Bolting for Climbing

Bolting for Climbing

“Stay safe whilst getting off.”

The Bolting Bible

This is free resource by HowNOT2 and our way of contributing to the community. It's nice to understand what you are clipping and trusting with your life, even if you never plan on installing or removing bolts. We also believe that if you are going to spend time and money to bolt something, you should do it well.

This book is in a blog format. This page points to all 17 chapters, and the end of each chapter points to the next.

A downloadable PDF is available HERE.

A huge thanks to Bobby Hutton for contributing so much information and doing so much development in the Sierra Nevada climbing areas.


When replacing bolts, if you are making any changes to the original route, you will create a lot less drama if you ask the first ascensionist if they are available. Imagine if everyone just changed the bolt placements that showed up to climb. There is some merit to keeping the original climb original. The flip side to that is, if it is a popular route and the bolts are placed sparsely or in places that weren't fully thought out, then let's improve it like we improve everything else in life. Just don't willy-nilly change something without the "community's consent."

IF you are replacing hole for hole, bolt for bolt, and not changing the characteristic of the climb itself but returning it to its original level of safety, you're doing what the first ascentionist wasn't able to, or couldn't be bothered to do. If possible, do bolt replacement with the first ascentionist. It's good community building and avoids drama. But if you are not able, thank you for making the route safer.


Videos might make route setting look cooler than it really is but don't just go throw bolts in any rock that you want. Know your area first. There is a very high chance there is already a community built around that area, get involved with that community and make sure what you do will be appreciated by...most. If you are in an area that has a long history of climbing, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to install or replace bolts without being connected to law enforcers, access groups and the locals. In the USA the Access Fund is our advocate for climber access and is a good place to start if you have questions about your area.

What's more expensive than all your bolting supplies? A big ticket for bolting illegally. Not all areas are legal to bolt or even replace bad bolts. Don't make access worse than it already is because you didn't know your area first.

Get Involved

Courtesy of @caiocomix

If you find out there is a local do-gooder making an area better that you frequent, whether that is trail building or replacing dangerous bolts, get involved. Not showering them with your opinions from your Suburu, but with a currency that hardware stores accept (beer doesn't buy bolts), showing up to help do the grunt work or just appreciation for their effort.

Not sure who to help, but appreciate that safe bolts magically are available for you to climb for free? Support organizations such as the ASCA and Access Fund or organizations like them in your country. ASCA supplies bolts so volunteers can update bad hardware and the access fund fights for climbing access all over the USA.

Bad bolt porn - let's keep our areas safe

What's The Best Bolt?

So many climbers want the one bolt that solves every problem. Let us know if you find the unicorn. Glue in popularity is on the rise but isn't necessary if the rock is good. It is more complicated to install and therefore more room for error. 5 Piece Powers are popular but are finicky, expensive, and a bitch to replace. Wedge bolts stick out the more you tighten them but are the strongest mechanical bolts we've tested and the best bang for your buck, assuming your rock is solid. See all your options in the Old Testament of the Bolting Bible.

Bolt Placements

Here are 2 videos showing two ways to bolt a sport climb. Top-down or bottom-up.

Bolting - starting at the bottom

Bolting - starting at the top

1. To avoid rock failure, place bolts an appropriate distance from rock edges, further in softer rocks.

2. Avoid placements that weaken your carabiner by loading it over edges or rock imperfections.

3. Plan placements to avoid rope drag. Keep bolts on a sport route in line to avoid the friction of the rope redirecting back and forth across the route.

4. Avoid placing anchor bolts too far from the cliff edge, forcing the rope to rub.

5. When bolting sport routes, find good clipping stances, then make sure to place the bolt so most climbers will be able to reach it. If you are really tall don’t place it as high as you can. Place the bolt so a shorter climber will be able to comfortably use the same stance to clip the bolt. As a tall climber try placing bolts that you can reach with your elbow or nose from a secure position.

6. Consider when a quickdraw is hung on the bolt that is won’t be in the way of a key hand or foot hold as you climb past.

7. Place top anchors so they protect as much of the route as possible. If the route wanders, place the anchor in the middle of the zone that the route traverses to prevent big swings on top rope.

8. Hitting the ground, wall and/or a ledge is bad. Bolts should be placed to avoid this.
A. Spacing: Remember that your ground fall potential resets at every ledge. Space your bolts accordingly. The closer you are to a ground fall the closer your bolt spacing should be. It sucks to get injured when nothing fails.
B. Position: Consider what happens if you were to fall clipping the next bolt. In addition to ground/ledge falls look out for swinging falls or falls that will slam you into a wall.

9. When putting in anchors for a climb that will only/mostly be top roped, consider the safety of those walking to the cliff edge to set up the climb.

Top Access - Top Rope Anchors

Simple 2 bolt anchor

Routes that offer climbers the luxury of walking to the top of the climb to set up and take down the rope, allow route developers to install simple hardware. Most top rope anchors setups are two bolt/hanger combos with the assumption that a climber will use their own gear to set up an adequate anchor since they can take it with them when they leave.

Top access or multi pitch is when climbers use their own anchor gear

Some things to consider: TR anchors should balance the security of the climber while avoiding creating excess rope drag by being too far from the edge. If you place an anchor several feet away from the edge it will be much safer to build an anchor but it will be harder to create one where the master point extends over the cliff edge, making rope drag a concern. In some areas, there is a boulder or tree that climbers can tether to safely access the anchors. Another strategy is to place the bolts farther back from the edge with a large space between them. While this requires climbers to bring longer anchor building materials to create an equalized anchor over the edge it allows them to practice better edge security.

Keep in mind in most multi-pitch and big wall anchors the only hardware will be two bolts since the follower is able to remove the gear the leader used.

See how we access these anchors and how to build an anchor


Of course you can still set up top ropes on routes that you cannot walk up to or more importantly walk off, but they require a bit more permanent hardware if route developers don’t expect climbers to leave their own gear to get safely back to the ground. Whether used for multi pitch rappel routes or single pitch climbs, and the ethics of the area, there will be several different lower off anchors.

Developing enjoyable safe routes with the proper bolts takes a lot of skill and experience. Fortunately, lower off hardware added to bolts is much simpler, allowing any climbers with basic understanding of hand tools to be part of the future route maintenance. The major consideration in lower off hardware is rope wear. Smart developers make sure that the components that will see wear are easy to replace. Ideally climbers who will top rope all day on a route will use their own gear at the anchor, instead of wearing out the permanent hardware, but it's good to anticipate high use on the permanent hardware.
Titanium has become popular as photos of corroded bolts float around the internet. However, keep in mind that stainless steel holds up twice as long with ropes running over it. So if you set up a popular lower off anchor, unless you are in Thailand or right next to the ocean, stainless chains, stainless rings, stainless rams horns and mussy hooks will handle the rope abrasion better than titanium. Just be sure to use stainless components not only for corrosion resistance, but also so it doesn’t stain the rock with rust or when the zinc coating leaches off.

Mussy hooks are not available in stainless and can be an exception to the rule. They are intended to be placed on popular routes that will wear them out faster than they can corrode. See the Book of Metal for more.


Open VS Closed Systems

Closed systems require the rope to be untied from the climber and threaded through the lower off or rappel. Examples include chain, rings and quicklinks. This is very common on multi-pitch rappels since you have the ends of the rope handy and accessible. However, if you have to thread your rope through a closed system after just a single pitch, and you are tied into the rope, you have to connect yourself, untie and then thread it through. These extra steps add extra risk.

Closed System

Open System

Open system lower offs allow the climber to put the rope into the permanent hardware without untying. Examples include carabiners, mussy hooks and rams horns. While both systems have their place, open system lower offs are gaining popularity in single pitch sport and trad climbing areas that see a lot of traffic.

Horizontal vs Vertical

Horizontally aligned bolts are a very common set up. Two bolts more or less at equal height a least a hand width apart. If traditional hangers are used at least two links are needed to orient the rope parallel to the wall, not pinched into the wall. Some manufacturers make horizontal hangers to address this issue. Keep in mind that if the two rap rings or quick links are spaced out and don’t come to a single point, it can create twisting as the rope is pulled thru.

Vertical Anchors

Horizontal Anchors

Vertical anchors place all the force on one bolt with a second bolt backing up the first in case of failure. The force can be on the top bolt and backed up by the bottom or the main system on the bottom with the top one attached with a chain of some sort. Even though a single modern climbing bolt can easily withstand up to 20 times the forces generated in a rappel or top roping session, redundancy is very important at anchors. Not having to place bolts on a horizontal plane allows the route developer much more freedom in bolt placement, especially critical in rock of variable quality. Sometimes they are connected to each other and sometimes they are not.


Quick links: Used either as a connector or the primary lowering point. Ensure that you use quality quicklinks as not all metals are created equal and threads, the part that holds it together, can affect the strength of the connection. Rolled threads are stronger than cut threads. Stainless quick links will resist corrosion longer. Size matters! A quality ⅜” or 10mm link is the minimum that is strong enough and won’t compromise your soft goods with a narrow bend radius.
Pro Tip: Make sure the gate of the quicklink is wide enough to fit over your other hardware. Guess how we learned why that was important!

Rings: Several climbing manufactures offer welded rings specifically designed for lower off/rappel anchors. They are often sold attached to hangers but can be purchased separately and connected with a quicklink. Avoid the rolled aluminum variety as they are much weaker and more susceptible to wear.

Chains: Chains are used to extend the master points to minimize rope drag or connect other anchor components, the last link of chain is also commonly used as a lower off. Chains can also provide extra clip in points for building anchors and hauling. While harder to source and more expensive, long link chain has more area to clip carabiners. Stainless is preferred but since chain is usually easy to replace other types of steel are often used. Not ideal as these often leave streaks of rust and can discolor the rock as the coating dissolves. Down sides of chain include: high visual impact, wasteful as you cut chain to length and heavy to carry when developing. Designing anchors to avoid chain saves a lot of headache.

Captive Eye Carabiners: Having fixed gear bootied sucks, use captive eye carabiners to keep “would-be-gear-thiefs” honest, you know who you are! There are several carabiners that you can add a pin to secure them. It is also possible to buy carabiners with an integral eye that require a quick link to add them to your anchor set up and quicklinks can be glued shut.

Mussy Hooks: These hooks allow you to drop your rope directly into them. Slip hooks for towing are commonly used, these generally have really poor gates that fall off or get sharp.
Climbtech offers a great option with a climbing style wire gate. They can be attached to bolts with just a quicklink.

Fixe Super Shut: These hooks have an eye so it can be bolted in directly and carabiner like gate. They are limited to a ⅜” bolt and there is not a substantial amount of material so it can be worn quickly if on a popular route. Being fixed to the wall, they can be levered and therefore create spinners.

Ram Horn or Pig Tail: These are simple and bomber and can be twisted onto most hangers or glue ins so there are many ways this can be part of a combo. They can be used as a single master point and changed quite easily when worn or even installed as a pair for a redundant beautiful bend for your rope. They cost less than a locking carabiner making this an ideal wear part to replace.

Monster Hook: This fancy glue in is designed to be a single point lower off. Two of these could be placed next to each other but would cause rope twists. Probably better as an offset anchor. Difficult to change if worn, and confusing to anyone who hasn’t seen them before, but very clever!

Bonier duPla: Bonier's fancy anchor hangers allow a rope to be threaded into it for highline anchors (2 or 3 are needed), and two can be used for a climbing anchor but if you put them side by side you might get some gnarly rope twist action going on!

Remember to use appropriate hardware for your environment!
Titanium near the ocean and Stainless almost everywhere else.

We tested 17 rappel rings including a worn-down rolled aluminum ring.

DIY Anchor Setups

V SETUPS: This is the most versatile as anything can be at the bottom. Rings are very common, rams horns can be threaded through and Mussy hooks can be installed on there.

Best use: extending master points over edges or equalizing to a single point (equalizing bolts for lower offs is not critical).

Cons: expensive, high visual impact, must bring variety of lengths for install, chain links won’t hold up to wear if lowered off on frequently, most inefficient anchor design.

FRENCH: Rope weights top quicklink, or ring, and is threaded through the lower one to back it up. One of the safest and most redundant closed systems.

Best Use: multi pitch rappels, single pitch climbs.

Cons: closed systems require more effort to install your rope.

Double Mussys: Open system

Best Use: High use lower offs.

Cons: Mussy hooks are not stainless, and other than climbtech’s hooks, most Mussys have bad gates.

Vertically Backed Up Ramshorn: Open System

Best Use: single pitch climbs, simple and open.

Cons: master point is not redundant, chain has higher visual impact.

Chains to Ramshorn: Open System

Best Use: retro fitting existing horizontally placed bolts.

Cons: highest visual impact, master point is not redundant.

Redundant master points are preferred on an open system but redundancy is more critical for the bolts where there are unknowns hiding under the rock and mystery about who and how they were installed. You can inspect external hardware and your rope is not breaking solid hardware during a rappel.

Vertical Ramshorn is Bobby's favorite anchor. This open system has the wear concentrated on the ram's horn and is backed up by the lower carabiner.

Best Use: single pitch climbs, easy to maintain, easy to use, easy to make safe for top roping by adding locking carabiners

Cons: They are uncommon and aligning the backup carabiner can be tricky so it doesn’t have the risk of double clipping.

Bobby explains the benefits to this open system

This chart below comes from Matthew Markell and is also a good comparison between some anchor types.

Pre-made Anchor systems

Fixe Anchors - partial list

Fixe still sells plated steel but please only install stainless (titanium near the ocean) and use components that will be easy to replace if they will have a lot of traffic.

Titan Anchors (US Distributor)

Bolt Product's Anchors (US Distributor) - partial list

Vertical Evolution Anchors (partial list)

Raumer Climbing Anchors (partial list)

How do you bolt a boulder? We think we are funny and made a parody of our other bolt videos. If you have 6 minutes to waste, watch it HERE.

What's Next?

Chapter #15 - Bolting for Highlining