Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Non-Lockers vs. Lockers at the Power Point

At a beginning level, climbing tends to be rule-based. These rules that you are provided at the start of your career are important. They will help to keep you safe.

It should be noted that once you have a few years of experience, there is some room to re-evaluate some of the rules. However, this should only take place after you have climbed with a lot of different experienced people.

One of the commonly quoted rules for toproped climbing is that one should always use two opposite and opposed lockers at the master point.

Two opposite and opposed lockers.

The idea is that there is no way that the rope could possibly jump out of two opposite and opposed lockers. And while it may be possible -- however unlikely -- for movement in the system to cause the one of the gates to become unlocked and to open, it would be nearly impossible for the both lockers to become unlocked and to be opened.

In the guiding world, two opposite and opposed lockers are considered to be industry standard. The liklihood of a single locking carabiner becoming unlocked and opening is incredibly low. However, this is one of the rules that you learn when you start to climb and it has become so integral to outdoor groups throughout the world in toproping that it has become the industry standard across the board.

Industry standard is one of those phrases that we should pay attention to in climbing. There are very few things that can be considered industry standard in the climbing world.

That said, it is incredibly unlikely that a single locker in a toprope system will fail. But what if something does go wrong? And what if you were toproping in a way that was outside this standard? Certainly you would feel terrible, and not only that, you would also be hammered by the internet forums, the blogs, and the magazines for doing something considered to be outside the norm. As such, it's probably a good idea to stay within the norm.

Many climbers use two opposite and opposed non-lockers in lieu of two opposite and opposed lockers. Two opposite and opposed non-lockers should be considered the equivalent of one locking carabiner. For non-lockers to have equivalency to two opposite and opposed lockers, there must be three opposite and opposed non-lockers.

Three opposite and opposed non-lockers and equivalent to two opposite and opposed lockers.

Rules in climbing exist to create a wide margin of safety. There's really no reason at all not to have a wide margin of safety in a toproped environment.

--Jason D. Martin


Matt Roberts said...

Can you give a brief explanation of why 2 opposite and opposed non-lockers are equivalent to 1 locker? Is this a rule-of-thumb or is there some deeper logic to it?

richard said...

If you use two locking and opposed 'biners at the anchors, why do you not use two 'biners on your belay loop?

American Alpine Institute said...


It is both a rule of thumb and there is a deeper logic to it.

First, it's a rule of thumb because it has a long history as a "best practice" in the mountains.

Second, and more important, opposite and opposed carabiners are hard to open. The payload is caught inside the same way it is caught inside on a locking carabiner.


There are two reasons why you don't use two lockers on your belay loop for top-roping. We do teach to use two lockers on a belay loop for tying in for glacier travel.

As for top-roping, the first problem with two carabiners is that it creates a lot more friction in the lower. It is far more difficult to lower a person off of two carabiners.

Note that with thin ropes, you can use two carabiners on your belay loop to create more friction for a rappel.

The second issue is that you can see what is on you. You can always tell if there is something wrong with a carabiner on your belay loop. This is not the case for carabiners up high and out of sight.


David said...

Just out of curiosity, when did this become the "industry standard"? The reasons you have listed are certainly valid and I think I may add that second locker to my anchors now. However, I've been climbing for about 2 years now and this is the first I've heard or been taught to use 2 lockers or 3 non-lockers. All the classes and books I've read say 2 opposed non-lockers or 1 locker (if they even mention using lockers at all). Is it just that I have old information and now that lockers are less expensive you might as well back them up?