Battle for the Best Big Wall Ascender
We compare the two top ascenders, the Black Diamond nForce and the Petzl Ascension. Both work well and each one excelled at different things. Both made ascending ropes not just tolerable, but kinda fun.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
First off, the Petzl Ascension just received a revision and we are testing this new version. If you have the old version and want to see how it compares to the new version, check out our review of the Petzl_Ascension here. Basically the new Petzl is more or less the same as the old Petzl.
Ease of Sliding Up the Rope
Both the nForce and the Ascension performed well, but the Ascension clearly slid up more smoothly. Our hunch for why this is the case: the nForce either A) has a pin at the bottom that rubs against the rope where the Petzl does not, or B) the more agressive camming motion of the nForce made it more likely to get stuck when near full extension.
Ease of Sliding Down the Rope
The nForce, with its "gun trigger," was much easier to slide down the rope when down jumaring. Even when weighted, you just pull back the trigger and it works great. The Petzl, on the other hand, was pretty sticky. Over time we got good at using the Petzl and it was not a big deal. However, the nForce was noticably easier to down jumar.
Neither the Petzl nor the nForce triggers are perfectly intuitive to use at first. But over time, with enough practice, we found that both were about equally as intuitive. We tested both on how many times we could take them on and off the rope in one minute and both scored about the same (15 - 20 times). When using them on El Capitan they also both seemed about the same to use. The nForce has two options for taking it on and off the rope, which was a little confusing at first, but we got used to it over time. Chris McNamara handed the Petzl to a friend who had only used the nForce up until then. He found the Petzl hard to use. So it is clear that what you are used to will be the easiest at first. Over time we found both worked about the same.
The nForce has a more comfortable grip than the Petzl. The differences were most distinct when jugging a fixed line in space. Chris Mac said that if he wasn't wearing gloves, the articulated rubber grip on the Petzl dug into the bottom of his index finger. He likes the old Petzl grip better and the nForce grip most of all.
Design and Features
There is no question but that the nForce is the cooler-looking. It has all these different moving parts that make it seem like a futuristic device that with the addition of a hydrogen fuel cell might just shoot you up the rope. Also, the nForce has an advantage over the Petzl of having a big hole for clipping in. This means that a locking biner can be flipped around, which is very handy when clipping the ascenders to the side of your harness. It's one of those things you don't realize you need until you see it and then you miss it when using the Petzl.
One thing that Petzl says you can do, is use it as a self-belay device on a fixed rope. Black Diamond does not recommend this in any of its documentation. For most people this is no big deal, but if you like running laps at the crag with a self-belay, it's nice to have an ascender such as the Ascension that gives you the option.
The nForce's cool design also means it it is heavier: about 25 percent heavier than the Petzl. This is definitely an advantage for the Petzl. If you are leading with two of these clipped to the side of your harness, you definitely feel the extra weight of the nForce. Chris Mac says, "It's not a big deal, but since I always like the lightest gear that works well, this is definitely a plus for the Petzl."
Use with Frozen Ropes
We have used these devices only a little on frozen ropes. Both seemed to work about equally well; much better than the old Jumars that would sometimes slide just on wet ropes. More testing is needed to give a definitive answer on this.
The Bottom Line
The Petzl Ascension was our favorite. An informal poll of Yosemite big wall addicts confirms what we have noticed: the Petzl is still preferred for its ease of sliding up the rope and light weight. The Black Diamond nForce is cooler, has more features, and is better than the Petzl for comfort and sliding down the rope. But the Petzl is lighter and slides up the rope smoother, which ultimately pushed it ahead.
— Chris McNamara
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