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I buy my rock climbing hardware in America and it all comes labeled with UIAA ratings.

UIAA rating pic

These ratings make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. My gear has met mythological engineering standards. They have been blessed by Officials Who Know Things. A real, live person tested this carabiner, and it passed.

Great.

But is any of that actually true? Is each cam, stopper, and carabiner individually tested? Or is it more of an "engineering standard" applied to the design of the gear? What do the UIAA markings on my climbing hardware really mean?

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    Keep in mind that just because it has UIAA stamped on the side doesn't necessarily mean it UIAA approved. Some Chinese made climbing gear manufacturers have UIAA and CE stamped on their carabiners, but they lie. You need to confirm equipment is certified by referencing the UIAA database: theuiaa.org/safety-standards/certified-equipment – ShemSeger Dec 12 '16 at 23:01
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I'm answering here because I don't think it would fit as a comment but I believe others might have a better answer.

Is each cam, stopper, and carabiner individually tested?

Maybe. It will depend on the manufacturer. Usually a few samples from a batch go through tests. That's why when you hear about recall, they know which batch to recall.

Here is kind of an example (as it's made for the public) of how Petzel run some QA. They make a few pieces, pick some randomly and throw in the test machines.

So...

That means that, somewhere up the stream they made your rope together with another 10 (100, 1000 ?!?) ropes, picked a few of them and put on a stress machine and stretched until they broke. They checked how much they needed to break the rope and give a tick of pass or not pass.

If they all passed, they take the batch as a good and give them the warm and fuzzy seal of approval.

If they don't pass they will take that whole batch aside and check what's wrong.

That's roughly the process.

What do the UIAA markings on my climbing hardware really mean?

The UIAA markings are the minimum requirements for the gear to get the warm fuzzy UIAA seal of approval from the Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinism (International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation).

The manufacturer would have a number of tests to match the UIAA (in this case) requirements. Other manufacturers might want other seals and have extra/other sets of requirements for that too.

So when they pick some samples and run tests, these tests are to match the UIAA seal.

A few points about QA and certifications

  • Smaller the number of pieces in a batch, better the QA control. It's easier to have a better quality gear if two in a batch of 10 pass then if 10 in a batch of 100 and so on.

  • The better brand is not the one the gear doesn't break. It's the one the gear break the least. If 1 piece in 10 breaks is better than 6 in 10. So we just hope we don't get that faulty one. :) (Of course I'm exaggerating here a bit to emphasize my point. Climbing gear has a very high quality standard and I would expect more like 1 in thousands for the crap brand really).

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    I'd be more affirmative: NOT all piece of equipment are tested individually. You cannot both stress-test a piece (even at sub-break loads) AND certifiy that after the test, it is still performing at the given ratings. There are basically 2 test you can do: stress tests and non-destructives (like that asnt.org/MinorSiteSections/AboutASNT/Intro-to-NDT). However non-destructives usually tell you the current state of a piece, not it's strenght. They're also expensive - our safety as a climber is unfortunately not worth the expense.... – Francky_V Dec 12 '16 at 19:27
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    Keep in mind that most pieces of gear are rated to double what they need to be. Carabiners for instance are rated to 25kN, while internal injuries start at ~10kN. At ~20kN, you're probably going to snap in half and die whether or not your gear fails. – ShemSeger Dec 12 '16 at 21:08
  • True the ratings does leave some margin - but if the worry is about gear not to par, e.g. it does not fail only at 25kN, but 8kN instead, then you won't snap in half.... – Francky_V Dec 12 '16 at 21:25
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    I know this question is old, but I only found it today. I need to say: YES, some equipment is individually tested piece by piece before leaving the factory. Microstoppers (brass or aluminium-forged) are individually tested for 70% of their maximum capacity. This is basically to test the welding, which is the trickiest part in the process of making them. – QuantumBrick Aug 8 '17 at 18:49

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