautious in their return to the outdoors, to not take on more than they are able for, be it physically or navigationally.

They have also advised that those in need of rescue or assistance should prepare themselves for potentially longer response times or even the possibility of an overnight on the hills while waiting for daylight to safely navigate home.

Nobody, experienced or otherwise, goes into the hills planning to have an accident, but accidents still happen. Now is a good time to plan and prepare for the possibility.

I have included at the bottom of the page a checklist of the everyday gear people should bring on the hills. To many it will be obvious what these items are but below I’ve listed 5 emergency items hillwalkers should consider bringing out too, but hopefully never need.

I’ve also recommended Irish based outdoors, suppliers, as now more than ever it’s important to shop local.

Group Shelter

Also called a bivvy bag or bothy bag, this is possibly one of the most important items any hiker can carry with them.

Essentially a portable tent, without the bulk or weight, they can be stored in the bottom of your pack with convenience. They come in all sizes from smaller 2 person ones to larger 12 person sizes and are low cost.

They provide immediate protection from cold and biting winds or rain and within minutes of getting inside them, the body heat of the group will be keeping everyone toasty.

Whether you are lost in bad weather or keeping an injured friend warm while waiting for rescue, the benefit of a group shelter cannot be overstated.

I think this should be mandatory equipment for all hikers and considering the present need for social distancing, perhaps each hiker should carry a small personal one instead of the norm of one between a large group.

Adventure.ie sells an excellent Life-systems 2 person option in their Glendalough Store and online.

 

Headtorch

Getting caught out in fading light or after dark is an easy thing to happen. Without the ability to see where we are going, we are faced with the option of stumbling around in the dark or waiting it out ’til the next morning.

Neither are pleasant options. Tripping over a small divet can be more likely than walking off a big cliff, but both can injure you badly.

A cheap 5 euro generic headtorch isn’t a good option here, they won’t stand up to the rigours of mountainous weather.

Considering reputable outdoor brands like Black Diamond and Petzl have entry-level head torches from 20 euro, this should again be a no brainer, just don’t forget the fresh batteries.

Both Adventure.ie and Alpinesports.ie stock excellent affordable options.

https://store.adventure.ie/gear/lighting/

https://www.alpinesports.ie/equipment/lighting.html

First Aid Kit

There are excellent ready packaged options out there aimed at outdoor users and all the leading outdoor shops will stock them, but sometimes they have apparatus included that we are unlikely to use. Even more likely is that we don’t replenish the commonly used items in our kit. Cuts, sprains and breaks are the common injuries.

If cost is a barrier or you don’t want to carry the bulk of an all purpose first aid kit, then just make your own. It doesn’t have to be complicated, get a waterproof dry bag or zip-lock bag and stock it with alcohol wipes, gloves, face mask, plasters, different types and sizes of bandages, an extra large bandage to control bleeding and a roller bandage. Also, a small roll of duct tape.

It will be easier to keep track of what’s been used, it will barely take up space in your bag and you’ll be more likely to carry it.

A whistle should be included too, by far the best way to get attention in the hills or to assist a rescue team in finding you in poor visibility.

Foil Blanket

Also sometimes called space blankets, there are plenty on the market at a low cost, low weight addition to your backpack. They are super efficient at retaining body heat for an injured person and their big benefit is that they can be worn by a cold or near hypothermic hiker while moving.

There are some very cheap pocket sized options, which are really useful, but its worth noting they pose a potential risk to helicopters in that they can be sucked up into their engines. So remember to pack them away if being approached by a helicopter following an incident.

This is less likely to happen with heavier and more robust (albeit costlier) emergency bivis blankets like this one offered by Great Outdoors.

https://www.greatoutdoors.ie/shop/emergency-bivvy

Map and Compass

Experienced hikers get disoriented all the time and its not an issue, its not knowing how to relocate and get back on track that can be the issue. So many hikers go into the hills, either without a map and compass or with a set, but without the knowledge and practice of how to use them.

Navigation is a tool that needs to be kept sharp in order for it to be effective. So if you’ve never learned how to or its been a long time since you did, you probably wont “figure it out” while under pressure on the hills.

Consider getting some navigation training or doing a refresher. Currently there are numerous providers offering online refreshers. While they aren’t a substitute for a full course, they are an excellent option for preparation that we can be taking in advance of being allowed on the hills again.

When full courses are allowed to run, The Mountaineering Ireland approved Mountain Skills course is an excellent place to start. While I am a provider of the course

climbit.ie/mountain-skills-training-courses/

there are also multiple other providers and with some research it’ll be easy to find an Instructor who teaches the course regularly and comes highly recommended. If in doubt as to who to choose, look for Instructors or Leaders who advertise the AMI or UIMLA badge. Trust the badges as a sign of a professionalism and quality in the outdoors.

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Regular Gear checklist:

waterproof jacket and trousers. No matter what the forecast is, waterproofs should always be carried. Mountains can create their own weather systems, different to that of the local lowland area. They can also be excellent as a windbreaker layer, even if its not raining. The two jackets I use are a North Face Summit Series Goretex jacket and a Columbia Outdry jacket and I really like both. I tend to spend a lot of money on my waterproof jackets and go slightly cheaper on my trousers.

hats, gloves, buff. and spares in a dry bag. I have both expensive items and cheap Penneys items. All will work, just some will work better than others, but cost doesn’t have to be a barrier.

Baselayer – again you can spend a lot of money or go cheap with generic items, once they are made from a material good for wicking sweat then they are good enough. Polyester/merino/bamboo are good, cottons are bad.

hiking boots. On Irish mountains we don’t get the perfect quality trails and tracks that you find in other countries so appropriate hiking specific boots with ankle support are essential and runners are just a bad idea. Don’t buy them online either as fit is everything and a good outdoor shop will be able to help you choose the best fit for you. I personally like La Sportiva boots, they work well for narrower feet, so aren’t for everyone.

warm breathable layers – again you don’t have to buy specific hiking clothing, obviously purpose designed clothing will perform better, but any active wear or clothing designed for the outdoors is appropriate. For women gym leggings are a great option instead of trousers. Like baselayers make sure they aren’t cotton or denim. Cottons and Denims don’t dry fast and you can lose a lot of body heat as your system works hard to warm up the cold fabric. This is an issue on a wet day as well as a hot day, when sweat covered clothing can sap at our energy levels stealthily.

Spare layers – a warm mid layer, either fleece layer or a softshell, stored in a dry bag is essential for if the weather changes or if we get cold while stopped.

Hiking socks. Specifically designed hiking socks are expensive, but they last a long time and will help prevent getting blisters and that’s worth any money. I like Bridgedale socks.

food/water/snacks Enough for a long day on the hills, but also consider bringing some “what if” emergency snacks too, in case you are caught out longer than you intended.

Backpack. A well designed backpack allows you to carry all the weight on your hips and is designed and cushioned appropriately. Its sore and frustrating if you carry the load on your shoulders all day and when we are sore and frustrated we make bad decisions in the outdoors. Bad decisions that can lead to incidents. I only ever use an Osprey Talon 33 Litre bag for day to day hiking and highly recommend it. It makes sense to buy a bag from a company that only design and make bags as all their research and development goes into that product.

– Trekking Poles. – I always carry a pair when Im in the outdoors, I don’t always use them, but I always have them with me. At first they can feel awkward to get used to, but once you are used to them they are excellent for moving efficiently and extending the lifespan of your knees. I use them a lot in descent to assist with a recurring knee injury. They can also be great to give to a nervous companion on steep descents, as a crutch for someone with a light sprain or to use as a splint for an injured arm or leg. I use Black Diamond Trail Poles.

All of the above might take some time and cost to put together, so now is as good time as any to start preparing, so that we are ready in advance of needing them. The gear might also seem heavy and restrictive, but the extra weight will soon be forgotten about and will ultimately only make us fitter on the hills.

While I’m aware that the above might seem excessive or over-cautious, I genuinely can’t think where Id leave any of it out in normal circumstances, so I definitely don’t advise leaving any of it out for the near future, when our need to be self-sufficient and stay injury free in the hills will be more important than ever.

I hope the above is of some help and I’m happy to answer any questions, so please feel free to get in touch if you do.

Why A False Loop is Unsafe

A false loop is created when a sloppy stopper knot is tied to back up another not, most commonly in the case of climbers tieing into the rope.

What’s wrong with a false loop?

Often they are just small loops, which lessens the potential of what can go wrong, but as seen on a recent post online, some people do climb with excessively large false loops, which can lead to a whole new array of problems.

Let’s look at when and why a false loop isn’t desirable in climbing:

They’re unsafe

If a climber clips into the false loop instead of the rope loop for safety, let’s say on a multi-pitch belay stance, it could be catastrophic. There have been recorded instances of this occurring and leading to accidents.

Bottom roping

If running a group session in a climbing wall with novices, it would be easy for a novice to remove the carabiner from the proper loop and clip it to the false loop and again there are recorded incidents of this happening each year.

 

Leading

If the loop was excessively large, a lead climber could accidentally clip into a quickdraw via the false loop and not the live rope.

If this was on trad gear they could possibly lift out the trad gear and if it was on bolts they could be yanked backwards, causing a fall onto a false loop.

It just looks plain wrong

If someone can be that sloppy with the simplest knot, then how sloppy are they with the rest of the aspects of their climbing, like building anchors.

Entrapment

Much like if you tie in with too big a loop, the large false loop can snag on protruding holds or create a suspension hazard, like in a climbing wall where there are large upturned holds.

It’s even possible for body parts to become ensnared or trapped in a loop. In the picture above it would be quite easy for the climber to catch a leg or arm in the false loop, creating an unorthodox fall.

The potential for a choking hazard on a stupidly big loop is there too, were you to get your head stuck in the loop.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post or other skills and remember always buddy check and “dress & stress” knots thoroughly!

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When should I Retire My Rope?

Is climbing on an older well used rope the equivalent of knowing you have bald tyres on your car and hoping you don’t skid on a slick road?

Ropes are expensive and we all like to get the most out of them, but knowing when to retire or assign them to an alternative use is an important decision.

When should I retire my rope?

RECOMMENDED LIFESPAN OF CLIMBING ROPE

Lets first look at some approximate guidelines from manufacturers about the life spans per usage of a rope:

Daily usage: less than 1 year

Weekly usage: approx. 1 year

Regular monthly Usage: approx. 3 years

Regular annual usage: approx. 5 years

Rare annual usage: approx. 5-7 years

Never used: approx. 10 years

How accurate are the Guidelines?

The guidelines make for interesting reading as I know ropes get used way past their recommended lifespan all the time.

With any guideline and approximations, there is a degree of vagueness and manufacturers will err on the side of caution.

These are also “normal usage” guidelines and don’t allow for what happens to the rope during the lifespan, the abnormal conditions it experiences, or even how it’s been stored and cared for when not in use.

A rope getting heavily stressed over an edge on its first day of use could be dangerously damaged, way more than one that’s barely used by its owner over a 5 year period.

Let’s look at two identical 10.0mm dynamic single ropes I have purchased:

Rope 1

Purchased in 2011, the rope was used a lot at first for leading on trad, then for bottom roping and now gets used solely in a teaching capacity for demonstrating setups.

It has no fuzziness or swollen lumpiness, no sheath slippage and through touch and bend inspection, no apparent damage to its core.

It’s lost some of its dynamic quality, but for the eye to see, looks in great condition. It is no longer ever used to climb on

Rope 2

Purchased in 2016, the rope was used as an all-rounder at first and used often. It saw a good amount of work and was used on a good number of occasions for roped scrambling.

It was used on multiple occasions to direct belay off some coarse rock. Its diameter is visibly swollen, it now measures 12mm with callipers and has a fuzzy and rough exterior.

There is no bunching or sheath slippage or apparent damage to its core.

It lost some a lot of its dynamic properties and is visibly in poor condition and is no longer used in any capacity.

Work vs lifespan

The point of the above two descriptions of rope is obvious, the latter had a harsher workload than the former and as such measuring its lifespan by time alone is a useless factor.

As climbers, we must be diligent to record the various uses and hardships that a rope goes through and be willing to absorb the cost of repurposing a rope when its time has come.

Storage conditions

The conditions we store our ropes in has a massive outcome on their lifespan. All manner of things can affect the quality and safety of the rope and often the damage can be hidden internally.

  • UV damage to the sheath from overexposure to the sun
  • Chemical damage from contact with solvents or corrosive materials
  • Collected dirt/grit/salt damage grinding on the inner core

We must be as careful when we store them as we are when we use them. Below are some of the common issues leading to rope damage.

  • Using regular ink to mark our rope rather than specialised marking ink
  • Leaving ropes on a floor in the shed as cement dust is corrosive
  • Oils and diesel: Left in the boot of our car coming in contact with the rope
  • Some powerful batteries can give off gases, so be careful if storing ropes near power tools

Guidelines for good rope maintenance

Below are some tips for extending the lifespan and maximising the safety of our ropes.

  • Regularly inspect your ropes by touch when coiling and flaking your ropes.
  • Fully investigate any irregularities to the touch or feel of the rope or if unsure, ask a more experienced person to also inspect anything suspect.
  • If you can see the core of the rope protruding from the sheath, it’s too damaged to use as a single piece of rope.
  • Likewise, if you feel a flat spot in the rope, consider the internal core too damaged to risk using.
  • Wash them occasionally using just lukewarm water or manufacturer-approved cleaning agent.
  • Dry them properly and don’t store them wet or damp where they won’t dry out.
  • Use a rope bag when at a dusty/dirty crag to keep grit from working inside the sheath
  • Don’t buy a second-hand rope, you can’t tell where it has been or what it has done.
  • Don’t lend a rope to somebody, unless you totally trust them to look after it and tell you how it was used/abused.
  • Store the rope in a dedicated bag/box/area, where you can seal the container and contact with a chemical is impossible.
  • Consider retiring any rope that has been subject to a fall with a very high fall factor rating. These types of falls are uncommon but do occur.
  • If the rope becomes stiff and unworkable, it’s possibly time to retire it, as its properties have been compromised beyond their intended usage.

Ok, so when should I retire my rope then?

To sum up, if your gut instinct tells you a ropes integrity might be compromised, either by its uses, appearance, how it feels or how you stored it, consider retiring it and buying a new one.

We change our climbing shoes all the time when we notice damage to them and they are considerably more expensive than the average 10mm single rope.

I hope the above post is useful. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post.

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The Benefits Of Double/Half Ropes

I try to use double ropes/ half ropes as much as possible when I’m climbing trad routes unless I’m climbing at a very small crag like Ballyryan.

If you’re not used to using them, they might seem like an extra faff and for new climbers, there’s a cost factor, but once you start using them you’ll never go back.

Half/Double ropes shouldn’t be confused with twin ropes.

What is a double rope?

As per the diagram below, twin ropes both get clipped to each piece of gear, while half/double ropes get clipped to alternate pieces.

Double ropes and twin ropes

So what are the benefits of using double ropes?

Your ropes run in straighter lines.

Use one rope to clip pieces placed on the right and the other to clip pieces placed on the left.

This makes falling way safer than if you were just using a single rope.

In the event of a fall, it allows the pieces on each side to be pulled in a downward direction. If you had been using a single rope, the forces of pull on the gear could have been sideways and not downwards.

Straight line belay

 

Makes long abseils easier

If you have to bail off a long multi-pitch route or you purposely intend to abseil from the top of a tall crag, then a lot of faff and hassle can be solved by climbing on double ropes. For example, using 60m doubles its possible to abseil down the main face of Glendalough, saving loads of time.

It reduces rope drag

On wandering climbs like Doolin Rouge or The Ghost, where the few bits of gear available are on opposite sides of the climb, it would create massive rope drag to just use one rope.

While sometimes unsafe (point 1 above) and generally just annoying, if you were to use a single rope on a meandering climb a point would arrive where progression would probably be hindered.

Not only will progress be hindered but a zig-zagging rope will be more likely to “walk” your cams and lift placed nuts from their original placement, which could lead to the piece failing in the event of a fall.

It can make building anchors simpler

If you’ve done a long pitch and are running short on rope, it gives you twice as much rope to play with and can be the difference in making a straightforward quick anchor.

Reduces potential deck outs

The potential for deck outs or larger falls can be avoided by alternating the ropes you clip in on, a good reason to use doubles on straight vertical cracks.

When using a single rope, the moment you pull slack up to clip into gear can be the most dangerous.

Safeguarding the second climber

If the person seconding you is nervous or not psyched on seconding traverse sections, then you can place additional high runners, not so much to protect you on lead but to protect their potential to swing while following you.

Doing this with a single rope uses up a lot of extendable quickdraws or creates a ton of rope-drag

Dissipation of force under load. If you fall, using two ropes can spread the force of the fall between the gear on either side, but this can also be down to having an attentive belayer.


Gear placement with double rope



Teams of 3 can move faster

If you’re climbing as a team of three, then the leader can bring both following climbers up at the same time in parallel (albeit slightly staggered).

Disadvantages of Double rope

Belaying

It can initially be a bit of a faff to get used to, but you’ll soon learn a system that works for you and be cruising with it.

Cost, weight, storage

Everything is twice what is with a single rope, but I think the advantages trump these inconveniences.

Clipping both ropes

If you clip both ropes to the one quickdraw, you could possibly damage or burn the ropes as they abrade against each other during a fall. So make sure you don’t clip two ropes into the same QD or learn more about using triple rated ropes.

I hope the above post is useful. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post.

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Understanding Dynamic Ropes

Considering the importance of the rope in climbing, it’s surprising how little most climbers understand their construction and ratings.

Below is a brief explanation of what the markings on the packaging of a new rope mean.

It would be easy to write at length on each of these markings and at times it’s been harder to make a concise but sufficient explanation.

understanding dynamic ropes labels

What do all the markings mean?

This particular rope will serve me well for climbing single pitch routes in the Burren during the summer but of less use to me at Dalkey, Glendalough or Scottish Winter. Let’s see why:


The 1 indicates that this is a single rated rope.

Single rope: designed to be used on its own.

Half/double ropes: designed to be used as a pair, with only one rope clipped into each piece of protection.

Twin ropes: designed to be used as a pair, clipping both ropes into the same piece of protection.      

 

Triple rated ropes are designed to be used as single, twin or half ropes. As such are the ultimate multipurpose tool and are priced accordingly.

If you want to see the advantages of half/double ropes, you can read this blog post I wrote about them

UIAA Falls: 7-8

This does not mean that after experiencing 7-8 standard lead falls, your rope is no good and should be retired. A common misconception.

Modern ropes don’t generally break, they cut or abrade.

The kinds of forces used in testing are extremely severe and not generally the kind of forces the average lead fall can create.

All UIAA certified ropes undergo a similar test process. To pass, it must survive a minimum of 5 simulated falls without breaking. This rope has failed after 7-8 of those test falls.

Delving into those fall factor forces is separate a blog post in itself, so while it’s safe to say that this rope is perfectly strong enough to withstand a lot more than just 7-8 “normal” lead fall scenarios.

Maybe if I have had a couple of big whippers in a row then I’ll take a break from using this rope and allow it to shrink back to normal size.

If I was to have the kind of fall simulated in the test, I’d probably not be going for a second attempt at the climb.

A higher fall rating can however indicate a better quality of rope, with increased durability and lifespan.

Impact Force, 8.4kn.

This is the force transmitted from the rope to the climber under a fall, essentially, the ropes ability to absorb the energy of fall.

The lower the number the more pleasant the fall.

Again, it is tested using high fall factors and doesn’t allow for the forces being absorbed by the climbers and belayers bodies, rope slippage through the belay device etc, which would occur in a real-life fall and would also contribute to a comfortable “soft catch“.

This rating can be a consideration for the trad climber as the lower the IF number, the better the dissipation of the forces created during a fall and the less force transmitted into the placed protection.

A sports climber taking multiple lobs on a project might appreciate the comfort of a rope with a low IF number.

In the case of bottom/top-roping, you ideally want a higher IF number as the forces created during this type of fall are low and we probably want less stretch, to avoid the climber hitting their ankles off a ledge or the ground.  

Elongation in Use, 6.5%

This is the amount of rope stretch created when hanging a static weight from the rope. In testing, they use a static weight of 80kg.

So if an 80kg person was to hang on the full length of this rope, it would stretch to become a 42.6-metre rope or 6.5% of the length of the rope.

The thinner the rope, the more likely it is to stretch further. A rope will stretch more when wet but it will lose its elasticity the more it is used.

proportion of Sheath, 40%

This is how much of the construction of the rope is made up of sheath and how much of it is made up of the inner core (60%).

The core is where the primary strength and elasticity of the rope is, but the sheath determines its ability to withstand abrasion and its durability.

Remember, ropes generally don’t break, they cut, so this is an important rating to take into consideration.

This is why I have one set of ropes of working with (these run over more edges and take more abuse) and a different set for personal climbing (these have less wear and tear but bigger falls).

UIAA water absorption, 46%

Wet ropes stretch more, get heavier/harder to use and can make using ascenders and Gris-Gris difficult, so it can be important that they are water repellent, especially in snow and ice conditions.

This particular rope has a high absorbency and wouldn’t be much good for ice climbing, but will be just fine for use at a short single pitch crag on dry summer days.

As per the UIAA test, a true water repellent rope should have a water absorption rating of 5% or less. Some “Dry” ropes don’t achieve this as they are only dry treated. Like your waterproof jacket, the treatment wears off over time.

Elongation at 1st fall, 31%

This is the percentage of stretch in the rope the first time a dynamic fall or load is applied to it. Like the elongation in use test above, an 80kg weight is used and replicates a severe fall scenario.

While a maximum 31% stretch may seem like a very high and worrying number, it will always be less in reality, where we won’t achieve the forces created in the UIAA test.

However, it might just make you think about not using your brand new ropes on a short lead climb where the crux is at the bottom of the route.

The elongation percentage will reduce over the life of a dynamic rope.

Sheath Slippage, 0%

The less slippage between the core and the sheath of the rope, the more durable it is.

We’ve all seen the ends of a rope in a climbing wall get bunched up and fat from this, or feel a thin spot on a rope where it’s been damaged, so you would think 0% is an ideal score here.

However, ropes with less slippage can be less pliable and soft to handle. Some sheath slippage can even be a good thing if the rope is running over a sharp edge as the load is spread across a greater area.

Any visible damage or alteration to the rope from sheath slippage should be treated with caution and cut from the rope or retire the rope completely.

Other markings

While length, diameter and weight per meter of the rope are self-explanatory markings, they are helpful to let us know what category and preferred use to put a rope into.

So what rope should you buy then?

There’s no point spending a fortune on ropes if your style of climbing doesn’t need all the design features possible for a rope.

A low price doesn’t mean low quality, it could just mean fewer options to use it.

If you climb exclusively indoors you shouldn’t be concerned about ratings like weight or water repellency and should go for a thick robust and competitively priced rope. The Beal Wall master perhaps.

If the majority of your climbing is on smaller single pitch trad routes, then any single rated 50m rope will get you through most days in Ireland and will be super affordable. Something like the Tendon Smart 10mm.

For sport, any single rated rope will do once its sufficiently long enough to let you climb AND lower off the route. If it’s a particularly long route then definitely thinner lighter ropes are better.

But if you intend to or do a lot of multi-pitching in Ireland then get a set of 60m half/double ropes as well as the above 50m rope and mix and match between the two sets. I use DMM Crux 9.1mm ropes and they are class.

If you intend to go to Scotland in the winter, bring doubles and make sure your ropes are proper dry ropes or at least dry treated.

However, if money isn’t an issue and you want simplicity and a great all-round option, get a set of triple rated 60m Beal Joker unicore Golden dry ropes to have the solution to all the above climbing scenarios.

Well all scenarios apart from a 30m+ sports climb that is.

I hope the above post is useful. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post.

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Sleeping Systems For The Outdoors

A reliable sleeping system for the outdoors can be compared to a chain, only as good as the weakest link.

Why prioritise buying an expensive sleeping bag and not prioritise the mat you are sleeping on, or think by just having a good quality tent, you can skimp on what to use inside it.

 

Sleeping Systems For The Outdoors in Kerry
Wild camping in Kerry

Crucial Elements of Sleeping Systems For The Outdoors

This blog is aimed mostly as those who go hillwalking in Ireland or the UK, or trekking abroad and not so much aimed at the needs of alpinists.

Obviously the approach to sleeping systems taken by alpinists can be extreme to suit their needs for fast and light, while on Irish and UK hills we can afford to carry a little extra weight without it being too tasking on our objectives or safety.

Let’s look at the parts of the system for sleeping systems for the outdoors, especially in Ireland and the UK.

Sleeping Bag

Whether you choose down or synthetic insulation it doesn’t really matter too much, there are pros and cons of both.

Down will pack and compress to a smaller size, but requires greater care and will be less effective if it gets wet. Synthetic insulation will take up a larger space in your backpack but isn’t as costly as down.

My personal preference is for a down sleeping bag and the one I have been using since 2012 is the Rab Ascent 700.

It didn’t break the bank especially considering how many times I’ve used it, has always performed and can be paired with a liner layer to increase its warmth.

Most bags come with a three-part rating, comfort, limit and extreme. Personally, I base all my opinions about a bag’s warmth on the limit rating and I view the extreme rating as a complete work of fiction.

The Rab Ascent 700 has a limit rating of -12c. I’ve used it all over Ireland, the UK and on approximately 150 different nights spent at high altitude in the past 4 years, albeit sometimes paired with a liner.

Id highly recommend it to anyone serious about spending overnights in the outdoors.

It weighs about 1.3kg, which is light enough for Irish Hillwalking needs. Yes, you can get bags as warm that are half as light, but they are three times the price and Id imagine nowhere near as durable.

Ultralight gear can seem important, but shouldn’t be a massive consideration unless you’re going to the Alps or greater ranges.

Sleeping Bag Liners

I once bought a 16 euro sleeping bag in ALDI as a liner and paired it with my Rab bag above and successfully used it on a 23 trip to the Himalayas to do Island Peak.

At the lower tea houses, I just used the cheap bag, and mixed and matched between the two for the trip as we ascended. Our highest tented sleeping altitude was 5500m.

This is hardly applicable to the Irish hills, but the point is that a liner can give you versatility and a layering system that can work effectively for you while protecting and elongating the lifespan of your sleeping bag.

There are all types of liners on offer. Very thin silk ones only marginally increase the thermal properties of a system but are great for keeping the inside of your sleeping bag clean.

A fleece liner can be a bit bulkier but is cheap and offers a good return in terms of heat retention.

Sleeping Mat

A good mat is essential. It doesn’t matter how good a bag you have, if you cant insulate your body from the ground, your heat will be leeched from you and you’re destined for a poor night’s sleep.

You can choose a fold/roll-up mat or an inflatable one. Again each has its pros and cons, a fold-up is cheap and simple to use, but has loads of bulk.  An inflatable can be punctured and a good one is relatively more expensive.

You can make all the arguments for or against which type is your preference, just make sure you bring one.

I’ve been using a Thermarest pro lite for a good few years now. I bought it the same day as I did the sleeping bag, from Nigel at Alpinesports.ie

Its never been punctured, but then I’m careful when using it. Carrying a simple repair kit will solve any issues.

Tent

Sometimes picking the right tent for you and your needs can be confusing and it’s easy to think the price is a good indication of value.

The tent that I use most often for the Irish hills cost me 50 euro in a sale. Its cheap, generic and basic but it’s heavy, 1.5kg heavier than I ideally want. It has stood up to many nights of high winds and desperate non-stop rain though.

Wild Camping in Ireland
Heavy, but it works

 

On foreign, expeditions, I use a Mountain Hardwear Trango tent and love it too, but it costs 800 euro and I wouldn’t want to have to carry it every day. It’s too heavy and oversized to carry in a backpack for the hills at home.

 

Camping in the Himalayas
The Trango 3 at 5500m advanced base camp, Island Peak

The point is that the price differential between the two isn’t a factor, they have different characteristics to handle different scenarios, but essentially they both fulfil their primary function, they keep a barrier from the wind and the rain off my head.

I do keep meaning to buy a lighter tent for use on the Irish hills. I used a Marmot Limelight 2p tent for a week-long trip recently and would strongly consider buying one, but apart from the excessive weight, my current one works well and will do me for a while yet.

Bivy Bag

I have a lightweight waterproof RAB bivy bag that I will sometimes bring for an external layer to my sleeping bag if heavy rain is forecast. It also adds another thin layer to retain warmth, but I often leave it at home too.

It doesn’t take up too much room when compressed and protects the sleeping bag, but it’s not always essential.

There are heavier bivy bags on offer, more like a 1 person tent, which would have obvious weight and space-saving options in place of a full tent.

It’d be a bit grim to use though, as they lack in space or comfort and for me take away from the fun experience of camping in the outdoors.

I considered this approach for my ML assessment, to go light, but was so happy I didn’t afterwards. I trialled it as a system on a multi-day hike in The Mournes, but I didn’t enjoy it, so went with my tent for my ML instead.

The comfort of being able to sit up, organise your gear and get a bit of headspace on a tough weekends assessment was invaluable and worth carrying the extra weight.

Dry Bags

I like to put all the gear in my rucksack inside dry bags, it makes packing and finding things in a hurry super-efficient, but mainly its to guarantee a dry sleeping bag at the end of the day.

A night sleeping in a wet bag would be grim.

Use heavy black plastic bags if you haven’t bought dry bags yet, but don’t rely on the compression sack from your sleeping bag to be waterproof enough.

If you’re confused as to what best suits you then maybe don’t just buy online, speak to someone like Ronan at Adventure.ie, he’s active in the outdoors, a qualified International Mountain Leader and an outdoor gear shop owner, so he knows what works and chooses to stock good quality items.

I personally like the look of the Salewa Micra II Tent they are selling at the moment, for that price, weight and waterproofing it looks like a great deal.

Camping in the Mournes
The Mournes

 

I hope the above post is useful. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post.

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7 Reasons To Boulder In Doolin

If you’re looking for a climbing challenge, you could do worse than a spot of bouldering in Doolin.

The bouldering area at Lackglass near Doolin is one of my favourite outdoor places in the country, to climb or to just chill out and enjoy the relative solitude.

It’s a relatively short walk in, through a couple of stony Burren fields and along a stone wall all the way to the coast. With the sun on your face and view cross the Atlantic ocean to the Aran Islands and beyond, on a good day, it’s ace.

New Bouldering Routes in Doolin

There are times I’ve walked in during the winter storms, just to see what the full ferocity of the crashing waves can do. I’ve never been there on a day so big that the boulders have been jumbled around but, from a reasonable distance, Id imagine its an awesome sight to behold.

To see boulders weighing in the tens of tonnes moved about, flipped on their head, moved across the slab or even gone completely, it has to be seen to believed.

And that’s both the beauty and the shame of bouldering in Doolin, every couple of years the route-setters come in and leave us with a new bunch of challenges. Were it not for the fact that they strip away or alter old classics, this arrangement would be perfect.

The problems I’ve listed below are in the grades 5-7 range because its what I climb and can recommend. There are some classic harder graded problems, but not lots of them.

Hopefully, this blog will spark an idea to visit Doolin and try some of the quality problems, while they still exist.

Do your best to carpool and always shut the farmer’s gate. An excellent relationship currently exists with the local farmer who thinks what we do is great craic, let’s make sure we never give cause to change that.

Bouldering in Doolin

Up The Alley, 6A

Revealed for the first time after a big storm circa 2014 and first climbed by Cian Kearns this was an immediate classic on the circuit at Doolin.

A reachy and dynamic first move off the ground to good holds, before a delicate traverse right on tiny footholds, maintain body tension moving up and slap to a small sloping edge for a delicate move to get a welcome top out hold.

It’s not a given that you get it every time, which makes it both frustrating and special.

Bigfoot 6A+

One of the original classics of the crag that seems to stay untouched despite being relatively close to the water’s edge.

Overhanging, with an encouraging start on big holds and a pleasing heel hook, it soon turns much tougher with a big move required off two smaller sharper crimps.

The strong can static it, but the rest of us mortals have to suck it up and throw, not quite a full dyno, but certainly very dynamic.

The top out hold is a mega jug though and with the opportunity to flail your legs loose and still stay on, it makes for a really enjoyable finish.

Standard Finger Crack 5+

The Reardon Memorial wall is one of the striking features of the crag. A highball wall where you would definitely need a few pads to be feeling it. Luckily the climbs are all mostly straight up.

Solid climbing at the grade, luckily the harder moves on Standard Finger Crack are all lower down when it’s more pleasant to fall.

The holds get juggier as you ascend and top out, but keep your cool as a fall would be a big one.

Even if highballs aren’t your thing, it’d be a shame to visit and not tick off at least one. Standard Corner, 4 would be safer tick if you want jugs all the way.

The Egg, 5+

Another of the newer revealed classics, it came on the scene a few years back, got blocked off again after a storm and only this year was revealed again when the “sitting stone” blocking it got moved 40 metres across the slab.

For such a short boulder it can cause awful frustration to figure out the beta. A hand slap followed quickly by a foot stab keeps you steady enough to rearrange feet and make another slap to a big hold before an easier top out. It might look straightforward, but it can be tricky.

Bobs Traverse 6B+

Perfect if you want a beta heavy long problem but without the big falls. You don’t even need multiple pads for the base as its so low to the ground at times.

The guide book says to do it in any direction, but for me its always going to be left to right. It took me so long to crack it, but like all great problems, it seems like you’ll never get it, ’til you do.

Good handholds and footholds for the most part, but whatever beta you figure out, it’s about keeping your concentration and body tension for that one thin move at the crux.

At full spread and with blind feet, its about body tension and trusting a small sloping edge to match hands and move again.

Solid Works, 7A

One of the more skin-friendly limestone 7As, where you won’t get shut down working it after a few attempts. As its not tidal, quick-drying and faces the sun, it can be worked all year round, which is a good incentive to stick with it.

Traverse along the lip to the middle of the boulder using a series of heel hooks and open-handed holds before a nice mantle, rockover and easier slabby top out. For me, the process and time invested in this will always be special.

Black Corner, 6C

The exact opposite of Solid Works in that for the most of the winter its wet, smashed by swell and builds up a layer of algae on it. Only after a late spring/summer dry spell and some brushing does it come into good condition.

Even then you have to hope your free time coincides with low tide and dry weather. You would think that would serve to frustrate, but it only adds to the allure of all the climbs on the large Fireworks boulder even more.

An easy sit start on juggy holds sucks me in for “just one more try”, drop knee, reach behind and match hands on the rail, cut loose and chop kick the left foot to kill the swing, left-hand sidepull, steady, right-hand side pull, move left hand up to the small edge and…. off.

I’ve never got beyond that move and it motivates me and grates me all at the one time, but does not topping out stop it from being one of my favourite problems? No chance, this is a must-do

Still to top out routes

Add Broken 6B (update: I topped out on this class problem in april 2021) and Emerland 6C+ to the above to make a list of great climbs I love working but haven’t topped.

Add Gutbusters 6b+ to the list if you like problems where you cant see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The Ramp 6B+ is one of the great problems of the crag. (Topped out March 2021).

And as for all those climbs that were of great quality and fun to climb, but are no longer there.. hopefully, ye make a return visit someday, in whatever orientation Neptune decides.

But bouldering in Doolin isn’t just about nature and climbing for me, it’s about friendship and social sends.

It about the lifelong mates that I’ve made through climbing, many of them I met or climbed with the first time at Doolin.

Here’s a short movie a friend made some years ago during a spell of hot weather, not the best temps for conditions but some really great memories.

The 5 “Best” HVS’s In Ireland

Writing something like a “best of” list is such a subjective thing, but also such a great thing to get a discussion going.

From writing the previous VS list I know I have a new list of climbs to add to my ever-increasing wishlist.

To my shame, I have climbed very little in Donegal. I daydream of trips to Cruit, Gola and Owey. Climbs like The Donkeys Pelvis looks like it could make this list with ease, but I haven’t climbed it yet, so I can’t comment.

I’ve been to The Mournes plenty, but mostly for work and lower graded climbs so I’ve not even started ticking the climbs I want to do there personally.

But pretty much from the day I bought The Mournes guidebook Parallel Lines and Sweetie Mice jumped out at me and I cant wait to get on them too.

The 5 Best HVS climbs in Ireland

So below is a list of the 5 best HVS climbs in Ireland that I’ve climbed, so far. They may not be your best, but they might inspire you to get out and try a new route.

They make my list not solely because of their aesthetic qualities, amazing location or popularity, but because of who I climbed them with and at what stage in my climbing I did them.

I look forward to hearing suggestions for other routes I should add to my list.

Pangur Bán, HVS 5a, 36m, Farrangandoo

No surprise that the best HVS in the country should be at the best crag in the country. But putting aside my blatant love and bias for Fair Head for a moment, this is still a really amazing climb, best saved for late in the evening when the setting sun is on your back.

The moves just feel fantastic and the gear is good. I’ve had the pleasure of climbing it once on lead and once on second and I can’t recall a HVS that I’ve enjoyed as much.

Sarcophagus HVS 5a, 5a, 5a, 84m, Glendalough

I don’t think I’ve ever had an un-enjoyable day climbing at Glendalough, but the first time I did Sarcophagus was one of the best ones.

Really good sustained climbing, on solid rock with plenty of gear. The feeling of being high above the Glendalough valley floor amplifies the experience.

Its variation finish traversing into Left Wall is one of the top routes in the country too, but as its E1, that’s slightly off-topic.

Best HVS climb in Glendalough

Cuchulainn HVS 5a, 30m, Gap Of Dunloe

One of Cons fine routes and one of my first climbs at HVS. I remember being so absorbed in the moment and loved every bit of it, once Id topped out.

I seconded Ferdia immediately afterwards and it probably got the cooler moves going through the roof, but for some reason, Cuchulainn lives long in my memory as being an outstanding climb at the grade.

Hells Kitchen, HVS, 5a, 5a, 66m, Fair Head

Back to Fair Head and what an epic line. The first time I lead it, I kind of hated it. A really hot day, wearing too many layers and fluffing the top moves, I got cooked in the kitchen.

The next time I tried it was a much more enjoyable one and I’d happily do it again in the morning if there weren’t so many amazing routes at FH that I haven’t tried yet.

Hells Kitchen HVS
Hells Kitchen’s famous belay Ledge

Thrust, HVS 5A, Dalkey

Originally recorded as a 2 pitch route, it’s now commonly climbed in a single pitch. Whichever way you do it, its a classic and for me the best HVS at the crag.

Good gear and a strong variation of climbing style from start to finish, its just so much fun to climb. Tucked away, it can be a great option on a busier day at Dalkey.

Below is a link to a good video of Thrust being climbed, thanks to Conor for letting me use it.

Honourable Mentions for best HVS climbs in Ireland

Out of my reach, Gap Of Dunloe (a brilliant route and not reachy at all, as per Con the naming of it had nothing to do with climbing rocks).

Great Balls Of Fire, Ailladie (A stunning location and a bit of everything thrown into one).

Pis Fluich, Ailladie – pure marmite, some days I love it, some days I hate it.

Black Widow, Ailladie – 3 boulder problems on top of each other, each level harder than the last, just like a computer game, what’s not to love?

Graham Crackers, Dalkey – The E1 5B of Cell Block H makes for a better climb and finish and for me pushes it out of the running slightly.

Meltdown, Gap Of Dunloe – I haven’t climbed it yet, but its always highly recommended.

Chocks away, Ailladie – another marmite route for people, but one I really loved climbing. Full value for the absorbing crux corner. Trust your feet and your cams!

 

The 5 Best VS Climbs In Ireland

If you’re like me, then you’ve been spending most of Lockdown dreaming about getting out and climbing again, especially at my favourite Irish crags.

Sometimes thumbing through guidebooks and making tick-lists are the genesis of all good adventures.

This is a list of 5 climbs that I think every VS climber should aim to lead at some stage.

They vary in style, location and rock type and could make for a useful base for planning a summer climbing trip around Ireland.

The 5 Best VS Climbs In Ireland

The Black Thief, VS 4b, 24m, Fair Head

If you love hand jams, you’ll love The Black Thief, 24m of cruisey jams and gear on demand. Even if you don’t love hand jams yet, then this is the climb to get you started and it’s fitting that it should be a Clare and Calvin route to start off this list.

Prelude-Nightmare, VS 4b, 4b, 4a, 4c, 74m, Glendalough

One of the best climbs on the crag. Solid rock and decent gear placements when needed. It’s always a bit exciting leaving the belay ledge and committing to the airy Nightmare pitch. A must-do!

Giraffe, VS 4c, 40m, Dun Seanna Head

Such a dramatic setting and an aesthetic line, with good holds and lots of gear.

Waves crashing around the belay ledge can add to the drama, but mostly for your belayer as they will you to hurry up.

Girona, VS 4c, 4c, 47m, Fair Head

Another at Fair Head, but then it is the best crag in the world, so hardly surprising. Girona has a bit of everything climbing wise, but for me the final few moves on the upper section of pitch 2 are class. Hard for the grade but with gear on demand, its an absolute classic.

Jug City, VS 4c, 12m, Ailladie

It might seem odd that a 12m route peppered with jugs can be given the same grade as Girona. Its way easier to climb, but as a climbing experience, if VS is your grade, it’s up there with anything Ireland has to offer. For most people, it’s their first abseil in route at Ailladie and with good reason too.

Honourable mentions:

Taoiseach, VS 4c, 4c, Fair Head – The slab section at the start of pitch 2 is awesome

Mahjongg, VS 4c, Dalkey – Fun, thin slab climbing.

Roaring Meg, VS 5a, Fair Head – a long route with some excellent moves on it.R

Kudos VS 4c, 4c Gap Of Dunloe – awesome route and a good multi-pitch adventure high above the valley floor.

Hopefully, this inspires some to get out and climb when we are allowed to do so again.

Let me know if you agree or even strongly disagree with my choices of the best VS climbs in Ireland or if you feel there’s been a glaring omission then I’m happy to hear that too, it might just inspire me to get out somewhere new too.

I hope the above info is useful. If you would like to discuss any aspect further, please get in touch and I’d be happy to chat.

 

Prusik Knots & Autoblocks.

The term Prusik knot or Autoblock is often used to generalise a number of different friction hitches that we use regularly in climbing.

Below are three friction hitches that I use a lot, their pros and cons and when or where I might use them.

The Prusik Knot (aka Original Prusik, Classic Prusik)

Developed by Austrian mountaineer Dr Karl Prusik, this hitch works by threading a cord around a rope and back through itself, usually 2 or 3 times, to provide a locking friction hitch that is difficult to release under load.

It’s useful as its quick and easy to tie and can be used in both pull directions. It uses the least amount of cord to make, which can be handy if you want to connect the Prusik to your harness without having to extend it with a sling.

Its less effective on wet or icy ropes and you should never use a sling for a Prusik Knot.

Perhaps its best use is for a scenario like escaping the system, where you don’t want the hitch to release under load, but don’t intend to slide it or move it along the rope much.

Klemheist

 

This hitch works by wrapping the cord around a rope multiple times and passing the bight from one end of the cord through the bight of the other end of the cord.

It locks really well, in fact, it can be practically impossible to slide when weighted if used properly. It can be released easily and a sling can be used as well as a cord (see below).

However, it only works in one pull direction and its too catchy to use as a back up for abseiling.

Because it grips so hard, it works really well when used in an unassisted haul set up, for escaping the system or when ascending or descending a fixed rope.

French Prusik (aka The Autoblock)


This knot is tied by wrapping the cord around the rope and clipping the bight at both ends of the cord together with a carabiner.

Its advantage and disadvantage is the same thing, it can be easily released, even under pressure.

As this is often used as a “fast-moving” hitch a sling isn’t advisable here either as it could slip/slide more easily and melt.

This makes it perfect for using as a back up when abseiling when lowering someone on an Italian hitch or as a clutch when using a haul system. It would not be an ideal friction hitch to use as a primary safety when ascending a rope, however.

 

Why do I need to know this? (couldn’t I just use a mechanical device?)

While there are purpose made devices out there like the Tibloc, there are a whole host of reasons as to why knowing how to make/use a friction hitch is a good idea. Below are just a few:

  • Cord is cheaper and weighs less than metal
  • you can wrap a friction hitch around two ropes
  • you can use a sling for some setups (please see below)
  • It can be untied and used for tat to abseil off
  • it causes less wear to your ropes
  • it can be used easily in descent
  • it could be used to make a runner with two crabs if you run out of quick-draws

How do I tie a cord for a friction hitch?

  • Use rated cord somewhere between 60 – 80 % of the diameter of the rope. 6mm cord covers most scenarios. If the cord is too thick, it won’t grip the rope, but too thin and it could melt or deform quicker.
  • Approx 1.2/1.3 metres of cord is needed.
  • Tie both ends of the cord together using a double fisherman’s knot and make sure there are no twists in the strands before tie-ing.
  • Make sure there are sufficiently long tails, so the cord doesn’t pull through the knot when weighted.

Can I use a sling for a Prusik?

It is absolutely best practice to use a rated cord for friction hitches, but a sling can work too, if used right, let’s look at when or why.

A Dyneema sling (least resistant to heat) or a Nylon sling (slightly more resistant to heat) are poor choices for Original Prusiks or French Prusiks, but if you were stuck, could be used as a Klemheist, especially in a scenario where they are butting up against a larger rope knot and are prevented from slipping, like when built behind the master point.

Aramid slings have a high melting point and I have successfully used them as a back up French Prusik when abseiling, without any damage or melting. This makes them suitable for all types of friction hitch.

Advanced uses of friction hitches

In this article I’ve spoken bout some advanced techniques liked hauling, escaping the system or ascending fixed lines and about knots which may be unfamiliar to some climbers.

If you don’t understand these techniques and terms used above then consider doing a training course and up-skilling your climbing knowledge.

Id strongly recommends using an AMI qualified instructor to show you too, as they will have been trained and assessed on what to teach and how to teach it.

I hope the above info is useful. If you would like to discuss any aspect further, please get in touch and Id be happy to chat.

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