Making the transition from single pitch to multipitch climbing can be a daunting endeavour with the increase in required skills and necessary equipment. The greater duration of time we spend on the wall and the fact that we're carrying with us everything we need, necessitates careful deliberation and a thoughtful gear selection process. While the nature of the climb ultimately dictates the gear requirements, there is a baseline of kit that every climber should carry with them. Below I've listed the technical equipment that I bring with me every time my feet leave the ground what I consider to be the essential gear for multipitch climbing.
Essential Gear For Multipitch Climbing
- Four locking carabiners
- Belay device with guide loop
- Anchor kit
- 5m Cordelette
- Personal Prusik
- Personal Tether
- Bail Kit
- Small backpack, knife, belay gloves
Tube Style Belay Device with Guide Loop
If you're primarily a gym or sport climber you may have gotten by with a GriGri or basic tube-style belay device. Once we leave the ground for a multi pitch climb we have a few additional variables to consider. How will we belay a second up to our position and how do we get down? We need a belay device with two rope slots and a guide loop for direct anchor belays.
Nearly every climbing company makes their own version and all have their pro's and cons. The Black Diamond ATC Guide accommodates thicker rope and has a vertically oriented guide loop that is helpful for rope ascension. The Petzl Reverso is very light and accommodates thinner ropes, making it ideal for double rope techniques. Wild Country and Grivel offer similar devices. Some of the newer styles offer an assisted-braking function, similar to the GriGri. The Edelrid Jul and Mammut Smart are both great options, just make sure you're familiar with how to load to ropes.
Essentially we're locking for a device with a loop to attach directly to the anchor and match the device to the diameter of rope you're using. Be sure you're familiar with the manufacturers recommendations and know how to load and use the device properly.
Four Locking Carabiners
A minimum of three locking carabiners are required to properly manage a multipitch belay station. One to attach the belay device to the anchor in guide mode, one for clipping through the ropes and belay device and one to attach yourself to the station with a clove hitch.
Any locker can be used to attach the belay device directly to the anchor and small asymmetrical D-shaped carabiners like the DMM Phantom or the Edelrid Pure work great. However, with the weight of modern carabiners getting lighter and lighter, there really isn't a good reason not to use a larger HMS/pear shaped carabiner for this purpose, as it allows for a variety of other usages.
Your belay device and it's HMS/pear shaped carabiner should remain together at all times. Because this is the point of highest wear in your system, consider using a robust round stock carabiner here. The Petzl Attache Hera works great. Be sure to check out the manufacturers specifications for carabiner comparability as certain belay devices are optimized for a specific carabiner (ie. Edelrid Mega Jul + Edelrid Strike and Pure).
Another HMS/pear shaped carabiner is needed to secure yourself to the anchor using a clove hitch. While any carabiner will work, the HMS shape allows for the clove hitch to dress nicely and permit easy adjustment while a D shaped carabiner forces the rope into a corner and makes for messier knots. The Petzl Attache or Edelrid Strike both work well.
Lastly, one spare is required for any number of reasons. It can be used to create a rigid master point, belaying or rappelling on an Italian Hitch, attaching your personal tether to an anchor or in rope rescue scenarios. I prefer my spare carabiner to be versatile so I favour the HMS/pear shape once again.
I often see climbers carrying large, cumbersome anchor kits consisting of bulky nylon slings with pre-tied knots and multiple locking carabiners, which is usually overkill. Assuming each member of the climbing team has an anchor kit, all that is required for routes with bolted anchors is a 120cm sling and two non-locking carabiners. Non-lockers are all that is required because you're properly isolating each leg of your anchor with the knot at the master point and you're in a position to monitor the anchor at all times. If you're concerned about a non-locker opening, simply add a clove hitch at each node. This will prevent the carabiners from moving.
If your anchor kit is currently being used at the station and you're leading the next pitch, ask your partner for theirs. Alternatively, a single shoulder length alpine draw with a clove hitch at the master point will usually work and raises the master point higher for easier belaying.
When climbing a route that requires you to build gear anchors, I usually bring a 240cm dyneema sling racked on a single non-locking carabiner but will typically forgo this if I know all stations are bolted.
The cordelette is a versatile piece of kit that I consider a non-negotiable on multipitch climbs. It can be used for rope ascension, improvised rope rescue, anchor construction, rap tat or even splinting materials. Five meters of 7mm cordelette is the standard as this length allows for most rescue scenarios and this thickness meets the 10kN standard for suspending a human. Try to find soft, supple cord as stiff cords have difficulty gripping ropes.
Some people carry two but one is sufficient. If you typically construct gear anchors using cordelette, consider adding an additional bundle reserved specifically for emergency usage and potentially bring additional bail tat to avoid chopping your rescue bundle.
I start with the two loose ends and wrap them around my hand until about a meter long loop remains. This I tightly wrap around the bundle, starting at the bottom and moving upwards until a few inches are left. This loop I pass through the small remaining gap and snug up tightly. I rack my cordelette and personal prusik together on a single non-locking carabiner.
A personal prusik is another extremely useful piece of gear, functioning primarily as a rappel back-up. It's uses also extend to rope ascension, hauling systems and a variety of rescue scenarios.
A personal prussic can be made 1.2-1.5m of cordellete joined with a single or double fishermans knot. In order to properly grip the rope the diameter of cord used needs to about 75% that of the climbing rope or a two millimetre differential. For thicker trad climbing ropes 7mm cord is best but for thinner, slicker dry ropes for ice climbing, you may need to go down to 6mm. Just be aware of the strength reduction.
Or you can use a specially made prussic loop like my personal favourite, the Sterling Hollow Block. This pre-sewn prusik is made of a high strength material and it's hollow, tubular construction enables it to conform to the rope and grip tighter with fewer wraps. At $14, they're way more expensive than $3 worth of cord, but worth every penny.
Once we have made the decision to rappel a route, we need to tether ourselves safely into the anchor in order to untie from the rope. The simplest method for this is to girth hitch your 120cm sling to your belay loop and attach a locking carabiner. If your sling is currently being used as the anchor you can use a shorter alpine draw the same way or consider including a designate personal anchor sling.
While I generally don't advocate for personal anchor slings, as I find them too specific for their limited functionality, I am a huge fan of the Petzl Connect and Dual connect. This ingenious device enables you to easily adjust your position relative to the anchor and maintains a dynamic element in your system by using 9.5mm climbing rope. This remains in my pack for the duration of the climb so as not to clutter my harness and is pulled out before beginning the rappel.
If you choose to use a personal anchor, do not leave it permanently affixed to your harness as this can lead to premature wear in specific locations. It is best do inspect your kit each time you employ it, as a gear failure when rappelling could be catastrophic.
In the event you have to back off a climbing, I like to include a small bail kit that lives in the bottom of my pack or on the back of my harness consisting of a mallion, two non-locking carabiners and some extra tat or sling material.
Mallions (or Quick-link's) are cheaper than a carabiner, enable your rope to run across metal and lock shut. Be sure to only use load rated mallions with the safe working load stamped on the side and not the hardware store variety.
Two non-lockers provide additional options for rappelling or potentially building a Garda Hitch or alpine clutch as a progress capture in improvised rope rescue scenarios.
To avoid chopping up my rescue bundle, I like to include a selection of cord I don't mind leaving behind. If you're unfamiliar with the route or it see's infrequent traffic, consider bringing along a little extra to rebuild, replace or reinforce existing anchors.
Unless you're climbing at or near your limit, a small pack enables you to carry all essential equipment without overloading your harness. If you have a hard time leading with a pack on, consider letting the second carry a communal pack or haul yours up once you've arrived at the station. If you're carrying a large bag to the base of the route, a small 20L pack should provide ample storage for the climb.
A sharp, light knife can be used to remove old anchor tat from stations, cut slings or cord to build your own, cut a stuck rope or cut salami for lunch. I usually keep mine in my first aid kit during rock climbs so as to keep my harness cleaner.
These are nice to have as the increased rope handling, particularly from multiple rappels can wreck havoc on your skin. Find a purpose-built glove, like those offered by Petzl, with a leather palm and reinforced wear points.
This list presumes you're properly equipped with extra food and water, sunscreen, appropriate layers for the conditions, an adequate first aid kit to control bleeding, manage pain and splint an injury and you have a headlamp if you think you may be out late. Make sure you have a charged cell phone and a Spot or InReach if you're outside cell coverage.
While this list is not comprehensive, it should serve as a strong foundation for the technical gear required for a multipitch rock climb. Before venturing out, seek the instruction of certified ACMG guides to make sure your systems are dialled. While multipitch climbing is tons of fun and opens up lots of new terrain to explore, the process is committing and the consequences are higher so make sure you're doing it safely.
If there's anything you consider to be essential gear for multipitch climbing equipment, let me know in the comments below. Have fun!