A CGR look at modern belay and anchor systems – are they better than just the rope?
Anchoring to the rock – a crucial skill to develop if there ever one. In my 30+ years of climbing and mountaineering I’ve seen some shocking belays, including some of my own (in the early days)! I often climb with friends who send 8b but upon arrival at a trad belay are covered in knitting with a couple of dodgy runners tied together with god knows what.
I really began to develop my belay skills winter climbing, it’s straightforward to learn on a nice sunny day with an easy stance but winter conditions with gloves and challenging conditions I really learned to put together belays quickly. Any item of equipment that is going to help be more efficient at belaying is going to be a good investment. Working with clients has also allowed me to develop bombproof and efficient belays, it’s a crucial skill for all climbers and time needs to be spent honing it up.
A personal anchor system or PAS is a system that anchors you to the belay and this article focusses on this. All these anchor systems rely on the belay being built with an equaliser and power loop.
We have group tested all the current systems (bar one) on the market to see what the advantages and disadvantages are:
Using the rope
Ease of use***
The most common system: arrive at the stance, build your bombproof belay and clip in via clove hitches or figure eights. This simple system has stood the test of time and doesn’t need a power loop system. It’s cheap (no extra kit to buy), it can be quick and everyone knows (or should do) how it’s used. The drawbacks are it uses rope (if you have a single rope and are using the there back, there back system you can require up to 5m of rope) – this isn’t an issue on a grit route or short pitches, but on long Alpine pitches or winter routes you may need every metre of rope. Mistakes can also be made with equalisation with often catastrophic consequences for failure. It is also more complex to escape the system in an emergency.
Typical RRP: £0
Ease of use***
Safety Factor ***
I have been using this system for several years and have tried both the 6mm perlon cord and a 4ft sling. You may have come across this with climbers clipping a sling on their harness and using it like that – I’ve even seen some climbers using an 8ft sling like this! Most climbers just use them open, as in larks foot the sling into the rap loop of a harness, clip a karabiner into the other end and off you go! The advantages are – it’s an item of equipment you already have, that’s it. The disadvantages are numerous; there have been some well documented failures of this system and its failure to hold a shock load when fallen on. It had very little adjustability, that is when you clip into the belay you cannot adjust for distance, etc. Do not underestimate this vital element of any system as you need to remain tight on any belay system – unless the belay is rubbish when I usually find praying is the best option. The system can be improved by the addition of a knot – I found that this gave me two options for clipping into a belay with but no other advantage other than that. This does, however, reduce the KN rating significantly.
Typical RRP £4-£7.50
Nylon/Dyneema Daisy Chain.
Ease of use ****
I have also used a normal daisy chain as a personal anchor which works better than a knotted sling as you can have more adjustable options. The main problem is that you must not, under any circumstances, belay off any of the chains as they often only have a strength rating of 2kN. This only makes them useful for directly hanging onto at a belay station and hanging gear onto. I have now superseded this system with the safer PAS slings.
Typical RRP: £10-£15
Ease of use***
I’ve had one of these for a while now; it’s basically a length of 9mm cord sewn into a large and small loop with a single strand of cord between them. One end you larks foot into your harness and the other holds a screwgate. The ends are encased in plastic to aid durability and protect the sewn area from abrasion. The idea is that the system is more dynamic than a static sling and therefore absorbs more force. They come in two lengths 40 and 75cms; I have the 40cm one. The main disadvantage is the fixed length with no adjustability. I bought mine in Decathlon and we have no price information for the UK. More info can be found here.
Edelrid Adjustable Belay Station
The adjustable belay station sling offers for the first time in a sling, adjustability in the length whatever the situation without reducing strength by making knots.
Ease of use***
Safety Factor *****
This is an adjustable belay equalising system – we’ve been testing it for a while now and found it very useful. It has been most useful for rock climbing as it was a little more awkward to use with gloves on. It just carry’s on your torso like a sling and is reasonably quick to set up. The system works more efficiently than using an 8ft sling as an equaliser, you place your anchors, clip one side into one with a clove hitch, clip the other side into the other anchor with a little slack between the two and use the adjusting side that has a buckle on it (similar to the buckle you find on a modern harness), then adjust to tension the system. It sounds a little complicated but it’s quite simple – we’ve produced a video on how to use it for our YouTube channel.
The safety rating in 22kN, so stronger than your wire. The only issues I had with using the ABS was it felt quite thick which made it awkward to use with winter gloves on and a little bulky in general. It was great for guiding and setting up belays for clients, setting up abseil stations for cragging, great for Alpine multi pitch routes and good for ice screw belays.
Personal Anchor Systems.
Ease of use****
These are sewn slings similar to linked quickdraws. The advantages of using these belay systems are that they are bombproof, each link is 22kN. When you think a normal daisy chain link is 2kN then you can see the advantage. So each link is as strong as a sewn sling in which you can clip into, they can be used in a variety of situations. I have tied one around a tree and just clipped it in. I have clipped them into two wires for a direct belay and used them for multi abseils and clipping into multi pitch trad and bolted routes. It also makes escaping the system a much more simple affair. We have tested the two main ones on the market:
Completely redesigned PAS with 11 mm (0.43″) webbing that now passes the CE/UIAA Sling Standard
This comes with a large end loop with which you larks foot to your harness. It comes with or without a screw gate, either way you need one. I liked this PAS device, mainly because it fitted neatly around my 32” waist. It has 5 useable loops which are double layered to provide 22kN strength rated slings. The end sling is a different colour so that you can identify which end the screw gate goes into, this could be important in low light abseils for exaple the time we had to do 5 abs from an ice route with just our phones for torches! I have used it in a variety of situations and I found it indispensable for ice climbing and my instruction work. I find myself using it more and more for multi pitch climbing. A good piece of kit and a good sturdy build. Upon arriving at a stance you just un clip the Metolius PAS 22 from around your waist and clip it directly into the belay with whichever loop fits in to keep the belay tensioned. Also great for abseils.
SRP £42.00 (with screw gate) £35.00 (without)
This again comes with a large, sewn end with which you larks foot into your harness, 6 useable loops and a sewn end sling that accepts a screw gate. The Grivel Daisy Chain has 6 loops and so is a loop longer than the Metolius PAS, each loop is also slightly bigger. It therefore ends up about a loop longer as the larks foot sling is slightly smaller. The Grivel daisy Chain also feels lighter and more subtle to use as there is only one layer of tape in the sewn loop which gives 23kN of strength. Again this has proved a great piece of kit and the longer length has been an advantage on occasion. The longer length meant it didn’t fit as neatly around my waist as I needed to clip it a little further around, but if you have a bigger waist it would ideal. I have also stashed it over my head as I just wrapped it behind my head and clipped it into the available loop, this has worked fine. Kiev has used one of these for a while now and really rates it, he says he wouldn’t climb in winter or The Alps without one; it’s been great for all sorts of belay and abseil scenarios.
There isn’t much to differentiate between both anchor systems part from the length and lightness of the Grivel Daisy Chain, they are both very useful items and should be on the harness of every winter and multi pitch climber.
Finally we have the Kong Slyde, I saw a couple of Spanish guys using these ice climbing in Cogne a year or so ago and thought they were a great idea. The plate works like a friction device and self-locks when tension is applied. You put a screwgate into one of the holes and the other sections 9mm cord is threaded through with a stopper knot at the end (very important!). Clip the screwgate into the belay and pull the knotted end to get the required tension, very simple. I’ve been trying to get one of these to try out for a while now but can’t find a UK stockist; still I’m sure I’ll find one on my next visit to The Alps. So no price info but you can find more info on the Kong site: www.kong.it.
We’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible with our collection of devices but if we have missed one out then just let us know through the comments sections and we’ll update the article.