Smart Shopping for Passive Gear for Climbing

Passive gear, which has no moving parts, includes nuts (chocks or stoppers), tri cams and hexcentrics (hexes). Of varying sizes and shapes, passive gear is made of steel, aluminum, brass or copper, iron or a combination of these metals. The piece of metal is attached to braided wires, cords or webbing slings. Lighter, less bulky and cheaper than spring-loaded equipment, passive gear is a key component to any climber’s rack.

Wedge-shaped tapers are larger at one end and narrower at the other and so can be slotted into the narrowest part of cracks. They should be placed in such a way that as much surface area of the nut comes in contact with the rock as possible. They rarely work for parallel-sided cracks. Some tapers have slightly curved faces–one convex and one concave–while others have cutout areas. They come in various sizes, from as big as a large man’s thumb to as small as a sunflower seed (called micronuts). Also, some are skinnier and some are fatter.

Camming chocks have rounded or asymmetrical sides that can be twisted into straight-sided cracks and locked into position. The six-sided hexes work well in parallel-sided cracks, while tri cams can be cammed into small pockets or placed like nuts in tapered cracks.

What to Look for

A climber should try various brands at the crags and check out reviews in magazines and online to determine which chock is best suited for the area she climbs at most frequently.

Brass nuts are offset–tapered in two directions–and are good for flaring cracks, while nuts with cutouts are good for uneven cracks with protrusions. Some people argue about the significance of the metals and how they mould to the rock, but the more significant issue for the aspiring climber is what shape the nuts are and what sorts of cracks they will fit into. All the nuts available on the market have good track records and are strong. A new climber should consider carrying a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

Common Pitfalls

Chocks are sometimes difficult to get out, especially ones that have cutouts or unusual shapes. In an effort to come up with the latest and greatest new equipment, each climbing company offers its own type of chock. It’s important for a climber to figure out which ones work best for her. Tri cams are also sometimes difficult to remove, and nowadays only diehards (usually older climbers) include these on their rack. However, they can be incredibly useful in crags with many horizontal cracks. Though technological advances mean hexes are significantly lighter than they used to be, they are still infrequently used because of their bulk.

About this Author

Lizzy Scully is a senior contributing editor for Rock & Ice magazine and a columnist for Rocky Mountain Sports. She’s melded her passions for ascending rocks and for writing into a successful career in freelancing and a semi-professional career in climbing.

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