Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Equipment for Single Pitch Award – Making the right choices

This is the second in my series of “Making the right choices” articles on what equipment you should take for your assessment in a range of qualifications. This segment is for the Mountain Training Single Pitch Award (SPA).

After I completed my Mountain Leader, my SPA was the next qualification I wanted to work towards. I love climbing, I love the thrill of it, but what I love more is getting young people out on the crag. In my work with the Air Cadets I have been privileged to work with some truly talented young climbers, taking them out and getting them interested in climbing was only possible through doing my SPA. Whilst (in my opinion) easier than Mountain Leader, SPA still demands a huge amount of work and effort to prepare for your assessment, and in no other area is that more crucial than getting the right equipment. This article focuses on the equipment required for your SPA assessment:

For your SPA assessment you will to take a full climbing rack including everything you will need to lead and set up climbs (with the exception of ropes). Below is a summary of what I would recommend for your SPA assessment, and what got me comfortably through my assessment.
Nuts – 2 sets 1-11, also consider taking a set of DMM offset nuts too.
Hexes – 1 set, hexcentrics or similar depending on personal preference.
Cams – optional, range of sizes.
120cm sling – 3, each with a screwgate karabiner
240cm sling – 2, each with a screwgate karabiner

Quickdraws – around 8
Slingdraws (quickdraws with a 60cm sling instead of a standard quickdraw sling) - 3
Small screwgate karabiners – at least 3 for building belays.
Large HMS screwgate karabiners – 3, use for building belays, releasable abseils, and setting bottom ropes.
Prussik loops – 2, 1.5m of 5-6mm cord tied with a double fisherman’s  knot, with a screwgate.
Belay plate – 2, each with a screwgate.
Nut key – You will get stuff stuck.
Harness/Helmet/Rock boots – obviously

Whilst the above may seem straight forward, it represents a substantial investment of money, so getting it right is crucial. As with any equipment lists, this is my recommendation, that isn’t to say I am the foremost authority on this matter and you shouldn’t diverge from what I list, quite the opposite, I would encourage you to build you rack the way you want! I will now discuss a few of the items above….

DMM Alloy Offsets

Wallnuts vs Rocks vs Stoppers vs Curve nuts vs Spectrum Wires vs ProNuts….this debate is not new in the climbing community. But which ones are best? Simply? They are all good, and you need to decide which are best for you, based on cost, range of sizes, weight etc. However some facts for you:

Biggest range of sizes: Wild Country rocks are available in sizes 1-14 making them the biggest range available on the market, however you will need to buy these in 2 sets (1-8 and 9-14) costing you at least £60 a set (if you find an offer!). Black Diamond’s Stopper pro set is 1-13 and costs less at around £100.

Cheapest Nuts: The cheapest set of wires on the market are Zero G’s Spectrum Wires at £49. I have a set of this and really like them, the shapes are nice, and for the price you really can’t argue!
Lightest nuts: The lightest nuts on the market are Metolius’s Ultralight Curve nuts which come out at 360g for a set of 10. However there is not a massive saving on weight when compared to DMM Wallnuts for example, which come out at 429g for a set of 11, so whilst being 69g heavier, you do get an extra nut for that weight.

Strongest nuts: All similar really….most honest opinion I could give! There isn’t much point me discussing minor differences in operational limits.

Best nuts: Each to their own, I love DMM wallnuts and have 2 sets of them. I also have a set of Zero G spectrum wires which have never let me down!

DMM alloy offset in action
Anything else worth knowing: Yes, buy a set of DMM alloy offsets! They are the most incredible set of nuts you will ever buy. Buy them as a supplement to your full sets of nuts not instead of. They are a set of 5 wires that fit in places where other nuts simply can’t. The unique shape (based on the original HB design) fits into offset and odd sizes cracks, and are simply fantastic. I used these more on my SPA than ever before, and was so glad for having them with me! I actually own 2 sets now, which I have combined into 1 set, simply because I place them so much!


One piece of advice, if you take them, know how to place them, and certainly don’t use them for rigging. One lad on my assessment got a slating for placing them incorrectly, and was fighting against that negative comment in his head the whole assessment. Cams are useful we all know that, I am not going to go into detail on cams since I believe they are something people should make their own mind up on. Your options are wide in terms of brands and types. Personally I use DMM 4CU’s, they are cheap, and work well.


Hexes are very useful, and should always be carried. The larger range of sizes fit in bigger cracks and gaps, and learning how to place them to take full advantage of the camming action they provide is a crucial tool to the aspirant SPA holder. In terms of advice, again there isn’t much to offer here. You have 2 choices; Black Diamond Hexcentrics, and Wild Country Rockcentrics. The Hexcentrics are on wire, whilst the Rockcentrics are on sling. Decide whether you would rather have hexes on wire or sling, and buy accordingly. I own Hexcentrics since I have always felt the durability of wire outweighs the benefits of the flexibility of sling.

A word on slingdraws

Carry a few slingdraws. For those of you who have a blank expression on your face when reading this term; a slingdraw is a quickdraw made up of a 60cm sling and 2 snapgate karabiners. The sling is attached to each karabiner and doubled up,  which leaves the slingdraws at 15cm, they can be used in this format as normal. However they provide a 60cm extension where you need to extend a gear placement out to counter rope drag (for example when moving up an overhang). Slingdraws are very versatile and many climbers exclusively use slingdraws for the flexibility they offer.

A final word on kit

By the time you attend your SPA assessment you should have done at least 40 leads, therefore you will already have a good idea of what kit you need. Make sure that you can justify every choice of kit, your assessor will scrutinise anything out of the norm. This may include GriGri’s, quicklock karabiners (particularly Magnetrons), safety lanyards etc. In addition to all this kit, it is definately worth getting a couple of books on the subject, I would recommend "Rock Climbing" by MLTE. I did a post on my SPA assessment back when I did it if you are interested in reading what SPA assessment is like click here