Q&A With Steph Davis: How Climbing Has Advanced, Ode to a Gear Sling & Extra

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Home » Climbing » Q&A with Steph Davis: How Climbing Evolved, Ode to a Gear Sling & More

Check out our recent interview with Steph Davis to find out about the best climbing innovations of the last few years, her favorite gear, when to climb with her and more.

There’s nothing quite like smashing gear with one of the most popular climbers of all time. Last week we had the opportunity to call Zoom with pro climber Steph Davis to talk about all things climbing: ropes, shoes, the draw and more.

Wondering what their go-to crag pack is? Perhaps climbing gear has changed since then early Yosemite days? What about her advice for new climbers?

We have all that and more.

Questions and Answers by Steph Davis

(Photo/Mammoth)

GearJunkie: You’ve been climbing since the 90’s. What was the most significant development in gear you’ve seen in the last 20 years?

Stephen Davis: Oh god, there are so many. I would say the best development in the gear has been the combination of light weight and durability. It’s like the Holy Grail for climbing gear – and very difficult [to get].

When things were heavy it was when the materials weren’t there or you needed it for safety reasons, so the weight often had to be there. People have pushed to make this lighter, but there’s a trade-off with durability and longevity.

Sometimes you are willing to make that compromise. But as materials and construction methods have improved, I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve seen now. Lightweight and durable and safe.

With the current equipment, I think it really manifested itself in one place, with quickdraws. Mammut recently released the Sender Draws and I just lost my mind. They’re adequate sport climbing quickdraws, and they handle well, they’re the right size… and they weigh nothing.

GJ: Did the ropes change too?

I remember when I started climbing people used 11mm as a normal lead rope; it was crazy Seeing these ropes get lighter and thinner, but also so strong – maybe that’s not the right word – with that texture that’s still substantial. it’s so cool

And there will still be times when I’ll take a heavier rope, maybe someone is jumping on it or there’s loose rock where you’re going, but still – heavier ropes are still very light these days. It’s lighter and it’s trustworthy.

GJ: Last year we saw the first rope made from 100% recycled fabric. How big was that for the climbing world?

Now brands take all those parts that they would normally throw away and use all of that to create a rope. So the sheath is multi-colored, not “this is a blue rope”. There is also certainly a major sustainability push that is underway.

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GJ: How about dry treated ropes? Was there a time when this was big business for rope?

I can’t remember when this started but I would be really curious to know. I mean, in alpine climbing you always wanted to be dry…it lasts longer, doesn’t get wet, is nicer anyway. But I would be really curious when it starts.

Another thing that was big for me was two-tone ropes, so with a split pattern [on one half]. That was a huge development. I remember when I first got a rope like this. It’s common now, but initially it was a big deal.

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GJ: You’ve had various sponsors over the years. Was there any equipment back then that you tested before your time?

So, it’s funny when I first started working with Mammut; I think that was in 2003. The reason I started working with them was because they made the Contact sling. And then it was new.

So the lightweight slings were like the shoulder slings, which were part nylon and part Dyneema and were a bit wider. And these new contact slings were a fraction of that thickness because almost everything was Dyneema.

And that was a game changer in terms of weight. I heard about it at a trade show and walked over and said, “I want one of these!”

GJ: How about climbing shoes?

I think people were already turning off shoes when I started climbing, but it’s definitely been more over the last few decades. I think that was significant. Obviously there is a time and a place for flat shoes, but overall, shoes can transform the way you climb.

I’m a big slipper guy for rock climbing in the desert [crack climbing]. Otherwise Velcro shoes for sport climbing. I don’t like anything that takes time like shoelaces.

GJ: Is there anything sentimental that has stayed in your gear since you started climbing?

When I first started climbing, everyone used a gear sling. Since things have gotten so more specific (like just bouldering, people starting out in gyms)… people have lost the concept of using a gear sling along the way. They would just put it on their dishes.

And there are plenty of situations where you don’t want all that gear on your hips, like cams digging into your thighs while you’re scaling an intersection – ridiculous.

Anyway, when I started climbing in the 90’s, there was a gear sling that you passed back and forth. I climbed with guys so it was always long, pinched between my legs… I hated it.

So one day I was at the Yosemite climbing store and I saw an ABC brand gear sling and they had sizes. And I was like, “What?!” So I bought a little one, and it changed my life because all of a sudden my gear wasn’t in my step.

Then I started making my own smaller and smaller sizes. Well, if we trade pitches, you’ve got your gear loop and I’ve got mine.

And I still have that. Very basic, fleece padding, 1 inch webbing. I haven’t given it much thought, but I teach these climbing classes and have started recommending them.

Teaching people about shelves, telling them to make sure the gear sling was their size… and people emailed me after saying, “I can’t find a gear sling!”

So I started researching and I’m guessing no one was making gear slings anymore. I was like, I guess I have to provide these because people need a damn gear sling. I have a buddy who sews gear and makes portaledges that helped me make them, and that way I can make them available to people.

actually sell them on my website, only for people who might need them. I would say once a month I get an order from someone who finds it.

But that was the goal. I just want people to have gear slings!

GJ: What’s important to you about women’s specific gear?

Helmets that now come in smaller sizes – that’s important. And clothes too. Climbing gear used to be a rarity, now having clothes that fit properly is huge.

I think we went through this evolution: first we got women’s clothing, then there was this transition that had to happen from the standard women’s fit to the women’s athlete’s fit. I think there is a difference. So, body shape… for example, many trail runners don’t have a waist.

So the stereotypical pants with a narrow waist and wide hips don’t work. And the same goes for shoulder issues: with wider shoulders, we need a different fit.

The fit models have changed: we’re not just female, we do all these different sports.

Steph Davis’ go-to climbing set

steph davis

Wondering what Steph Davis is up to now? Of course she still climbs, but she also passes on her climbing knowledge. And you might get a chance to climb with her! Davis’ climbing clinics take place every year in spring and autumn and registration is now possible.

Mammut has been Davis’ longest running sponsor for years – she has been using and testing gear with Mammut since 2004. In previous years, Steph Davis was sponsored by Patagonia, Five Ten and Black Diamond.

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