Hand Ascender Tips and Benefits

March 30, 2023

By Nate


Are you looking for what is the best hand ascender to invest in for your climbing needs? If so, welcome to Trad Climbers.

A hand ascender is a device used in climbing to assist you with climbing a fixed rope. They attach to the climbing rope, providing teeth that grip it and locking on when weight is applied.

When searching for a hand ascender, there are various types to choose from. Here are some things to consider about them:

What Does a Hand Ascender Do?

A Hand Ascender is an item of climbing equipment designed to enable climbers to move up fixed ropes. Also, free hanging ones. It has a cam lock onto the rope when weight is applied, providing secure grip.

These ascenders are typically used in pairs, one for each hand, and attached to the climber's harness with a lanyard. They often work alongside foot loop or knee ascenders as part of rope walker systems. That being said, can also be used independently on fixed ropes.

Many ascenders feature a wide upper hole for clipping in a single carabiner. In addition, a lower hole that can connect two carabiners. Also, others lack any holes at all and act as clamps that can be pushed on. These types of ascenders are commonly used with pulleys or other hauling systems to gain mechanical advantage. In addition, double as backup rope grabs in rescue situations when pulling directly on the line is difficult.

These ascenders typically feature a softer spring tension than chest or foot ascenders. Thus, allowing them to self-feed the rope without pulling it up as they descend. They can be used in combination with a chest ascender for jugging exercises.

Are Rope Ascenders a Real Thing?

When climbing a rope without risking yourself, an ascender is an ideal solution. It saves your arms and back from exertion, but it's also a practical self-rescue tool in case something goes awry.

Ascenders come in a range of shapes and sizes, but their primary purpose is to hold onto the rope securely. This makes them ideal for big wall climbing, technical climbing and expedition climbing where a fixed rope is necessary.

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Handled ascenders are the most commonly used climbing tool and come from several companies. Petzl's Ascension is perhaps the best all-around handled ascender. It's light weight with an enlarged clipping hole that accepts two carabiners.

Some ascenders are clam-shell design, providing leverage to the rope via a cam. They can be great for slippery or muddy ropes. That being said, opening them usually requires emergency use only. So, should not be relied upon long term for large walls or where you want to jumar fixed ropes.

Hand Ascender with Pulley

Hand ascenders with pulleys are an innovative solution that makes climbing smoother and simpler. When used together with a self-braking descender like the Climbing Technology Sparrow 200R Descender, the working rope runs over an integrated pulley which reduces friction during ascent while speeding up progress.

The Quick Roll from CT is an ergonomic hand ascender with a pulley to assist the ascent of working rope. It has an overmoulded ergonomic handle with increased resistance to wear and tear. In addition, its patented cam opening letter that swings downward with one single motion, operable with one hand.

The Quick Roll has three slots to prevent mud from collecting. Also, reduce effort needed when sliding it up a rope in wet conditions. It also features two attachment holes and an anti-cam system to avoid cam inversion. Also, it is compatible with a quick link. Please be aware that this device does not constitute PPE. So, it should only be used as an aid during rope ascent when used alongside a self-braking descender. Thus, not for lifting people or material.

Can You Descend with a Hand Ascender?

Hand Ascenders are an excellent way to assist in ascending a rope without the use of a climbing harness, and can also be used for descent. To use one, clip its bottom hole onto a pulley carabiner then release from the rope by letting it drop below you.

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The pulley is an effective tool for helping direct the rope as you descend, but it could potentially become problematic if you lose balance and fall off the ascender. To protect against such mishaps, attaching a safety carabiner to the bottom hole of your ascender can serve as a handy backup in case of emergency.

There are plenty of accessories you can attach to your hand ascender, some even offering multifunctional functions. One particularly useful device is the pulley, which allows you to pull down on the rope while reversing its direction – ideal when descending as it saves energy from having to pull up again.

What Hand Ascender Do I Need?

Hand ascenders are one of the most versatile members of climbing gear. They're perfect for rope ascents and rappels, ‘frogging', and other activities. Available in left and right versions with handles designed to make them easier to grip, these hand ascenders offer excellent versatility in your climbing arsenal.

They feature small teeth on the cam for extra grip in wet or icy conditions, though this isn't necessary. Their primary benefit is their size – much less bulky than chest ascenders, making them ideal for carrying around in your bag or on top of your harness if you plan to use them for self-rescue tasks.

A well-designed ascender can be a lifesaver. The best models are user friendly and straightforward to operate, making it effortless to attach or remove your rope without using up too much energy. To find the ideal fit for you, it's wise to borrow or test out different models until you find one that works best.

Climbing Double Pulley

A double pulley is an efficient mechanical device that can be used to lift large loads more quickly than with brute force alone. This reduces both the force needed and distance needed to lift a load to its desired height.

A pulley system consists of a fixed pulley attached to an anchor point and a moveable pulley that connects to the load. To attach the rope, thread its end through both grooves on both wheels.

Once the rope has been attached to an anchor point above your object, pull on it to raise it.

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A single movable pulley can also be employed to reduce force in half, though it lacks the mechanical advantage of a pulley system. Furthermore, this requires more rope than using two movable pulleys because you must pull each end twice as far to lift your load to its desired height.

Hand Ascender with Foot Loop

Hand ascenders with foot loops function similarly to hand and basic ascenders, but are distinguished by a key feature: they attach directly to your climbing boot via foot strap, allowing them to self-feed rope without tension from below.

A suitable foot ascender should have an adjustable foot strap that is long enough for the climber's comfort. Ideally, this distance should extend from the bottom of the loop until their foot is in its highest possible position.

Adjust the rope's length according to the climber's height or weight; too much purchase on the rope can lead to problems as it pulls up, particularly if carrying heavy gear or a large load.

Do Hand Ascenders Damage Rope?

Normal use of a hand ascender does not cause damage to rope, however it can damage its sheath in case of an overload.

An ascender's teeth are razor-sharp and can cut through the sheath of a rope that is not attached to its core (PMI Extreme Pro being one exception). Once this sheath is severed, your rope will slide off the core and you won't have any chance of descending safely.

Additionally, an ascender can cause damage to a kernmantle rope's cover in case of a fall. While this should not be something you are concerned with, it could occur if climbing on dynamic rope.

If you're concerned about this, toothless ascenders such as Gibbs', SMC', Rock Exotica' and Petzl's might be your solution. These require camming action instead of teeth to clamp the rope securely – making them ideal for mountaineering and glacier travel where a toothed device isn't required. However, note that these require two hands to operate which makes them inconvenient when climbing walls or rock-utility climbing.

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