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Ascenders which fit a smaller hand

Original Post
Aerili · · Los Alamos, NM · Joined Mar 2007 · Points: 1,880

Hello all, I am considering buying a set of Petzl ascenders off a friend. They are an older model but only one of the two was used (very lightly) as far as I can tell and not for climbing. Not sure exactly how old they are but I believe it was a time when they cost ~40% less than now (weighs 196 g).  My hesitation to buy them is that I am concerned about thumb injuries when using them repetitively due to the size (see pics). Now I realize that a) I would normally be wearing gloves, and b) I can wrap padding and tape around the handle to bulk it up, but I'm still a bit concerned about the thumb action anyway since my hand would have to ride high to reach the release - and the release action of ascenders has always been tough on my thumbs due to the range of motion required (I also have ligamentous laxity which helps....nothing). I have also started experiencing extreme thumb soreness (thenar eminence) when doing any activity which requires gripping statically or repetitively. I think this may be due to autoimmune disease as this never occurred for me in the past, and it's an animal unlike DOMS. I've had extreme soreness from simply long days hiking with trekking poles and climbing ice too.  

Any recommendations on smaller ascender options out there?
Are newer Petzl models more ergonomic for small hands?
Otherwise, recommendations on adapting an ascender to a smaller hand?

I realize the pictures below aren't exactly representative of the exact hand postures you would encounter with the ascender being used on a rope overhead, but it gives you an idea of how reachy the geometry is for female hands I think.

Fingers seated in grooves - can't reach the release

Hand riding high and stretching to reach the release - my hand could slide higher to reduce the extreme thumb posture, but then it's mostly on the metal

Pulling down - it's hard to tell in this photo, but my proximal IP joint in my thumb is fairly hyperextended
Mikey Schaefer · · Redmond, OR · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 246

Flip them around and use the gold for your right hand.  Then use your index finger to pull the cam down.  I've done it this way for 20 years.  I've got tiny hands and short stubby fingers and using my thumb never felt right so I started using my index finger.    You can also try the BD Index ascender as it is setup to use your index finger!  Though I think those ascenders are a bit bigger, but not really sure about that.

Gerrit Verbeek · · Anchorage, AK · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0

I think I have the same model as you do. Another option if index fingers aren't comfortable may be to drill out the little nub on the end of the trigger (for maximum leverage) and make yourself a cam-style thumb loop. Could that work?

Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,476

I have average sized hands and I have never had success releasing my Petzl cams while still holding the grip. I use two hands to get them on the rope. When I cross belays, I clip in with my tether first of course, and then I use both hands to unlock the cams on the ascenders. It's just easier than struggling to do it one handed.

Aerili · · Los Alamos, NM · Joined Mar 2007 · Points: 1,880

I'll try your method, Mikey, although that also sounds like a recipe for trigger finger unfortunately.

I like Gerrit's suggestion - will try rigging some cord and see how it feels.

Thanks for the feedback, Tim.

Anybody have comparison between older ascenders like these and newer styles? It seems there are some definite differences.

Any ladies out there with input?

Mikey Schaefer · · Redmond, OR · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 246

You could also try these Kong Ascenders.  

This is what I use 95% of the time while jugging.  I find them to be way way more comfortable than a classical shaped ascender due to how you grip the whole device.  They also have an interchangeable grip to fit smaller hands.  There are some downsides to these though, the most major being the overall security of them.  The cam release mechanism isn't nearly as bomber as a BD or Petzl and can be pretty easy to disengage.  I would generally never recommend these to anyone that doesn't have a lot of mileage on ascenders but they might work for you.  I'd definitely run a back up micro traxion on your belay loop while using these.

And my hands are smaller than almost every female I climb with.  I wear womens size 6 in climbing shoes to give you an idea.

edit:  They also have a hole in the cam mechanism to tie a piece of cord through that you can use as thumb loop to disengage it.
Lena chita · · OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 1,030

How much/how often do you plan on using the ascenders? is it to jug many pitches in a day, or is it for a n hour or so?

I have only ever used the Petzl ascenders. I do have small hands. I don't have any problem using them at all, but my only usage has been to jug a single pitch (taking pictures) maybe twice in a day, or to use them for couple hours intermittently while setting routes in a gym. Under those circumstances, you don't have to repeatedly reach for and use the release, and I'm not sure I can picture a situation where you would be repeatedly reaching for the release...

Maureen Maguire · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 0

There are no ascenders made for tiny hands.  Be sure to try ascenders with your gloves on. Think about multiple uses and weather conditions. The petzyl ascenders and the Kong's work very well. PS:it's not that your hands are small it's that ascenders are what they are and take a lot of practice.  I like the cord up thread. Sometimes I just duct tape the handles to decrease the grip space..I've added a little foam wrap in the past as well.  Then I remove it so my ice gloves fit.

Nathan.H · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 0

A speed team jugged past me one time using only Petzl basics.  One of the guys was a professional climbing photographer... tremendous jugging experience.  So maybe you don't really need the handles.  Petzl basics are small and light.

Aerili · · Los Alamos, NM · Joined Mar 2007 · Points: 1,880

Thanks for the additional responses. I anticipate using these for anything and everything, so ideally I would like a set which I could use on a wall (since that is clearly more demanding than jugging a pitch or setting routes in the gym).

I'll have to check out some other options and handle them as well, and/or see what my partners locally might have in their closets and available to demo.

I do disagree with the statement that "ascenders are what they are". From my perspective, equipment is/should be made to fit the ergonomics of the people using it. Some companies approach this better than others, or research the biomechanical use of the product better than others for a broad range of anthropometrics. I'm sure most ascenders are designed for men (i.e. larger hands to start with) who are wearing some degree of glove bulk. There may not be a market for manufacturing a product in a smaller size, but I bet any company which makes ascenders could improve their ergonomic and biomechanical research regardless when approaching new designs. And yes, I've done a fair amount of professional biomechanical research and application so I'm definitely biased....or shall we say enlightened.   

Maureen Maguire · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 0

Still, ascenders are what they are, not what they may become in an imagined future.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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