What Z-Clipping Is, Why It’s Bad, and How To Fix It

Most climbers have ended up z-clipping at some point or another along their climbing journey. In fact, many climbers have done this many times. For newer sport climbers it is important to know what a z-clip is and why they happen to prevent any potential accidents from occurring to them or their climbing partners.

Z-clipping is when the climbing rope becomes clipped into a quickdraw lower than the previous quickdraw. This creates rope drag and extra slack in the system. Z-clips cause climbers to fall further onto the lower draw instead of the previous draw higher up.

Z-clipping is a lot easier done than most newer sport climbers realize. While z-clipping can be common, it is important to recognize when it has happened and fix it before taking a fall on it. The remainder of this article details what exactly z-clipping is, the most common ways it happens, how to fix it, and the easiest way to go about preventing it in the future.

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What Z-Clipping Is And Why It Happens

Z-clipping most commonly happens when two clips are close to each other on a sport climbing route. This is more typically the case in a climbing gym setting where clips are generally placed close together and there are a lot of them along the walls.

A z-clip happens when a climber grabs the belay end of the rope by mistake and clips it into the next draw higher up.

For example, as a climber is ascending the route they come across two clips relatively close together. The climber properly clips into the lower draw and realizes they can reach the upper clip as well from their current position. Instead of grabbing the rope from their knot and pulling it through the lower draw to clip, they grab the rope accidentally from the belay end on the other side of the quickdraw and clip that in.

That little mistake leads the climber to z-clip themselves.

Z-clipping more frequently occurs when climbers are still getting used to the transition to sport climbing and are still getting used to clipping. That said, this is nothing to be discouraged about as it is part of the learning process and experienced climbers have done their fair share of it as well.

Why Z-Clipping Is Bad

Z-clipping can be very dangerous if a climber takes a fall before correcting their mistake. As mentioned above, the z-clip creates extra “slack” in the system. This slack (extra rope between the higher clip and the climber) creates a much larger fall. The climber is no longer falling on that top draw and is actually falling on the lower one.

For example in the diagram above, the climber’s waist is about level with the top draw. Typically if the climber were to fall in that position they would be caught on belay pretty much immediately without taking a large fall. However because the climber is z-clipped, the system will not catch them until they fall past the lower draw.

This is dangerous as it can lead to unexpected fall distances. When falling during a sport climb, you never want to take any kind of unexpected fall. These are one of the most common ways injuries happen when climbing.

If you are still nervous about sport climbing and are having a hard time taking falls then I recommend checking out my article that goes over potential ways to get over your fear of falling while sport climbing. Even if just one of the tips is helpful then it will be worthwhile!

On a less serious note, z-clipping also creates drag in the system. As many of you know, climbing ropes are very expensive and important pieces of gear. As such, you should want to make sure you are treating them as well as possible. Dragging them through z-clips can wear them out quickly and force you to go get another rope.

In addition to wearing out climbing ropes, drag will make it very difficult for the climber to keep moving up the wall. They will feel like they are being pulled down as they go. This will make it easy for the climber to notice something isn’t right and realize that they have z-clipped.

How To Fix A Z-Clip

If you or your partner on belay notice a z-clip has occurred, you will want to address this immediately to prevent any potential injury from it happening.

To fix a z-clip the climber will need to down climb to the lower quickdraw and unclip the rope. At this point in time the rope should still be clipped into the draw above it. After unclipping the rope from the bottom clip, the climber will then proceed to clip the belay end of the rope into the bottom draw.

This is the only time you should be clipping the belay end of the climbing rope into a draw. Keep in mind doing this unintentionally is what gets you into this situation in the first place.

Before starting your up climb again, double check that the z-clip has been properly fixed and everything is good to go.

How To Prevent Z-Clips From Happening

The easiest way to prevent z-clips from happening is to always grab the rope from the knot on your harness when you go to clip. If you are always starting at the knot you will never z-clip. Until you get used to that process, z-clips may still occur.

While the belayer’s number one job is to catch the climber when they fall, they should also be on the lookout for z-clips. If the belayer notices that their climber has z-clipped, they should call out to them and let them know immediately.

Z-clipping is not the only clipping mistake climbers can make. Back clipping is also something to be on the lookout for. If you are looking to become a better sport climber and want to practice clipping, I recommend checking out my article that details how to practice clipping quickdraws. It even has a few ways to do this at home and outside of a gym setting.


Hi, I'm Rex! I have been into everything outdoors for as long as I can remember. Climbing became a huge part of my life in college and I hope to share everything I have learned on this website to help fellow passionate climbers.

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