Alpine draws differ from quickdraws you may use when sport climbing, but what makes them different, and why should you even bother using them? We’re here to answer all your questions about alpine draws. We’ll explain what they are, how to store them, and why they are essential to your trad climbing gear. Stick around if you’ve ever been confused by this type of draw.
What’s the Purpose of Alpine Draws?
An alpine draw aims to create the least amount of bends in your rope while climbing. The longer slings allow for fewer bends in the rope, thus creating less friction and a straighter line of rope descending below you as you climb. Trying to minimize friction might seem silly, but pulling the rope up behind you as you climb can make it a lot easier.
Alpine draws are used primarily in trad climbing or traditional climbing. This is where you place gear such as spring-loaded camming devices or passive nuts or chalks into the rock to help catch you if you fall. The alpine draw connects the rope you are climbing onto the gear you have placed, allowing you to protect yourself as you continue climbing up the rock.
Using alpine draws for sport climbing has a number of disadvantages, so most sports climbers use sport draws. Sport draws are two carabiners connected with a rigid dogbone of webbing. In contrast, an alpine draw is two carabiners connected with a longer loop of usually Dyneema webbing, called a sling.
How to Setup an Alpine Draw
Setting up or making alpine draws might initially seem complicated, but it will become second nature. Make sure you ask someone to show you how to make an alpine draw before you start climbing on them. We can explain it clearly, but with something as important as the gear that will keep you safe in a fall, it’s essential to get it right and have someone check your work the first few times you make one.
1. Gather your gear
First, gather your gear. You will need two carabiners, either a wire gate or a solid gate depending on what you have and what you value, weight, or durability. You will also need a 60 cm or shoulder-length sling.
2. Clip the carabiners into the sling
Next, clip each carabiner into the sling and hold them at opposite ends so it is stretched between the carabiners. Take the traveling carabiner in the picture; this one is yellow, and feed it through the stationary carabiner, the gray one in the picture.
3. Pass one carabiner through the other and clip back into the loop
Finally, clip the traveling carabiner into the loop of the sling created on the original side of the stationary carabiner. Once you even out all the strands and make everything lay nice and smooth, you have an alpine draw!
This is usually how people rack or store their alpine draws on their harnesses while climbing. When you go to use an alpine draw, all you have to do is clip one carabiner into a bolt or piece of gear and then unclip all but one loop of the sling from the carabiner not clipped into the bolt or gear. Pull out, away from the rock, to straighten out the sling, and you should be back to what you originally had, a sling with a carabiner on each end.
Most people stick to using shoulder-length slings to create their alpine draws. If you want to make longer alpine draws or shorter alpine draws, you can use a different length of sling. Using a longer or shorter sling is usually only advisable in specific circumstances or on routes that you know require a different size.
How to Properly Use Alpine Draws While Climbing
Understanding how to use alpine draws for rock climbing is easy if you are already familiar with lead climbing and using sport draws. The main differences are that the sling length is longer, so there will be more of a fall, even if you are close to the bolt, and that the rope carabiner doesn’t have a rubber stopper to aid in clipping. Getting comfortable using alpine draws just takes practice.
As with a sport draw, first, clip the rock carabiner into the bolt or gear that you are using as protection. Next, lengthen out the alpine draw and then clip the rope into the rope carabiner hanging on the sling’s end. Although there is one extra step in lengthening the sling, and clipping will feel slightly different, using an alpine draw is very similar to using a sport draw.
When to Use Alpine Draw
Figuring out when to use an alpine draw is actually pretty simple. Since an alpine draw is designed to help minimize rope drag and allow your rope to hang in as straight a line as possible from the top of your climb to the bottom, alpine draws are essential on wandering routes. If you look up at a route from the ground and see that either the bolts are not in a straight line to the top or all the places you might place protection are not in a straight line, you will probably want some alpine draws.
Just remember that just because you use one alpine draw doesn’t mean you have to use an alpine draw for every clip that you do. If your climb is ten bolts and eight of them are in a straight line, those bolts can most likely be clipped with sport draws. Those two bolts that are out of line, either to the right or left of the climb, would be good places to use alpine draws to help minimize the number of bends you are adding to the rope.
How Many Alpine Draws Do You Need?
There’s a short answer and a long answer to the question of how many alpine draws you need for rock climbing. The short answer is that most climbs won’t take more than ten draws, so having between ten and twelve draws is usually an excellent place to start. This number of alpine draws will be sufficient for most climbs but not all.
The long answer to this question is that it depends entirely on what you are heading out to climb. If you are doing a long multi-pitch climb with really long pitches, you may want more alpine draws, but, in that case, you may also be able to combine your alpine draws with the alpine draws that your partner has.
Another option on a longer climb is to use your alpine draws and quickdraws in combination to have enough draws to get you safely up the rock. Try using quickdraws in places where the rope will go directly past the protection and only using your alpine draws in places where the rope doesn’t go directly past the protection.
We wouldn’t recommend getting more than twelve alpine draws unless you have a good reason to do so. There are plenty of ways to use other gear that you have or borrow from your climbing partner, so it’s unlikely that you would ever need more than twelve alpine draws. As you get more advanced at climbing, you may find that you want more, but by that point in your climbing career, you have all the knowledge you need to make that choice for yourself.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Alpine Draws
You get to make many choices when it comes to alpine draws. Here are our favorite do’s and don’t when it comes to alpine draws:
Do practice, practice, and practice racking and lengthening your draws before climbing.
Make sure you practice racking your alpine draws, which means putting them back in their shorter form to store on your harness and lengthening them out again before climbing. Getting up on the rock and then needing to figure out a new skill, such as undoing an alpine draw, is a recipe for disaster. Practicing on the ground before you start climbing is the best way to set yourself up for success and stay safe while climbing.
Don’t buy the most miniature carabiners you possibly can.
Although many climbers prioritize weight when choosing which gear they take when climbing, alpine draws are not the place to use the smallest carabiners you can. Getting full-sized carabiners might add a few ounces of weight to your gear, but it will ultimately be easier and, thus, safer to use. Remember that when you use an alpine draw, you are in the dangerous situation of trying to clip your next piece of protection. The last thing you need to be doing is messing around with a fiddly, tiny carabiner that hardly fits your rope.
Do check your gear regularly for wear on your carabiners.
Unlike sport draws that have a designated bolt carabiner and a designated rope carabiner, most people use the carabiners on the alpine draws interchangeably between their protection and their rope. Many times this isn’t a problem, but make sure you keep a close eye on the inner edges of your carabiners and replace them if you see any sharp edges forming. Because metal on metal wears differently than soft goods on metal, alpine draw carabiners can often wear oddly since they are used on both soft goods and metal.
Don’t tie knots in your slings.
The shoulder-length slings that are generally used for alpine draws are made of Dyneema. This material is super strong and lightweight but does not handle friction well. With a lower melting point than nylon, even tying knots in Dyneema webbing can decrease the strength of the material. The best practice is to have dedicated alpine draw slings and never tie knots in them to help preserve their strength.
Do keep your gear organized between uses.
It’s super easy to get your alpine draws all tangled up, especially when you are storing them. Ensure you take extra care when putting them away to keep them safe, untangled, and away from sharp edges that could catch on the Dyneema slings and weaken them. Try hanging your alpine draws along a hanger or in some other space that allows them to hang away from all your other gear, as the wires in spring-loaded camming devices can sometimes catch on the Dyneema and rip threads.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Use Alpine Draws for Rock Climbing
Alpine draws are a fantastic tool to use to help you excel at trad climbing! Understanding how to safely use and store your alpine draws is essential to your success and safety as a climber. Being able to minimize rope drag might seem like a small problem when you are only climbing short sport routes, but when you get into climbing long, wandering trad routes, the importance of minimizing rope drag becomes clear.