Let me be absolutely clear: it’s always worth carrying at least one sling on you on all your climbs.
They’re so incredibly useful that they’re pretty much essential, whether you’re into lead climbing, top roping, trad climbing or even rappelling.
The most important reason why I’d say that they’re essential is that without them, you can’t equalize multiple top anchors effectively.
If you’re new to climbing and you have no idea what that means, then let me explain it to you.
At the top of your climb, there’s likely going to be multiple anchors, with chains, quick links, or carabiners hanging off them – useful stuff to help you out.
However, these anchors are usually set some distance apart from each other. If one was weakened, it wouldn’t jeopardize the other; makes sense, right?
Though, as you might expect, the distance between anchors is a bit of a problem. That is, you can’t use them all together.
“Why would you want to use them all? Why not just one?” I hear you wondering.
It’s because it gives them something called “redundancy.”
The idea is that you’re not relying on any single anchor. Each one is “redundant,” because if one fails, then the others will still catch your fall.
That’s what it means.
It’s good practice to “equalize” these top anchors so that each one is redundant… and guess how you do that?
Slings Are Good
Slings are crazy strong. You can connect all the top anchors together with a long sling or two and a carabiner, and you’ll have a safe and effective setup for lowering off the top.
On a side note, you can even throw a rappel ring in your top anchor setup so you can smoothly rappel down. I’d recommend that simply because it’s great fun.
Although it must be said, rappelling is a touch on the dangerous side if you have no clue what you’re doing.
Anyway, you can also use slings to set up entirely new anchors, by tying one around a tree or using several rocks.
Remember, like I said before, redundancy is worth practicing. Rocks aren’t particularly reliable anchors, but living trees are, if they’re not over-worn already.
Just try not to kill any trees out there. Trees are your friends, but they can only catch a climber so many times before the sling breaks through the bark.
If you see a tree in distress, with broken bark and a few slings and carabiners dotted around the place, then use some rocks instead, even though it’s less efficient.
The great thing about all of this is that you can use slings to climb anywhere. Once you’ve set up your top anchor, you can toss the rope down and do some top rope climbing.
You can even use that opportunity to rappel down to the bottom, like I mentioned before.
Now, the thing about slings that’s important to be aware of, is that they’re usually made from something like Dyneema, which is a fancy kind of polyethylene with an ultra high molecular weight.
What that means is that it’s strong. Very strong.
But it also has a drawback: it’s highly prone to knot slippage.
That doesn’t mean that it’ll slip during normal use. It just means you shouldn’t try to knot multiple slings together.
In an absolute emergency, you could get away with knotting them together with a triple fisherman’s knot, but otherwise you should avoid it.
Knot slippage in Dyneema isn’t just bad because your knots can come undone, it’s bad because the intense friction it causes can actually melt through the material. Again, this will only happen when you try to tie knots in it.
That’s one of the reasons why you should be getting what climbers call “double length” slings. That is, slings that are 120cm long.
Double length slings are by far the most useful kind to get. Single length, 60cm slings are more for extending gear than creating and equalizing anchors, and slings that are even longer are just cumbersome and unnecessary.
Finally, you’ll want to replace your slings every two to five years unless you’re getting some heavy use out of them. As a rule of thumb, if a sling is looking fuzzy and worn, or if it looks like it’s faded from being exposed to a bit too much sun, you should replace it.
So, let’s take a look at the best slings for all your slingy needs:
This sling is the best for one reason in particular:
It’s unbelievably strong for how thin and light it is.
It can handle 22kN of force. That’s almost 5,000 lbs.
A lot of other slings out there can handle that too, but this one is half the width and still just as strong. That makes it super light, and super portable.
You’ll be able to carry several of these on your trad rack without them becoming bunched up and bulky.
However, there is one downside to having a sling this thin, and that is what some call the “cheese wire effect.”
Basically, you might end up damaging the tree you’re using as an anchor if your sling is too thin… and 8mm is pretty thin.
If you’re worried about damaging things that you’re using as an anchor, then you’ll want to use a much wider sling to ease up the pressure. I’ll be talking about that one later.
The Magic of Dyneema
Dyneema is one of those crazy inventions that seem to defy the laws of physics.
“This is what saves my life if I fall,” you tell your bewildered non-climbing friends as you hold up a wafer thin Dyneema sling.
When you first start using Dyneema slings, your common sense will be fighting you.
“No. There’s no way that thing will hold.”
But after enough time, that attitude will shift to: “This stuff is amazing. How is it even possible?”
Well, the answer to that is that it’s 15 times stronger than steel, weight for weight. For reference, Kevlar – the stuff bullet proof vest are made from – is only 7 times stronger than steel.
Dyneema is the world’s strongest fiber, and that’s why it’s second to none when it comes to climbing slings.
Dyneema Has No Weaknesses
That is, if you’re using it right.
That’s because Dyneema doesn’t have any downsides over nylon that would come into play during normal climbing use. It’s only when it’s misused that it’s .
That’s why you should consider a piece of equipment as a tool for a job, and not a catch-all foolproof safety device. Sounds obvious, I know, but it’s crazy how commonly something like a Grigri is thought of as an all-purpose auto-locking device.
The same goes for Dyneema slings. You see, while it’s technically true that Dyneema has a much lower melting point than nylon, there’s no chance of it melting unless you’re already doing something really wrong. This would be just the same kind of mistake as when using a Grigri for something other than what it’s intended to be used for.
For example, like I mentioned before, tying a knot in Dyneema is just a bad idea. The movement of Dyneema over Dyneema generates a ridiculous about of friction when a knot in it is loaded. Of course, this Petzl sling is a double-length, 120cm one, so you won’t need to tie any knots in it.
There’s also one way in which you could cause a load of heat to be built up in a Dyneema sling, and that would be if shock loaded it by taking a fall directly on the anchor without a rope being there in the system to decrease the force of the impact.
You see, Dyneema doesn’t stretch much at all, unlike nylon. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem, since it’s a tiny amount of extra impact softening when you fall compared to how much your rope does. However, the way in which it does matter is that shock loading it, such as dropping your body weight more than 60cm onto a single Dyneema sling, will case enough heat buildup to weaken the sling.
Bear in mind though, that you should never do that with any kind of sling, whether it’s made from nylon or Dyneema. I mean, nylon is technically safer if you’re making really bad decisions with regards to your safety, but it doesn’t get even close to making up the difference that using gear properly makes.
Here’s what to take away from all this:
Know how to use your gear properly, and know its limitations.
If you’re using Dyneema slings properly, then they don’t have any weaknesses that would make nylon preferable to them in any regard. On the other side of things, Dyneema actually has distinct advantages over nylon that make a real difference in its regular climbing use.
Let’s take a look next at what the strengths of Dyneema slings are.
First of all, it’s just absurd how tough Dyneema is.
It’s so tough that it even resists most corrosive chemicals, such as highly concentrated acids, alkalis and organic solvents… Not that you’ll encounter any of those while climbing.
However, it does have a few properties that makes it amazing for climbers.
The first of these are that it’s ridiculously abrasion resistant.
When you’re using a sling to set up some kind of anchor or extend your gear, it’s more than likely that it’s going to be in direct contact with rock while under heavy tension.
You’re really going to want to make sure that your rope isn’t going to get damaged on a sharp cliff edge by having your anchor above the edge. Worse still, having your anchor point right on the edge can be a great way to destroy your gear.
That’s why you’ll want your Dyneema sling to take the brunt of the abrasion. It’s super cut resistant too, so even a sharp cliff edge will be nothing it can’t handle.
The Petzl Dyneema sling also comes in a 12mm version, but the breaking strength is exactly the same, so you’d only need this wider version if you’re canyoneering or something. Even though the Dyneema is very abrasion resistant, a sandy environment can be really harsh on ropes and slings alike, so you might want to go for the wider version for that bit of extra security if you’re abusing it day in, day out.
The 12mm version weighs 40g, while the 8mm one weighs 35g, so you’re not giving up much weight if you don’t think you can get away with using the thinner one on your climbs.
Now let’s look at the most tree-friendly sling, for all the hippie / responsible climbers out there:
This one is made from good old fashioned nylon, which is not quite as cut resistant and abrasion resistant as Dyneema, and so it’s a little bit thicker than its high-tech cousin.
Nylon, as a material, is definitely much gentler on its surroundings though. On top of that, the 18mm width means that it’ll apply far less pressure when under tension than a slimmer sling. This is definitely the option for those who don’t want to cause the least amount of damage to trees as possible when creating anchors off them.
To people like that: I commend you.
This 16mm (5/8 inch) one is still very rock and tree friendly, but it’s also a bit lighter.
You can also get a pack of three of them for a bit cheaper than buying them separately. Considering these slings are already cheaper than Dyneema ones, it makes this one in particular an excellent choice for budget-wise climbers.
If happen to find a double-length 120cm sling to be a bit too long for what you’re looking for, and find a single-length 60cm a bit too short, then take a look at:
Singing Rock offer an 80cm size sling, in addition to the more usual sizes that slings come in.
I’d still recommend sticking to 120cm slings because they’re so versatile, but the option’s there if you want it.
An Alternative to Using Slings
Of course, if you like the idea of customizing the length of your slings, or having the versatility that comes with actually being able to tie knots in it, then you should look into getting a roll of webbing rather than a whole bunch of slings.
You see, webbing is almost always made out of nylon, which means you can actually tie knots in it without .
It’s comes out a bit cheaper, even though you’ll be using just over 240cm of webbing to make a 120cm sling, so it’s a better low-budget choice if you don’t mind learning how to tie a couple types of knot.
Check out this post here for what you should know when buying webbing.