Whether you are an alpine, sport, or trad climber, gear is expensive, and despite best intentions and skill, sometimes we drop and lose things. Most climbers develop a communication technique when passing gear to avoid climb-ruining drop errors that goes something like this:

Gear Hand Off
repeat as necessary until all gear is passed over

But, if you’re a buffoon like me, you might not even get to this conversation. Sometimes, mid-climb while enjoying the views at the belay station, you’ll hear an irate scream from your follower below. Strange grunts and words echoing up in the form of, “What the #$@&%*!  How the $#&*! am I supposed to to get this piece of gear out?!?!!?”

So what happens when your “partner” accidentally overcams or jams a key piece of gear in a crack so deep and hard it becomes [seemingly] impossible to retrieve and threatens to ruin your chances of completing the NIAD? Enter the nut tool – a long flat piece of kit specifically designed to pull out stuck gear.

Metolius Feather Nut Tool
The Metolius Feather – the lightest and Most Wanted nut tool on WeighMyRack featuring some palm comfort and a wiregate clip.

There are around 20 nut tools commercially available in the US with many options under $20. Each tool come equipped with different features such as built-in biners, grabby wings, hooks, etc. These features can be creatively used to rescue trapped gear.

Tips & tricks to retrieve stuck nuts & cams

Problem: In most cases, a properly placed nut will be set by pulling down and outward (towards the outside of a crack or flair), where it becomes stuck in its position.

Solution: Push the nut farther into the crack, which sometimes requires a bit of force/whacking ~1-2 cm, then you can slot it up and out. This can’t be done by pushing on the wire loop. A nut tool is required.

Pro Tip: If you don’t have a built in palm protector on your nut tool, wrap the end of your nut tool with tape to save your hand.

Problem: A walked-in cam.

Solution: The trick is to fully trigger the cam and pull it out with the hook end of the nut tool. In most cases this works just fine. But in the case where a single lobe is stuck or trapped behind a positive edge in a crack, the hook end of the tool is used to grab a cutout section in a lobe or “lightning hole” in a cam or tricam and wiggle it free. Of course the art is HOW to wiggle it loose.

This YouTube video shows these methods in action (I queued the video to 1:30 in, as the first few tips were how not to get it stuck in the first place):


Booty caveats

1. Before bootying a piece of gear, please ask yourself whether leaving the piece intact, and in place, is the best idea. In many cases, especially at a crux, the climbing community appreciates having a bomber fixed cam or nut available to clip. By removing, or damaging and compromising (much worse!) a fixed nut you run the risk of even changing the rating of a climb. Think before you pull.

2. If the piece appears to be accidentally lost or left behind, be sure to check with climbing parties ahead of you on a route whether or not they left the piece. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t have a nut tool to retrieve it, or their follower didn’t have the skill to remove the piece. You don’t want to be THAT climber. I always ask if anyone lost a piece, and if so can they ID it — you can decide how subtle or not-so-subtle your approach is.

3. Before using your new gear, always ALWAYS thoroughly inspect and test it. That sweet Metolius Ultralight MasterCam may have endured idealistic climbers yanking and thrashing it for weeks or months. Lobes could be bent or cracked. Guide wires could be frayed. Always assume the worst and before you rack booty gear make sure you are willing to risk your life with it.

Editor’s Note

If you’re reading this post because you fell victim to a gear eating crack and had to leave a piece behind, these links may be helpful to re-stock your rack:

See (and compare) every nut
See on sale nuts and nut tools
See (and compare) every cam
See on sale cams only


Bryan Hains

Bryan Hains

Bryan is a SF Bay Area-based dad (when not climbing) and climber (when not dadding). He also messes around with honeybees which, like climbing, to outsiders seems crazy and stupid.

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We’re @weighmyrack


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