April Fool’s Day Innovations

I love April Fool’s Day! It’s the most innovative day of the year. Outdoor gear makers conjure up all sorts of fanciful new products. Of course, they are meant to be jokes. But, I think they are more than just jokes. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Here’s a round-up of crazy, dumb, and wonderful ideas.

SealLine SealMesh Dry Bags. Link

Mad Rock Antigravity. Link

Outdoor Research Bavarian Lederhosen

Climbing Magazine New Climbing Grade Scale

Ibex DFF

Yeti Ridicooler

Yeti Casket Cooler

ENO AquaNest Hammock. Link
ENO Aqua Hammock

ENO Bacon Hammock
ENO Bacon Hammock

Vibram FiveFingers Cycling Shoe, the PentiCleat. Link
Bare Foot Cycling

Sierra Designs Down Balaclava. Link
Sierra Designs Mask

Biolight AnglerForm. Link
BioliteAngler

Treestuff.com double-biner. Link
Double Gate Biner

ASICS GEL-Turbo AUTORUN. Link
Asics Gel Turbo

Timbuk2 Dehydration Pack

CamelBak Closed Loop Hydration System. Link
camelbak1

Oakley 1 Eye-Con
Oakly Eye Con

Mountain House Haggis. Link
Haggis Mtn House

Chaco Barefoot Z. Link
chaco-barefoot-z_fe

Coors Energy Beer. Link
Energy-Beer-2-700x423

Salomon MTN Blade.

Alpkit Half kit. Link
halfmug_456_456auto

X-Kit, X-Barp Jacket.

REI Adventure Kitten Gear. Link
rei kitten gear

REI Gulliver Tiny Tent
Rei tiny tentREI Gulliver tiny tent

Lowest setting—1". I don't know why it goes down to one inch. Version 2 will probably move it up to about 4" and raise the upper limit to about 12".

Squeeze Box

Here’s the squeeze box I built. It packs down to fit inside itself for easy storage and transport. We tested it at a grotto meeting and there are several things I will upgrade on the next version. But, overall it worked well. We stressed it pretty hard and it held together. If you have more questions, please shoot me an email: scott@swaygogear.com.

Squeeze box packed up and ready for storage or transport. All the components fit inside. It weighs about 70lbs.

Squeeze box packed up and ready for storage or transport. All the components fit inside. It weighs about 70lbs.

Open the lid to find all the components.

Open the lid to find all the components.

All of the parts. Top, bottom, left side, right side, top braces, pins, and bolts.

All of the parts. Top, bottom, left side, right side, top braces, pins, and bolts. The top and bottom pieces are 2′ x 4′.

The bolts are 1/4" with three large washers, lock washer and a nut. I need to cut off about an inch. There's no need for them to be so long.

The bolts are 1/4″ with three large washers, lock washer and a nut. I need to cut off about an inch. There’s no need for them to be so long.

Detail of how to assemble the bolt and washers. There must be a washer in the center to add a smidge of space so the top will move up and down easily.

Detail of how to assemble the bolt and washers. There must be a washer in the center to add a smidge of space so the top will move up and down easily.

Bolt the sides into the bottom.

Bolt the sides into the bottom.

Tilt the bottom up to bolt the other side together.

Tilt the bottom up to bolt the other side together.

Sides are attached. The holes are 3/8" diameter and spaced 1/2" apart. The adjacent holes are offset by 1/4" to allow for 1/4" increments. On version two there will probably be three or four rows of holes instead of two and they will be spaced farther apart. 1/8" between holes is not enough.

Sides are attached. The holes are 3/8″ diameter and spaced 1/2″ apart. The adjacent holes are offset by 1/4″ to allow for 1/4″ increments. On version two there will probably be three or four rows of holes instead of two and they will be spaced farther apart. 1/8″ between holes is not enough.

Top braces installed on pegs. Top installed at the highest setting—11".

Top braces installed on pegs. Top installed at the highest setting—11″.

Lowest setting—1". I don't know why it goes down to one inch. Version 2 will probably move it up to about 4" and raise the upper limit to about 12".

Lowest setting—1″. I don’t know why it goes down to one inch. Version 2 will probably move it up to about 4″ and raise the upper limit to about 12″.

Shrimplify

Shrimplify

 

Shrink + Simplify = Shrimplify

One of the innovation and design goals for Swaygo is to create products that are smaller and simpler—we shrimplify.

Smaller packs are easier to maneuver and carry increase efficiency and saves energy for more more important tasks. Smaller gear fits in smaller packs. The volume of gear can be as important as the weight. Shrimplify for efficiency.

Light Feet

“A pound on the foot equals five on the back.”

Here’s a great post from the Chris Townsend Outdoors blog about how the weight of your boots affect your walking. He writes about how cutting your shoe weight can dramatically increase your endurance, ability to avoid injury and enjoyment. He even tackles the old myth about heavy boots offering ankle support. Lots of good info that can be crossed-over to caving.

Billy Boot soleI weighed all the boots I could find. Size 9-10, one boot, not the pair.

  • MuckBoots Wetlands: 2lb 6oz
  • Servus XLP (tall, rubber): 2lb 15oz
  • Bata Boots: 1lb 10oz
  • Garmont leather and fabric hiking boots: 1lb 13oz
  • Wal-Mart cheapie, rubber boots: 2lb 2oz
  • XtraTuff rubber boots: 2lb 3oz
  • Joop Boots: 1lb 9oz
  • Desert Combat Boots: 1lb 2oz

My next caving boots will probably be a pair of Billy Boots. One pound each. Made from the same type of material as Crocs. Reviews suggest they last longer than rubber boots.

Variable Friction

How to use the greatest feature of a rappel rack.

Scott McCrea NSS#40839RL

​Out-of-control rappels, feeding rope, frustration, and exhaustion are possible results of improper rappel rack use. The friction between a rack and a rope varies throughout a rappel and needs to be adjusted in order to control a rappeller’s speed. Rope length, diameter, construction, materials, condition, and age are a few of the ways the rope can affect the friction. The angle of the descent and pack weight also requires adjustments. Variable friction makes it possible to use a rack on drops of nearly any length.

A standard 14-inch, 6-bar, "J"-shaped rack. Note: this rack is oriented parallel to the viewer.

A standard 14-inch, 6-bar, “J”-shaped rack. Note: this rack is oriented parallel to the viewer.

​Investigations have shown that improper friction variation and control have contributed to many rappelling accidents. Feeding rope, or pushing rope into the rack, is one improper technique. This will reduce the friction and allow the rack to move, but it can be difficult and result in exhaustion and frustration which leads to bad decisions. A bar accidentally getting pushed off or dropped is also a dangerous possibility when feeding rope.

For clarity, this article will feature the standard, 14-inch, six-bar, “J”-shaped rappel rack (Figure 1) oriented perpendicularly to the body.

​Figure 8s, ATCs, bobbins, micro-racks, “U”-shaped racks, and other rappel devices offer either non-variable (static) friction or limited variable friction. These devices work great in certain situations but do not have the versatility and adjustment options of a standard rack.

​Rappel racks create friction in two ways: First, with surface contact between the rope and the bars. Second, with the bending of the rope around the bars.

​There are three ways to vary the friction with a rack:

  1. ​​Increase or decrease bar spacing.
  2. ​​Adjust the rope entry angle.
  3. ​​Drop or add bars.
Fig 2. Squeezing the bars together creates more friction, spreading them creates less friction.

Fig 2. Squeezing the bars together creates more friction, spreading them creates less friction.

Bar spacing refers to the amount of space between the bars. Squeezing the bars together creates less space and more friction, slowing a rappeller’s speed. Spreading the bars apart creates more space and less friction, increasing speed. Adjusting the space between the bottom two or three bars is the most effective technique for varying friction (Figure 2). Only the last two bars need to be spread or squeezed. Trying to spread the bars above is difficult and they quickly slide back up to where they were. Always adjust bar spacing before and after making other changes such as the rope entry angle or dropping/adding bars.

​Rope entry angle adjustments vary how much of the rope touches the last bar. The angle can be adjusted so the rope only touches a tiny part of the bar or touches/wraps around the full bar. This variation is usually done by moving the rope to the left or right, which will change the entry angle and add or remove a half-bar of friction on the last bar (Figure 3). Placing the rope between the rappeller’s legs will also adjust the rope entry angle.

Adjusting the rope entry angle will add or subtract a half-bar's worth of friction. This is much easier to do on a rack that is oriented  perpendicularly to the rappeller, as shown here.

Adjusting the rope entry angle will add or subtract a half-bar’s worth of friction. This is much easier to do on a rack that is oriented perpendicularly to the rappeller, as shown here.

Dropping bars is done by unclipping the last bar and sliding it all the way down the long leg of the rack. Dropping bars should be done so that only a half-bar worth of friction is removed. For example, bars should only be dropped if the rope is only touching the top half of the bar instead of wrapping all the way around the full bar. Dropping full bars can reduce the available friction by not just one bar, but by 1½ bars. For example, if a rack is rigged with six full bars and the sixth bar is removed, the available friction instantly decreases to 4½ bars (Figure 4).

To reduce friction, follow these steps in order, one at a time, until the desired amount of friction is reached.

  1. ​​Spread bars.
  2. ​​Adjust rope-entry angle by moving rope to other side of the rack.
  3. ​​Spread bars.
  4. ​​Remove last bar.
  5. ​​Start over at 1.
Fig 4. Removing the bottom bar of a 6-bar rack reduces the friction to an equivalent of 4 1/2 bars.

Fig 4. Removing the bottom bar of a 6-bar rack reduces the friction to an equivalent of 4 1/2 bars.

When more friction is needed, adjust the entry angle for more contact with the last bar, or add a bar.

​Ideally, friction should be adjusted so that the last bar needs to be spread and held down to maintain the optimum speed. In addition to a smooth ride, this technique can provide a safety function. If the bar being held down is released, it should automatically get pulled up, squeezing the bars together and slowing the speed.

​As a rule of thumb, never rappel with less than four bars. If four bars is too much friction, this is the cave gods telling you something is wrong. Stop and figure out what it is or go home.

​Gripping the rope with the off-rack hand, pulling the rope around the hip, and a bottom belay are a few of the methods that can affect the friction from outside the rack. Using them does not take advantage of the variable friction feature of a rack. These and similar methods come at the cost of efficiency. And, depending on the situation, they may not always be an available option.

Fig 5. The two types of "J"- shaped rack frames.

Fig 5. The two types of “J”- shaped rack frames.

The most efficient way to take advantage of a rack’s options is to orient it perpendicularly to the rappeller’s body-looking at the ends of the bars with the short leg away. This makes it possible to easily move the rope to adjust rope entry angles and drop or add bars (see Figure 3). “J”- shaped rack frames are available with either a straight or twisted (90º) eye to accommodate different style harnesses (Figure 5). Most caving harnesses are best coupled with a twisted-eye rack.

​“U” shaped racks only offer limited variable friction. The bars can be spread and squeezed but dropping bars can be dangerous. Because the rope is trapped in the “U”, dropping a bar can result in the loss of 1½ bars of friction. This is a huge jump in the amount of friction available and can easily lead to problems.

​Rappel racks are the most versatile descending device ever created. They have been successfully used on drops from 4 to 4000 feet. They are infinitely adjustable when used efficiently and properly.

Biner vs. Rack Lever

Recently, on the Vertical Cavers Facebook page, there was a post about breaking a crossloaded biner with a rack eye. There are documented incidents and fatalities. I even tried it a few years ago, unsuccessfully. Of course, this means I had to try it again. This time, I was successful. I actually broke three biners with just my body weight.

Here’s the best one and with some biners that I could not get to break.

Here’s the video of Brian breaking a biner.

Equipment used:
11mm PMI Max-Wear rope
SMC 14″ straight-eye rack with SS, U-shaped bars. (my twisted-eye rack is out on loan)
Petzl Omni (half-round)
Petzl caving harness
QAS (ascender safety)
Me, about 150 pounds.

Carabiners that broke:
Two SMC Locking D Bright, aluminum. These were dirty and probably 17 years old.
One Omega Locking D, aluminum. Also, dirty and old.

Carabiners that didn’t break:
Petzl Attache. The pear shape forced the Omni (half-round) against the gate, counteracting the leverage.
Omega Locking D. Same as the one that broke. This one didn’t.
Mad Rock Ultra-Tech HMS Screw. Again, the pear shape prevented the leverage.
SMC Locking D Bright. Same as the one that broke, except clean.

Conclusion:

This type of failure is rare. Yes, the collars broke, but I still would not call it an equipment problem. It’s more of a technique problem. A simple Rappel Test should prevent this.

The are other ways to prevent this failure. Some locking carabiners use beefier collars. You could use a screwlink instead of a carabiner. This option could potentially cause problems as screwlinks can jam or require a wrench to open. Connecting the rack eye directly to the half-round is possible, but can cause big problems when changing over while using a ropewalker system. Opposite and opposed biners are safer, but also a hassle. My current favorite option is the Black Diamond Gridlock carabiner. It isolates the rack eye away from the gate.

No matter what, do the Rappel Test. Everytime!