9 Routesetting Essentials


Setter essentials
Setter essentials

Routesetters have been called “Industrial Athletes” which gets to the heart of what setters do on a daily basis: a physical activity that requires skill and training and at the same time a massive amount of physical labor akin to construction.

To do their job in the most efficient and safest way possible, setters need the proper tools. CBJ has gathered a short list of essential tools every facility should have on hand.


There are few pieces of equipment more important to the health and efficiency of a routesetter than an impact driver. Impacts allow for faster attachment of holds, faster stripping and less strain on elbows, which leaves more time and energy to focus on creativity.

Even though 12 volt impacts have achieved greater power than their predecessors they still don’t deliver the performance that a professional setter demands. Instead opt for at least an 18 volt which will cover you in all commercial setting environments. And in the future look for a new breed of impacts called Impulse Drivers (electronic pulse or oil pulse) which are now available in Europe.

Impact. Photo: CBJ
Impact. Photo: CBJ

Some facilities do not allow impacts for various reasons; old, fragile walls or negative customer experience due to the loudness of the tool. If your facility does not allow impacts, you still have a better choice than a T-wrench. What you need is a dual-headed stubby ratchet. These little wonders have two sides which will fit both types of bits you’ll need on the wall. They’re light and easy on the body, and they’re also great for forerunning.


Some setters have gone 20 years without ever having to go the ER for a bit of metal in their eye. While others have been in and out of emergency care like it was a burger joint. Regardless of your luck, ear and eye protection has become de rigueur for the modern setter.

Impacts put out high decibels of sound which is not only annoying, but can result in hearing loss with prolonged exposure. Hearing protection in the form of cheap foam plugs or better yet, full-coverage earmuffs is the way to go.

Most setters don’t have a problem wearing ear protection but balk at wearing safety glasses. They can steam up, limit visibility and are what soldiers call BCGs (birth control glasses) because of how dorky you may look. But all it will take is one painful trip to the ER (workers comp anyone?) and your setters will convert and then preach the good news about eye protection. Safety glasses are especially important during stripping when metal shards are mostly likely to find their way out of the t-nut and into a setter’s face.

Bucket Liner

Ye olde Homer bucket has served you well. Now let it go. Gear makers have finally caught up to the unique demands of hauling holds up the wall and have created bucket liners that are safer and more efficient.

Left: So Ill bucket. Right: Rock Candy bucket
Left: So Ill bucket. Right: Rock Candy bucket

The new generation of liners have multiple pockets for small footholds and bolts which keeps them from falling to the bottom of the bucket. They may also come with additional straps and loops for all the other stuff setters want to carry with them. Most are in the 5 gallon size but a few companies are putting out larger sizes which are great for walls over 40 feet.


How can such a simple tool make such a difference in the life of a setter? A tap is a frenemy of the setters; if you need it that means that the T-nut you want to use is not threading properly and now you have to take the time to fix it with the tap. They allow you to place your hold in that perfect spot – or you can leave the t-nut f-ed up for the next setter!

Mesa Rim setter Leo Elacio tapping it right.  Photo CBJ.
Mesa Rim setter Leo Elacio tapping it right. Photo CBJ.

A tap can rethread a stubborn t-nut, clean out paint, concrete and other debris and in general make wall maintenance a more efficient job. Their inexpensive and easy to carry in a holster or setting bucket. There is also a new ratcheting model that is a bit bulky but much easier on those stubborn t-nuts.


Setting on rope is hard work, and even harder without the right gear. It’s painful to watch a setter powerless to the forces of physics and unable to get close enough to the hold they want to tighten. Enter, the directional or sometimes called an “easy daisy”.

John Oungst @ Climb So Ill.  Photo: Climb So Ill.
John Oungst @ Climb So Ill. Photo: Climb So Ill.

This inexpensive piece of gear is always girth hitched to the harness and ready for action. Paired with a 3/8th eye-bolt the directional becomes a setters best friend on those slightly overhanging top rope routes. And for super steep terrain it’s best to have two directionals on board.

Ladder skids

With modern boulder setting taking place on 12 or more inches of soft, tarp-covered padding, climbing an A-frame ladder is an exercise in balance control. Climbing a wobbly ladder is not only unsafe but is also inefficient and taxing on your body. One way to stabilize the ladder is to lay a sheet of plywood or OSB on the padding to stabilize the ladder. However dragging around a piece of plywood is incredibly inefficient.

Ladder skids.  Photo: Louie Anderson @ The Factory.
Ladder skids. Photo: Louie Anderson @ The Factory.

Instead, permanently attach a length of wood to the feet of the ladder. These skids help mitigate the wobble without having a separate piece of equipment to carry around.

Hold budget

Setters need more than just fancy wrenches to do their job. They need holds, which are also considered tools of the trade. Yet so many managers have not set aside a yearly, or even better, a monthly hold budget. The amount is not as important as having one in the first place. For small facilities a simple hold-of-the-month club will take care of your needs. But for larger facilities an annual budget between $5,000 – $100,000 will bring a lot of joy to your setters and keep your members excited to reach for that next hold.

Holds, holds, holds.  Photo: CBJ
Holds, holds, holds. Photo: CBJ

Pressure washer

Washing holds is an undesirable task no matter how you look at it. But there is a simple way to make the job a bit easier. Blast that chalk and boot rubber off with a portable pressure washer. Sure you can wash holds all sorts of ways, but setters that have been around for awhile always come back to using a pressure washer to get the grips clean.

Pressure washer
Pressure washer

Training procedures

If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. This statement is true for all policies and procedures in your gym but is especially important for those working at height. For the most part setters understand the safety demands of their job, but many owners and managers think that setting can be done by any knucklehead with a t-wrench and neglect to train setters in the mechanics of their job.

A few key questions you should ask yourself before you hire your next setter. How is knowledge transferred to your setters? Is it by word of mouth, or through a comprehensive training program that starts with how to interact with customers and goes all the way to how to ascend the rope and haul buckets? Having a written training program could save you headache and money if there is ever an accident involving a setter.