As every climber knows, quickdraws are invaluable pieces of gear that stop you from dying.
They’re absolutely essential because of that. Dying sucks, and it stops you from climbing.
And today… I climbed without using quickdraws altogether.
“You’re a free soloer now?”
Any sane climber would use protection on their climbs.
I still used protection… but the difference is, I wasn’t using quickdraws to clip into the bolts.
“Then you’re just running your rope through the bolt hangers? That’s really bad for your rope, and it damages the hangers too.”
Ah – I didn’t say I wasn’t clipping into them with something.
You see, I was using alpine draws instead.
Because they’re so versatile.
Why Alpine Draws Are So Versatile
There’s one key difference that separates alpine draws from quickdraws, and that difference is the true source of their strength.
That key difference is… they’re held together by a looped over sling, rather than a dogbone of webbing. That’s why they’re sometimes called “slingdraws.”
There’s advantages and disadvantages of this, but really, the pros far outweigh the cons.
The Sheer Versatility of Alpine Draws
The fact of the matter is: Slings are simply much more useful than dogbones. There’s no way around it.
You can’t really use a dogbone for anything else. But slings? There’s so much you can use slings for.
I wrote a whole post about them here.
That’s part of the beauty of alpine draws. You can cannibalize them for their parts, or you can use the versatility of their sling-based construction to customize them to a length of your choosing.
“Why would you want to adjust their length?”
To reduce rope drag.
Longer routes, or ones which wander left and right, can make the rope zigzag hard between the bolts, which makes it build up a surprising amount of resistance when you try to pull slack through.
It’s really annoying, but what many climbers don’t know is that it’s also quite dangerous. I wrote all about it here, if you’re interested.
So, long story short, having extendable quickdraws is a godsend – and alpine draws are the only such things which exist.
Remember how I said that the sling in them is looped over? That’s how you adjust their length.
Here. I’ll explain it a bit more clearly.
How to Change the Length of an Alpine Draw
The slings used in alpine draws are almost always 60cm long at full extension.
What this means is the you have three lengths available to you: 60cm, 30cm, and 15cm.
To achieve these lengths, you’re going to have to double over the sling. Each time you do this, you half its length.
Technically you could go shorter than 15cm by doubling it over again, but there’s no point in having a quickdraw that short.
Now, here’s the thing. It’s not quite so simple as taking off the sling, folding it in half and clipping each end to a carabiner.
First of all, you can’t do that while climbing. Second of all, you you’ll end up with one end that’s more bunched up than the other.
Fortunately, there’s a way of doubling up the sling that allows force to be distributed evenly along it, while at the same time being an easier technique to pull off than aimlessly fumbling around.
To shorten the alpine draw, all you have to do is feed one carabiner through the other, and then clip it through all the strands of webbing that are now hanging down below in a big loop.
To lengthen it again, just unclip a carabiner from all of the strands, and then clip it back onto a single strand.
It’s really that simple.
“Surely there’s got to be some downsides to using Alpine draws.”
Yes, there are. They’re pretty minor though, as you shall soon see.
The Downsides of Alpine Draws
There’s only two main downsides to alpine draws, and they both, obviously, relate to the fact that they use slings.
You see, slings are slingy. They move around – and that’s what both of the downsides stem from.
First of all, alpine draws are not stiff like quickdraws are. You might have noticed that quickdraws have a little rubber thingy over the end of the dogbone that attaches to the rope-clipping side.
These are called “keepers,” and what they do is they keep the carabiner from rotating, so that they’re nice and secure.
Meanwhile, alpine draws jiggle around. They’re completely incompatible with keepers, and there’s no way to stop them moving around.
Fortunately, that means that they solve their own problem that they cause.
A rotating carabiner means that there’s a chance you could “cross load” it when you fall, meaning that the carabiner is sideways when it catches your fall so that all the force goes on the inside of the gate and the spine.
However, because of the way that the carabiners are shaped, there’s no chance of this happening.
If it was sideways when you fell, the force would cause it to automatically rotate back around to the proper orientation when you weighted it, meaning that the minor axis is never going to take the full brunt of your fall.
So, disadvantage number one was not really a disadvantage. What about disadvantage number two?
Well, this one is to do with how you rack them.
When you rack alpine draws, there’s going to be lots of strands all bunched up right next to each other, rather than neat, straight dogbones that line up together nicely.
The bunching up of strands makes them spread out a bit. They won’t get particularly tangled, but they’re certainly not as tangle-proof as normal quickdraws.
In the end, this is only a disadvantage for the neat freaks out there. It might look a little messy, but there’s really no loss in functionality.
See what I mean when I say the pros far outweigh the cons?