No, I don't mean your dodgy Y-Fronts, Calvin Boxers or Lacy Lingerie. I am of course referring to quickdraws! Pretty much every climber will know what a quick draw is and what they are used for, so what else do you need to know? Well, a recent poll showed that 66% of climbers didn't know that there were three types of quickdraw! That's two-thirds of climbers!
So what are the different types? And why do they exist? Do you really need different types for different things, or can you simply use your Sport draws for leading trad routes? Let's take a look!
Sport Quick Draws are probably the first type of draws you'll come across. They're solid, dependable and normally come in a range of colours. Sport draws also have a wide sling connecting the two karabiners. The sling is normally covered in some form of rubber or plastic too.
Durability is the focus for sport draws, as it's likely climbers will be pushing their grades on sport and will incur a lot of falling and lowering off in the process. The karabiners are designed to be slightly wider, allowing less work on the rope as it absorbs a fall, and the rubber/plastic cover over the sling means the climber can hold onto the draw while working a route without aching their hands too much.
By comparison, trad quickdraws are narrower in both the karabiners and the sling. The focus is to be light and simple, to help when placing protection on routes. A trad rack consists of a lot of metalwork, so the lighter the gear is, the less of a hinderance it becomes on the climber.
A smooth-running rope, free of too much drag, is critical for trad, so you'll probably notice that trad draw sets will offer a range of lengths in slings, meaning the climber can choose to extend the protection further away from or closer to the placed protection as needed to help keep drag to a minimum.
Identifying trad karabiners is pretty straight forward; they often tend to have two wire-gates rather than a solid gate you'd find on a sport draw, and the sling is much narrower and will be lacking a plastic/rubber coating. All of this is to reduce the weight of the draw as much as possible.
Alpine quickdraws are the most versatile of the bunch and can be used for both trad climbing and alpinism (hence the name!). Sling draws are simply a climbing sling and two karabiners paired together (usually wire gates). The sling is usually doubled up when carried, allowing the climber to extend the sling to full length, or to tie knots as needed to adjust the length. This allows for more variety in extending the protection and reducing rope drag as the climber ascends.
Normally you won't find alpine draws for sale (other than some specialist retailers). More often than not, climbers will buy a range of Dyneema Slings in different lengths, as well as a bunch of snap gate or wire gate karabiners and will either carry the gear separately or prepare the sling draws in advance of the climb.
Points of Note:
* Never try to grab the draw while you're falling! Learn that falling is part of the sport and become accustomed to it. Trying to grab the draw can lead to minor injuries all the way through to impaling your hand on the draw. That sounds extreme, but it does happen!
* Don't swap ends. When using sport draws, you'll be clipping to metal bolts already in place on the wall. In time (and a few falls) the karabiners connected to these bolts can form small knicks and abrasions where they have been pulled against metal. If you were to swap the ends of the karabiner over, your rope would now be running against these abrasions and can have a detrimental effect on the safety & durability of your rope.
* Always assess your draws before starting the climb. check for wear and damage before you set out, and if you find any fractures or weaknesses, do not use the draw under any circumstance. Also, make sure you're carrying enough draws for the pitch, and of the right style so you don't end up facing an unsavoury situation.