Brand new climbing gear can be very expensive and even hard to find depending on where in the country you live and climb. On the other hand, people sell used climbing gear almost anywhere and you can find better deals buying second-hand.
We’ve given a few basic outlines on what to look for when buying used climbing gear but let’s dive into the nuts and bolts – err, cams – a little deeper, shall we?
In this article, we’re going to share:
In most cases, the cost difference between buying new and buying lightly-used rock protection is going to be negligible to the point that what you’re saving on the used gear might not even be worth it. Most climbers and gear store reps will encourage you to buy the new gear - the guarantee that it’s safer can be worth the extra cost.
That said, we all know plenty of crag dirtbags who will want to buy used climbing gear anyway so let’s make sure that you have the tools necessary to inspect used cams and nuts for quality assurance.
Even if you buy your first collection of trad gear brand new, it’ll be considered used once you take it out on the rock for the first time. “Used” doesn’t inherently mean bad or unsafe or broken. Sometimes it just means “used once” and sometimes it means “used beyond repair.”
Knowing what to keep an eye on when shopping for used trad gear is key.
When shopping for used climbing gear, be prepared to ask a lot of questions - don’t worry about annoying the seller. If they’re annoyed that you care about keeping yourself safe, you don’t want to buy their gear.
You’ll want to ask questions about the age of the gear, how many climbs it’s seen, how many falls it’s experienced, how it was stored, whether and how it was cleaned, if it’s ever been repaired, and any other quirks or nuances associated with it.
Again, the more knowledge you have about the gear and its lifecycle before coming to you, the better. Don’t be afraid to ask more questions and get more details.
There’s no clear-cut answer to the question “how long does a climbing cam last?” Their longevity depends wholly on what kind of action they see - whether they’re just placed and removed or whether they’ve taken a hard fall or five.
Cams and nuts can be really tricky to inspect for damage so it’s important that you get as much reliable history as possible from the seller. Receipts or photos of when the gear was bought are even better evidence of its age than the climber’s memory.
When inspecting the gear in person, keep your eyes out for any deformities, cracks, frayed wires, wires with sharp bends, chips, or visual wear.
You’ll want to inspect how much paint is left on the lobes and whether there is any corrosion to be seen.
Do the cams move smoothly? Are the triggers springy?
Some cams can be repaired, depending on the issue, but any metal gear should be considered retired after ten years even if kept in great condition with minimal applied force (read: few or zero falls.)
Unless you know the seller on a deep and personal level and were maybe even with them when they bought the equipment, it’ll be safest to get your used trad gear into a shop for re-slinging as soon as you can after purchasing.
Even if a cam or nut has never been used, if it’s older than a year the soft components can still start deteriorating from just air pollution. Don’t forget that any marks made by markers, paint, tape, etc can also deteriorate the strength of the piece. They don’t have to catch a whipper to have their slings jeopardized.
Soft goods like slings should be replaced every 2-5 years depending on usage. If you’re not sure of the manufacture date of a piece, check the tag. Many modern slings, webbings, and other soft goods will have this information sewn in.
Keep these things in mind when researching used climbing gear and also when assessing your own rack each season.
Hands down, the best place to send used climbing cams, nuts, and other gear for a re-sling, trigger wire repair, or tune-up is the original manufacturer. Black Diamond, Metolius, Totem, and others offer repair and re-slinging services for a small fee. The maker of the equipment is usually the best place to send a piece that is in need of some love.
That said, there is a risk associated with sending your gear back to the brand. If the company determines that your gear is unsafe, they may destroy it or return it to you in an unusable state. While this is a liability and safety priority for them, it may be frustrating for you if you do not agree that the piece was beyond its lifespan.
If you’ve pieced together your rack over the course of a few years, you may not have equipment all from the same manufacturer and in that case, going to a third-party re-slinging company may be a better option to send all your gear at once and save on shipping costs. Runout Customs, Yates, and Mountain Tools all offer cam repair and/or re-slinging services.
Third-party companies will not inspect your gear nor destroy it. They may deem it unsafe and potentially refuse the repair, but they’ll ship it back to you the way it arrived rather than disassemble it.
Bottom Line: If you insist on buying used trad gear, learn how to keep your eye out for these important safety elements.
Use these tips to practice safe gear recycling and know when it’s time to retire an old piece.