When you are sport climbing, being able to clip in quickly and effeciently is crucial to saving you energy, time, and lessening fear. Some people, usually people with a lot of experience, can clip in with a smooth seamless flow that leaves you wondering if they ever even did it or not. Then others struggle with the clip for what feels like a long while. If you are a struggler, don’t be worried. There are several ways you can improve your clipping technique.
The idea of practicing seems obvious, but it might be how that doesn’t. Find a time that you aren’t doing much with your hands for a decent amount of time. Perhaps watching a tv show, or at work depending on what kind of job you have. Find a rope, string, or yarn to simulate your rope. It doesn’t actually have to hold your weight. Get a quickdraw. Attach the quickdraw to a handle of some sort of handle and practice clipping. Just sit there clipping for hours. It will get your hands use to the movement and get you lots of practice without much effort or fear. Practice different methods of clipping to find what ones work best for you. Also remember to practice with both hands. Some people get used to using one hand and are thrown off when the climb requires use of the other. Don’t let this be you.
Don’t ever let fear make a decision for you. It could be a bad one. When you get to a spot you are unsure of and you know you might fall before the next clip, make a firm decision to either back down or go confidently forward. If you back down, you could possibly try the move on mock leading to make sure you have it down before an actual lead. You could also down climb to rest at the clip you do have in to really prepare yourself for the next one. If you decide to go forward, do it confidently. Try to clip at the right spot instead of desperately stretching up. My first lead fall was a pretty big whipper. I was heading to clip 5 but I was unsure I could make it. I decided instead to clip first by reaching up fully outstretched. This was on a very overhanging cave climb and I was already feeling pretty tired. My belay partner gave me lots of slack knowing any resisitance could be enough to prevent a succesful clip. I was touching the clip with the tips of my fingers. I had the rope teetering on top of the metal gate ready to fall in or fall out. I exhausted all my energy and my hand let go. Unfortunately, the rope teetered out. Before anyone knew what happened I was hanging just a foot off the ground. It was probably only a 15 feet fall and I was caught before hitting, but as a first fall it was traumatic. I felt like I fell a hundred feet and I was very scared of how close I was to the ground.
The next time I climbed it, I told myself I had to just go to the next clip right. Even if I fell right at the clip, the fall would not be as big as reaching up because my belayer would not need to give me so much slack. I was scared but I went a couple moves forward and got to where the clip was between my shoulders and waist. Clipping in was so flawless and easy. I was able to clip and move on. Clipping often is easier if you are in the right position. It is also true that you won’t fall as far being near the clip as you would reaching up. It sounds weird but a belay has to give you so much more slack to reach up because it is unclear how much you’ll need. It is usually much safer to get to that area of between the shoulders and waist. If you do need to reach up, make sure you are really solid.
Practice making weird clips on really easy climbs. Get on a climb you know you can’t fall on like a 5.6. Try to clip with one hand and then the other. Put in a move the climb doesn’t necessarily call for like a heel hook or drop knee. Again make sure you are on holds you won’t fall from or that you are high enough the fall will be good. You could also do this on mock leading for extra security. Make sure you get used to clipping from all positions so you are not caught off guard.
When you find yourself in a bad clipping situation, stay calm. There was one time I z clipped. I didn’t know what it was because everyone just said it so rarely happened there was no reason to worry about it. Also since it stops you from being able to climb further, you notice it quickly. The first time I z clipped, I panicked. I didn’t know what happened or why. I was also suffering from being flash pumped and scared because it was coincidentally a day after that big fall mentioned above. When you z clip, all you have to do is unclip the lower of the clips, put it on the other part of the rope and check that the top one is okay (not back clipped). In my unfortunate lack of ability to think, I unclipped both and then clipped them back right. It worked out, but if I had fallen after unclipping two clips, I’d be on the ground. It is a mistake I’m embarassed to admit to, but I was a beginner and it is something that others can learn from. If I had taken some deep breaths and calmed down, I could have thought of something much better. Even if I didn’t think of the right solution, I could have done something safer like making a temporary anchor. We need to be able to think clearly and make sound decisions at all times.
Which brings me to another point, really get to know what looks right and wrong and how to fix it. Z clips are not common due to the fact that bolts aren’t usually close. However, back clipping seems to be pretty common. It is not something I struggled with, but I know some who have. You want to make sure to check your clipping job and make sure it is okay before moving on. Make sure you know the best way to fix it. Imagine you are really tired and about to fall. You just barely got that clip in and now you see it is back clipped! It doesn’t seem so easy to just take the rope out and clip it back in. What do you do? Unless you are going for an onsight or important send, you could rest a moment. Back clipping is dangerous for falling once you go above it. When you are at it and have an eye on it, it won’t fail. So rest a moment and restore before fixing it. If you can, you could also throw up a quick anchoring quick draw to ensure something has you while you correct the issue. Safety is important in lead climbing.
The best thing of course is to practice, practice, practice. Get in as much clipping, as often as you can. You want to clip so much it is second nature and impossible to forget how to. Then you’ll be clipping smoothly in any direction.