Updated for 2016
The newest version of Petzl's Ascension includes an ergonomic grip with room for the index finger and a wide base to keep the hand from slipping. The lower hole has been widened to make room for two carabiners. With a bright yellow right hand and a shiny black left hand, these new ascenders will be easy to spot! Check out a side-by-side comparison here, with the new version on the left and the old version on the right.
This ascender excels in the most important category: sliding smoothly up the climbing rope. Once you get the hang of it, the ascender rarely catches before you get to full extension on the top ascender. Ease of getting on and off the rope when passing pieces is good. Its aggressive teeth work well on icy ropes. Another great thing about this ascender is how light it is; it is one of the lightest out there. One other thing we liked is how it can be used for self-belaying in the same way a Petzl Mini Traxion. The Mini Traxion is better, but if you find yourself in a pinch or just don't want to buy another piece of gear, this ascender will get the job done.
The grip on the new Petzl is not as comfortable as the old Petzl design or the nForce. The little rubber part that sticks out irritated the bottom of our index fingers a little. It was not bad, and wearing a glove pretty much eliminated the issue. But it was noticable when bare-handed.
After getting used to the big 360-degree clip-in hole on the Black Diamond nForce, Chris Mac now really wishes the Petzl had it. Instead, the Petzl has an extra small hole for a quick link. This might be good for caving applications, but Chris has never used it on a big wall nor has he seen anyone else us it. He thinks Petzl should dedicate that real estate at the bottom of the ascender to a bigger clip-in hole. Also, when down jugging, it takes a lot of practice to keep the Petzl from locking up. It is not a big big deal because down jugging is not nearly as common as jugging up. But after using the nForce ascender, it is noticable how much more skilled and practiced you need to be to make the Petzl down jug fast. But that is a small point. The Petzl does the crucial stuff well.
Comparing the Old Ascension to the New Model
First off, a little history: Petzl used to have a yellow and blue ascender with a hard molded grip for your fingers and a less comfortable opening and closing trigger. Then, maybe a decade ago, they upgraded to a softer grip that was more comfortable and an opening and closing trigger that was easier to use. Petzl also seems to have made it lighter. It was a BIG improvement. The changes with this latest revision are small in comparison.
Let's run down the changes in this new ascender.
Revisions to the New Petzl Ascender
- The grip is wider at the bottom, providing better comfort for your hand during use.
Our Observation - The wider grip might help if you have monster hands or while wearing gloves, but the bottom of the hand rarely touches the bottom of the ascender (see photo). The bigger change is that there is now a big groove running vertically down the grip. This might make it easier to grip if it is icy, but we don't find this a big advantage on big walls. The groove actually irritated our hands a little and we prefer the grip of the old Ascension (but not by much).
- The index finger indent has also been increased, offering greater efficiency when pulling on the ascender.
Our Observation - At first this change seemed cool but then it got annoying. The more we used the ascender the more it seemed that the new indent irritated our index finger. Not a big deal, but at this point we think it was a step backward.
- The trigger to open/close the cam is now recessed inside the frame to avoid accidentally opening the cam while in use.
Our Observation - You have to look really close to notice this change. We didn't notice until we put them side by side and stared hard. But apparently some people said the old design was dangerous.
- The cam has been redesigned to minimize friction when sliding the ascender along the rope while the angled teeth provide secure grip in the worst conditions (wet, icy, or on muddy ropes).
Our Observation - Again, you really have to look close to notice this one. As far as we can tell the only difference is that there are two fewer mini teeth. And we didn't notice any reduction of friction. The new Ascension slid up the rope just as well as the old one in head-to-head tests.
The Bottom Line about the changes
If you have the old blue and yellow model, there is no need to upgrade unless you are worried about that potential safety issue (and I don't know the validity of the design flaw claim). We expected the new grips to change the ascender. Maybe they make a difference in snow and ice (We have not tested them in snow yet) but for big walls the grip didn't change things much. If anything, we found the vertical slit running down the grip slightly uncomfortable. Overall, the ascender is more or less like the last one; not much improved but no big steps backward, either.