Tech Tip- Alpine Draws vs Sport Draws for Ice Climbing

I recently conducted an informal survey on a climbing focused Facebook page to determine if what gear I perceive out on our frozen cliffs is an accurate representation of what people are actually carrying.


Ice Climbing Quickdraws
Ice Climbing Quickdraws Survey

I wasn’t too surprised to see the overwhelming majority was using alpine draws (two carabiners and a thin style Dyneema sling clipped in a fashion that allows it to be used short or extended to full length).

ice climbing quickdraws
Alpine Draws vs Sport Draws

In this short opinion post, I aim to convince the majority to re-think their winter “draw” set-up and hopefully gain a bit of efficiency in the process.

Most of us year-round climbers have converted over to these sleek “alpine draws” featured on the left side of the photo above for our traditional and alpine style rock climbing kit. Carrying “shoulder-length” nylon runners over our head with or without a carabiner pre-attached has largely fallen out of style in the last ten or more years (and for good reason IMO). So if you are an “alpine draw” user anyways why should you do anything different for ice climbing? I’d suggest you consider the following;

Drag

Rope drag is not as much of an issue when ice climbing for two reasons. First, rope running over ice/snow creates almost no friction unlike rock. Second, it is easy to arrange protection on a pure ice climb so that it runs almost straight from belay to belay. On most ice routes you almost never need to extend an alpine draw to mitigate friction. The average quick draw offers almost a foot of extension, giving you a 2 foot wide “corridor” of protection with zero increase in friction.

Convenience/Efficiency

Clipping the rope to the draw after clipping the screw is a place where I often see new ice leaders struggle. An alpine draw flops around and does not stay put making clips with gloves on more difficult. Clipping while ice climbing is much more similar to sport climbing where you want a quick fluid clip vs. moderate trad climbing where you could probably just use both hands if you needed to. Having a rigid rope-end carabiner on your ice quick-draws is ideal, and I prefer the larger gate ones like the Petzl Ange L on all my “ice draws”. Efficiency is also gained when the second cleans the screw, as like sport draws rack quicker and easier than alpine draws, especially if they have been “extended” due to perceived friction.

Summary

Just because your system is dialed for traditional rock climbing and alpine doesn’t mean the same system is optimized for waterfall ice climbing. There are definitely outliers when a few alpine draws would be a good idea (not straightforward ice climbing, mixed routes, traverses, etc). I typically carry 1 or 2 alpine draws on these routes and know where I will use them. The rest of my “draw” rack is 8 ultralight quick-draws set up like this:

Screw hanger end carabiner- Petzl Ange S Carabiner– the smaller Ange here is about the lightest most compact choice you can make for the screw hanger side of the quick-draw. Since it is the hanger side it does not need a large gate opening and the MonoFil Keylock wiregate system adds security and clears ice easily.

Petzl ice climbing quickdraws
Petzl Ange S Carabiner- manufacturer photo

“Dogbone”- Petzl 17 cm Finesse Sewn Sling– Super lightweight but the real advantage of this over other nylon sport quick-draws is the Dyneema won’t absorb water like nylon so you will experience less “frozen draws” when using these.

Petzl Finesse Sling
Petzl Finesse Sling- manufacturer photo

Rope end carabiner- Petzl Ange L Carabiner– The larger carabiner on the rope end facilitates both clipping with gloves on and those who climb on double ropes occasionally.

Petzl Ange L Carabiner
Petzl Ange L Carabiner- manufacturer photo

The above set up isn’t the cheapest quick-draw solution out there but I think it is the nicest. At retail this set up runs about $30.85 per quick-draw. You can definitely save some money but getting the pre-built Petzl Ange Finesse Quickdraws.

ice climbing quickdraws
Petzl Ange Finesse Quickdraw

These pre-built draws will save you about $5 per quick-draw, you just give up the larger rope end carabiner. If you climb with two ropes often it may be worth going for the larger rope end carabiners.


My current optimized draw-rack

Petzl Ange Finesse Quickdraws with Petzl Ange L Carabiners on rope end

2 “Alpine Draws” made with Petzl Ange S Carabiners and Mammut Dyneema Contact 8mm Slings

I also carry one cordelette and two “Mini-Quads” that can be used for slinging trees, building anchors, etc.

Ice Climbing Quickdraws
The author on Black Pudding Gully last season before he upgraded his rope end carabiners to all Petzl Ange L’s- photo by @cfphotography

I hope this short post gets you thinking about your “ice kit” a little. You really don’t need all those extendable alpine draws in a pure ice climbing setting. And you’ll definitely save some energy clipping ropes with a stiff sport-style quick-draw!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


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5 thoughts on “Tech Tip- Alpine Draws vs Sport Draws for Ice Climbing

  1. Most ice climber are not doing grade 5 or 6. They aim for the path of less resistance and this path is not always strait forward. Instead of go strait over a bulge they go left or right. 5 meters above they do the same thing, again and again. Also the easy path is sometime full of tree so with alpine draw they can sling the trees. Thats why I thing a lot of ice climbers use alpine draw.

    • Thanks for the comment Marco! I think my suggestion works just as well on lower grade climbs. I’m thinking of everything from Willey’s Slide in NH (Grade 2) to Pinnacle Gully on Mount Washington (Grade 3). Quick-draws are faster for both the leader and the second, and speed in ice climbing goes a long way to keeping everyone warm. Having a couple shoulder length slings for trees is always a good idea, thanks for bringing that up! I carry two “mini-Quads” that often get slung around trees.

    • I don’t want to create debate and I’m away from the main subject but girth hitching an icicle create a lot of tension on it. Just sling around is a lot safer. Sling around make the load straight down and at the very bottom of the icicle, where it’s bigger and attach to the fat and more solid ice. It did not strangle the icicle like girt hitch does. Because the icicles are vertical and we fall straight down, the strangle make a small lever action on the icicle. A girth hitch is good for trees but not the best option for icicle.

      • Good point Marco… I know Nick knows this too and likely “baskets” or “loops” icicles if there is any question of their strength.

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