Who doesn’t know the old, rotten and rusty pitons which were placed in former times, when climbing classic routes started. Nostalgia or simple astonishment arises when you ask for pitons in the climbing store nowadays. But for people who prefer seldomly repeated routes, a small set of pitons is an essential part of the equipment. Their bad reputation is unjustified: Well placed pitons are at least as good as camming devices or nuts, and when bought in the shop they are not rusty yet! This only happens when they spend a few lonely decades in a wet crack. To save pitons from this sad destiny, real clean climbers remove their pitons and take them back home. This can be cumbersome at times, but you don’t want to leave a wall full of rusty trash for the next climbers.

From outside it may be hard to judge the quality of old pitons. The hangers are almost identical. The rustier one would have probably withstood a fall, the other one probably not. So it’s best to just take it with you!
High-carbon steel angle piton and knife blade

How to use?

As seldom as possible! Pitons are normally the last option before a fall. Not because they don’t hold but because it is so hard to remove them. Nevertheless the cursing of your partner trying to remove the pitons should not keep you from using them in the crux or on the belay, as long as no other tool is an option.

Depending on the rock type different pitons are used. As a rule of thumb, soft steel is used for soft rock (e.g. lime stone) and hard steel for hard rock (granite, gneissic rock). There are also different forms for different cracks: Knife blades for very narrow cracks and angle pitons for wider ones.

As a basic principle the rock with the crack needs to be solid (hammertest: a high, clear sound of the rock is good, a muffled , hollow sound is a bad sign. It should’t be possible to put more than 1/3 of the piton into the crack by hand. Afterwards the piton is driven in deeper by powerful hammer hits. While doing this the piton should start „singing“ higher and higher, otherwise you should not trust it. 

Pitons can be placed in horizontal, diagonal or vertical cracks but – other than nuts or camming devices – never in the direction of a fall (von unten nach oben eingeschlagen) but at least rectangular to it!

To remove the piton, the following climber hits it back and forth from both sides. This can take some time and of course requires a second hammer. 

Soft steel piton after 30 years in the rock and new. It is well visible how the used soft steel pitons was able to adapt to the crack.