PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment. In the climbing world, PPE is gear that directly impacts your ability to be safe while climbing preventing serious (or otherwise fatal) injuries.

“It’s PPE” is shorthand often used instead of saying something wordier like, “it’s gear that is certified and rated to very high minimum standards that needs to be inspected regularly to ensure it will continue to add worthy protection to help save you from injury and/or death.”

Typically you hear PPE used for work-at-heights folks, including routesetters, arborists, roofers, fire, search and rescue, etc. And in addition to helmets and harnesses, it includes hearing equipment, eye protection, clothing, and even shoes. Officially, in OSHA terminology PPE is a term for, “equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries.” The European Union defines it similarly as, “any device or appliance designed to be worn or held by an individual for protection against one or more health and safety hazards.”

PPE is why the certification standards of the UIAA and CE exist for a lot of climbing gear. This PPE designation and accompanying certification ensures that, for example, carabiners are strong enough to climb on. “Strong enough to climb on” is a bit misleading – they’re actually strong enough to not break given totally unlikely force scenarios. There’s no worry whether a climber is 100 or 500 pounds. Most carabiners are rated for a minimum of 20kN on the major access (~the force of a mass of about 2 tons), when in reality a climbing fall rarely achieves a maximum force of 5kN.

Climbing Gear that is certified PPE

*Certified by either UIAA and/or CE EN standards.

Climbing Gear that is not certified as PPE

PPE – Personal Protective Equipment

Some of the climbing gear that is not certified as PPE makes sense, like climbing shoes. They are not necessary for safety.

Other gear, like aiders, may seen questionable, but are not certified PPE because they aren’t actually directly responsible for your safety while the rope, harness, and your helmet are.

All* the gear that is directly responsible for keeping you safe while climbing, like harnesses, helmets, ropes, carabiners, and protection that keeps you to the rock, is certified.

*Big Bro’s should be certified as PPE since they are protection similar to a cam. Fortunately, Trango is actively working on certifying their Big Bro’s to the same standard as cams.

PPE Exceptions

Above, we said this gear was certified. There is a small caveat to that.

Micro Nuts

For a nut to be certified as PPE (CE EN 12270 / UIAA 124), the nut needs to hold at least 2kN. Some brands make (or made) very very small nuts for direct aid only, meant to fit in the smallest of seams while aid climbing. These nuts are intended to hold body weight and were not certified as PPE (so you shouldn’t risk falling on them). This includes the Metolius Astro Nut 1 and 2 along with the Kouba Mosaz 1, 2, and 3.

Micro Cams

Cams are certified as PPE (via CE EN 12276 / UIAA 125) when the minimum holding force is >= 5kN for a normal cam placement. There are some older cam styles like the original Wild Country Zero (purple Z1 & green Z2) and the next iteration the Wild Country Zero Friends (purple 1 & green 2) and the Black Diamond C3 000 that were meant for direct aid only. They could be used in aid climbs to hold body weight, but were not intended to hold falls.

Two micro cams.

These retired cams, the BD C3 000 (left) and Wild Country Zero Friend 1 (right), are so small they were unable to be certified. You can see their labels list 4kN and 3kN instead of the 5kN+ that is necessary to pass the certification tests. Certified cams will have the CE/UIAA logos on their label.

Interesting to note: Although the very smallest micro cams were only for direct aid, it’s also worth knowing that the largest cams almost suffer from this same fate. The Black Diamond yellow #8 looks huuuge, but it barely passes the certification test at 5kN for active and passive strength. Black Diamond wrote a wonderfully nerdy article diving into the strength of their [big] cams, if you’re curious.

All certified cams are required to show the holding force (required to be certified) and optionally the passive holding force (not required to be certified) on the label of the cam.

PPE Bottom Line

PPE for climbing is anything that directly helps to keep you safe from serious injury or death. This could be if you fall while rock climbing, or if something, like a rock, falls on you. PPE needs to be certified to be sold in Europe be CE EN standards. UIAA certification is not required to sell the gear, but it is another certifying body that ensures the gear you use is safe to climb on.

All CE EN certified gear should say CE on the label (or side) of the piece of gear, and most companies will list UIAA if it’s certified as such. The documentation that comes with the climbing gear should also list more details about certification (CE/UIAA). If you’d like more details, we wrote more about CE EN and UIAA certification, along with Sigma and ISO in a separate post.