What’s In Your Climbing Self-Rescue Kit?

Spend a weekend at a popular multi-pitch climbing area, like Eldo or Joshua Tree, and chances are you’ll see a number of climbers with all sorts of extra stuff hanging from their harnesses. With most of it serving the express purpose of bailing and self-rescue, you’d almost think they were planning to fail.

While it’s never a bad idea to be prepared for the worst, I often wonder how practical it is to have 30 feet of 1” tubular webbing dangling off your harness. Or how much weight are you really saving with all of those lightweight carabiners when you also have a Tibloc, a pulley, two steel quick-links and four prusik cords?

The ideal balance lies somewhere in between and here’s my take on what to carry for bailing and self-rescue purposes so that you have everything you need for an emergency, but wont be tripped up by all that extra webbing hanging down around your knees.

My approach is based on this basic philosophy: Carry what you need for the climb, and have the skills and techniques to know how to use it efficiently in a variety of self-rescue and bail situations. Being light and streamlined can be as important to your safety as carrying that extra stuff whose only purpose is for if something goes wrong.

The picture above shows what I typically carry on a mutli-pitch climb in a place like the Black Canyon. Let’s take a look at what’s on there.

1. Old carabiners, instead of quick-links and rap rings.
I carry carabiners I’m willing to leave without hesitation, instead of rap rings or quick-links, unless I know I’m going to be updating a frequently used anchor or building a new anchor that will see regular traffic. Any item I carry on my harness that doesn’t get directly used in climbing is an old “bail” biner, which I often spray paint black or brown to identify it accordingly, and to make it less unsightly if I have to leave it. Typically that means that carabiners used to rack my stoppers, nut tool, shoes and water bottle are old ones that have been retired for some reason and can be left if needed. Why not quick-links and rap rings? Those things have one specific use, and are extra weight and baggage that I don’t want.

2. Slings and cordalette, instead of designated bail webbing.
I’ve never quite understood the need to carry a big chunk of 1” tubular webbing, or similar material, while also carrying a cordalette and a plethora of slings. Is your cordalette that important to you that you can’t cut it up and leave it on a climb? Instead, I carry a cordalette and a variety of slings on long climbs. First, take a look at the slings. I have some new ones and some older ones. All are fine for climbing but if the need arises I won’t hesitate to leave a double length sling to back up an anchor. It is recommended that nylon products be retired after 5 years and many of mine start to show a lot of wear and tear after repeated use, so I’m going to make use of that sling for bailing.

Next, I like using a 20-25 foot 7mm cordalette on long climbs. I like the ability to tie together big anchors where needed and in the case of bailing, it’s easy and cheap to sacrifice it. At a cost of about $10 or less, it causes me no hesitation to cut a cordalette up to bail. The exception to all this is a climb where I know I’ll want to beef up the anchors and replace worn out webbing, then I’ll take some extra along expressly for that purpose.

3. Nut tool with knife.
The Trango Shark Nut Tool was a gift a number of years ago and it’s become one of the most cherished pieces on my rack. As a nut tool, it does great because it’s stiff and has a nice rounded handle. Then, when the need arises, the fold out knife can cut through an old double length sling or cordalette with ease. I love the multi-purpose functionality of this tool and it’s nice to always have a knife on my rack, which often gets used for things like slicing up some cheese for lunch.

4. Tape, aka First-Aid Kit.
If the shit hits the fan, a first aid kit can be invaluable. Yet, I rarely feel the need to take a full kit onto a climb when one of the most important pieces of that kit would be some good athletic tape. I love carrying a roll of tape, even if it’s most likely going to get used to tape up a gobey rather than make a splint. Threading my chalk bag loop through the roll or attaching it to my water bottle, as seen in the picture, can be an easy way to bring some tape along.

The most valuable first aid kit you can bring is your knowledge about basic wilderness first aid and the ability to improvise. But, a roll of tape can go a long way in making it easier to splint a broken limb or wrap up a sprained ankle.

5. Hey, where’s all of your micro-ascender/pulley/self-rescue stuff?
You’ll see a number of people carrying a micro-ascender, like the Petzl Tibloc or a mini pulley, like the DMM Revolver carabiner. While those things might be nice in a self-rescue situation, I prefer to know how to efficiently and competently use the tools I carry with me.

I may not have all of the tools pictured, but I’ll have some combination of what you see. Even for long multi-pitch, I love the Trango Cinch, and don’t mind the extra weight. If a self-rescue situation arises, it can be a handy device.

I do regularly carry some sort of “prusik” loop, which mostly gets used for backing up a rappel device. Lately I’ve been a fan of the Penberthy hitch because it’s easy to tie and untie one handed and it is composed of a simple strand of cord that isn’t bulky. But, I also enjoy the Sterling Hollow Block, a loop of hollow braid cord that is supple, easy to use, catches well on ropes, has a higher melting temperature than nylon and can also be used as a sling if needed.

More importantly, I am well versed in self-rescue skills and am comfortable using things like my climbing rope, cordalette and slings in a needed situation.

What about you, have any tricks for keeping your self-rescue/bail kit light yet effective?

Mike Schneiter is the owner of Glenwood Climbing Guides.

4 Responses to What’s In Your Climbing Self-Rescue Kit?

  1. So, I have this story I tell about running into obnoxious climbers half-way up the Bookmark at Lumpy. When I climb multi-pitch, my rescue kit is one locking carabiner on my haul-loop with a prussic cord, a tibloc, and a tiny knife. It takes up very little space and I use these things all the time, even when not doing self-rescue. So we’re climbing some obnoxiously easy 5.7 on lumpy, because that’s what we love, and two guys race up from below. They plug in one piece of gear next to our three-piece equalized and probably over-engineered anchor, and then the follower takes off leading up the same crack my husband was climbing. Awesome.

    The guy left at the belay decides to spend his time standing on this ledge with me by making fun of all of the stuff on my harness. He is especially amused at my self-rescue biner. “WHY do you need this! Are you climbing Everest or something?? Are you planning on having to cut your partner free to save yourself? Are we in imminent peril at this very moment and only your Petzl tibloc can save us??” He felt he was very, very funny. I also think he got to spend a lot of time examining my ass, because that’s where the biner was hanging of course.

    It was so over-the-top and humiliating that I asked my husband to lower off the anchor on top of the pitch and we bailed right there. It was pretty much everything I had to not kick this guy in the balls on my way down. Bah.

    Kate C December 18, 2013 at 9:51 am
  2. One thing I hardly ever find on this list is something I find absolutely necesarry.

    I hardly ever see it but it can be the difference between life and death.
    The purpose of this list is to survive in each and every event. When something has gone wrong.

    Such as an injury or massive equipment failure.

    I always carry a cell phone!

    I usually don’t need it and I can escape pretty much everything but when one of my mates or me are really stuck or injured you’ll need a way to call 911. Sometimes you lack coverage but most of the crags I visit do.

    So call for help.

    Mark Tilburgs January 3, 2014 at 6:21 am
  3. 3x prussics for ascending ropes, building pullies, dropping one
    a few of old biners and nuts which the second carry’s
    1 bale sling which holds the chalk bag in place.

    David March 21, 2014 at 3:58 am
  4. Another item that is rarely on these lists is common sense! A calm mind will go miles thinking through a situation to make sure the system is correct and safe.

    Tim April 14, 2016 at 12:58 pm
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