Making The Ultimate Trad Quickdraw

Article by planetFear
Monday 27th July 2009

Along with rock shoes, chalk bags and harnesses, the quickdraw is among the most ubiquitous pieces of climbing hardware. Whether you're sport climbing, trad climbing, or big wall climbing, the quickdraw is the crucial link between your rope and whatever gear you're clipping on the wall.

Their role is two-fold: firstly they allow the rope to run a straighter line by extending runners (hence their other name - extenders), secondly, they allow for quick clipping - and it's no surprise that you'll also hear them being called an 'express' in certain regions.

Over the last ten years, quickdraws have made the transition from being cobbled together from a couple of odd karabiners and a short sling to being a pre-assembled complete products, this has reduced the cost, and generated some very neat, well thought-out products. However, most of the innovation has been to produce quickdraws that are geared towards sport climbing - they are often on short slings, with opposite facing gates, and in some cases even have both karabiners fixed into place.

The Wild Country Nitro - a typical modern quickdraw. (Read the review on planetFear here)

Of course, trad climbs are very different to sport climbs. Unless you are on a pencil-straight American crack, the protection points will be randomly distributed, making keeping your rope or ropes running freely a more difficult job. Often gear will be found at the back of corners, and under roofs, requiring much longer extension than needed for a bolt ladder. Trad climbers often carry a selection of slings for this job, in addition to a range of quickdraws. These can be carried over the head and shoulder like a bandolier, or tied up in an elaborate knot and clipped to the harness. Either way, this can present a time-consuming means of extending a runner, slings carried bandolier-style have a habit of getting into a real knot with each other, and if you want to put on a warm top - or take it off, you're going to have to sort out all those slings each time.

In addition, you will want to keep weight and clutter to a minimum, and you will want the gear you take to be highly adaptable to the different uses that it will inevitably be put to. Pretty soon, you'll find yourself in a situation where those neat sport-climbing quickdraws are becoming problematic for trad climbing.

The need for extendable quickdraws is nowhere more obvious than on a pitch such as this. Here, Jack Geldard powers through the crux roof section of Pre-Cambrian Wrestler (E7 6b), at Penlas Rock, Gogarth. Note the way in which all the gear at the back of the roof is extended significantly. Without this level of extension, the rope drag on the upper part of the climb would become so severe that upward progress would be impossible. Photo: copyright Dave Pickford /

What is required is a quickdraw that can be used as a 'normal' quickdraw, is compact and light, has a clipping end that is always held in position to clipped quickly, but that can be extended to three times its original length in under five seconds, and reduced to its orignal length in the same time whilst hanging on with one hand. Preferably the whole thing would weigh under 87grams and be useable to thread through 8mm crevices, and also be capable of wrapping over great big blocks as a belay in itself.

This is what you need to create such a quickdraw:

  • Some 60cm slings. My example uses 8mm Dyneema contact slings from Mammut, which are ultra light, very thin, but not cheap. Don't use nylon slings or anything wider than 12mm, since they will make the process of quick extension much more difficult. Click here to find out about the slings available from planetFear. 
  • Next you need a couple of karabiners - wiregates are light, strong, and hard to fault, but not essential. For this purpose planetFear recommends the DMM Spectre, the Wild Country Wire Gate Tech and - for those looking for the most lightweight option - the DMMPhantom for making the ultimate extendable trad quickdraw.
  • Lastly, you'll need a quickdraw retainer - the little rubber things that stop karabiners from rotating into a position in which you can't clip them.

The next bit is simple, build the quickdraw using the 60cm sling instead of a stubby quickdraw. Align the karabiner you are going to use for rope clipping close to the stitching - it's good practice to dedicate one end to clipping the rope, and the other to clipping gnarly bits of metal - this end will inevitably develop notches which could damage the rope if it ran over them repeatedly. Now use a quickdraw retainer to hold the rope-end karabiner in place - you should end up with something that looks like this:

At this point you have an open 60cm quickdraw, great for long extensions, but way too long to rack on your harness, and rather too long for most normal applications. So take the rope clipping end of the quickdraw (with the retainer on it, so you never forget which end is which) and pass it through the other (protection clipping) karabiner, like this:

Next, clip the rope-end karabiner into the loop you have just made, you will now have a 20cm quickdraw, which, before you neaten it up, will look a bit like this:

This can be used like any other quickdraw, and if you need to extend a runner more than normal, simply unclip the rope-end karabiner from the remaining sling loops, and it will open out to its full length (having the karabiner attached via a retainer stops you accidentally unclipping the wrong loops and dropping it).

As mentioned above, if you need to use the sling as a thread or need to place it over a spike or block, just open it out, remove the loose karabiner, and you've got yourself a sling.

Depending on the type of climbing you are engaged in, it might be a good idea to take a selection of these trad-quickdraws with some 20cm quickdraws. Taking four trad-quickdraws with, say eight regular 20cm quickdraws should negate the need to take extra slings on most long trad pitches.

Important Safety Notice:

Retainers like Petzl Strings have many benefits - but if not used carefully, can create a very real hazard, especially when used on an open sling. There is an excellent Petzl technical notice on this issue, which is available as a downloadable Adobe PDF at and we strongly suggest reading it.

There is also a safety video by DMM's Graham Desroy which explains this issue in detail on view it here. 

PlanetFear media is funded by our online store. Consider shopping with us for your latest outdoor gear: visit the planetFear shop here.


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Data on large runners overloading carabiners? - 25/02/2009
Cool tip thanks for the writeup. Do you have any data re: "I wouldn't go for nylon slings or anything wider than 12mm because it could overload the karabiners." I haven't heard that before, and I think it's more common to nylon runners for example to be much bigger than 12mm, more like 18mm. So I would like to know. cheers
Quick draw retainer - 03/08/2009
Is the quickdraw retainer mentioned just an elastic band? I thought using an elastic band to stop the karabiner from rotating in custom made quickdraws was dangerous as it was demonstrated on
DMM Revolvers - 02/10/2009
I have a couple of these on my rack, but I use DMM revolver wiregates. Very useful when you're extending out a long way as they really do reduce rope drag. Also handy for a pitch with a traverse in as again, it helps reduce rope drag. Little bit heavier, but worth looking at.
Great tip. Re: string/retainer risk - 27/01/2012
To avoid the risk of unclipping the sling and leaving it just on the retainer/string - you can avoid using a string or retainer/band. To extend the runner all you have to do is unclip any 2 of the 3 loops from the binner and it will remain clipped to the 3rd.

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