Are the slim, molded material loops on the climbing harness superior to a material sling? In today's post, Chris Parker from Black Diamond explores the question of why less and less climbers use material loops.

A post by Chris Parker of Black Diamond

Long before Tyler Willcutt had become an athlete manager at Black Diamond, he was, to say the least, a classic climbing dirt bag. And this is the beginning of our story - with a young, unsuspecting Willcutt, obsessed with climbing and first ascents, with his roommate Jimmy Webb sitting on the couch writing his first "professional" email to his new material sponsor: Black Diamond Equipment.

Tyler Willcutt has an idea

Dear Kolin Powick, Willcutt wrote about 1.45 clock, in the middle of the night. I have a brilliant idea for a new product.

Of course, we do not want to hold his enthusiasm to Willcutt, but we can vividly imagine that this jewel of an e-mail has elicited an open eye from our die-hard climbing category director "KP". But what followed, one can confidently call genius.

The idea was to develop a color-coded material loop that matched the anodized clamping segments and colored loops of the Black Diamond Camalot. Quite simple, right? In this way it would be possible to sort the equipment accordingly, with the golden 2ers on the golden sling, the blue 3ers on the blue sling and so on. But the real sophistication, as told by Black Diamond as an interesting backstory, was in her name.

I call them the Willcutt, because they will "halve" time, "wrote Tyler. A nice pun in English!

Photo: Andy Earl

Although KP almost certainly saw the Willcutt work, the sad truth is that the Willcutt material loop has not materialized yet.

The sinking of material loops is inevitable

In general, material loops and their use could not prevail and have left like the Tricam from our field of vision. Nowadays, it's more likely to spot a beautiful, padded Black Diamond sling as a decoration on the wall of an equipment store. She's condemned to having equipment for storage instead of gracing a muscled shoulder that's on the move with the human being in a torn-up finger like the Phoenix (5.13a).

Thus, it is clear to us why KP did not seize the opportunity to design a design team for the Willcut. There was no need.

But why? Is there a reason why we rarely see material loops these days?

In this issue of Gear Myths, we'll look at this question and try to find out if slings in the modern climbing world still have a raison d'être that goes beyond being a sling for storing hardware in your equipment store, and modern harnesses and their slender, molded Material loops on the hip belt meanwhile have run out of rank. Are there clear advantages on both sides? More importantly, what do most climbers and climbers prefer and why?

We ask the professionals

We decided to talk to some of the best Trad climbers and climbers in the Black Diamond team to shed light on the subject.

Made the beginning Babsi Zangerl, As a Nat Geo 2019 Adventurer of the Year, Babsi is a well-known Austrian with the second commission of Magic Mushroom (5.14a / 8b +) on El Cap as well as a number of other hard Trad routes on this difficulty level, including the third ascent of the challenging route Principle hope (5.14R / 8b +) as well as three other rare ascents of the free-climbed El Cap routes El Nino (5.13c / 8a +), Zodiac (5.13d / 8b) and Pre Muir (5.13c / 8a +). With these Trad experiences Babsi has already dealt with the question that concerns us. Material loop or loops on the harness?

Photo: Francois Lebeau Athlete: Babsi Zangerl Location: Magic Mushroom (VI 5.14a), Yosemite

"I prefer the loops because the equipment on the side of the harness is well-cleaned and out of the way," says Babsi.

"When you use a material loop, it always bothers a little when the material dangles in front of the chest."

Babsi Zangerl

Although Babsi emphasizing that she generally bothers when a sling hangs around her shoulder and chest, she added:

"For principle hope I used a material loop. This is a long, very hard Trad route in Austria. It was easier to get the exact sequence of pre-sorted backups while climbing. On the sling, you always have the next backup that you need right now. It does not matter if you use the left or the right hand. In the route, the fuses were bad and small slips hard to place. The whole Micronuts look very similar and I did not want them on the harness straps and waste time looking for the right size. In the 50 meter long route, I had to carry a lot of different gear. In this case, the noose was the better choice. "

For Babsi this was an exception. In general, she says she prefers to use the loops on her harness.

"The freedom of movement when climbing is much better. Nothing hangs in the way. Just a better style. "

Babsi Zangerl

Nice and good. So, if she's not on a R-rated horror route, where an armada has to be sunk to micros in the right order, then Babsi is a material lover fan.

What about the Trad climber? Hazel Findlay out? Hazel started securing fuses in the Gritstone at an age when most of us were still running on wheels. Besides, she's a real Brit, so we knew she would have an opinion.

Photo: Andy Earl Athlete: Hazel Findlay Location: Southern Utah

"I have my harness, so I do not need any more options for my equipment," Hazel said bluntly. She explained, "I do not like how the slings swing around and hang only on one side and one shoulder."

Does a sling still have certain advantages? "There's more material on a sling, especially if you use the loops at the same time," Hazel said. "You can move the noose from one side to the other and simply hang it on the stand for your partner."

However, Hazel quickly emphasized that using only the material loops on the harness did "motivate them to carry less gear"! Spoken like a real Briton. She continued, "If you do not want to be totally oldschool and look like an idiot, you better leave the material loop at home." Ouch.

OK, now we know Hazels Position. Maybe she's right. Maybe we should talk to someone from the old guard. You know, the tough guys who rave about the old days when they just put a rope around their hips and put on passive fuses to climb a really big 6c in big EBs and white painter pants. We did not have to look so far back in the past to find out that there were still loops of material in use in a thriving Old School parallel universe.

Doug Chabot - proponent of the material loop

We turned to Doug Chabot, a climbing veteran, mountaineer, and fearless Montana resident who has usually climbed three pitches of a WI 5 ice waterfall when you sip your first coffee on a freezing winter morning. As we suspected, Doug is and remains an advocate of material loops. 

"While trad climbing I am a fan of the material loop, but probably belong to a shrinking minority"

Doug Chabot

"I've often tried to get along with the material loops on the harness, but it was usually frustrating." Doug gave us two main reasons why the glory days of the material loop were far from over in his eyes.

1. In this way, I can always reach all my equipment with one or the other hand, regardless of my position on the wall or with which hand I hang on the ice tool. I am not so flexible, that is, if I have my right hand up in a crack, I can not get at the equipment on my second material loop on the right.

2. It allows me greater mobility, as I can wear the sling on both sides as I need it, eg. B. in a fireplace or wide crack.

Photos: Kolin Powick Athlete: Doug Chabot Location: Montana ice

Aha! So there seems to be an overarching theme. Have you noticed the subtle but important words like crack, chimney or hand on the ice ax? It seems that Doug's preferred climbing style is why he continues to use material loops. In addition, he pointed out that in multi-pitch routes a material loop was required to alternate in the lead.

"It just takes too long for all the equipment to hang on the harness."

Hazel Findlay

And he countered Hazel's old school commentary like this:

"Well organized equipment on a sling looks cool. On a climbing harness, it looks like a better junkyard when strings, tiblocs, camalots, wedges, expresses and other things stack up. Fast, tidy, easy to change, versatile for all climbing situations = material loop. "Touché.

After talking with Doug, we also met other mountaineers to find out if the similarities in preferred style would prove that loops of material had lost popularity only in the mass sport of sport climbing or among the modern Trad climbers, and that the subsequent Decline of the art of suffering, also known as alpinism, was directly related to the decline of the noose. Matt Helliker, a British alpinist who spares no effort, agreed with this observation.

"In the summer I wear my equipment on the harness, in winter rather on a material loop," he said. "Normally, I hang slips and quickdraws on the material sling so I can get hold of them quickly, as well as some longer pieces like witches for the winter. The material loop is also helpful when you need to quickly hang off material because you are pumped or looking for another part and you have to go through the entire rack to find just the right backup in a difficult situation. "

Long story short

We decided to ask the person who has been watching this phenomenon more closely than anyone else: Black Diamond Climbing Category Director and equipment guru Kolin "KP" Powick. For KP, who is professionally tracking the rise and fall of climbing equipment innovations, the answer to the question of why material loops are becoming increasingly rare is due to different reasons.

"When I started climbing, you simply used material loops," he said. "In the 90igers, we especially climbed trad-style multi-pitch routes in the Canadian Rocky Mountains."

"Only a few years later in the 2000ern, after I came to Salt Lake City, most people already wore their equipment on the harness."

Kolin Powik

One reason, in KP's view, is simply the trend - as Hazel said, wearing gear on a harness was just hip. However, he also believes there are a number of practical reasons as well.

"Equipment got lighter and lighter as time went on, there was more equipment on the harness and the material loop, especially as the routes got steeper, just pulled you back, swung back and forth, and proved less efficient."

The most important piece of information, however, is that the loops on the harness have been improved since then.

"Our Black Diamond climbing harnesses now have molded material loops. If equipment is attached to it, it does not slip into a "V", as with the old strap webbing loops.

And does KP prefer to use a modern harness with material loops for his equipment?

"I like to tidy up everything perfectly, so I wear certain parts on the right loop of material, other parts in the back, in the front left and in the back left. I like this layout, so I switched from a material loop to material loops on the harness. "

KP, however, adds that there are still situations where a material loop makes sense. Especially in long multi-pitch routes. "It's just easier to hand over the material on the stand," he explains.

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Credits: Text Chris Parker, Cover Picture Black Diamond


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