Protection tools

Protection tool is equipment, mechanisms used for creation of belay points in the terrain. They can be fixed in the terrain by different methods, and allows for heavy load placed above free space to hang in them, be it the climber itself or any of his/hers other material. They are mainly used for construction of belay points, i.e. anchors in the terrain, which are then used as an intermediate protection, belay or rappel station. Protection tools are always fitted with some kind of eyelet into which the carabiners are connected. This way we can connect other parts of belay chain or other burdens to the belay tools. Protection tools are very important part of mountaineering gear and as such we must pay them a due attention. The more time you will engage in mountaineering, the greater number of these tools you’ll have. In some climbing disciplines is the building of belay points (to a certain extent) the most important activity Building of belay points is covered in detail in the 3rd part of the textbook, so now please pay attention to the overview of the belay tools, because later on there will be a large chapter about their use.

Sorting of protection tools

Protection tools are sorted into a several groups according various criteria. These criteria are:

  • Design feature
  • Means of use
  • Intended terrain of use

Sorting according of design features

According to the characteristics of the protection tool itself we sort them as:

  • Passive
  • Mechanical (active)

Passive protection tool

They are constructed from one or more pieces of material, but in the case of multiple parts are these parts after assembly firmly connected into each other.

Passive protection tools include rock piton, drilled piton, chock, runner, hexentric, tricam, etc.

Mechanical (active) protection tools

Made of multiple parts which can move towards each other, usually it means ability to expand or to get narrow; they are often provided with triggers, rods, springs, etc. Typical mechanical protection tool is friend, ball nut, bigbro etc.

A certain kind of protection tool may not always be decidedly classifiable into one of these groups. For example, if tricam is accompanied by a steel cable and is firmly connected to it, then becomes passive protection tool. However, it can also be constructed so that the cable or strap is attached to the tricam body at the axis and can turn in relation to the tricam’s body. Such tricam is considered to be mechanical protection tool.

Sorting according to means of use

Placing of protection tool into the terrain can be made in permanent or temporary way. According to this we sort the protection tool as:

  • Fixed
  • Mobile

Fixed protection tools

These tools are permanently fixed in the terrain either by leader, maker of the route or by some park manager (ranger). Fixed protection tools, intentionally made with this goal, are always passive. Fixed protection tool typically includes drilled piton (glue-in anchor or expansive bolt) or copperhead.

Mobile protection tools

They are fitted only for the time of protection, after that they are taken back by the climbers for the next use. They are usually fitted by the leader and collected by the second. Mobile protection tools are either passive or active.

Mobile protection tools typically include chocks, runners, tricam, hexentric, friends, ball nuts etc.

Sometimes you may notice permanently fixed mobile protection tools in the rock, such as runners, chocks, etc., but it is a matter of organization, when people in the respective area agree that at some point on the ascent route is use of mobile tool too strenuous or that the frequent use would harm the rock, therefore they leave it there permanently as a fixed device. It is therefore based on mutual agreement, not from a nature of protection tool itself.

Also, sorting of some protection tools into a certain groups changed over the time. This is a typical example of rock pitons. In earlier times, when the metal was expensive and there was a shortage of rock climbing pitons on the market, the pitons were regularly taken out by the second; therefore they were treated as mobile protection tools. Today it is used only occasionally when climbing in the mountains, but even here are the new pitons used very little and older pitons left in the rock are used instead of them. And nowadays on small rocks you will find only old pitons left in the rock permanently. So today rock piton is considered to be more of a fixed protection tool.

Sorting according to terrain

Protection tools are sorted according to a terrain of intended use to:

  • Rock
  • Snow
  • Ice

Rock protection tools

For rock we are using chocks, friends, runners, rock pitons, glue-in anchors, tricams, hexentrics, etc.

Snow protection tools

In snow we are using snow anchors, either in form of pickets or deadman anchors. In snow we often use objects that otherwise serves some other purpose, such as an ice axe, skis, backpack, etc. Those objects thus actually become a protection tool, at least for a while.

Ice protection tools

In ice we are using ice screws, snarg ice pitons, runners.


Set of various size chocks.

Set of various size chocks.

It is passive and mobile protection tool used for rocks. It consists of a body and wire, which is in most cases made of steel, but on chocks with bigger body we can see the rope made from artificial fibres. The body shape of older simpler designs was of a regular wedge with trapezoidal cross-section, which was called “stoppers”. The chock’s body shape was later modernized and optimized, one side of the body took the shape of a slight curve, the opposite side was usually provided with a groove. These chocks with better shape were sometimes called “rocky”. However, the terminology did not stabilize and we can meet with the fact that the expression rocky or stopper is generally used for all chocks.

Small chocks with the size of the body of only few millimetres are called micro-chocks.

Tricam (Abalak)

Set of various size Tricams (Abalacks).

Set of various size Tricams (Abalacks).

Passive and mobile protection tool. The word “Abalak” comes from the Russian, named by V.M. Abalakov, Russian mountaineer and mountaineering equipment designer. However, in the Anglo-Saxon countries is this belay tool called Tricam and as its pioneer is believed to be G. Lowe. We can also meet with the expression eccentric anchors. Abalak is a special type of tricam designed for cracks with parallel walls; it works particularly well in horizontal cracks and is almost unbeatable in holes and cavities in the rock.


Set of various size friends.

Set of various size friends.

It is mechanical and mobile protection tool. It consists of several parts moving toward each other. First there are cams, cable body, trigger and trigger wires and finally the sling for attachment of carabiner. Small friends with cams smaller then approx. 1 cm are called micro-friends. Most of the contemporary types of friend use four cams; such a friend is sometimes called FCU. Some older friend models, called TCU, had only three cams; however these are not manufactured much anymore, as they were less stable in the placement. Cable body can be either of double or single design. Double design (two parallel steel wires) is better and more comfortable to work with in the vertical parallel cracks. Friends with a design of a single steel wire are better for a rugged rock formations, uneven cracks and holes.

Friend was preceded by a series of mechanical camming device prototypes, but the final design was made by Roy Jardine in Yosemite, USA, who had it patented in 1980.

Sling (runner)

Passive and mobile protection tool. It is one of the oldest, simplest and most natural belay tools. Material for making a sling is most often rope, auxiliary cord or webbing. It can be closed either by tying or sewn. It can be wrapped around sections of rock or, if you tie a knot on it, you can place it into a rock’s cracks.

Auxiliary webbing sling with sewn loop.

Auxiliary webbing sling with sewn loop.

More in e-book.

Title Part 2Mountaineering Methodology – Part 2 – Gear and Accessories

ISBN 978-80-87715-08-6

MMPublishing, 2013

Available for download from Apple iTunes (in the Books section).

For example U.S. store – link

Another countries – look on the page Download

See layout.

Another possibility is Google Play. This version is a simplified (as PDF).

Title Part 2 GPMountaineering Methodology – Part 2 – Gear and Accessories

ISBN 978-80-87715-13-0

MMPublishing, 2014

Available for download from Google Play.