Gear Knowledge For Climbing Shop Staff

by Michael Ryan Nov/2008
This article has been read 7,662 times

The Lyon Equipment Gear Seminar at Plas y Brenin: or Steve McClure shows me a great way of ascending a rope and we learn of Paul Cornthwaite's Leather Fetish.....and numerous other important factoids about gear

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+A technical seminar on hands free lighting, 63 kb
A technical seminar on hands free lighting
UKC Articles, Oct 2009
© Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com

+Chris Blakeley tested some karabiners to destruction using the Lyon test rig, 59 kb
Chris Blakeley tested some karabiners to destruction using the Lyon test rig
UKC Articles, Oct 2009
© Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com

Earlier this year I went on a two day Technical Climbing Gear Workshop for Retail Staff, hosted at Plas y Brenin and ran by Lyon Equipment. I joined about 100 specialist retail staff from small independent outdoor shops to larger chains like Cotswold Outdoor to learn about gear. We covered so much it would take pages to cover all the technical info we had to absorb through lectures, demonstrations and practical sessions. This is my brief account. I hope some may learn a little and also understand the efforts some outdoor companies go to to educate us about the gear we use. There was even a test at the end of course, you can take it too, thank goodness, I passed.

+Steve McClure leading a practical demonstration about various Petzl ascenders and descenders., 197 kb
Steve McClure leading a practical demonstration about various Petzl ascenders and descenders.
UKC Articles, Mar 2009
© Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com

SPECIALIST SHOPS - SPECIAL ADVICE

One of the reasons to shop at a specialist climbing and outdoor shop is to get technical advice about the outdoor kit that you need for your adventures.

Some shops are staffed by experienced climbers and mountaineers, and they have a wealth of knowledge accumulated through years of actually being out there and doing it. But whether the sales associate is old or young, experienced or inexperienced, gear has become so advanced, and new products appear so frequently, that all retail staff who sell safety equipment need continuing education - product catalogues and work books are helpful, as are visits from technical sales staff with their wealth of information.

.........in fact the Lyon Equipment staff were wizened blokes, blistered by the sun reflecting off glaciers, fatigued by 30 rescues in Snowdonia since Christmas, fingers bloodied by fiddling small wires into granite, bodies hardened by long sport climbing days in Spain. And usually they are fair, imparting knowledge that applies to much climbing gear not just one specific brand
But as a former teacher however I know that there is nothing like practical classroom and fieldwork to help absorb knowledge and expertise; and essentially, using the stuff yourself.

GEAR WORKSHOPS

+Learning about lumens: using Petzl headtorches on a night hike., 68 kb
Learning about lumens: using Petzl headtorches on a night hike.
UKC Articles, Nov 2009
© Mick Ryan
Most outdoor companies hold product seminars for retail staff. These aren't just holidays from work, although some are held in far off climbing destination areas, but are held for several reasons: to increase the technical product knowledge of retail staff, to sell the gear the company make or distribute, and to forge strong relationships between shops and the company. One of the best 'seminars' I have been on was a tour of the DMM factory, if you get the chance to go on one, grab it. Nor are these seminars a public relations game where the retail staff and the press are smoozed by good looking women - in fact the Lyon Equipment staff were wizened blokes, blistered by the sun reflecting off glaciers, fatigued by 30 rescues in Snowdonia since Christmas, fingers bloodied by fiddling small wires into granite, bodies hardened by long sport climbing days in Spain. And usually they are fair, imparting knowledge that applies to much climbing gear not just one specific brand.

So in March, Lyon Equipment invited staff from many of the UK's specialist climbing and outdoor shops to the Plas y Brenin, the National Outdoor Centre, to have a closer look at some of the outdoor gear they sell to shops and that the shops sell to us. Whilst many of us put blind faith in the life-saving equipment we use, if you sell this stuff you'd better know all about fall factors and impact forces when selling ropes and are be able to recommend the right harness or crampons for the job.

Lyon staff are passionate about what they do, and that goes for most outdoor companies in the UK, yes they are in the business of selling and earning money (like all of us) but like most involved in the outdoor trade they are out their doing it and are passionate about passing on what they know.

They want you, the climber to buy the right gear for the job, often technical gear that could save your life, make you safe, help you perform better or make you more comfortable in the outdoors. If you buy gear that helps you, it is at a fair price, and does the job it is supposed to do - you may buy from that brand again. It's not about just talking your money - and then running.

As well the technical sales/marketing staff from Lyon that included Martin Kirton, Pete Robertson, Neal Heanes, John Samways, Simon Tulley, Chris Blakeley and Paul Cornthwaite we were also joined by two of the UK best climbers: Neil Gresham and Steve McClure.

PART OF THE GEAR SEMINAR

Ben Lyon

+Ben Lyon at No. 10 Downing Street, 140 kb
Ben Lyon at No. 10 Downing Street
UKC Articles
© Mick Ryan

The History of Lyon

Way back in 1965, Ben Lyon, aided by engineer brother Graham, started making caving ladders. The name 'Lyon Ladders' was registered in 1973.

In the same year Ben, with Mike Meredith, took a party of cavers to France, and called in on Fernand Petzl's 3-man workshop. Mike started imports to the UK, handing on to Ben's business in 1974, making 'Lyon' the first overseas Petzl distributor. The next move was to change the name to Lyon Equipment.

More leading Brands have been added to their portfolio including: Beal, La Sportiva, Exped, Julbo, Jetboil, Tubus, Grip Master and Guyot Designs.

Today under the banner of Lyon Equipment Limited are Lyon (Manufacturing), Lyon (Outdoors), Lyon (Work & Rescue), Lyon (Training) or Lyon (Logistics). . . .

. . . and 40 years they are still make caving ladders!

Below in a nutshell is some of what was delivered by the Lyon technical sales staff, and Neil and Steve. Too some it may seem basic, but there is probably no one out there who has a grasp of everything that was covered at this workshop. I've added a few informative links and diagrams to help as well. It is beyond the scope of this article to cover everything but I have concentrated on:

  • Harnesses
  • Ropes
  • Ascending and Descending Devices
  • Crevasse Rescue

All the Lyon Equipment products were featured over the two day course including La Sportiva rock shoes and mountaineering boots, Petzl head torches, Aquapac waterproof cases, Ortlieb, Exped drybags and sleeping mats, Julbo sunglasses,and Petzl Charlet crampons and axes. At the end of the two days we were tested on what we had told, shown and experienced. I've included the test at the end for anyone to have a go at.

They want you, the climber to buy the right gear for the job, often technical gear that could save your life, make you safe, help you perform better or make you more comfortable in the outdoors. If you buy gear that helps you, it is at a fair price, and does the job it is supposed to do - you may buy from that brand again. It's not about just talking your money - and then running.

Harnesses

+Harness Diagram, 86 kb
Harness Diagram
UKC Articles, Apr 2009
© Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com

To kick off Pete Robertson, Lyon Equipment sales rep for Middle England and Wales took us through harnesses. These are some of the notes I took. +Pete Robertson, Middle England and Wales Sales Representative, takes us through harnesses., 142 kb
Pete Robertson, Middle England and Wales Sales Representative, takes us through harnesses.
UKC Articles, Mar 2009
© Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com

Harnesses come in two types, full body harnesses and sit harnesses. Full body harnesses are used for working at height, for instructional use, for young children, pregnant women and sometimes when aid climbing or alpine climbing. The advantage of full body harnesses is that they offer more security and suspend the climber in an upright position - crucial for hipless and top heavy children where there is a risk that they will invert and slip out of a sit harness. Similarly when alpine climbing with a rucksack, and you are top heavy, there is a chance that you would invert in the event of a fall and hurt yourself. The down side of full body harnesses is that they do restrict movement.

Bill Forrest in Colorado was one of the first to design the sit harnesses as we know it today; a belt and leg loops joined by a load-bearing attachment point known as a belay loop. Some may also remember the Whillans Harness from Troll - popular but very uncomfortable, especially when hanging in it; if you were a male it was often known as the Testiculator. The Alpine sit harness, like the Black Diamond BOD, have a raised tie in point which is above the climbers centre of gravity - useful when you are a climbing with a pack and are top heavy. Alpine harnesses are usually constructed of simple webbing and usually have a wide range of adjustment at the waist and for the legs to accommodate bulky clothing.

The conventional sit harness as we know it today consists of a padded belt which is adjusted by a buckle - most waist buckles are now already threaded and don't need doubling back to ensure secure closure. Some harnesses have two waist buckles which gives greater adjustability. The leg loops are also often padded and come either with a buckle so that you can adjust them to the thickness of your clothing, useful when winter climbing; or they are of a fixed width, popular if your harness is used just for fair-weather cragging, especially sport climbing. For some reaon 70-80% of harness sales in the UK are for the adjustable leg loop harnesses. Legs loops also have an elasticated gusset at the rear which attaches to your waist belt to hold the leg loops in place.

The waist belt and legs loops are joined at the front of the harness by a belay loop, coloured green on Petzl harnesses, to identify the proper tie-in / attachment point and this is the load bearing attachment point for belaying, abseiling and attaching to anchors at a belay. Don't tie into this belay loop with your rope, tie in is around the waist belt and your leg loops.

The load bearing parts of your harness; on Petzl harnesses the belay loop, waist and legs loops are tested to 15KN (roughly a ton and a half) and buckles have to pass a pull test to make sure they don't open. The non-loading parts of a harness are the rear elastic loops that attach the leg loops to the waist belt, the gear loops and often a haul line loop at the rear of the harness - NEVER USE THE HAUL LINE LOOP TO ATTACH TO A BELAY. Gear loops - four gear loops are standard, six special: two are fine if you are sport climbing only.

FITTING A HARNESS

Best place to fit a harness is at a climbing shop. Harnesses come in various sizes, extra small to extra large, fitting waists roughly 58 to 14 cm or 23 to 41 inches with various leg loop sizes. Also important is the RISE - that is the distance between the leg loops and the waist belt. This rise can vary between models and manufacturers.

Best place to fit a harness is at a climbing shop.
Bottom line is if you are buying a harness it is best, especially if it is your first harness or have lost or gained weight, to visit a climbing shop to try one on. Most shops have a harness hang, usually an inertia seat belt reel or just a length of rope suspended from the ceiling. You need to try a harness on, clip in and hang around in it to make sure it feels comfy when it really counts. Make sure there are no pressure points and that it is snug, neither too tight (restrict movement) or too loose (you may fall out of it). You risk asphyxiation if a harness waist belt is too tight. You must have 8cm or so of webbing extending out of the waist belt buckle once it has been properly secured. Between the tie in loops of your waistbelt and leg loops there must be between 4-8cm of clearance.

Women

Women's bodies are different to mens and this is significant when choosing a harness. Women generally have a smaller waist to leg loop size (leg loop to waistbelt ratio) and are longer from waist to thigh (the rise is longer proportionally). They also have hips! Women also wear their harness on their waist whilst men wear them on the hip. Most harness manufacturers, including Petzl now produce womens harnesses. Oh and if you are pregnant, no need to stop climbing, wear a full body harness.

+Ouch. Falling in an old Whillans harness., 67 kb
Ouch. Falling in an old Whillans harness.
UKC Articles, Apr 2009
© Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com

WEAR - Looking After your Harness.

Always check your harness before you climb for frayed stitching, cuts or other forms of damage. Keep away from chemicals and store away from light - nylon strength reduces on exposure to u/v and chemicals will catastrophically damage your harness.

How long will my harness last?

Most manufacturers say 5 years of normal use, then get rid of it. If you are using it every weekend, consider replacing your harness after two years. Harnesses range in price from £40 to £100, that works out at between £8 and £20 a year. A good investment for a piece of kit that is of great importance in the safety chain. Buy the best you can and possibly have two harnesses.

Some may also remember the Whillans Harness from Troll - popular but very uncomfortable, especially when hanging in it; if you were a male it was often known as the Testiculator.


Helmets

+Doug Scott and Alex Huber hamming it up for the camera, 180 kb
Alpinists Doug Scott and Alex Huber even wear helmets when eating indoors. © Mick Ryan

"You only need to wear a helmet if you feel you have a brain worth saving."

New climber comes in to your shop for a helmet, or even an experienced climber who has decided to protect his head, what do you tell them about helmets? In the old days it was easy, there was basically one choice, a heavy fibreglass helmet made by Snowdon Mouldings or Joe Brown, designed to protect you from stonefall in the Alps rather than giving the wearer protection if they fell off and swung into the rock.

These days many climbers wear a helmet - from Stanage to Swanage you will see climbers wearing a helmet. This is in some part due to the popularity of wearing a helmet for bicycling but also due to helmet design. Once helmets were bulky, heavy and prone to giving you a headache - and they looked dorky. These days helmets are lightweight, some you hardly notice you are wearing them, and they look good - even top climbers can be seen wearing them in photographs in the climbing media. At any cliff where there is a chance of falling rocks they are essential, but they do give you some protection from impacts when falling. Beware though, take a ground fall from a long way up and chances are your helmet may not give you much protection.

We went through the types of helmet: the Shell/Cradle, best for: Alpine, winter mountaineering, group use; Expanded plastic foam, best for: Sport & outcrop climbing, ski-mountaineering; and the Shell/Foam, best for: All-round climbing and mountaineering use. If you want to swot up see the UKC article, Helmets: Everything you need to know! by Dan Middleton BMC

Chris Blakeley, the Technical Manager at Lyon equipment gave us a very graphic demonstration of the top impact test on a helmet using a large rounded rock, around 5kg in mass, a piece of string, a pair of scissors, and a wooden head with a helmet on it. See below. The red hard shell helmet (Petzl ECRIN ROC) dissipated the impact force and there were some scratches where the rock impacted, and inside the plastic matrix showed some distortion and cracks. The lightweight foam helmet (a Petzl METEOR III) as you can see absorbed the energy from the rock and deformed. Both helmets after an impact of this nature should be thrown away. But by the looks of things they will save your gray matter.

+lyon3, 140 kb
Chris Blakeley about to release the 5kg rock on to a Petzl ECRIN ROC
+lyon2, 121 kb
The rock falls
+lyon8, 105 kb
The lightweight foam helmet (a Petzl METEOR III) as you can see absorbed the energy from the rock and deformed.
+lyon12, 133 kb
Inside the plastic matrix of the Petzl ECRIN ROC showed some distortion and cracks

Helmets are also tested with a 5kg weight to the front, side and rear of the helmet and a penetration test using a sharp 1.5kg weight.

Chris Blakeley and Steve McClure Take Us Through the Petzl Ascending and Descending Devices.

Petzl are the company for the design and manufacture of pullies, ascenders, descenders, belay devices, all started and inspired by Fernand Petzl and his adventures in the caves of the Dent De Crolles in France during the Second World War. Armed with a drill press, a lathe, two milling machines and an engineers mind he revolutionised 'vertical progression techniques'. Most are familiar with the GriGri, but if you venture beyond single pitch cragging there is a whole host of devices that make life easier in the vertical made by Petzl. Fernand's caving exploration also explains Petzl's devotion to headlamps or hands free lighting, and of course harnesses.

There is a selection of devices below.

  • the Tibloc: a small rope grabber (mono-directional locking device) that replaces prussicks, carry two on your harness for self-rescue, useful for glacier rescue, and rucksack hauling. It is also useful for climbing together, in tandem, Caution though, it has sharp teeth.
  • the Reverso3: Petzl's nearly year old lightweight all-singing hot-forged aluminium belay and abseil device. It has asymmetric V-shaped groove friction channels that regulate the amount of braking friction on the rope according to its diameter and condition. It is also popular with guides as it allows independent and simultaneous belaying of one or two seconding climbers in Reverso mode. What you get is a single device for half and single ropes that is useful for both single and multi-pitch climbing.
  • the Shunt:The shunt is a toothless rope clamp that won't damage your rope. It is an abseil back-up and replaces self-jamming knots like the prusik. Works on single and double ropes. It has long been used as a self belay device for top roping, however Petzl no longer recommend it for this use. Petzl instead recommend a Mini- traxion for this purpose.
  • the Grigri: A very popular self-braking belay device used primarily for sport climbing. Makes it a breeze for the belayer to catch and hold the lead climber, and they are great for top roping. They give you precise control when lowering. Good for abseiling and used by route setters in conjunction with an Ascension (see below) as with that set up it enables you to ascend, hold in one position and descend very easily. A Grigri works by a cam pivots to pinch the rope. For use with single ropes between 10 and 11 mm in diameter

    Read about their correct use at www.petzl.com:

  • Ascension (Jumar): The standard handled ascender, used for 'jugging' up ropes and commonly used on big walls, and on fixed ropes when alpine climbing (and of course for caving). An ascender employs a cam which allows the device to slide freely in one direction. Angled teeth on the cam provide extra grip on wet or icy ropes - but beware, if a force in excess of 400 kg is applied the teeth can rip the sheath off your rope, as demonstrated by below.

    +lyon18, 118 kb
    but beware, if a force in excess of 400 kg is applied the Ascension teeth can rip the sheath off your rope

    You can find out more about Petzl pullies, ascenders, descenders, and belay devices, with instructions for use, at www.petzl.com

    +Petzl Devices, 107 kb
    Petzl Devices
    UKC Articles
    © Petzl

    Crevasse Rescue Kit

    I knew very little about Crevasse Rescue and I guess I'm not alone. So was grateful to have a practical session using the Petzl Cravasse Rescue Kit. Crevasse Rescue Kit +Petzl Crevasse Rescue Kit, Products, gear, insurance Premier Post, 3 weeks at £70pw, 107 kb
    The Petzl Crevasse Rescue Kit

    The Crevasse Rescue Kit contains a Mini Traxion, 2 OK screw-lock carabiners, a tibloc, an oscillante pulley, and a 120 cm St'Anneau sling all packed in a small case. Apparantly this is all you need for crevasse rescue except the knowledge and experience to use it. Chris and John gave us the low down on how to rig a rescue, setting up a pulley system and using a 'progress capture device', like the Mini Traxion or tibloc. We went through hauling someone out of a crevasse whilst conscious in which they can assist, then hauling someone out of a cravasse who is unconscious and finally, self-rescue, which is basically ascending yourself out of a crevasse. This is one piece of useful kit that definately needs a video showing how to use it, and then you need to go out and practice. Of course though Petzl do provide us with some tips: www.petzl.com...this is a pdf

    photo
    Crevasse Rescue 1
    UKC Articles
    © Petzl

    But out of this demonstration, and after talking to Plas y Brenin and Lyon Equipment came the idea to run an alpine rope skills course, through UKClimbing.com, at Plas y Brenin, that focusess on:

    • crossing a glacier
    • crevasse rescue
    • moving together over steep ground
    • protecting a leader when moving together

    We will keep you posted.

    +Paul Cornthwaite explaining, quite passionately, what bits of cow hide are used to make La Sportiva mountain boots, 216 kb
    Paul Cornthwaite explaining, quite passionately, what bits of cow hide are used to make La Sportiva mountain boots
    UKC Articles, Mar 2009
    © Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com

    +At the end of the course there were some samples. This is an Aquapac., 36 kb
    At the end of the course there were some samples. This is an Aquapac.
    UKC Articles, Oct 2009
    © Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com
    There were two, two day courses attended by a nearly 100 outdoor shop sales associates from Cotswolds, George Fisher, Rock On, Mountain Intelligence, Up and Under, V12 Outdoor, The Climbers Shop, Angling and Outdoor, Outdoor Traders, Outside, Altimus, Boulders Indoor Climbing, Jackson Sports, Trekitt Mountain Sports of Hereford and 914 Outdoor all investing in their staff so that they can serve the great climbing and outdoor public better.

    I learnt a great deal myself and hopefully some of the information in this article will be of use to some.

    Lyon Equipment and Plas y Brenin will be running another Gear Seminar next February. If you work or own a shop and you or your staff want to go on the course get in touch with Lyon Equipment.

    The Examination

    Name ........................... Date........................
    25 Questions 20 minutes

    Please read through the questions carefully. Please note there maybe more than one correct answer.

    1. What does the abbreviation 'HFL' stand for?

    High Frequency Lighting or Hands Free Lighting or Helpful Friendly Lighting

    2. All Petzl torches with an incandescent bulb include a spare?

    True or False

    3. What does the abbreviation 'L.E.D.' stand for?

    Long Energy Duration or Light Efficient Durable or Light Emitting Diode

    4. Ingress Protection (IP) If you saw the following marks on packaging what would they mean to you?


    IPXX
    IP56
    IPX8

    5. Lumen is a measure of:

    Overall quantity of light or Total distance or Power Output or Wattage

    6. Below which level of light do Petzl define a headtorch no longer effective?

    0.25 of a lux or 2.5 lux or 25 lux or 1.25 lux

    7. Do Petzl recommend that you put stickers on Petzl helmets?

    Yes or No

    8. Petzl's female harnesses are shaped specifically to fit the female body. Please tick the correct statement.


    A. Small waist, increased rise, larger leg loops
    B. Small waist, reduced rise, reduced leg loops
    C. Large waist, increased rise, reduced leg loops

    9. When using a Petzl harness a lead rope should be tied into the green belay loop?

    True or False

    10. On a Petzl harness the trail line loop at the rear of the harness is suitable for:

    A. hanging a chalk bag
    B. towing a trail line
    C. attaching to the belay

    11. What system would you recommend for children / very light adults participating in Via Ferrata?

    Scorpio Lanyard
    Zyper Lanyard
    Rope together

    12. When selling and fitting crampons to customer's boots it is recommended that you:

    A. Have the customer's boots to hand
    B. Understand the customer's requirement of the crampon (what activity)
    C. Confirm crampon / boot compatibility

    13. Please draw the symbol for a single rope.

    14. What is the main reason to use a dynamic rope for mountaineering and climbing?

    A. It is as tough as a steel cable
    B. It has the ability to stretch when shock loaded
    C. It is lighter in weight
    D. It has brighter colours

    15. What is the standard factor fall value for the drop tests of a dynamic rope in lab conditions?

    2.77
    1.77
    7.77 1

    16. Which La Sportiva rock shoes are board lasted?

    Scorpion Cliff 5
    Rock Jock
    None

    18. What is IBS?

    International Boot Standard
    Impact Brake System
    Irritable Bowel Syndrome
    Italian Branded Shoes

    19. What mountain range is Spantik in?

    Andes
    Dolomites
    Alps
    Rockies
    Himalayas

    20. How much UV is filtered out by Julbo lenses?

    0%
    27%
    100%

    21. How long does it take for a Zebra lens to change from a Cat. 2 to a Cat. 4?

    22-28secs
    53-72secs
    2-5mins

    22. Which statement is correct?

    A. Jetboil is compatible with valves made to the EN417 specification
    B. Jetboil can only be used with Jetpower canisters
    C. Jetboil can be plugged into mains power

    23. Exped Synmat. Please answer true or false to the following statements:

    A. The synthetic filling is laminated to both the top and bottom of the mat
    B. They are as warm as the down mat
    C. The warmth to weight ratio is superior when compared to standard SIM mats

    24. An Ortlieb product is dirty. How can a customer clean it?

    Warm Water and mild soap
    Solvents and cleaning agents
    Put it in the washing machine It cannot be cleaned

    25. Every case sealed with a patented Aquaclip® seal tested 100% waterproof to at least 0.5 bar, which is equivalent to a depth of?

    1 Metre
    3 Metres
    5 Metres
    100 Metres

    +Jim of V12 in one of the practical sessions., 206 kb
    Jim of V12 in one of the practical sessions.
    UKC Articles, Mar 2009
    © Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com
    +Steve McClure using a Petzl Grigri and Ascension to ascend: used a by route setters at climbing walls, photog and new routers., 164 kb
    Steve McClure using a Petzl Grigri and Ascension to ascend, this system is commonly used by route setters at climbing walls, climbing photographers and new routers
    Forums ( Read More... | 6 comments, 23 Nov 2009 )
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