Ever wonder what climbers used before dynamic ropes, bomber cams, gri-gris, and state-of-the-art crash pads existed? Here’s a short look at how a few types of climbing gear were used to ascend rocks back in the day. You might gain some appreciation for the technical gear you depend your life on!


1. Ropes

Manila ropes allowed for tension traverses and short lead falls. The first kern/mantel ropes (with a separate core and sheath) were not developed until the 50s.


2. Carabiners

In 1910 Otto Herzog developed the first steel “Karabiner” used for rock climbing after seeing pear shaped carabiners being used by the fire brigade. Black Diamond created the first wiregate carabiners in 1991.


3. Cams

The history of cams and Friends is fraught with controversy. Greg Lowe filed for a patent in 1973 on a spring loaded version of the Abalakov Cam (a constant angle, curved cam) with a single lobe and single stem. Ray Jardine saw an initial prototype of Lowe’s cams and then filed a patent for his own “Friends” in 1978, featuring a trigger mechanism and a more stable 15 degree camming angle.


Related: Two-Minute History of the Cam


4. Shoes

The earliest climbing shoes were nail-spiked boots to increase friction. In the mid 30s the nails were replaced with rubber “lugs” in a similar pattern of the nails. Climbing shoes with friction rubber was invented in the 60s by Rene Desmaison and Pierre Allain (creator of the ultra popular PA hightops).

gear of the past shoes -2
5. Crash Pads

Before crash pads, early boulderers would bring small squares of carpet to wipe their shoes off before beginning a problem; great for cleanliness, not so great for padding a fall. Eventually, boulderers got crafty and began using mattresses, couch cushions wrapped in duct tape, and other such padded surfaces to protect falls. It wasn’t until the early 90s that the modern crashpad was truly commercialized.