Sport Draws vs. Alpine Draws

Sport Draws vs. Alpine Draws

January 14, 2020 fmg-adminAlpine & Ice Climbing Guides' Tech Tips Rock Climbing

As a result of this video posted by Rock and Ice on their Weekend Whipper series, I have been getting lots of questions about what type of draws I use on sport climbs, sport draws or alpine draws.

Easy answer: sport draws. For the “why,” read below, but in the meantime, here is a list of the types of draws I carry for the different types of climbing I do:

Sport Climbing:

Petzl Spirit Draws (one extra from number of bolts on the pitch)

Trad Climbing:**

2-4 sport draws

2 over the shoulder slings (one carabiner)

2-4 alpine draws

**For a complete list of the gear I take trad climbing, see my post on trad racks.

Alpine Climbing:

1-2 sport draws

1-2 over the shoulder slings (one carabiner)

3-5 alpine draws 

Ice Climbing:

6-8 sport draws

2-3 alpine draws 

As with many aspects of climbing, the “why” choose one draw over another can be a bit confusing. Each has advantages and disadvantages, which I take into consideration when choosing what gear to carry. 

Let’s start with alpine draws. Most of us use dyneema slings and some sort of wire gate style carabiner with them. The alpine draw offers both a shorter 12” lenth and a longer length of up to 2’ when fully extended. This ability to extend the length of the draw offers several advantages:

  • An extended draw can minimize rope drag on longer pitches and allow the climber to place gear farther from the center climbing line with less angle put on the rope;
  • Longer slings can reduce rope movements being transferred to pieces of protection which could compromise or dislodge them;
  • The sling can be used for different purposes like for basket or girth hitching a tree and in a pinch as a friction hitch. 

As with most things, there are disadvantages to alpine draws as well. Among them are the following: 

  • Since the carabiner is not sewn to a small loop or otherwise held in place on the rope end, clipping can be difficult, particularly when wearing gloves (ie ice climbing);
  • The clipping carabiner could become cross loaded in a fall because of the looseness;
  • Similarly, because of the looseness the carabiner attached to the gear could become cross loaded, and depending on the type of biner, could seat at an off angle on the bolt or gear, although sometimes the looseness actually allows the carabiner to flip back and seat appropriately;
alpine draw unclipping
  • Alpine draws are inefficient both to deploy and rerack, a significant factor for me because, as you know, I like to move quickly!

That brings us to sport draws (dog bone with two carabiners). These draws are a simple, mostly a single use item and, like everything else, have gotten lighter over the years. 

The sport draw has a top carabiner that is held loosely by a sewn loop which is made to clip to a piece of protection like a bolt or nut and bottom carabiner meant for the rope that is held by both a sewn loop and some sort of rubber keeper that holds it securely in place.

Petzl sport draw

Draws should have both carabiners facing the same way, and when climbing it is preferable to have the gates facing away from the line of climbing. If the gates of the carabiners face opposite directions (aka French-style draws), the upper carabiner can become compromised by the bolt and open as seen in the photo below. 

french style sport draw

The advantages of sport draws are obvious: they are much easier to clip (Imagine trying to send your project while fumbling with an alpine draw), the bottom carabiner will never get cross loaded because it is held in place, and they are easy to deploy and rerack.

The disadvantages are their single purpose and the ability of the top biner to become cross loaded if it flips over. That however, is no different than the alpine draw in that if any of the styles of draws see an outward and upward force it can put it in a more compromised position especially if the rope has been seeing a lot of movement, causing the top draw to flip.

This situation where the top carabiner can flip and become cross loaded appears to be what happened in the video above. When the rope then became tight during the fall, the cross loaded biner then unclipped itself from the dogbone. Significantly, it was NOT the top draw that came unclipped, so there was no consequence. The same issue could have occurred with an alpine draw as well. 

sport draw unclipping

Based on this analysis, you can probably now figure out why I choose the gear I do on a particular climb, and you won’t wonder why professional climbers (and most climbers at sport crags for that matter) are not trying to send their project on alpine draws. Imagine Sasha DiGiulian trying to send Pure Imagination in the Red River Gorge on floppy alpine draws!

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