Dry Tooling Climbing: Everything To Know About Dry Tooling

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However, the concept of ‘dry tooling’ as a passion sport is a phenomenon of modern times. Given its soaring popularity among professional ice climbers and mountaineers, dry tooling is here to stay.

As a climber, if you want to explore your potential and experience the invaluable adrenaline rush in the sport of climbing, we have got you covered on every detail of ‘how to dry tool like a professional.’

In this comprehensive guide, you will get to know everything from what dry tooling is, to the tools you need for safety and security, and tips on dry tooling. So, let’s jump right in and see why the art of dry tool is so much fun for most people.   

What is Dry Tooling?

Dry tooling is a form of rock climbing that uses ice axes and other tools to ascend routes without the presence of ice. It is also known as ‘mixed climbing.’ The term ‘dry tool’ was first coined in the late 1980s by British mountaineers who wanted to climb during the winter months when there was no ice.

Dry tooling has become increasingly popular over the years as it offers a more challenging and varied experience for climbers. The routes are often longer and steeper, with plenty of opportunities for climbers to test their strength, endurance, and skills.

There are two main types of dry tooling: traditional dry tooling and sport dry tooling. Traditional dry tooling is more akin to traditional rock climbing, where the focus is on using natural features such as cracks and crevices for the ascent. Sport dry tooling, on the other hand, involves the use of man-made holds, bolts, and anchors for protection.

Dry Tooling Vs Rock Climbing

The main difference between dry tooling and rock climbing is the type of surface that is being climbed. Dry tooling routes are often found on steep, blank rock faces or in cracks and crevices, whereas rock climbing routes tend to be found on less sheer surfaces with a greater variety of natural holds.

Dry tooling also generally requires the use of ice axes and other tools, whereas rock climbers will only use their hands and feet. This means that dry tooling can be more physically demanding than rock climbing, as climbers need to generate more force to pull themselves up the route.

Similarities between Dry Tooling & Ice Climbing

Although dry tooling and ice climbing are two distinct disciplines, they do share some similarities. Both activities require the use of ice axes and other tools, and both involve ascending steep, blank faces or cracks.

The main difference is that dry tooling is performed without the presence of ice, whereas ice climbing takes place on routes where ice is present. This means that dry tooling can be more challenging than ice climbing, as there are fewer opportunities to rest and no easy way to slide back down the route if needed.

Dry Tooling & Mixed Climbing

Dry tooling is often confused with mixed climbing, but there is a key difference between the two. Mixed climbing refers to any form of climbing that combines elements of both rock climbing and ice climbing, such as ascending an icy rock face or a snow-covered cliff.

Dry tooling, on the other hand, specifically refers to the act of climbing without ice. This means that dry tooling routes can be found on any type of surface, including rock, plastic, wood, or metal.

Mixed climbing routes will always contain some element of ice, whereas dry tooling routes may or may not. For this reason, mixed climbing can be seen as a sub-discipline of both rock climbing and ice climbing, whereas dry tooling is a separate discipline altogether.

Climbing Techniques Unique to Dry Tooling

There are essentially three techniques that are almost exclusive to dry tooling. These are as follows:


This is a technique that is often used in sport dry tooling, where climbers use their picks to ‘under-cling’ man-made holds. It is a relatively easy technique to learn but can be taxing on the arms and shoulders.


Torque is a type of move that is used to generate leverage. It involves placing the pick of an ice axe in a crack and then twisting the body to generate force. Torques can be very useful but can also be dangerous if not performed correctly.

Figure Fours & Figure Nines

These are two relatively advanced techniques that involve using the pick of an ice axe to hook onto small holds. They can be very useful for ascending steep routes but can be difficult to master.

What Ice Tools are Needed for Dry Tooling?

The main piece of equipment you will need for dry tooling is an ice axe. Ice axes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the most important thing to look for is one that is comfortable for you to use.

You will also need a set of crampons, which are metal spikes that attach to the bottom of your boots to provide traction on icy surfaces. Crampons come in different sizes and styles, so it’s important to choose a pair that is compatible with your ice axe and boots.

Other pieces of equipment you may need include a helmet, climbing harness, rope, climbing shoe, and carabiners. These are all standard pieces of climbing equipment that are used for both rock climbing and dry tooling.

Safety Tips on Dry Tooling

For your safety, always be mindful of these pieces of advice –  

Always Keep the Placements of Ice Tool on the Downside as You Climb Up

When ice tool placements are upside down, it will help you keep your balance and maintain a good grip on the ice.

Don’t Use Torques on Weak Ice

Torques can be very dangerous if the ice is not strong enough to support your weight. Always test the ice before using this technique.

Do Not Be Scared to Back Off

There is no shame in admitting that a route is too difficult for you. It is better to back off and try another day than to push yourself beyond your limits and put yourself in danger.

Keep Your Body Relaxed

Tensing up will only make it harder to climb and can lead to fatigue. Relax your body as much as possible to conserve energy.


It may sound obvious, but it’s important to remember to breathe when you’re climbing. This will help you stay calm and focused.

Use Rock Climbing Shoes When Needed

Dry tooling in rock climbing shoes is often easier than using crampons. If the route you’re attempting has a lot of rock climbing, it may be helpful to switch to your shoes, in case there is no frozen waterfall ice.

Leashes are Strictly Prohibited in Sport Dry Tooling

Most indoor dry tooling climbing gyms do not allow leashes on ice axes. This is for safety reasons, as they can be a tripping hazard.

Make Sure to Keep Tight at the Bottom

When you are belaying a climber, make sure to keep the rope tight at the bottom. This will help prevent falls and injuries.

Always Keep the Rear End of Ice Tool Safe

The rear end of an ice axe is very sharp and can cause serious injury if it hits someone. Always be aware of where the rear end of your tool is, and keep it pointing away from yourself and others.

Wear Thin Gloves When Dry Tooling

This will help you maintain a good grip on the ice and protect your hands from the cold.

Be Mindful of Your Surroundings

Always be aware of what is happening around you. This includes other climbers, falling ice, and changing weather conditions.

Never Climb Alone

Climbing is always more fun with friends, but it’s also much safer. Having someone else with you will help to spot potential hazards and provide support if you need it.

With these safety tips in mind, dry tooling can be a fun and rewarding experience. Just remember to take things slowly at first and to always be aware of your surroundings. With practice, you’ll be dry tooling like a pro in no time!

Why do People Do Dry Tooling?

Dry tooling is often seen as a necessary evil by climbers. It’s a skill that is useful for ascending steep routes but can be difficult to master. However, some people enjoy dry tooling for its own sake.

There is something about the challenge of climbing without the use of traditional holds that is appealing to some people. Dry tooling requires a different set of skills than rock climbing, and it can be a fun way to stay in shape during the winter months.

For those who live in areas where there is no snow or ice, indoor dry tooling gyms are a great way to get your fix. These gyms provide walls with holds specifically designed for dry tooling, and they offer a safe and controlled environment to practice in.

Whether you enjoy dry tooling for its own sake or see it as a necessary evil, there’s no denying that it’s an important skill for any serious climber to have in their arsenal. With practice, anyone can learn to dry tool like a pro!


Dry tooling is a useful skill for climbers to have, but it’s important to be safe when doing it. Always test the ice before using this technique, and be aware of your surroundings.

Be mindful of using high-quality technical ice tools

About The Author

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