When to replace gear

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When to replace gear

Post by Wazdawg » 10 Feb 2019, 18:35

Hi all,

Would be keen to get thoughts after what usage / duration it is appropriate to replace a harness / sling / rope after use in canyons



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Re: When to replace gear

Post by T2 » 18 Feb 2019, 11:24


This is actually a really complicated question. It depends greatly on the type of gear, the amount of use, the materials it's made from, etc. Different manufacturers also provide quite different advice.

The first thing to think about is what actually reduces the strength of items over time and use. Understanding that will help you make an informed decision based on individual items. Some wear is about mechanical damage. Ropes are abraded over sharp edges, the fibres are deformed when moving through a descender, damage can be caused by dirt and sand particles that work their way into the rope, etc. This mechanical damage is easy to visually inspect. It starts off with "fuzzy" sections on ropes, which eventually become more and more worn until you can see large numbers of severed fibres in the sheath. This doesn't really change the strength of your rope, as static abseiling ropes get most of their strength from the core, but you will eventually hit a critical point where the sheath will fail, exposing the core. This is not fun when in a canyon that requires the ongoing use of the rope (you may need to isolate the damaged section and pass the knot when abseiling). For harnesses, slings, and other sewn / fabric items, look for things like damaged stitching, small cuts, excess wear, etc. Basically anything that increases the likelihood of failure.

Damage can also be caused by exposure to UV radiation and various chemicals. Some fibres are more susceptible to UV damage than others, but all ropes will suffer some degradation over time. This is why the advice is to store your ropes in a cool, dark place, away from any chemicals. Even leaving ropes wet can cause damage, particularly if they are made of nylon, as this fibre will slowly rot. When it comes to UV , it is the sheath that takes most of the exposure, so this is what will degrade first. This process is also relevant to harnesses, slings, and other items. I covered in some detail the way different fibres respond to UV exposure in my post about rope selection. This is one of the reasons I try to use polyester tapes for anchors rather than nylon, because nylon degrades faster from UV and water exposure, so will theoretically have a shorter canyon life.

For most outdoor gear, there is a shelf life of about 10 years (that is how long you can leave it safely packed away in optimal conditions and still use it). This lifespan reduces with more use.

The best advice is to check your equipment before each trip. Examine fabric items for abrasion, fraying, damaged stitching, etc. Given you trust your life to it, make a decision to retire an item well before it reaches a dangerous point. If you are using marginal gear, a small amount of damage in even one canyon could cause it to fail.

For non-sewn gear, think about the structural integrity of an item. For instance, a helmet needs to be able to handle a major impact from a falling rock, so if your helmet is cracked, deformed, or otherwise damaged, it's time to throw it away.

Metal items are different again. They have a theoretical lifespan that is infinite. It is only through use and exposure to water, wear, and other damage that they are degraded. Store them clean and dry, away from corrosive chemicals. Always check them for cracks, excessive wear, or a loss of function (i.e. a carabiner gate that will no longer close / lock properly). If an item is made from steel, such as maillons / quick links that are left in canyons, ensure it is stainless steel rather than just having a zinc coating. Coated items can rust and corrode on the inside, making it almost impossible to properly assess their strength.

Don't stress about things being bumped or dropped small distances. The whole "microfracture" issue is a myth that is not backed up by testing. What you are looking for is any visual sign that the equipment is no longer usable.

If you want more info, here's a great resource produced from contact with a range of manufacturers asking their feedback on how to properly care for equipment, store it, clean it, and generally maintain it. It also covers recommended retirement timelines.

My overall advice is to take time understanding how gear works, where its strength comes from, and what damage is problematic. The more informed you are, the better your assessment of the safe working life of items. Canyoning gear is designed to take quite a lot of abuse, so some wear is completely normal and safe. But understanding the point where this crosses over to dangerous damage is essential. Never risk your life for the sake of saving a few dollars.

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Re: When to replace gear

Post by Kosta » 18 Feb 2019, 11:46

I just had a quick skim through what the manufacturers say. What really caught my eye was the info about their helmets from Black Diamond and Petzl:

Black Diamond:
Extreme temperatures (below -20C/-4F and above 35C/95F) may negatively affect the performance of the helmet.
The Ecrin Rock helmet is usable at temperatures up to 126°F, the Elios and Meteor helmets should not be used in temperatures over 96°F.
Basically that means Black Diamond helmets and Petzl Elios and Meteor are not suited for Australian summer.

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