• Climber Tim

There and Back Again - From Petzl ZigZag to DMM Hitch Climber

Recently, the Petzl ZigZag was recalled for slippage of ropes due to links that became 'stiff'. I received the recall email during a quick email check at work, and so I retired the ZigZag for the day and went back to a Hitch Climber System.

Dueling systems - ZigZag and a Hitch

Which was a sudden reversion back, and this gave me a different perspective on the mechanicals vs cord hitches. When things happen suddenly, you really can understand the difference, and especially when comparing things that are both familiar, but in the case of the Hitch Climber MRS, have not been climbed on in awhile.

How was the experience?

My review of the ZigZag is mostly positive- in fact, I believe it is a great piece of kit. I commend all the climbing gear companies that are constantly innovating (think Rock Exotica, DMM, ISC, Treemagineers...etc) and our trade is better, and our climbing ability/physical longevity is extended as a result of these efforts. My gear bag is full of really great products - lots of Petzl Gold, multiple Rope Wrenches, Rock Exotica Pulleys (open faceplates, like really, how awesome is that???), CT Knee Ascenders, and a whole lot of DMM metal- so many of these products are innovatively conceived, and so well executed.

They shiny bits are just mind-blowing.

So, why did I regress? Not just for the day, but after I read the recall, tested my rope for slippage and the links for 'stickiness' (and applied a bit of CAM Lube for good measure)...

After being very sure that the ZigZag was safe... I stayed with the hitch climber.

My 'old-is-new' set up is pretty simple. I have a common red Hitch Climber, some 9mm Bee Line (tied with a Valdotain Tress), and two DMM Oval Carabiners. In other words, nothing fancy. Still, I'm climbing quick and efficiently, and I also identified (and fixed) the problematic 'slack tending' that was causing a sore elbow.

So, here are some of the advantages I've found in my reversion:

#1 Size. I never got used to how 'large' the ZigZag felt. The Hitch Climber is compact, and feels quite a bit less intrusive.

#2 Cross Loading. The ZigZags lack of plyability to cross loading was a little scary to me. Now, with experience and planning (and good climbing technique) you really shouldn't be cross-loading the ZigZag or the Hitch Climber very often. Yet, when it does happen, it feels good to see that hitch cord wrap along the limb than 'wondering' about the integrity of a cross-loaded ZigZag.

#3 Feel. This ties in with #1 somewhat. The feel of the cord in hand when moving through the tree, and most especially when rapelling down, is second to none. Despite using the ZigZag for a year-and-a-half, and with obvious wear in the linkages, the ZigZag still feels a little bit 'on/off'. NOTE: I do manage to soften the ride by using my other hand (not on the linkages) to add friction to the rope and smooth out the operation somewhat.

#5 Mid-line attachable. This isn't so much a thing in the tree as it is during the pre-climb. Before heading up the tree, I have a very specific routine of looking up, planning my route, Tie-in-Point, Rigging Points, work plan (etc). Then, I like to climb that VT on the rope - there is something about tieing the hitch first thing in the AM... weird, but definitely missed with the ZigZag.

Now, there are other things like expense, inspectability...etc. Well, since I own BOTH, expense isn't a thing, and I would absolutely say that, if someone wants to climb on the ZigZag, it is DEFINITELY WORTH IT. Hitch climbers aren't cheap, spliced hitch cord is definitely not cheap, and the ZigZag is a marvel of engineering and it is only fair to pay for that. Fact is, nowadays especially, climbers are paid more than enough money to afford any of the gear on the market.

Inspectability is also a bit of a wash - if you wanted to know if there are microfractures in your ZigZag, I believe it would have to be X-Rayed. However, the same is true if you suspected damage to the Hitch Climber, or the Carabiners. The only part in the system easily inspected is the 'hitch cord' itself. The best defense against damage to either climbing system is knowing your equipment, not 'lending it out' and being mindful of cross loading, dropping/dragging on roads and sidewalks, environmental damage (think salt water, coastal). For example, I do not allow anyone else to pull my ropes, break down my climbing systems, or even carry my gear to the truck. If any part of the climbing system is dropped on a rock- I want to know about it (and be the one who did it!).

So, here I am, a year-and-a-half later, climbing on some tat cord and a hitch climber. It's been a great month, and (like anytime you switch up a piece of gear) the climbing feels fun, and fresh. Will I ever go back to the ZigZag - very possibly. It's a great piece of gear and I love(-ed) using it. I have many other great Petzl Products- the ASAP is one, for example, that is an absolute essential for redundant, two-rope climbing.

But, for now, I'll enjoy the simplicity of the Hitch Climber.

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