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.
The Best Climbing Slings and Runners
The Low Bulk Slings proved to be a top performer in every way throughout our testing. Had they not won our Editors' Choice award they would have won Best Buy as they are also some of the least expensive Dyneema slings (most of the competition is $8-10+). They're highly durable and were pleasantly easy to untie after weighting a knot. At 11mm, they aren't as thin as some of the other slings, but we found them to be far superior to other 12mm slings and with higher durability than some 18mm models.
Our Best Buy award goes to the BD Nylon. 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 would go to the Trango Low Bulk mentioned above. Though they are significantly bulkier and heavier than Dynex/Dyneema slings, they are a far better value. They are wide enough that we use them as a gear sling when our rack is light.
Sterlings sewn Dyneema slings proved to be some of the most durable and easy to handle slings that we tested. While they aren't the skinniest Dyneema slings on the market. While they are slightly larger than some of the other Dyneema slings we tested, like the Petzl FinAnneau, they were faster to untie and somewhat more durable. If you want a somewhat lightweight, easy to tie and untie, smooth handling sling, this will do you just fine.
At 13mm wide the Metolius Monster Sling is lighter weight than a nylon sling, but not as lightweight as a skinny sling such as the Mammut Contact. It's a solid middle of the road option if you like the handling of a wider sling but want to save some weight. They are fairly durable, but not quite as durable as top performers. At 22 inches, it's strange that Metolius would cut their slings down by 2 inches from all of their competitors which use a 24 inch (30 cm) length. These slings were also some of the more expensive slings we tested.
Petzl's ultra-light Dyneema sling offers the most compact sling that we tested while still maintaining full 22kn strength. With an 8mm width, these slings are 4mm thinner than Petzl's already compact StAnneau Dyneema slings. We have not tested thinner slings. They are perfect for super long multi-pitch days, alpine ascents, or any other light and fast scenario. They make some of the smallest alpine draws possible, especially when paired with an ultralight carabiner.
The Black Diamond Dynex Runner slings performed well in our tests. They are super durable and handle well. Despite their slim profile, these slings maintain full strength, making them excellent for the low weight, low bulk climber. The downside is that they did not do well in our "knot undo tests." They are also relatively expensive.
The Contact was one of the first skinny to appear and remains one of the lightest. When we first saw them years ago we reacted as many people still do: "Really, those are full strength?" But yes, they are full strength. And thanks to a patented "Contact stitching method" they are one of the thinnest and lightest slings available. These are our top choice for Sierra routes and alpine climbs because they are so light. They performed well in our tests except for the durability test where we found them lacking when compared to other top slings. The super skinny design also makes this sling difficult to untie once a knot is weighted. It seems that its greatest strength (super skinniness) is also the source of its greatest weaknesses (durability, knot untying).
Climbing Sling and Runner Buying Advice
What Are You Using it For?
When checking out slings and contemplating that full-rack overhaul, the most important thing to consider is what exactly are you going to be doing with the slings you buy. A climber primarily ticking off those long alpine routes will be looking for a different sling than a climber using the slings for elaborate top rope anchors. If you need something super light, go for the super skinny slings. If you just need a workhorse that will work unfailingly for whatever application you may need, go for that slightly bulkier but ultra classic sewn nylon sling.
Generally speaking, the super skinny slings are going to be most aptly suited to the climber that takes note of the amount of weight they are lugging around. With the modern uber thin slings, you can shed weight and bulk making your rack lighter and far more compact. Drawbacks to the skinny slings are that they are, for the most part, extremely difficult to untie once a knot has been weighted. Nylon slings and thicker Dyneema slings will be much easier to untie, but won't be nearly as lightweight.
Dyneema vs. Nylon
All slings used to be made of nylon. Then a decade or so ago, slings started being made of Spectra, Dyneema or Dynex. These are super strong materials that are stronger than steel, don't wear out as fast and absorb less water than nylon. Because of their strength, they can be made in very narrow and light sizes, often half the weight of a nylon sling.
However, other than being cheaper, nylon slings have a big advantage: they absorb more force and act like shock-absorbers during a fall. Think of a Dyneema sling more like a carabiner and nylon sling more like a climbing rope. When you load a nylon runner, it stretches and applies the force to you and your anchor or protection more gradually. This means that an anchor or protection piece may be more likely to hold. Check out this great video that describes the difference between nylon and Dyneema using drop tests.
So which is better? It all depends. If you are an alpine climber or climb where weight is an absolute premium, Dyneema is probably the way to go. If you are building an anchor or expect to fall a lot, nylon is the perhaps the way to go. We carry a mixture of both and adjust the mixture based on what type of climbing we are doing.
To sum it all up: when buying some slings, be honest about what you'll be using it for, and buy the sling best suited for that purpose. And be sure to check out our gear reviews to make sure you're getting the quality you desire.
— Robert Beno and Chris McNamara