A One Year Review of the Petzl ZigZag
A Year with the ZigZag
Okay, let’s talk about the Petzl ZigZag. I bought it from thearboriststore in the Spring of 2020, and used it for one season. At the time, the price was about $350.00 Canadian, and this hasn’t changed much. Going all in on the ZigZag, I decided also to get a new rope (Yale Blue Moon) spliced on one end.
So, $550.00 in device and rope. Yup, not cheap. At the time I was using a well worked-in Teufelberger Drenaline, but figured that I’d save that for pitch-y conifer removals, and so it went into occasional work (but semi-retired).
Now, while I climb a lot (only, really) I do use a variety of different technical methods. I use both Moving-Rope-System (MRS) and Static-Rope-System (SRS) techniques. For MRS, I still use the ZigZag (about 75% of the time) and the Hitch Climber (about 25% of the time). I use a Rope Wrench with Hitch Climber exclusively for SRS, although I have bought a Petzl Chicane that sits in the bottom of my rucksack. I just haven’t bothered to put the Chicane to work yet.
When climbing MRS my primary climbing gear is:
Petzl ZigZag with Yale Blue Moon 11.7mm Rope.
Lower Carabiner DMM Oval. Upper Carabiner (Rope-to-ZigZag) Petzl Am’d.
Harness Tree Motion S.Light
Sterling Adjustable/Retrievable Ring Anchor
Atlas Thermal gloves (year-round).
A more recent development in our company is committing to using 2 safety lines and a redundant TIP. I’m committing to using a 2-rope system, with a redundant anchor, from now on. The job will determine what combination of systems I use, for example:
Conifer, all sizes - MRS (Hitch Climber), Petzl ASAP
Wide canopy deciduous - SRS, SRS
Medium canopy, deciduous - MRS (ZigZag), SRS
Small canopy, deciduous - MRS (ZigZag), Petzl ASAP
In conifers, or single-main-stem deciduous trees, I prefer to use Moving Rope System (MRS with ZigZag) with a Petzl ASAP on a static line.
The Hitch Climber with VT is Fine…
Just saying - I climbed on it for years, and it is definitely not a ‘cut-and-dry’ comparison of one over the other. The reason I even tried the ZigZag is that I was getting shoulder pain as a result of tending rope through what was sometimes tight hitches. I’ve since recognized the source of the shoulder pain, and still use hitches on my lanyard, and have mitigated shoulder pain by ‘breaking’ the hitch, before take up any rope.
However, ‘hitch lock’ is never an issue with the ZigZag- the rope always tends buttery smooth, and almost with no effort. In fact, only on a dry rope, with a new hitch cord and relatively new climbing line, does the Hitch Climber/VT tend so smoothly.
I have never had an issue with the ZigZag not ‘grabbing’- although, admittedly, this has not happened to me with a Hitch Climber, on an MRS, either. There is a tendency, with new, first-use hitch cord, to see some failure for the hitch to grab on SRS. I’ve always spotted it and re-set the hitch, and likely, were I to just ‘let go’, the hitch would engage. However, it can be a bit disconcerting.
… but the Zig Zag has some great features
Tending the ZigZag is a very compelling selling point. For me, it was the selling point. Within a few days of using the Zig Zag, that shoulder pain went away, and my shoulder has been fine ever since. Another positive about the ZigZag is that, frankly, you can’t make a mistake tying it. It’s fixed on the rope. It’s CE Certified. It’s Made in France, by Petzl. They have a bit of a track record, if you haven’t heard of them.
The ZigZag is also very consistent. Whether the ropes are new or used, dirty or clean, wet or dry, clean or sappy (and all variations…) the ZigZag basically works with not too much difference in feel. Which leads to the first real negative for me…
It Doesn’t Feel Like a Hitch, though...
As close as it is to the mechanicals of a climbing hitch, it still feels distinctly mechanical. My issue with mechanical hitches, of any kind, is modulation. They’re either OFF or ON. Mechanicals tend to have a Stop-and-Go feel to them. This can be reduced by adding friction to the system (even a deflection angle in the working end) or using a combination SRS system that takes some more weight off the MRS. Still, it doesn’t feel like a hitch. It is big, bulky, and steel. It lacks the compactness and elegance of the Hitch Climber/VT setup.
And I don’t completely trust it…
Or any mechanicals, for that matter. This may be a bias, but what I don’t like about them is that they can be easy to cross load. While there is some ‘lateral flex’ in the linkages, the Zig Zag device is not without incidents of cracking and failure ( in previous versions). Furthermore, aluminum parts can have very small, difficult to detect fractures, and even sub-surface internal fractures. Hitch Cord is very easy to inspect, and there’s not much pain in tossing a 30.00 piece. Would you feel the same with a 350.00 piece of hardware? Do you have an x-ray for inspecting potential wear and failure points in the device?
With an inexperienced climber, and certainly one that is ‘eager to impress’ and rammy in their climbing techniques, the Stop-and-Go feel of the ZigZag transmits higher loads to the anchor point. I would not recommend putting an inexperienced climber into a system using the ZigZag.
All this, keep in mind that there have been no examples of the 2019+ generation of the ZigZag failing due to metal fatigue/ stresses, despite it being widely used.
It’s not mid-line attachable
That bit kinda sucks. There’s something about tying a hitch, first thing in the morning. There is a zen-ness to tying that climbing hitch, everyday, before running up the tree. With a fixed device on the rope, you don’t get that. Again, furthering the previous point, it is pretty easy to just give a newby climber a rope and ZigZag and let them have at things. However, without the experience behind them, it may be used irresponsibly.
Another related point to this is that you can only have a single spliced line, and you are always using the line from top-to-bottom in the same orientation. This means you are never switching ends, so the tail end of your rope will stay in the bag, and all the wear and tear will be on the tope end of the rope. If you damage the top end, you have to cut and resplice. Switching the top end and bottom end will encourage rope inspection. It will encourage cleaning out the bottom of the climbing bag. It will increase the lifespan of the rope.
Was the Zig Zag worth it…
Or, is the Zig Zag worth 350.00? Yes, absolutely. It isn’t perfect- and no device is - but it is really, really good. Tending your rope with zero friction/effort is a very important quality of this device and not only does it save shoulders, but even a year in, I can’t help but admire how smooth this really works. The Stop-and-Go feel has been reduced, when I use it, by rope deflection and likely just a bit of wear on the linkages and rope. It’s bulky- so you have to be a little more mindful of your climbing routes through the trees. It seems less a hindrance now, than what it was before. It has eliminated the shoulder pain I was experiencing, which I attribute directly to the ZigZag. It is buttery smooth, effortless to tend, and can be used in an SRS configuration with either a Rope Wrench or a Chicane.
I was so impressed with the ZigZag that I’ve since loaded up on a few other Petzl Products, namely the Knee Ascender (which I am still dialing in for comfort) and the Petzl ASAP (which is a wonderful tool, and really opens up 2-rope climbing potential). I really appreciate Petzl corporate culture of selling top-notch equipment, while providing excellent and informative technical information. They are a world-class company, for sure.