Canyoneering/Rappelling Gear Questions

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Jan 23, 2012
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601
I have some questions for those that have experience in Canyoneering/Rappelling. Such as Nick, lostlandscapes, blueeyes, Dan. These people are just the few that I know of who have experience. If anyone else has experience please chime in. I know Dan & blueeyes are at Freezefest so maybe we can get some info from them also when they return. This thread is not just for me, but anyone that is a noob or has only some experience like me in canyoneering/rappelling that would like info.

What would you recommend for a descending device?
ATC, figure 8, Pirana, sterling ATS?

What kind of caribiner?
Screw lock or Auto ball lock?

What kind of harness?
I know they range from $45-$150 Are the less expensive ones just as good as the pricey ones.

Do you recommend an ascender or are these just for more technical canyons?

What type of rope?
Static, Dynamic etc..

Helmets?
I'm assuming whatever helmet feels comfortable.
-Thanks-
 

Nick

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I am in no way an expert in canyoneering, but here you go...

What would you recommend for a descending device?
ATC, figure 8, Pirana, sterling ATS?

I like the Petzl Pirana or the Sterling ATS the most. Just got the ATS, but I think I'm going to like it more than my Pirana. They are very similar, but the ATS has more levels of friction and isn't limited to a couple types of carabiners. Next behind those is the ATC XP. I'd avoid the regular ATC or figure 8.

In the absence of Dan being here to disagree with me, he uses an ATC XP and likes it. The complaint most people have about the Pirana or ATS is that it twists ropes if length is not set.

What kind of caribiner?
Screw lock or flip lock?

The consensus seems to lean toward screw gate biners for being the best at surviving sand and general abuse in canyons. I'm not sure what a flip lock is. I used a Petzl William with auto ball lock as my descender biner this past year and it hasn't jammed up at all and I've liked knowing it's always locked.

If there was one carabiner to use in canyoneering, it would be the Petzl Attache. I read somewhere, I believe from Tom, that it's fatness is great for a good clove hitch (biner block). It also is one of the two(?) carabiners that will work with a Pirana, so definitely a good one to have around. I intend to stick with the William for my descender, but the Attache for everything else.

What kind of harness?
I know they range from $45-$150 Are the less expensive ones just as good as the pricey ones.

Cheap is fine. Most harnesses are designed for climbing, not canyoneering, so they have bells and whistles that don't do you any good in a canyon, and most likely will get destroyed more quickly. If you plan to be in the harness a lot, like for climbing or if you see yourself doing huge raps frequently, then more padding is good. But if that's not the case, you'd probably be perfectly happy with the cheap, nylon things like the BD alpine bod. I use a Black Diamond Momentum AL because it is one of the few that fit my fat ass.

Go to the Canyoneering USA store. If Tom sells it, it's probably pretty good for canyoneering. A harness like the Petzl Aspir with a horizontal tie in loop is nice for descenders like the Pirana or ATS. If I thought I could fit my legs into an Aspir, I would buy one.

Do you recommend an ascender or are these just for more technical canyons?

An ascender, or something as simple as a Petzl Tibloc or a prusik, is a good thing to have around in case of an emergency, but you really have to know how to use it. Some 6mm cord for a prusik is cheap and will help you to understand knots and the physics involved. It's a good, cheap starting point.

What type of rope?
Static, Dynamic etc..

Static rope for canyoneering, dynamic rope for climbing. Dynamic stretches so that when a climber falls, their bodies don't snap in half. In canyoneering, if your rope stretches, you risk unnecessarily loading the anchor and subsequent anchor failure. You also have to deal with more water absorption as most dynamic ropes are thick and not likely engineered for the conditions faced in canyons. Tom makes really good canyon rope (Imlay Canyon Gear), Sterling also makes canyon rope. Both can be purchased from Canyoneering USA.

Helmets?
I'm assuming whatever helmet feels comfortable.

Anything that protects your head. Ideal would be something like the Petzl Elios or the Black Diamond Half Dome. They are typically lighter than other types of helmets with the protection focused where it is more likely to be needed: the top.
 
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Thanks Nick! I really appreciate the info. And it was the ball lock that i meant not a flip lock.
 

Canyonbug

Canyon Junkie
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Oct 15, 2012
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I think most items have been covered fairly well by Nick, I just have a couple of personal experiences and thoughts I'll add.

What would you recommend for a descending device?
ATC, figure 8, Pirana, sterling ATS?

I have used a Figure 8 and like it as well as the Pirana which is similar in function with the additional friction points. I have been using the Sterling ATS for nearly 2 years now and will buy another one when this one wears out. It is by far my favorite for the many different friction options and control it gives me. Yes it twists the rope like a Figure 8 does, but this fact is not enough to outweigh the control and comfort that the ATS gives me. I run it strictly on the High Friction side and then adjust the horns as I need it and I feel really good using it. I can also use it as a PCD for rescues and ascending if needed as well as setting up guide lines so it adds the extra functions there if needed.

What kind of caribiner?
Screw lock or Auto ball lock?
Screw Lock only. The reason for this is as mentioned Sand. If you use an Auto lock carabiner and are used to it locking on it's own and don't check it then you may be in for a surprise one day when it gets clogged up and doesn't lock and you don't notice until your hanging off the lip of a drop. A screw gate always requires you to manually lock it and there fore verify that it is locked. I have had Screw Gates get clogged with sand, but just run them through some water in a pot hole and tap them on the rock and it loosens it out. The HMS Carabiners are better for getting things in and out of them as well as the Keylocks are easier to use than the classic hook and wire style gate. The hooks tend to catch on things if you have a lot of stuff going on in your setups.

I do disagree on the Attache' carabiner as a good choice. For me it is too small and therefore harder to function when I have gloves and wetsuits on. I prefer the Omega Pacific Jake's, Black Diamond Rock Locks, the Petzl Williams and the Rock Exoctica Pirates (in that order).

What kind of harness?
I know they range from $45-$150 Are the less expensive ones just as good as the pricey ones.

The prices are a huge deal as well as the wear and tear on them. The cheaper the harness the more often you will replace it, but in Canyoneering you will be replacing your harness anyway at some point. How much do you want to spend? A cheaper harness is easier to replace more often because of cost. A more expensive Canyoneering harness will last longer, but is a bigger expense to replace. They Canyoneering harnesses also have the seat protectors which help out, but will still eventually wear through. I use a Black Diamond Alpine bod as a cheapy, a Singing Rock Canyon XP harness for more protection, and a Black Diamond Aspect for training and SAR calls.

Do you recommend an ascender or are these just for more technical canyons?

Any time you are using rope you should have some type of ascending system to get you back up the rope if necessary.

What type of rope?
Static, Dynamic etc..

As mentioned - not much to add. Imlay Canyon Gear, Blue Water, Sterling are the main players. Always go static for Canyoneering. If you take your Dynamic Climbing rope into a canyon to use, never take it climbing again.

Helmets?
I'm assuming whatever helmet feels comfortable.

I wear the Black Diamond Half Dome. They were just re-designed last year and are much more comfortable and light than before. Any climbing helmet is fine.
 

Nick

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Screw Lock only. The reason for this is as mentioned Sand. If you use an Auto lock carabiner and are used to it locking on it's own and don't check it then you may be in for a surprise one day when it gets clogged up and doesn't lock and you don't notice until your hanging off the lip of a drop. A screw gate always requires you to manually lock it and there fore verify that it is locked. I have had Screw Gates get clogged with sand, but just run them through some water in a pot hole and tap them on the rock and it loosens it out. The HMS Carabiners are better for getting things in and out of them as well as the Keylocks are easier to use than the classic hook and wire style gate. The hooks tend to catch on things if you have a lot of stuff going on in your setups.

Awesome point, thanks for that. Maybe I should ditch the ball lock afterall...


If you take your Dynamic Climbing rope into a canyon to use, never take it climbing again.

Why exactly? Just the dirt, sand, water, etc? I have a friend who uses climbing rope and I'd love to be able to explain to him why (aside from all the other reasons).
 
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blueeyes

ephemeral excursionist
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I am really new to this canyoneering, just lucky that I have had many opportunities this year to go. Nick thoroughly answered your questions. I currently use a Pirahna device and my harness is a black diamond because when I bought it I was also doing a fair amount of rock climbing. I do like my harness. Cheap is good because you do tear them up in a canyon but I also like comfort. I don't really have anything else to add other than I do love my Purcell Prusiks that Bo at Desert Rat tied for me because I use one for my tether and it is adjustable and one on my pack to either hang from my harness on a free hanging rappel or to hand down when down climbing. They are there if I should ever need to ascend a rope and in a pinch can be tied into a smorgasscord for a pull rope and they are cheap!
 
Joined
Jan 23, 2012
Messages
601
I am really new to this canyoneering, just lucky that I have had many opportunities this year to go. Nick thoroughly answered your questions. I currently use a Pirahna device and my harness is a black diamond because when I bought it I was also doing a fair amount of rock climbing. I do like my harness. Cheap is good because you do tear them up in a canyon but I also like comfort. I don't really have anything else to add other than I do love my Purcell Prusiks that Bo at Desert Rat tied for me because I use one for my tether and it is adjustable and one on my pack to either hang from my harness on a free hanging rappel or to hand down when down climbing. They are there if I should ever need to ascend a rope and in a pinch can be tied into a smorgasscord for a pull rope and they are cheap!
Thanks for your input Cheré. It is much appreciated.
 

Canyonbug

Canyon Junkie
Joined
Oct 15, 2012
Messages
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Why exactly? Just the dirt, sand, water, etc? I have a friend who uses climbing rope and I'd love to be able to explain to him why (aside from all the other reasons).

Nick I think you pretty well answered most of it, but a little explanation. A climbing fall is a force factor fall. The higher the fall the more load you are putting on the rope. As you know, the dynamic rope is designed to soften that fall by stretching. Generally a good climber only expects to fall if they really screw up. Ropes by manufacture design are only made to take so many falls on them. Every time a climber takes a fall, the rope stretches and looses some of its "Elasticity." After so many falls the "Elasticity" is gone or diminished to a point that the manufacture deems the rope unsafe to take any more falls on.

Canyoneering is strictly rappelling. While we are not taking falls on the rope, we are constantly loading it and stretching it during the rappel as we are putting our full weight on it. This in essence while not a force factor load, is a load none the less and it stretches out that rope. This in turn pulls the "Elasticity" out of the rope creating a stretch and reducing the amount of stretch in it for a climber to take.

The other part is as mentioned the dirt and sand and such that Canyoneering exposes the ropes to. These small sand debris and grime get in the rope and cause micro damage to the fibers and sometimes even more visible damage. While rappelling doesn't put a whole lot of force on the ropes, it will eventually start to wear out the sheath and start to damage the inner core. We occasionally have to replace out Canyoneering ropes because of this. Think about these micro damaged areas now being on a rope that is going to take a stretch and a fall. The force on the fall when the rope stretches and then grinds against all the micro particles can severely damage the core much faster and sometimes the damage may not be visible enough, but a high enough force factor fall can expose these damage areas during the course of the fall, however this is not something that a climber should want to chance on a rope that is going to catch a fall.

Climbing ropes should be saved for climbing only and Canyoneering should have its own set of ropes.

Hope this helps.
 

Nick

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Canyonbug - That looks like an ATS in your profile pic, but way up closer to your face. Do you extend it out from your harness? I've had issues with my Pirana because my harness loop doesn't go the right way and tries to twist it. I tried putting a rapide between my harness and locking biner, but it felt like it was too far out and I was feeling a lot of pressure on free hanging raps. Since then, I've been clipping through the two loops behind my main tie in loop. It works well but it does keep the device quite close to my body. I've been thinking the issue when I extended it was largely caused by wearing my backpack, and being pretty top heavy, maybe not a problem from the extension. I've also read that extending it gives you more brake power. What is your take?
 

Tyler

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Jan 18, 2012
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I don't really have anything else to add other than I do love my Purcell Prusiks that Bo at Desert Rat tied for me because I use one for my tether and it is adjustable and one on my pack to either hang from my harness on a free hanging rappel or to hand down when down climbing. They are there if I should ever need to ascend a rope and in a pinch can be tied into a smorgasscord for a pull rope and they are cheap!

When you have time can you load some pictures of how the prusiks are rigged and how you carry them on your harness? I'm sure it's not that important, but I'm curious how they're used.
 

Nick

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Tyler - this site is great at learning how to tie your own set of prusiks and use them. I bought 30 feet of 6mm cord from REI and tied up my own set and had enough left over for one more.

http://swiftwaterrescue.com/technical-rope-rescue/trr-skill-purcell-prussik-building/

I'm not sure how blueeyes carries hers, but I just carry one on my harness with a carabiner. Probably ideal to just keep one within easy reach, otherwise you'd just have too much junk on your harness. In fact, I imagine some would say thats still too much junk. I do a little twist with mine and then put it on a biner. Similar to what you see here on @drclef's harness. The orange cord. Works for Zion kind of canyons but probably not great for skinny stuff that beats the crap out of it. Probably best to remove it in between raps in those situations.

IMG_7444 - Version 2.jpg
 

Canyonbug

Canyon Junkie
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Oct 15, 2012
Messages
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Canyonbug - That looks like an ATS in your profile pic, but way up closer to your face. Do you extend it out from your harness? I.... What is your take?

Nick - Yes it's an ATS. This pic was taken I think on the first canyon I was trying the ATS out on. This is a canyon that we used for our training courses and this pic was taken by a student from a ledge as I came off the pour off. I am free hanging about 20 feet away from the wall which undercut right from the lip. I also have my pack hanging between my legs connected to my belay loop(s).

I am not sure which harness I was using at this time as I experiment and try out different kinds on occasions. I suspect it was probably an Alpine Bod at this point (almost 2 years ago). I do not extend my device out from my body expect on rare occasions (can't think of the last time I did do it). I like the Alpine Bod as it gives proper orientation for rappel devices like this. I am currently using a BD Aspect harness for training and SAR calls and this has a belay loop which I like you just connect the device directly to the two connecting loops instead of using the Belay loop. This orients it properly and brings it close to my body. My skinny canyon harness (Singing Rock Canyon XP) has a horizontal belay point which orients it properly.

I think in this pic the reason it looks so high is: 1) I have a short torso 2) I am being weighted down by my pack pulling down connected to my harness and 3) I am probably slouching.
 
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