The Best Climbing Slings and Runners
Climbing slings and runners have come a long way from the archaic knotted bits of rope and webbing that climbing's early enthusiasts had to choose from. In today's climbing world, high-tech fibers stronger than steel allow climbing slings and runners to be skinnier and still maintain a full strength rating. When presented with numerous options of seemingly equivalent quality, choosing the best climbing sling or runner has become a bit of a chore. We tested some of the top-selling slings and runners on the market, hoping to take out some of the frustration of choosing an appropriate sling for your needs, by comparing them head-to-head. We tested the climbing slings and runners for the following: durability, alpine quickdraw ease, knot undo test, rappel backup test, overall feel, and bulk/weight.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Climbing Slings and Runners
Although not the top performer in all categories, the Editors' Choice award goes to the Trango Ultratape sling. The Ultratape sling has an extra high strength rating and is extremely durable. We were also extremely surprised by how easy a weighted knot was to untie. Between the sling's superior durability, strength, and ease of handling, Trango's Ultratape sling was the overall top performer of all we tested.
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond Nylon Sling
Our Best Buy award goes to the Black Diamond Nylon Sling. These things performed great in our tests and can be used for just about anything. Easy to tie and untie, durable, and classic, we think these are the best deal as far as slings go. A secondary award for Best Buy In Dyneema goes to the Trango Ultratape sling. As our second overall performer and one of the cheaper dyneema slings we could find, this is a great option for the climber looking to shed weight and keep to a budget.
The OutdoorGearLab Recommended award goes to the Black Diamond Dynex Runner. These slings performed well in our tests and are super easy to track down both online and in retail gear shops. The price for these bad boys will generally remain pretty steady as they are very widely used. They are super durable and handle well. All in all, a pretty easily accessible, durable, and user friendly option.
In our durability test we had a tie for most durable between the Mammut Crocodile sling and the Black Diamond Dynex Runner. Both of these slings are a super skinny high-tech sling, and when put to the test they both showed almost no damage to the fibers of the sling. The high wear resistance of these slings ensures a long, useful life of the product.
For this test we found that the Sterling Dyneema Sling sewn sling was the smoothest handling and least likely to tangle when making and extending an alpine quickdraw. We experienced almost no tangling when extending the draw and the handling was super smooth. (Here is a video on making Alpine Quickdraw.
Knot Undo Test
In general we found the fatter slings to be easier to untie than the super skinny ones. However, the Omega Pacific Dyneema Sling is in a three-way tie with the Black Diamond Nylon and the Sterling Nylon slings. As a middle-of-the-pack sling in terms of width, we were pleasantly surprised at how easily the knot worked loose in Omega's Dyneema sling. The fatter nylon slings made bulkier knots, consequently requiring little effort to work the knots loose.
Rappel Backup Test
For this test we asked a simple yes or no question: Will the sling work as a rappel backup when rigged as an autoblock? For each sling the answer was yes. Each sling we tested works as a friction knot in the strictest meaning of the word "works." However, due to the low melting point and slippery texture of Dyneema/Dynex it is not recommended that Dyneema/Dynex slings be used in any friction knot configuration. The heat of the friction from the rope can actually melt the fibers of the sling and compromise the safety of the system. In addition to melting fibers, dyneema and Dynex slings may experience more slipping along the rope due to its slippery nature. As such the only slings that we can endorse for use as a rappel backup are the nylon slings: Black Diamond Nylon, Sterling Nylon, and Mammut Nylon.
In this subjective test, we tried to rate the overall feel of each climbing sling and runner. After judging each one we found that we enjoyed the feel of the Trango Ultratape best. Maybe it was the 25kn rated strength tainting our judgement, but the Ultratape sling felt super sturdy…almost oozing safety. Our first impressions were also that of easy handling and just overall solidness.
The skinniest, lightest, smallest sling we tested was the Petzl FinAnneau Sling. At a super skinny 8mm wide, this sling is the smallest of the small. If you must have super lightweight slings, this is your best option.
The History of Slings and Runners
In the early 20th century, rock climbing and mountaineering were still, in many ways, in their infancy. Although the history of mountaineering and obsession of standing atop a mountain dates back many centuries before that, it wasn't until the late 19th and early 20th century that people were beginning to explore mountains and cliffs for the pure enjoyment and excitement of it.
During these early eras of climbing and mountaineering, the equipment being used was incredibly primitive compared to modern day standards. Ropes were predominately made of hemp and occasionally other natural fibers; belay techniques for securing the rope (should the leader fall) were simple and risky - falling often lead to bruises, scrapes or serious injury. Many viewed the activity as a "no fall sport" despite the obvious likelihood of falling.
The piton made it's first appearances among the small climbing community in the early 1900s; it had roots dating back to mid 1800s when climbers would use various forms of wooden or metal pegs to hammer into the cracks, clipping into them to act as protection or pulling on them to assist with upwards progress. However it was not really until 1910 that many attribute the beginnings of piton craft and the use of carabiners. Credit is given to the German climbing pioneer Otto Herzog for popularizing pitons and the introduction of the carabiner into the world of climbing.
Oddly, as simple as the idea of a rope or climbing slings and runners is, it was not for some time that climbers began to regularly use webbing, slings or runners to extend their protection pieces. Likely this is due to the fact that until the 1950s and 1960s, carabiners were made of steel and thus very heavy and expensive, so few were taken on climbing routes. Additionally climbers often carried only a few pitons on route, so perhaps little thought was given to the benefits of extending the protection or correcting for rope drag.
During World War Two a new product hit the market that revolutionized not just climbing, but the entire textile industry: Nylon. With the advent of Nylon around 1940 by the major chemical company Dupont, textiles began to rapidly change. Hemp ropes were replaced with Nylon ropes and soon a new product hit the market: woven, flat webbing. This new webbing was extremely strong, a one inch wide piece could support as much as 2000 pounds.
In the 1956 issue of Summit Magazine, a wonderful article appears by Jan and Herb Conn of Custer, South Dakota. In the article they present the idea of the "Runner," a tied loop of webbing with a carabiner on it. They explain how it has many different applications in climbing: extending the protection, slinging around trees, leaving for rappelling or using as a rappel harness. They urge more climbers to consider its use. Until this point, and even for many years after, the most widely accepted method for clipping the rope to a piton was to use two carabiners clipped together. It is comical to look back at this technique and not question how it took so long to think of a better system.
So by the late 1950s, more and more climbers were embracing the use of loops of one inch nylon webbing to connect their protection and pitons to their rope. Jan and Herb Conn recommend bringing three different length slings along with pitons and carabiners! They also recommend tying the slings with a double fishermans knot and recognize that there was (at the time) much controversy over the best knot to use when tying a loop of webbing. Nowadays a water knot (also known as a ring bend or overhand follow-through) is the most widely accepted method for tying webbing together.
Incredibly, it wasn't until the late 1960s and early 1970s that we begin to see climbers using slings and runners instead of two carabiners to connect the rope to the protection, be it hexes, stoppers or pitons. However, by the late 1970s, climbers had widely embraced the use of one inch webbing tied with a water not to extend their pro.
As the textile industry continued to advance, new types of fibers were created and used in climbing slings and runners, webbings, and ropes. First climbers saw the one inch webbing drop to 9/16th width while still maintaining the required strengths. Materials like Spectra and Dyneema were introduced into the market and are incredibly strong and amazingly lightweight. The industry standard for these products rose from 2,000 pound limits mentioned in the 1956 Summit article to 5,000 and even 10,000 pound limits.
Today climbers have a wide variety of slings, runners and webbings to choose from. Different companies have combined the different types of fibers to create a wide variety of different widths and styles. It is important to remember that these new slings made from Spectra or Dynema, while very strong, have very low elasticity, often these materials are combined with Nylon (whenever you see color in a sling, those colored fibers are nylon as Spectra and Dynema do not hold dye and are therefore always white). Additionally these materials do not hold a knot well, this is a key fact to always remember when tying a piece of this material, be aware of tail lengths and be sure to thoroughly tighten and check the knot.
— Robert Beno
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