If you’re a beginner and you have no idea what quickdraws are, what they’re for, or whether you even need them, then let me answer your questions quickly.
“So, what actually is a quickdraw?”
They’re what you use to clip your rope to a bolt whenever you reach one. That way, if you fall, your rope will be caught at the last quickdraw you clipped in. Quickdraws basically save your life.
They look like handcuffs, but the way you open them is a bit different, and instead of the chain in the middle there’s a “dogbone” of webbing, because it’s lighter.
The openings are called “gates,” and they open when you push in on them from the outside. They’re like that so you can clip them really quickly.
The carabiner with the straight gate is for clipping onto the bolt, while the other end with the bent gate is for clipping your rope through.
Sometimes, the rope-clipping end of the dogbone will have a little rubber cover called a “keeper.” It stops the rope-clipping carabiner from rotating, which keeps nice and secure.
If a quickdraw doesn’t have a keeper, it’ll just be really tightly sewn where the keeper would have been, which mostly does the job.
“Do I need them?”
Yes, you need them. 12 of them.
Because you’ll never have more than 10 bolts on a standard climb, and you’ll need to save the last two so you can clip yourself and your rope into the top anchors while you do all your fancy knot tying stuff in preparation to either rappel down or lower off.
If you’re utterly clueless at the top anchor stuff and don’t mind a bit of wastage, then you can just clip one quickdraw to each anchor point with the gates facing away from each other, then clip your rope through those and lower off that way.
“Why won’t there ever be more than 10 bolts on a standard route?”
Because standard routes aren’t long enough to warrant having any more bolts than that.
A standard climbing rope is either 60 or 70 meters long, so almost every climb you’ll be doing is going to be under 35 meters.
“Why do you need a rope that long?”
Because when you’ve finished the climb, you’ll need rope that’s at least twice the length of the climb in order to get back down again.
The rope will be running from your belayer, all the way up to the top anchor, and then all the way back down to you, which means you’ll be using a length of rope that’s twice the length of the climb by the time you reach the bottom.
“How exactly should I use quickdraws?”
Clip them in so that the gate’s facing away from from the general direction you’re climbing in, and clip your rope into them from underneath so that it’s running out and away from the rock.
These two measures stop something called “back-clipping,” which is what you’d be doing if you didn’t take these measures. Long story short, back-clipping means that it’s actually possible for your rope to push open the gate from the outside when you fall, in which case it would unhook itself completely, leaving you falling without that last piece of protection.
“But the first bolt’s too high! I don’t want to take a ground fall.
Interestingly, a low first bolt offers no protection against a groundfall either. They’d need to be spaced apart by under half the distance from you to the ground in order to prevent a ground fall by themselves.
That means they’d be ridiculously closely spaced near the bottom, which you can sure count on not happening.
“How can I avoid a ground fall then?”
It’s really easy. Just use a stick clip.
They’re weirdly shaped things that you can put on an extendable pole. They let you clip a into a high first bolt or a safe second bolt before you even start climbing.
If you value your ankles: get yourself a stick clip. Sport climbing shouldn’t be about danger. If you want that, go do some hardcore trade climbing instead.
“I’ve seen some weird quickdraws with loops of material in the middle instead of that dogbone thing.”
Yeah, they’re Alpine draws.
I love them.
The best thing about them is that they’re extendable. You see, that loop of material in the middle is called a sling.
It’s made out of Dyneema, which is crazy strong, which is why it’s so thin.
You can loop it between the carabiners to shorten it to a standard length quickdraw, or unloop it to extend it. It’s genius.
“What would you need longer quickdraws for?”
To reduce rope drag. Routes that wander from side to side can make the rope zigzag between bolts, which can build up a lot of resistance to being pulled through – and that can actually be quite dangerous.
Longer quickdraws really help mitigate this. I wrote a post about rope drag and its dangers, here, if you’re interested in learning more.