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Adaptive Rock Climbing Technologies

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Rock Climber
Rock Climber

Adaptive rock climbing is a modified means of rock climbing to enable accessibility by person with disabilities. It is described as one of the fastest growing adaptive sports by Disabled Sports USA.[1] While standard rock climbing may utilize a climbing harness, rope, and rock climbing shoes, these devices may not prove safe and/or functional for those with disabilities. Adaptive climbing requires specialized technology to facilitate participation in this sport.


Prosthetic Technologies for Persons with Lower Limb Amputations

Prosthetic Climbing Feet

Because of the curved nature of standard rock climbing shoes, obtaining successful fit on prosthetic feet is difficult. The flexible nature of prosthetic feet also cause unwanted rotational issues amongst the prosthesis during climbing. [2] To combat this challenge, two prosthetic feet are currently available for those interested in adaptive rock climbing for purchase; one prosthetic foot is in development for future purchase.

El Dorado Z-Axis Foot
El Dorado Z-Axis Foot
  • El Dorado Z-Axis, manufactured by TRS, Inc. It is 7 inches long and only weighs 25 ounces, and comes with a TRAX-XT5 rock climbing shoe by Evolve. It can be worn on either the left or right side and provides some flexibility with use. It has been used by paralympic athletes and Paradox Sports athletes. This foot is available on market. [3]
  • ADK rock climbing foot. This foot can be oriented in either direction to be optimized for different climbing terrains. Its flat front and pointed rear portion allow climbers to easily modify their foot position. It does not require a shoe but has a rubber sole for grip. [4]
  • C.J. Howard - Mandy Ott climbing foot. This foot is being developed in conjunction with Morris Technologies via direct metal laser sintering. It is made out of Titanium, weighs approximately 5 pounds, and is 6 inches by 3 inches by 2 inches. The outside is coated with the same rubber used in standard climbing shoes. [2]

Prosthetic Climbing Knees

XT9 Knee
XT9 Knee

Prosthetic knees require the ability to withstand high intensity activity. There is only one knee commercially available to meet these needs.

  • XT9 by K12 prosthetics. It is fully adjustable for differing height, user weight, aggressiveness, and activity. It is both durable for high intensity activity (295 lbs weight limit) and lightweight for ease of motion (32 oz). This knee is also 100% corrosion resistant to be able to endure the extreme climates that likely come along with extreme sports. It is made out of aluminum, titanium, and stainless steel with a coil and air-shock to absorb impact. [5]

Prosthetic Technologies for Persons with Upper Limb Amputations

To date, there have not been any mass-manufactured prosthetic components for those climbers with upper extremity amputations. Most of these climbers will usually wrap the end of their residual limb in athletic tape or ace bandages for extra grip and to protect their limb. Customized prosthetic devices, similar to that created for Aron Ralston, can be created to allow attachment of various components, allow extra cushioning for increased impact, and allow for high weight capacity suspension. [6]

Technologies for persons with paralysis

While prosthetic climbing adaptations can help the large number of adaptive rock climbers with amputations, persons with paralysis provide a different challenge in the world of adaptive rock climbing. Since many of these people have little to no control of their lower limbs, different harnessing systems and ascending devices are needed for the safety of these climbers.


For those who have paralysis and a loss of some trunk stability, it is possible for them to use the standard waist harness in conjunction with something known as a figure-8 chest harness. This harness simply goes around the shoulders and clips together in the front. Their rope, before tying into their main harness, is threaded through the front of the chest harness, which allows climbers to maintain an upright posture while climbing. [7] An equally functional alternative to this is a full-body harness, which contains the figure-8 chest harness built into the lower harness. [8]

Another type of adaptive harness is called a Swami-Belt with adapted leg loops. Because people with paralysis generally have sensation issues and problems with pressure sores, these adapted leg loops are much wider and are padded to distribute the forces of the body more evenly over the thigh. The waist belt of this harness is also thicker, providing a bit more stability in the lower-trunk for those who have more trunk stability and don’t quite need the chest-harness addition. [7]

Ascending Devices

Adaptive ascending devices are often used to give some persons with paralysis the sensation of being high up in the air. A "Superman" harness is an seat harness that can be easily placed upon a user in a wheelchair to allow ascention. They are used through the additional use of a spreader bar, used to prevent the harness from collapsing and arm range of motion of the user. [8] A pulley-system, attached to a ceiling or high point, allows users to gradually ascend along a role with help of a ratchet-like locking mechanism. [7] The ropes can be threaded through various types of pulley systems, allowing the climber to pull all of their weight, only 30% of their weight, or even as little as 20% of their weight while ascending the rope.


Rock climbing inherently requires balance, weight shift capabilities, and cognitive planning. Adapative climbing can inherently improve these capabilities within persons with disability. Anecdotal evidence suggests persons with disabilities benefit from the strength and endurance gained from rock climbing in everyday activities and boosts social participation and self-confidence.[9]


  1. Rock Climbing. Disabled Sports USA.
  2. 2.0 2.1 McCue TJ. Design A New Foot If The Shoe Does Not Fit -- Laser Sintering a Prosthetic Leg. Forbes, August 28 2012.
  3. El Dorado Z-Axis Climbing Foot. TRS Inc.
  4. ADK Rock Climbing Foot. Mountain Orthotic and Prosthetic Services
  5. How the XT9 Works. K12 Prosthetics.
  6. 127 Hours: The Aron Ralston Story. Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Adaptive Climbing Equipment. No Limits.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Products. Misty Mountain.
  9. Shinn B. Reaching new heights: occupational therapy and adaptive rock climbing. Spin Out, August 31 2013