Tuesday, 27 April 2010

gear we like, part 5: guidebook covers

Have you ever found yourself half way up one of several pitches on a route, looking up at two crack systems running in different directions, trying desperately to remember which way the guidebook said to head to find the belay stance?

Or have you ever sorted your gear at a stance, prepared to head off up the wall but then realised that you can’t remember which way the damned route actually goes, and nor can your partner (this is especially relevant if, like me, you enjoy climbing in the Moelwyns).

Have you ever simply guessed which way to head and been wrong, finding yourself stuck out on a blank wall in the middle of nowhere with no gear to be found, wondering what on earth you are going to do as you valiantly fight to hold your sphincter closed?

If you can relate to any of the above scenarios, my guess is that you often don’t bother to carry the guidebook with you on routes. There are several reasons why carrying the guide can be a total pain:

  • They can be quite heavy
  • They are generally pretty bulky
  • Fitting a guidebook into a pocket is usually insanely uncomfortable and sometimes impossible (if you don’t have a pocket big enough for instance)

Having experienced a number of ‘route finding challenges’ over the course of my climbing career, the notion of actually taking the guidebook with us on routes that could be more involved than a single pitch ‘follow the crack’ type jobby, had started to become more and more sensible in my mind. I still hated doing it mind you, as I never had a pocket big enough to fit the damned thing in and always had to shove it down my shirt, which, as you can probably imagine, isn’t the most comfortable feeling in the world (especially if it has sharp corners and you’re climbing a chimney…)

One day one of my climbing partners turned up at the crag with a DMM guidebook cover. My first thought was one of ‘great, just an extra thing to carry’, shortly followed by ‘hmm, interesting, looks like you can just clip it onto your harness’.

In case you haven’t yet grasped why guidebook covers are a truly brilliant invention, it is for one reason and one reason alone:

  • You can clip them to your harness.

Ok so this doesn’t get around the weight issue, but the bulk and lack of suitable pockets suddenly doesn’t really matter – you can simply hang the thing out of the way at the back of your harness.


So when you’re stood at that belay stance you can simply grab the guidebook and have a read to refresh your memory, rather than relying on a vague and distant mental image of the crag topo that you spent all of about 3 seconds looking at before you started the first pitch 3 hours ago. All of a sudden, when you’re staring up at those two opposing crack systems, you can fumble the book into view and read which one you’re supposed to take (or even better, you can leave the book with your second and get them to read it out to you!).

Oh, and you can leave it attached to you whilst you read – no more risk of fumbling the book out of an ill fitting pocket and then dropping it down the crag into the undergrowth of oblivion.

guidebook cover Here you can see Patrick carrying the guidebook on his harness – I’ve highlighted it to make it easier to spot

Several companies make guidebook covers, off the top of my head I’ve seen ones made by DMM (the one I use), Outdoor Designs and POD. There are probably others too. They all do the same job and all look good, the DMM is made of Neoprene and therefore stretches to fit slightly chunkier guidebooks (such as the Ground Up North Wales Rock book), but from looking at the likes of the POD which is made from Ripstop Nylon, these are sized brilliantly to accommodate books of varying sizes anyway.

I have never used a ‘larger’ cover for guidebooks of the RockFax size category, simply because these really do seem to be getting too big and bulky to have dangling from your harness. I could be wrong, and they could be fine, but to be honest I haven’t found any need to ever carry a RockFax guide up a route as they generally tend to cover mostly single pitch routes where using your memory shouldn’t be a problem. That said, I can foresee a cover for my new Pembroke guide may prove useful as you need to abseil in to the routes and will almost certainly need the guide at the bottom…


  1. I pretty much always carry the guide book on route because I don't want to get lost. Guidebook covers a truely awesome invention!

    However if you've got the time and you've planned ahead I find that photo copied guidebook pages are lighter easier to stuff in a pocket.

    Well lighter than the North Wales guide by any means!

  2. Ah yes, photocopies, or biro scribbles on the back of an old receipt - they do indeed work well but rely on you being certain of exactly which route(s) you are doing!

    In the Alps I tend to have the relevant bits of the guidebook photocopied or scanned and printed along with the hut approaches/descents/chunks of map. This year I may even go so far as to laminate these sheets like I did for some of the welsh winter topos I used a few months back.
    (Laminators are ace by the way)

    Normally though, I don't tend to find the book is too much of a hindrance when cragging, it's also less likely to blow away!!

  3. paragraph 3 seems to fit me quite well (i'm sure you can guess who is writing this!!!)