rock climbing courses

How to place climbing protection

The advice on this page is meant as a reminder for people that have received qualified instruction on one of my rock climbing courses, or as pre-reading for those that are keen to learn as much as they can from one of Mountain-Trips rock climbing courses.

Under no circumstances should the advice on these pages be used without supervision from a suitably experienced person.

As you lead a climbing route you will attach the rope to the cliff face to keep yourself safe. In sport climbing this is easy as there are pre-placed bolts on the climb. When there are no bolts in place, you will have to wedge specialised climbing gear or protection as you make your way upwards.

Placing protection is as complex skill and nothing can beat having a go under the watchful supervision of a Mountain Instuctor. Close up photos of protection can provide a easy view of and how and how not to place climbing gear.

Placing Nuts

Nuts are wedge shaped chunks of metal with a wire loop sticking out. The idea is to place them in a narrowing crack so when the nut is pulled, it is forced further into narrow part of the crack. Unless the rock shatters around the nut, the narrowing in the crack will stop the nut from coming out and the climber will remain safe.

There are couple of things to look for when placing nuts. Firstly, the nut should be placed in such a way that the force of a climber will cause the nut to wedge into the crack. There is no point placing a nut in a sideways crack as the pull caused by a falling climber is downwards not sideways. This is called direction of pull.

The greater the surface area of the nut that touches the rock, the less the force will be on the area of the rock that the nut is touching. In other words, the more nut in contact with the rock, the more the force will be spread out. Spreading the force reduces the risk of the rock shattering around the nut. The photos below show two nuts, the one of the left is a strong nut placement with all four corners of the nut in contact with the rock. The photo on the right shows a poor nut placement as only three corners are in contact with the rock.

Some times the cracks are thinner at the back of the crack and wide at the front. This is called a flaring crack. A standard nut placement may not work in this situation.

climbing courses climbing courses

It can be possible to sort this out. The nuts are built in such a way that they can be placed sideways in a crack. The wedge like profile of the nut is slightly reduced when placed sideways so it is not the preferred method but a good sideways nut is still a strong placement.

The photos below show a nut placed in a flaring crack. The left photo shows a normal placement (note how the nut is not completely in contact with the rock. The right photo shows a better placement of the same nut in the same crack by placing it sideways.


climbing courses

These are often called Hex's and can work just like a nut. Due to their clever shape they can also expand and twist so they can work in cracks that are horizontal, or vertical cracks that don't narrow (parallel sided cracks).

The photo below is a Hex in a vertical parallel sided crack. The Hex is touching the crack at the points marked 1. When the Hex is weighted it will twist so that points A are forced into the rock face. As the distance between points A is greater than the distance between points 1 the hex will twist itself into the crack and will jam itself securely in the crack.

This concept will also work if points 2 are in contact with the rock. When the Hex is twisted it will try and force points B into the crack and cause itself to jam in the crack.

Camming Devices

climbing courses

Cams are a little more complex to place than nuts. They have lots of moving parts that expand into cracks as you weight them. A good cam placement is secure but there are more factors that decide what makes a good placement. For this reason nuts should be your placement of choice and if a nut is not suitable maybe a cam will work.

Cams are designed for parallel sided cracks and have a much greater expansion range than a hex. Cams are made out of four lobes at the top. In the photo on the right you can see two of the lobes, one red, one silver. The rope is clipped to the material part of the cam with a quick draw.

  • All four lobes should be in contact with the rock.
  • The cam should be placed in line with the direction of pull.
  • The rock should be dry and clean
  • The rock should be solid
  • The lobes of the cam should be in the middle of their expansion range and not at either end

I fully endorse the British Mountaineering Council's participation statement.....
"The BMC recognises that climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions."


Rock climbing courses Peak District climbing courses North Wales rock climbing courses South East climbing courses Kent and Sussex climbing courses
© Mountain Trips 2020