Lead Climbing: Clipping Strategies, Techniques, and Safety Tips

Lead climbing clipping strategies

On the outset, clipping bolts might look like one of the most straightforward parts of sport climbing—but in reality, this seemingly simple action can often serve as the crux for many climbers.

Not only does clipping require your full technical attention to ensure you ascend safely, but it also calls for efficient technique so that you can maintain energy and focus on the climb itself. Accordingly, learning to master the art of clipping can lessen your chance of getting pumped, taking a fall on your redpoint burn—or worst of all—getting hurt.

 

Related: Overview of Lead Climbing

 

Body position tips for clipping

Poor clipping technique disrupts your ability to fully focus on your movement up a route. If your mind is occupied by the overwhelming desire to clip in, your technique and thoughtfulness in your actual climbing will inherently diminish. So, instead try to instill these subtle, yet methodical habits when you lead climb:

Resist the urge to clip right away

Oftentimes, we’re so attached to the desire to feel safe again, that we find ourselves clipping at the worst possible moment—unnecessarily wasting energy and stressing out our minds.

clipping bolts
Photo: Maria Ly

While you may feel a strong desire to reach way above you and clip in as soon as you see a bolt, this position rarely serves as the best or most efficient spot—often distracting you from the far better holds you could be using. In most cases, bolts are placed adjacent to the best holds for clipping; rarely far below!

Moreover, most people don’t realize that falling while reaching over your head would actually result in a bigger fall (much more slack out) then simply moving up a couple of feet and then clipping. The ideal clipping zone should be between your waist and head height.

Do your best to focus on the route as a whole, rather than dissecting the climb bolt-to-bolt. If you trust your climbing partner, you can focus on trusting yourself and the moves you make.

 

Related: View this week’s best on-sale climbing gear

 

Look for the most stable and secure position

Instead of rushing to clip in, scan the scene around you as you move to ensure you’re in the best position. Ask yourself:

Is there a better hold near me?

Can I put my foot on something bigger?

Where and how close is the next best hold?

By taking a moment to find the best options and stance, you’ll be able to secure yourself to the bolt without over-expending your energy stores needed to complete the remainder of the climb. Sometimes this means making one or two extra moves than you might initially want to. More often than not, you’ll be happy you did.

Clip from a straight rather than bent arm

When we’re feeling scared and desperate, we tend to clench up, overgrip, and pull down way harder than necessary. When you’re clipping at the ideal position, your body should feel relatively stable, with your arms extended to give your major muscles a chance to momentarily relax.

Sometimes this can be as simple as bending your legs or clipping the bolt when in the midst of a sequence (not stopping to clip). Of course, straight arms won’t always be possible; but ensure that you take advantage of the opportunity when it exists!

Hand techniques for clipping

You’ve seen it or you’ve done it yourself: dropped the rope (maybe more than once) while fiddling to clip into the quickdraw—leaving you ultra pumped, mentally shaken, and Elvis-legging all at once.

While the position of your body definitely matters, honing in your hand technique for efficient clipping can make all the difference between you calling for a take and completing your redpoint ascent.

There are 2 primary ways to clip a bolt:

Forehand clipping (or “pinch clip”)

When the gate faces away from you, you will want to forehand clip. The strategy here is to:

  1. grab the rope diagonally through your hand,
  2. press the back of the carabiner with your thumb, and
  3. push against the rope with the side of your pointer finger to open and insert the rope into the carabiner gate.

Backhand clipping (or “snap method”)

When the gate faces you, you will want to backhand clip. In this method, you want to:

  1. pinch the rope with your pointer finger and thumb,
  2. stabilize the carabiner of the quickdraw with your middle finger,
  3. then twist your wrist to flick the rope in the ‘biner.

lead climbing clipping tips

Practice, practice, practice — here’s how

While there are many subtle variations within these 2 techniques, the most important thing is to commit to practicing until you master the motions. And just because you can’t make it to to the crag every day, doesn’t mean you can’t practice!

All you need is a quickdraw and piece of rope (or something replicating one) to get started:

  1. Simply hang from a ‘draw from your desk, your bed, a lamp next to the couch, etc.
  2. Using a spare piece of rope or string, practice clipping from both directions.

This will not only vastly improve your clipping efficiency, but this simple exercise also serves as a great way to pass the time when working, studying, dreaming about actually climbing, etc.

 

Related: Rock Climbing Gear Guide: Quickdraws

 

Check out this video to get a visual understanding of both these body and hand clipping techniques:

 

Quick safety tips when clipping quickdraws

Clip your gates in the direction opposing the location of your next bolt

This ensures that as you climb, that the rope pulls against the spine of the carabiner instead of the gate.

Keep your fingers out of the carabiner

Push the rope into the carabiner gate, rather than your fingers. You don’t want to lose them if the event of a fall!

Be aware of your legs behind the rope

If the rope wraps around your leg and you fall, you can get massive rope burn, be flipped, or worse. Always be aware of your legs around the rope.

Watch for z-clipping and back clipping

Z-clipping occurs when a climber clips the rope into the next bolt from below their last piece of protection. This often takes places when bolts are close together and is often recognized immediately due to rope drag. The danger here is that in the case of a fall, the most recently clipped quickdraw won’t actually catch you, but instead the draw underneath … resulting in a much larger fall.

Back clipping happens when the rope is clipped through the front of the quickdraw, instead of the back. In the case of a fall, the rope could pass through the gate and unclip you from your protection. Don’t let that happen!

Watch more on clipping techniques and safety in this video:

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  • Paul Robinson

    This is a really great article – thanks for sharing! Looking forward to trying the tips out tonight!

  • Jill Catharine

    The video from from Climbing magazine shows her CLEARLY with her finger going through the gate when she executed the pinch clip…

    Probably not the best example