Rack recommendations

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Rack recommendations

Postby jmo » Apr 18, 2006 12:17 pm

I think it’s time for me to buy a rack. I was hoping you could point me in the right direction as to which one you prefer. I’ll be using it with a PMI Max-Wear 11mm static line.

Thanks for your advice! I appreciate it!
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Postby Scott McCrea » Apr 18, 2006 12:31 pm

You can't go wrong with the standard length SMC rack with SS U-shaped bars. It's the classic go anywhere, do anything rack. Just be sure to get the appropeiate rack eye--straight (flat) or twisted (90 degree turn).

Micro Racks are for cavers that have mastered the techniques of rack usage. Full size racks are much more forgiving.

U-shaped, full size racks are worthless, IMO.

Aluminum bars are lighter weight. SS bars last longer.

Shorter racks, like the Petzl 5 bar rack, have less space to spread the bars, thus not as much variable friction as in a larger rack.
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Re: Rack recommendations

Postby hank moon » Apr 18, 2006 1:35 pm

jmo wrote:I think it’s time for me to buy a rack. I was hoping you could point me in the right direction as to which one you prefer. I’ll be using it with a PMI Max-Wear 11mm static line.


Get a BMS micro rack - they are so much nicer to carry/handle than full size racks. Full size racks give no advantage for routine caving. Choice between long and short micro rack depends on your weight and the kind of caving you do. Generally speaking, the long model will be more versatile and easy to use.

If you are already skilled in rappelling (and there's not that much to it) and understand the limitations of your chosen device, there is no reason to go through a "training device" stage IMO.

Besides, the rack is a poor device to train/begin on. Better to learn rappelling with a straight friction device to learn the proper reflexes and importance of the brake hand. Too many cavers become over-dependent on the rack and then have difficulty adapting to situations where rack use may be problematic or impossible.

If you decide on the overkill option, hard to beat the SMC frame, but the BMS tubular bars are more comfy in the hand than the SMC stamped/bent ones. Prettier, too.

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Re: Rack recommendations

Postby Scott McCrea » Apr 18, 2006 2:37 pm

With all due respect, Hank. I have to disagree with a couple things.

hank_moon wrote:Get a BMS micro rack - they are so much nicer to carry/handle than full size racks. Full size racks give no advantage for routine caving. Choice between long and short micro rack depends on your weight and the kind of caving you do. Generally speaking, the long model will be more versatile and easy to use.


Micro Racks are great. But the margin for error is significantly smaller compared to a full size rack. I suggest getting comfortable with a full size rack first. Learn how to properly manage variable friction, then try out a Micro.

If you are already skilled in rappelling (and there's not that much to it) and understand the limitations of your chosen device, there is no reason to go through a "training device" stage IMO.


There are lots of skills in rappelling. Few take the time to learn them. Even fewer practice them.

Skipping training because someone may think they understand is foolish. But there are a lot of fools out there. I'm one of them. I skipped steps and regretted it because I had to go back later and try to unlearn bad habits that improper training caused. Save time in the long run--do it right the first time.

Besides, the rack is a poor device to train/begin on. Better to learn rappelling with a straight friction device to learn the proper reflexes and importance of the brake hand. Too many cavers become over-dependent on the rack and then have difficulty adapting to situations where rack use may be problematic or impossible.


Golly! I have to completely disagree with that whole paragraph. Straight friction and variable friction devices require a different set of skills. Mixing techniques will and has caused problems and accidents. Cavers should learn how to properly use both types. I have seen lots of people using the techniques they learned on a Fig 8 (brake hand) while using a rack. It's possible to do, but a tremendous waste of a good device.
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Postby nordicjw » Apr 18, 2006 2:49 pm

Looks like I may be jumping in the middle of something, but you asked for choises. I use a BMS micro rack - long model with dual hyper bars and am very happy with it. As with other topics, see if you can borrow/try different devices, see how they work, how comfortable you are with them. Step 1 you already did ask for advise, weight everyones pros and cons. Just remember you are the end user.
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Postby Stridergdm » Apr 18, 2006 8:17 pm

Best bet, if you can, is borrow different devices from different people.

For example, many people prefer a camming device. I personally don't like them, but have only used them once or twice.

I'm on a micro-rack now (forget the brand) and love it. I've used it on up to 360' drops w/o problems. I still have a full size rack I use for rescue practice (and in theory actual rescue if we get any stuck spelunkers around here. :-)
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Re: Rack recommendations

Postby NZcaver » Apr 18, 2006 8:19 pm

Wow - some discussion here! :tonguecheek:

JMO - WHERE will you be caving? You have no state/location listed in your profile. Specifically, what are the average and longest pitch lengths you anticipate doing?

Scott and Hank - I agree (and disagree) with parts of what each of you said.

hank_moon wrote:Get a BMS micro rack - they are so much nicer to carry/handle than full size racks. Full size racks give no advantage for routine caving. Choice between long and short micro rack depends on your weight and the kind of caving you do. Generally speaking, the long model will be more versatile and easy to use.

Agree. :big grin:

Scott McCrea wrote:Micro Racks are great. But the margin for error is significantly smaller compared to a full size rack. I suggest getting comfortable with a full size rack first. Learn how to properly manage variable friction, then try out a Micro.

Disagree (but will keep an open mind). I know a number of cavers who feel the same way you do about this, but I feel the opposite applies. How exactly is the margin for error smaller compared to a full-size? I've used both and yes, I first learned on a U-rack - that was the "norm" where I began caving. Unless it's a special occasion like a really big drop, I still find my full-size SMC J-rack to be rather cumbersome. And so do many beginners, I've noticed. Therefore, I would suggest the micro as a good all-around rack to get - unless you're in the middle of really deep pit country, perhaps. :wink:

hank_moon wrote:If you are already skilled in rappelling (and there's not that much to it) and understand the limitations of your chosen device, there is no reason to go through a "training device" stage IMO.

Disagree. There is a bit more than "not much to it". I'm not suggesting beginners go out and buy multiple descenders, but I think trying different ones out (under supervision) makes for good training that leads to informed choices. Of course many cavers do own multiple descenders (myself included), either because their preferences change or the situation does. What's best for deep pits may not be best for alpine caves with multiple rebelays, for example.

Scott McCrea wrote:There are lots of skills in rappelling. Few take the time to learn them. Even fewer practice them.
Skipping training because someone may think they understand is foolish. But there are a lot of fools out there. I'm one of them. I skipped steps and regretted it because I had to go back later and try to unlearn bad habits that improper training caused. Save time in the long run--do it right the first time.

Also agree. And I guess I probably skipped some steps too, especially starting out self-taught! But there was no damage done and I have no real regrets. Learning is a ongoing process for us all, anyway. Nowadays I think that starting out with the right training and guidance is by far the best way to go - both for safety and enjoyment. :cool:

hank_moon wrote:Besides, the rack is a poor device to train/begin on. Better to learn rappelling with a straight friction device to learn the proper reflexes and importance of the brake hand. Too many cavers become over-dependent on the rack and then have difficulty adapting to situations where rack use may be problematic or impossible.

Disagree. Although I agree that a big J-rack might be less than ideal to begin on (see my comments above), I think a small U-rack like the Micro is quite appropriate for beginners.

Scott McCrea wrote:Straight friction and variable friction devices require a different set of skills. Mixing techniques will and has caused problems and accidents. Cavers should learn how to properly use both types. I have seen lots of people using the techniques they learned on a Fig 8 (brake hand) while using a rack. It's possible to do, but a tremendous waste of a good device.

Agree. For this reason, I don't advocate the Stop descender as an ideal beginner device (but it is MY personal favorite, by the way).

Assuming JMO won't be doing regular drops of several hundred feet or more, I would suggest the BMS micro rack with hyper bar(s). :waving:
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choice of rappel device

Postby mgmills » Apr 18, 2006 9:07 pm

For a beginner an important consideration is what the "trainer" is comfortable with.

My first rack was given to me by someone who didn't like it. It was a "j" rack but more narrow than the standard SMC. It had 6 aluminum bars that were covered with "titanium". I loved that rack but gave it up because I wore through the titanium and couldn't find replacement bars. I have never benn totally comfortable with the standard SMC rack (too wide for my comfort). To me the micro is perfect.

There are pros and cons to all devices. For people with small hands a micro rack may be a better choice . . . if the trainer is familiar with it.

A "standard" rack without "u" bars can be rigged backwards. A micro rack is more difficult to rig backwards.

Best case scenario is to be able to participate in a training session and try out multiple devices. I have taught successfully taught people to rappel with both types of racks - the standard and the micro.
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Re: Rack recommendations

Postby Scott McCrea » Apr 18, 2006 10:23 pm

NZcaver wrote:JMO - WHERE will you be caving?

Yeah, probably the safest option is to use what the people you are caving with are using.

The other thing to consider when making this choice is your climbing system. If you're a Frogger, full-size racks work OK, but, Micro Racks and Stops/Bobbins are ideal for Frog systems.

If you get a Micro Rack, please take the time to figure it out completely, learn the proper/safe techniques, then practice them. What will you do when the four bars and the hyper bar is not enough friction? What will you do when only four bars is too much friction? What will you do in a rescue situation? etc...

You can do a lot of things with a Micro Rack, but you can do more with a full-sized, J-shaped, 6-bar rack.
How exactly is the margin for error smaller compared to a full-size?

It's really more complicated than can be easily described here, but the jist of it is there are only four bars. If for some reason the amount of friction is reduced to less than those four bars, a rappeller will probably be unable to control their descent. With a six-bar rack, a rappeller usually needs to make multiple mistakes to get out of control. With a Micro Rack, blink an eye, and you can be on two bars.

If you're just learning how to drive (rappel), don't take out the spiffy little sports car (micro rack)--take the bigger, cumbersome family car (full-size rack). Then once you feel comfortable, by all means, take the sports car (micro) out for a spin. But keep the family car (full-size) tuned up--you'll need it again.
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Postby hank moon » Apr 18, 2006 11:45 pm

Scott McCrea wrote:With all due respect, Hank. I have to disagree with a couple things.


Ain't much due, I'm afraid :tonguecheek:

Scott McCrea wrote:Micro Racks are great. But the margin for error is significantly smaller compared to a full size rack. I suggest getting comfortable with a full size rack first. Learn how to properly manage variable friction, then try out a Micro.


I don't quite follow the smaller margin for error argument - can you elaborate a bit?

Scott McCrea wrote:There are lots of skills in rappelling. Few take the time to learn them. Even fewer practice them.


True, but these skills are relatively simple and can be readily mastered if one has sufficient motivation and aptitude. It's up to each individual to take the time to learn and practice.

Scott McCrea wrote:Golly! I have to completely disagree with that whole paragraph. Straight friction and variable friction devices require a different set of skills. Mixing techniques will and has caused problems and accidents. Cavers should learn how to properly use both types. I have seen lots of people using the techniques they learned on a Fig 8 (brake hand) while using a rack. It's possible to do, but a tremendous waste of a good device.


I generally agree with what you say above; nevertheless, it is important to develop correct braking reflexes from the start...see THIS THREAD for more on that. Those who are mixing techniques simply don't know what they are doing. Can we hear more about the problems and accidents you refer to? ...any good tales out there?
Last edited by hank moon on Apr 19, 2006 12:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Rack recommendations

Postby NZcaver » Apr 19, 2006 1:44 am

Scott McCrea wrote:If you get a Micro Rack, please take the time to figure it out completely, learn the proper/safe techniques, then practice them.

Yes! :kewl:

What will you do when the four bars and the hyper bar is not enough friction? What will you do when only four bars is too much friction? What will you do in a rescue situation? etc...You can do a lot of things with a Micro Rack, but you can do more with a full-sized, J-shaped, 6-bar rack.

Can't say I've ever found a situation when 4 bars (including hyper bar) doesn't give enough friction - even with a 2-person load (pick-offs). On a thinner rope though, you might start having a problem. When there's too much friction, just feed the rack! :wink: Yes, yes, I know - "don't feed the micro rack". So maybe those bars SHOULD be made so they clip into the frame? I think mine do anyway, but I don't have it on me right now to check. On those really short, sloping, nasty-rope drops (like some in Lech) you can always drop down to 2 bars and hyper-bar. Another terrible habit, I know.
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Regardless, as long as you keep control the "basic way" that Hank mentioned - and can stop on-rope - you should be able to throw on an ascender, and then sort yourself out. This is not the best thing to do on a long drop, but then you'll probably be using your J rack for that - because you can do a lot more with a J rack! :laughing: Get some training, and then practice, practice, practice.

If you're just learning how to drive...

Can't really identify with that one. And not just because I think it's a poor analogy. I learned to drive in a big army truck, not a car. (And yes - when I sat the commercial driving test, they automatically gave me my car license too.) If you really think "bigger is better", did you start out using all that giant equipment that the tree-climbers play with? :?
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Re: Rack recommendations

Postby Ralph E. Powers » Apr 19, 2006 2:39 am

NZcaver wrote: Get some training, and then practice, practice, practice.
That seems to be the key point when learning any descending (or ascending system) device. The ... "more you know" definitely applies here. :grin:
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Postby jmo » Apr 19, 2006 4:03 pm

Wow, you all have some very good suggestions. I apprecaite it.

I'm caving in Colorado and the largest drops I'm doing is about a 100'.
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Postby NZcaver » Apr 19, 2006 4:28 pm

jmo wrote:Wow, you all have some very good suggestions. I apprecaite it.

I'm caving in Colorado and the largest drops I'm doing is about a 100'.

Micro rack. Oh, did I mention that already? :laughing: Or maybe try out a Stop, since you've obviously done some climbing/belaying/rappelling before. :wink:
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Re: choice of rappel device

Postby cob » Apr 19, 2006 8:47 pm

mgmills wrote:For a beginner an important consideration is what the "trainer" is comfortable with.


Best case scenario is to be able to participate in a training session and try out multiple devices. I have successfully taught people to rappel with both types of racks - the standard and the micro.


I have to agree with martha here %100.

I have never used a micro rack (never could justify the money) so just have used a full rack, munter hitch, and "stitch" (?) plate. The main things are good instruction, and familiarity with your choice of device.

As one who has done a free rappel, as one who has lost 2 friends underground... on rope and on rappel, is one of the most dangerous things we do (you only have one point of attachment, and your margin of error is slim... very slim, don't kid yourself about this)

cave safely... cave oftly.

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