Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

To Stick or Not to Stick (Clip)…

What is long, collapsible, assembled from a seemingly random assortment of items from the local Home Depot, and always within arm’s reach of most bolt-clipping sport monkeys?  If you answered stick clip, you’d be mostly correct…add in the word MACK-DADDY and you’d be right on!  For my non-climber readers who think I’m talking about a strange way to interact with zoo animals, here’s a quick primer in Sport Climbing 101…

C still thinks the old stick clip is tastier...

A route is designated as “sport” if the line is protected by bolts every so many feet all the way to the top.  The first climber (leader) ties into the rope at the base, and climbs the route, clipping their rope into the bolt via a removable quickdraw that the leader also carries with him/her.  If said climber falls, the highest bolt clipped will serve as an anchor by which the belayer is able to “catch” the falling climber.  Until the leader reaches the 1st bolt of a climb, there is no established anchor point, and therefore any fall would be a groundfall.  Usually the first bolt is in the vicinity of 12-15 feet off the ground – not death-defying territory by any means, but depending on the difficulty of the moves to reach the bolt as well as the landing zone at the base, a poorly timed fall could very easily result in broken ankles, wrists, tailbones, etc.

That’s where the stick-clip comes into play.  This nifty apparatus does the dirty work of clipping the first bolt for you.  Though some (usually trash-talking novices or hard-core trad climbers) might scoff at the stick clip and call it cheating, most climbers are in agreement that the stick clip is an easy and convenient way to mitigate risk.

The lucky Crag-Daddy had an eager assistant to help with assembly.

For a long time we used the Epic Sport stick clip.  The great thing about it was that it was made out of tent poles, so it was not only lightweight, but was collapsible enough to slide into one of the outside pockets on my hubby’s pack.  The downside however was that it was made out of tent poles…so when fully extended to use for a really high bolt, it would bend and wobble all over the place, often causing frustration for the end user as well as a few laughs from those watching (which in turn usually brought about more frustration for the end user…).

We were the envy of our friends at the crag – no matter where we were climbing, we always had a stick clip ready and available.  However, in recent months, Steve and I started to become increasingly annoyed at our compact pole’s limitations.  Some areas in the Southeast (particularly the rare breed of bolted routes you occasionally find in North Carolina), are known for having insanely high first bolts – this past spring it seemed like every thing we wanted to hop on has had 1st bolts in the 20-30 foot range.  So this summer we gave in and made our own mack-daddy stick clip – forever outing ourselves as bolt-clipping junkies to anyone within miles of our gigantic pole.

Stick clips also double as trekking poles.

Our new pole reaches a whopping 16 feet at full extension, with no bend or sway.  Add that to my hubby’s 6’1” frame and +3 ape index, and we like to joke that we could go around setting up topropes if we wanted to.  The pole is made from 3 collapsible parts, so it packs down to 6 feet in length.  This is still reasonable to carry around, and doesn’t cause issue fitting into most cars.

Once we found the extension pole that we liked, we had to equip it to handle the rope/quickdraws.  Trango makes an attachment for that very purpose called the Squid, which some folks swear by.  Another popular one is the SuperClip.  We found them both to be rather expensive with quite a learning curve to use.  We opted for the ghetto dirtbag climber version…the alligator clamp.  Overall, we’ve been really happy with it, and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to make one.

Advantages to our Set-Up –
– Cheap – We got the whole shabbang for around $30.
– Sturdy and Cragbaby-proof – C loves playing with sticks/poles/etc, and almost broke our friend’s Squid one day.
– Multi-functional – Not only can this set-up hang draws, it can also hang a rope into a pre-existing draw, as well as take a quickdraw down.  It is also easy to pull the rope for the next leader while keeping the 1st bolt clipped by hooking the clamp handle onto the rope above the 1st bolt.  (Stay tuned for a later post with detailed instructions/photos on how to do all of the above…)

Disadvantages to our Set-Up –
– The clamp is big, and sometimes its hard for my small hands to open it with one hand while putting in the quickdraw with the other hand.  Once its open, I can easily hold it that way with one hand though, so worst case?  I open it with both hands and then have my belayer hand me the quickdraw.
– We had a few problems in the beginning with the rubber tips popping off of our clamp handles – nothing a little glue couldn’t fix.

Steve in action on Aesthetica at the New River Gorge.

Another action shot on a particularly high bolt in Tennessee.

Not being home improvement aficionados, it took a bit of perusing to find exactly what we needed (telling the average Home Depot employee you are looking to make a stick clip probably won’t yield that much help).  So for those in the market or looking to upgrade their stick clip, here’s a list of what you need verbatim, in official hardware terms.

Extension Pole – Numerous different lengths available.
Spring Clamp – Commonly known as Alligator Clamps, they come in several sizes.  We opted for 5 inches long with a 2 inch opening – the bigger size makes removing the quickdraw from the bolt, and putting the rope in a pre-hung draw much easier.
Hose Repair Clamps – You’ll need three of these little guys to attach the spring  clamp to your extension pole.

Anyone else have this set up or a different one?  Love it?  Hate it?  Discuss…



15 Responses to “To Stick or Not to Stick (Clip)…”

  1. Brandy Walters

    We just bought the Superclip and really like it – can can do everything and is very light/small. However, we are using a very small, lightweight painters pole that does not extend nearly as much as yours! Does your extension pole have a threaded end for use with paint rollers?


  2. Great post! RT @Cragmama Stick-clips – How to make your own! #climb


  3. Awesome, and easy-sounding DIY project from @cragmama on how to build your own stick clip: #climb


  4. I see that you posted my tweet about it. Thanks. I want to expand on that though.

    First as a beginner climber, you explanation of sport climbing was perfect. I attempted to explain the differences between Sport, Trad and Top Rope to my son the other day and I think I confused him. I’m gonna let him read this and see if that clears things up. 🙂

    Secondly, I love this idea. Again as a beginner, I’m very aware of safety. I know that there will be falls, but if I can mitigate any serious injuries, I’m all for it. This DIY project is something that I will definitely do and hopefully make use of out on the rock. After I’m done, I’ll send you a picture of the finished product. 😉

    I read your blog everyday. Thanks for all the great info!



  5. I use the Superclip. Totally worth 20 bucks and very durable, as it’s solid steel. It screws right on the painters pole so you don’t need to rig it on there with cable ties or whatever.


  6. I’m someone who swears by the Squid. It has a bit of a learning curve, but if you can get a lesson from someone who is familiar with it, you’ll learn fast. There’s 2 videos on the website as well:
    The Squid can of course do all of the above, including taking a draw off, which I have never seen anyone do with an alligator clip. I’m looking forward to seeing pics/video of that. Another nice thing about the squid is that if you travel by plane, you can throw it in your bag and then acquire a pole once you get to your destination and you don’t have to rebuild your stick-clip.
    For me, it’s nicer than an alligator clip as well because I also have small hands, which Erica has a good solution for while she’s on the ground, but if you’re hanging off a bolt, trying to “clip-through” a hard section, then it can be challenging. Especially if you’re already pumped and tired from trying that section over and over (like I usually am when I give up and “clip-through” ;))


    • Brandy – Yes, it has threading – the link at the bottom of the post will show you the specs for the pole we use.

      Andy – First off, thanks for such kind words! All the different styles of climbing can be confusing, can’t they! Hopefully my explanation might clear up any confusion for your son! Have fun making your stick clip and please do send a pic!

      Gif – Some of my friends love the Superclip, but I just never could get the knack for doing anything other than hanging a draw with any sort of consistency. To each his/her own, I guess. Good thing there are lots of different options.

      Aimee – I actually found the Squid to be easier to use than the Superclip, but my main concern was that for $30 it wouldn’t be able to withstand C’s enthusiastic “off-label” stick-clip use. I can see how the Squid might be easier in an off the ground situation for smaller hands. I’ve only had to do it once since we made our new one, and it actually wasn’t that bad – I kept the pole b/t my knees, and kept the draw attached on my gear loop until its secured onto the clamp so that I could have both hands free. And for the record, its good to know that I am not the only one that employs the “clip of shame” when I give up halfway through a route 🙂

  7. Of course! What else are you going to do when you don’t have anyone to rescue you? My husband could, but often he won’t because I was the one who chose to climb it and he wants to save his energy for his project. Maybe when crag baby is old enough to understand not to destroy the squid, you can get one 😉 Ok, I’m off to roast my booty at Smith (it’s going to be 94 today! What the heck am I thinking?)


    • Aimee, I still carry in our tent pole stick clip for a couple reasons.
      1. Sometimes we split up and then we both have a stick clip.
      2. The tent pole stick clip is more compact and lighter which I feel makes it safer for those on the ground when clipping through a hard section. Also in it’s folded up state, it fits nice in the gear loops on the harness.

  8. Thanks! I need to get on improving mine now 🙂 RT @Cragmama: A DIY stick-clip post just for you @cdnrockiesgirl Enjoy!


  9. Terri

    You can get a much smaller alligator clamp that’s easier to open and works just as well; I use a stick clip with a small clamp on it all the time. I’ve also found that sometimes the larger clamp has a harder time letting go of the draw sometimes; a smaller clamp mitigates that.


    • Terri – you are right that a smaller alligator clamp is easier to open, and it does work just as well for hanging draws, but we found that a smaller clamp makes it a lot more complicated for the other “tricks” (rope in existing draw, removing a draw, etc) since a smaller clamp requires an extra carabiner to do all of those things. Thanks for chiming in!

  10. Joshua

    Can you explain how you are removing draws with the alligator clamp?


  11. Joshua

    Slick trick…thanks Erica.


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN