What are CE and UIAA certification and are they needed?

The short answer is that for the vast majority of climbing gear, we only suggest buying gear that is certified CE and/or UIAA. Certified gear will display the logo on the product and in the manual. These certifications ensures the gear you’re climbing on has gone through some kind of testing process to prove it’s worthy as protection. This isn’t a blanket statement to say as long as your gear is certified you can use it in any way possible and it’ll hold up. The CE and UIAA tests are quite specific to use, and we recommend reading the manuals to learn more about how the gear is recommended to be used. Read on for details.

What is CE certification?

Official CE mark / logo
The official CE mark.

Any piece of climbing gear that a company wants to sell in Europe (officially: the European Economic Area) needs a CE certification. CE certifications are certs that are required by the European Commission that establish specific safety standards for all sorts of products. They help ensure carabiners are strong enough to climb on, for example.

Although the CE states requirements for climbing gear, they don’t usually create the requirements. The CE certifications are typically very similar to the requirements made by the UIAA. This is also the main reason we recommend either certification.

The CE body itself also does not test gear directly. Like the UIAA, they refer to accredited independent labs for testing. CE also requires each brand to retest each product every year, or the brand must be part of a quality-assurance program like ISO. You can find out who the testing body is by looking at the 4-digit number that comes after the CE lettering. Sometimes, but not always, you’ll find the certification number of the technical standard on the body of gear as well. Both the certifying body and the technical standard number references will always be included in the manual.

CE EN label explained 1

CE stands for European Conformity (translated from French). The certifying lab is always a 4-digit number and it is always listed after the CE mark.

EN stands for European Norm (translated from German). This 4-6 digit number after EN refers to the standard that was tested. Sometimes you’ll also see a colon followed by a date that references the year in which the standard was set. Most pieces of gear will have 1 certification although it is certainly possible to have multiple certifications for different uses. Unfortunately, the CE body does not provide public resources to see the testing process.

Note: Not all manufacturers intend on selling their gear in Europe. For example, Metolius does not take the expensive measures to CE certify their cams, because they don’t promote thier cams in the European market. Since the cams are UIAA certified, which is the same standard as CE, the lack of CE certification is not worrying.

There are some brands, exclusively found on Amazon and eBay, that are not listed on WeighMyRack for safety concerns. This is mainly because these brands do not have CE or UIAA certification for all their products. These brands have very little credibility in the climbing community (partly because they are so new and/or have very little online presense to figure out who they are and where they’re based), so their lack of a certification is particularly worrying.

Frustratingly, there have also been documented cases of faked CE certified logos or counterfeit copies. The best way to ensure you are not buying fake gear is to buy from a trusted outdoor gear retailer.

Even more frustrating is that there is no online database to check if a brand/model of gear is CE certified. This means there’s no way to verify an unknown Amazon brand to see if they are actually certified or if they might be copying the logo.

A number of manufacturers are now listing their Documents of Conformity – which is the official CE certificate, on their website. Here is an example Document of Conformity:

Edelrid Declariation of Conformity Neo 3R 2
For example, this is the Document of Conformity for Edelrid's rope Neo 3R. You'll see the model name and the stamped / signed certificate from the certifying body.

What is UIAA certification?

The UIAA was the first, and continue to be, the leading developer of global standards for climbing and mountaineering equipment. They were founded in 1932 and UIAA stands for International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation.

UIAA mark logo 3
The UIAA logo / mark. You might see the mountain part of the logo on product packaging and the UIAA letters on the actual product.

The European CE standard usually follows the UIAA’s lead – though sometimes CE is slower to update or they have slightly less strict standards.

The UIAA board is made up of climbers and manufacturers, which is great and sometimes troublesome. Great in that climbers know what climbers need, and troublesome because sometimes it turns political in what is able to be passed. You can see our frustration with the UIAA Dry Test for ropes in this post.

Like CE, the UIAA is not a certifying body itself, they just write the rules. Independent labs certify the requirements.

Stamped Strength Ratings
Laser etched certifications and strength ratings on a carabiner spine. The UIAA does not list the certifying lab like CE.

The awesome part about the UIAA is that they post an overview of the standards for all to see, unlike the CE. Another awesome part about the UIAA is they have an online database where you can search/confirm each model name of a particular brand is UIAA certified.

As a consumer, one annoying part about the UIAA is that their standards do not require the brands to list which standard they were certified to on the gear or in the documentation that comes with the gear. So you could, for example, see an ascender have a UIAA certification, but it would be unclear if that certification was for the ascender, the pulley attached to the ascender, or both.

Some manufactures, particularly those in Europe who have their gear CE certified, might skip the UIAA certification as this standard is totally voluntary and can seem redundant. The US does not require any certifications to sell climbing gear in the US.

Bottom line, the UIAA is the most stringent standard available.

What is UKCA certification?

UKCA certification mark 4
The official UKCA mark.

Since Brexit, England, Scotland, and Wales have created their own CE-equivalent standard, the UKCA. The UK Conformity Assessed certification takes many of the CE standards and applies them to their own norm. This new standard went into effect the 1st day of 2021, but a normal CE marking will suffice until Jan 1, 2023 (a deadline that was moved but apparently is the “final” date).

Sadly, since this marking seems to be identical to the CE standard, which is based on the UIAA standard, brands will need to add more certification bills to sell to England, Scotland, and Wales, without an overall benefit. It is likely that this certification will reduce the market availability in UK retail shops in the future.

Note: Because of Brexit, for DMM to sell products in Europe, DMM had to switch their certifying body from a local certifying lab in Somerset, UK (EN 0120) to a certifier within the EU. So you’ll see all new DMM gear have a Finnish lab’s markings (EN 0598). By 2023 they’ll need to add UKCA to their process as well.

Non-Certified gear

Generally we do not list climbing gear on WeighMyRack that is used as personal protection equipment (aka PPE) not certified by CE and/or the UIAA. That said, it is possible to find non-certified climbing gear available that is worth comparing. Examples include: micro nuts and ice screws under 12cm. In these cases the manfuacturer’s cannot pass the CE/UIAA standards but the brands feel that something is often better than nothing.

We do also list climbing gear that that have no certification requirements such as portaledges and belay seats or chalkbags and other soft goods.

3-Sigma

3-Sigma is a statistical control method to test product strength and calculate probability. Many brands use it because they can ensure that 99.73% of their gear is going to be above the product rating. If you want to geek out on the math, check out this video.

The 3-Sigma process is:

    • Carryout at least 5 breaks of the item to be rated
    • Calculate the mean
    • Calculate the standard deviation
    • Multiply the standard deviation by 3
    • Subtract the product in step 4 from the mean

Some brands tout they use 3-Sigma, which helps to prove their testing methods are statistically sound. Otherwise, knowing a company uses 3-Sigma doesn’t give you a TON of information.

ISO 9001

ISO is a standard that sets out the requirements for a quality management system. The ISO 9000 family (generally 9001 but could be 9003 or 9002) is what you’ll find climbing companies use. The goal is to ensures quality throughout the entire process of manufacturing.

ISO requires companies document every single step of the manufacturing process. Then it’s up to the company to follow that process, while keeping a detailed log of those efforts.

There is no certifying body that checks up on the company to ensure compliance to the process.

ISO is an international body, and is thus why if you show you are using ISO 9001 you (as a manufacturer) do not need to re-certify your CE certification every year because you should be doing everything the exact same way as was done when you originally certified the product.

It is great for a company to be ISO certified, but it is still possible that a certified company doesn’t follow the exact ISO process and can still miss a step and need to recall gear.

Summary

We only recommend buying climbing gear that is CE and/or UIAA certified (if the gear can be certified, it should be).

A company that uses 3-Sigma is just saying aloud how they calculate breaking strength statistically.

ISO 9001 is great to see, but it is not a certification, only a process that helps ensure the company is committed to using a quality management system.

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Alison Dennis

Alison Dennis

Alison (she/her) runs WeighMyRack from her 17' travel trailer. She is currently touring the US and would love if you contacted her to meet up to talk about climbing, climbing gear, or if you have any fun and/or ridiculous adventure in mind.

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