The Ferrata Set is the peculiar personal protection device of via ferrata. Its operation is specifically designed to limit the damage of a possible fall. The operating principle is based on a heat sink connected to our harness and to the safety chain by means of carabiners specially constructed for via ferrata. In this article we will briefly explain the principles with which the via ferrata sets are built and we will explore the differences and characteristics of the various models on the market. There is the possibility of building your own via ferrata set but we feel strongly advised against it for anyone who is not highly experienced: just a mistake, the set does not work properly and the consequences can be fatal.
We have written a specific article with formulas and insights on this important aspect a this link. However, before choosing a Ferrata Set we suggest to get a basic idea of the concept of Fall Factor and of Stopping Force so as to understand why these aspects are key to our safety.
Whether we fall into climbing or via ferrata, when we get stuck we will feel a tug, a blow. This force that our body undergoes is the Stopping Force. Climbing and via ferrata material is designed to transmit Stop Forces within the limits that the human body is able to sustain.
The Fall Factor is a positive number that measures the severity that can cause a fall. We are not going into the various cases in this article, but fall factors of less than 1 are generally ok, above 1 they can create dangers for safety. In mountaineering the fall factor 2 is never exceeded. In via ferrata you can potentially exceed the factor 2 and reach very high values (eg: 5 or 6).
High Fall Factors may result serious damage and injury'hiker, especially in the back, during a fall arrest. To limit the consequences of a fall it is necessary to reduce the energy that is "passed" to the hiker during the arrest. The device invented for this is the heatsink. This device dissipates some of the energy generated by the fall before it reaches the walker. The device is placed between the harness of the hiker and the carabiners. For more information on this aspect, click here.
There are two principles with which heat sinks are produced: slab and tear. Let's analyze them.
The slab heat sink uses a metal device in which there are holes through which the rope is slid. The dynamic string passes through the narrow holes and runs only if subjected to a force. To scroll it creates friction. This friction dissipates the energy of the fall until the rope stops flowing. At that point the remaining energy will be discharged onto the harness, then to the hiker. This heat sink principle is the first to have been invented and has mainly a pro with respect to the tear-away heat sinks: following a fall it is possible to place the heat sink in its working state by sliding the rope back into the holes. If we had a pull-off heatsink, to maintain the same level of safety following a fall in mid-via ferrata, we should replace the Ferrata Set. Among the pre-built Ferrata Sets we highlight the Kong KKR and CT Climbing Technology Classic K-Set.
The recessed heat sink dissipates the energy by tearing the seams on a sling. The tape is rolled up inside a container and the tape has seams that, if torn, unroll the tape until the next seam. After the lacerations, the residual energy is discharged on the harness, then on the hiker. These sets are generally lighter than slab sets and should always be replaced following a fall.
Speaking of Ferrata set carabiners you need to make two clarifications: the first about safety and the type of carabiner, the second about ease of use.
Although with the recent proliferation of pre-assembled Via Ferrata Sets the problem is much less, it is worth specifying that Via Ferrata carabiners are not just simple carabiners nor carabiners commonly used in mountaineering or climbing. The via ferrata carabiners have the name K (from German klettersteig) and have two characteristics of their own: they must avoid accidental opening but be comfortable to be opened frequently (which is not the case of traditional rings) and must have greater resistance than normal carabiners due to the high cutting forces that can be generated in the contact between the taproof and the carabiner during a fall.
The pre-assembled via ferrata sets take both of these aspects into consideration and we will find carabiners that favor opening and prevent accidental openings as well as the forces that are able to withstand are greater compared to simple carabiners (for example those for climbing) . Despite the recent developments of the carabiners, the effect of cutting forces is one of the weak points of the current equipment, leaving some residual risks on the seal in case of a fall. On the cutting forces, two considerations: during the recent maintenance of old roads as well as in the creation of new routes, rubber cones are inserted above the nailsum through which the metal cable passes. These rubber cones act specifically to prevent the carabiner from hitting the taproot diagonally with the risk of breakage. Another progress made is on the arrangement of the metal cable. In the so-called French via ferratas, the metal cable follows a loop above each taproot so that, in the event of a fall, the carabiner reaches the loop and not the taproot. In conclusion, for via ferrata sets specific K-hooks for via ferrata must be used.
Among the K carabiners on the market, the two most popular models are one ring with spring then a pressure system. The first type uses a ring nut which, instead of the classic rotation-unscrewing system by rotation, uses a spring that closes if it is not pushed downwards. Among the models that still use the spring ring system, we point out Camp Kinetic and CT CLIMBING TECHNOLOGY Classic K-Spring.
The pressure system is very convenient: to open the carabiner you will need to tighten the carabiner towards the palm of your hand. Without the pressure against the palm of the hand, the carabiner does not open. It is the opinion of the writer of the article that i snap hooks are more comfortable during progression and advisable. Proof of this is the market trend that sees them much more present than the spring nuts.
The relatively recent development of greatest interest is the rotary connection between the two lanyards and the sink. Anyone who has traveled a via ferrata has found that, if you do not pay attention to follow a specific sequence, the lanyards tend to roll up and regularly have to unravel. The major producers of mountain material have made available Ferrata Sets that rotate avoiding twisting. Among the models that currently have this feature we point out Petzl Scorpio Easyhook, CAMP Kinetic Gyro Rewind Pro and SALEWA Set Via Ferrata Ergo Texx.
Until 2017/2018, the EN958 standard that the Ferrata Set producers had to follow provided that the sets were designed for a weight between 50Kg and 80Kg with a maximum rope slip of 1.2m and a Stop Force of less than 6kN. These specifications indicate the maximum force generated during stopping if the wearer of the sink has a weight between 50 and 80 Kg. If the weight is lower, the generated Stop Force is higher. If the weight is greater the Set could yield. Needless to say, there are individuals with weight not included between those values and the safety for these subjects was inevitably reduced.
From 2017 a new regulation was introduced (EN958: 2017) which requires extending the weight range within which the Sets work: the lower limit is now 40Kg (only the hiker's weight) and the upper limit is now 120Kg (including equipment and clothing). To make possible the construction of Ferrata Sets for these weights, the sliding was abroad at 2.2m. With a longer sliding length, more energy can be dissipated.
Let's analyze some practical aspects. The sets prior to this new regulation will still remain on the market and will not create problems for adults weighing between 50 and 80 kg and maintaining their safety features. The new sets are therefore necessary for children and for heavy individuals who, including the equipment, do not exceed 120Kg. Among the growing number of models that follow the new legislation we highlight the models CAMP Kinetic and CAMP Kinetic Rewind as well as the Petzl Scorpio Easyhook.
Having listed some important safety factors that can guide our choice, we indicate two that are specific to progression comfort. Let's talk about lanyards.
On the market there are lanyards in extensible tape or fixed length. Opinion of the writer of the article, le extendable lanyards they are more comfortable when not used during the climb. In the connection sections, we will attach the lanyard snap hooks to the harness material carriers or to the backpack chest straps. In this case, the webbing will not hang between our legs. For the same concept, while climbing along the via ferrata, the tapes will not have an excessive slack and will tend to follow us more. Among the various models available we point out CAMP Vortex Rewind Pro and CT CLIMBING TECHNOLOGY hook-it.
Another aspect that is worth considering is the maximum length / extension of the lanyard, also based on our height. I remember when I crossed the second suspension bridge of the Ferrata delle Aquile, I agreed that the lanyards of my Ferrata set were shorter than that of my climbing companion and the progression was more uncomfortable for me. In principle, a longer lanyard is better than a shorter one.
Notwithstanding that the Ferrata Sets we buy from the most common brands are approved and that safety remains a fundamental starting point for our choice, depending on the frequency with which we travel via ferrata and our willingness to spend. In 2019 we see three price ranges for via ferrata sets.
THE more basic and less expensive models they will generally have a mix of fixed tapes, maybe not wide ring-shaped carabiners. Taking into account the weight for which they are designed (see above), from a safety point of view we will not have to worry, only the progression will be a little more cumbersome. These models are generally priced less than € 70 . These models include:
The most Ferrata Set models available on the market has a price between 70 and 100 €. They are generally built with extendable lanyards and snap-hooks, weight and measures that can vary between the various manufacturers. Among the numerous models available on the market we point out the most common among those of the various producers:
The models of Ferrata set with anti-twist system they are currently the top of the market. They have a price that is generally greater than € 100 . The extra price we pay is for a faster progression avoiding to find ourselves having to untangle the lanyards. Among these recent models we note xxx
Although we have written a separate article on the subject of children on via ferrata, we conclude the article talking about the Ferrata set for children. The Ferrata Sets that meet the latest standards are designed to dissipate energy up to 40 kg in weight. This indicates that from 40 kg the heat sink will function properly and dissipate the energy produced during the fall. There are many models that respond to this new legislation, among which we highlight the Kinetic and Kinetic Rewind of the Camp.
What happens instead if a child weighs less than 40Kg? The heatsink is not guaranteed to start up. As indicated above, the consequences can be serious so, if you carry children weighing less than 40 kg on a via ferrata, you will need to further secure the child with a piece of rope and proceed alternating so that the person in front of the child can secure him to the rope and brake it in the event of a fall.