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Gear Review - Fish Smart Aiders
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Nov 22, 2007


Rock Climbing Photo: fish aiders
fish aiders

Fish Smart Aiders in Action

Rock Climbing Photo: smart aiders
smart aiders

1 pr Fish Smart Aiders

Aiders, ets, wall ladders, or whatever you call them come in all shapes and sizes. Everyone has their favorite pair and usually not two people will agree. Some people want 5 steps, others 6 steps! One pair or two pair...

So why try to do a gear review on something as personalized as a set of aiders. Well, this review is really an introduction about aiders, their pros and cons and a look at some aiders I purchased recently. At first look, aiders appear to be pretty simple, but once you dive into the depths of aid climbing, you're find that there is more to a simple aider than meets the eye...

So, let's get started. There are basically four types of aiders, standard aiders, ladders, speed or adjustable aiders and the hard to find Russian Aider system. Have I missed any?

First, I'll briefly explain the different types of aiders out there:

These are U shaped aiders with a stiffened plastic or nylon spacers to keep them open at the top. Yates Wall Ladders are probably the most popular. Other brands include Metolius, Black Diamond, Misty Mountain and recently Fish came up with their own design. Many aid climbers like ladders as they are very easy to get your foot in and out and can be very supportive with steps up to 2 inches wide. They also can be bulky and heavy. Speed ladders are also available that mitigate some of these concerns with lighter materials.

  • Very comfortable (2 inch webbing) with a pair of approach shoes.
  • Easy to get your feet in and out of the steps
  • They don't fly around in the wind as much as other aiders due to their weight.

  • The spreader bars at the top of the ladder can get stuck in corners or cracks.
  • They are bulky.
  • Can be heavy depending on the type and brand.
  • Expensive. Although you may be able to save money by purchasing fewer aiders.

Rock Climbing Photo: Wall Ladder
Wall Ladder

Standard Aiders
These are the most common aider with loops on either side of the aider. These tend to be less expensive than ladders and lighter and available in widths from half an inch to one inch. However, they are generally more difficult to get your foot in and out, especially in windy conditions. Examples include, Yates, Black Diamond and Metolius to name a few.

  • Lighter than ladders.
  • Available in many step configurations (4, 5, 6, 8 steps).
  • Less expensive.
  • Compact.

  • Not as easy to get your feet into them as Ladders, especially if they twist.
  • Requires more attention to ensure they don't get tangled.
  • Less supportive than ladders as they are generally 3/4 or 1 inch in width
  • In windy conditions they can flap around

Rock Climbing Photo: et

Speed or Adjustable aiders
These are relatively new (been around several years) to the scene and people that I've talked to them about it either love or hate them. Rather than having fixed foot loops, the foot loop is adjustable and can be raised or lowered to the exact height required.

Personally I like them for jumaring and currently use the Yates Speed slings. I have played with adjustables but still prefer the old way of doing it for this reason: If the placement is at your waist I find they work fine, but if you are trying to "top step" or stretch out your placements I find it awkward reaching down and using the strap to get the position right. (You are pulling the strap up rather than down.) Hopefully someone who has more experience than I can chime in here....

  • Only require 1 pair.
  • Light.
  • About the same price of normal aiders.
  • Feet locked in so no messing about with getting your feet in and out.
  • Fast on easy aid.
  • Great for jumar setups.

  • Lack of options and flexibility of standard aiders.
  • Top stepping is awkward since you are pulling up on the strap rather than down.
  • The strap which the buckle goes through can wear out super fast.
  • Sometimes the buckle doesn't work as designed.

Rock Climbing Photo: striup..

Link to Metolius Easy Aider Demonstration

Russian Aider system
If you go over to you will find many references to the super duper Russian Aider system. I've never used it or seem them in real life, but people who have, swear by them. Basically, as the illustration and picture show, you attach a strap system to your lower legs with hooks and then you use an aider with rings and you simply walk up placing the leg hook into the aider loops...

Since I've never used them I won't list the pros and cons.

Rock Climbing Photo: ra

How many aiders do you need
Once you have decided upon what type of aiders you are going to use, the next question is: How many aiders do I need? There isn't one answer and I've seen people use one, two, three or four. Tomaz Humar, credited known by some as the "worlds greatest climber" climbed one of the hardest aid routes in Yosemite, the Reticent Wall with one aider so it can be done, but most people will find either 2, 3 or 4 (2 pair) the way to go.

Rather than suggesting one method is better than the other, I'm just going to recommend that you go out and practice with a bunch of aiders and figure out what works best for you. Beg, borrow or steal so you can compare the different types and qualities before buying. Try bounce testing, walking the steps, top stepping, resting, etc to come up with the right combination.

I personally prefer two pair of aiders, since I like the "tripodal" support of having both feet at the same level and spread out about shoulder width apart. I find this very stable and relaxing. However, being too comfortable has its disadvantages as well and may slow you down as well. I also find this for stable for hooking or doing weird stuff.

If you haven't seen it already, check out Jeff Lowe's and Ron Olevsky's Clean Wall DVD for clean climbing and aider tricks like top stepping. Sometimes watching a DVD can teach you a lot more about a topic than reading about it...

Attaching Aiders?
Whether you attach the aiders to yourself or not is another point to ponder. Attaching them with daisy chains can lead to a real clusterf**k if you are not careful, whereas, on the other hand if you don't have them attached and you drop one, you're literally up the creek without a paddle. My own preference is that for straightforward aid, in the C1, C2 range, I have them generally unattached. Once you get something a little harder and start using more hooks, cam hooks, etc, then I will attach daisies to them.

One way to accomplish this is to larks foot two daisies (different colors or even better the same color as your aiders) to your harness, taking in both the leg loops and waist band. Attach the end of the daisies to your aider setup with a locker. Now if you drop an aider or bust out a free move, you won't drop them. Use a fifi, adjustable fifi or short sling to shorten up the length of the daisy. Email me if you would like more detailed information.

Rock Climbing Photo: fifis

Adjustable Fifi and Standard Fifi

Rock Climbing Photo: adjustable fifi
adjustable fifi

Detail of rigging an Adjustable Fifi. (The left side loop is larks foot into harness.)

If you are not attaching them to your harness you might like to carry a backup aider. I carry one Metolius alpine aiders for this reason. So far I haven't ... touch wood. If I'm crack jumaring with them I'll attach them to myself as well, since I don't want to drop them with cams attached. Crack jumaring is a technique that is perfect for cracks of the same dimension such as Moonlight Buttress, and Spaceshot in Zion. Add a small tie-off sling to the top of the aider with a couple of cam and crack jumar away.

Rock Climbing Photo: Metolius aiders
Metolius aiders

Metolius Alpine Aiders

Crack Jumaring
Rather than placing a piece, attaching the aider and moving onto it, with crack jumaring you slide the bottom aider up to the top piece and then move the top piece up another foot and repeat. This way you can keep your feet in your aiders and simply crack jumar up the crack. Some people have half a dozen pieces attached to the aider top sling, but I find that any more than a couple cams things start to get in the way and get can get caught up on things.

Back to the review...
Anyhow, last year my old aiders were looking thread bare so I went down to my local climbing shop with the intention of purchasing a set of ladders. Prior that that I had done some web research and had it down to a couple of different models. What the web site didn't convey was the size, bulk and weight of them. So I ended up walking out of the shop empty handed.

I had plans for a trip in a couple of weeks so I needed to get some aiders pronto. So I posted up on supertopo and several people recommended Fish Smart aiders.

From the Fish Products Corporate Web Site:

FISH Smart Aiders come with two 5-step aiders per pair. Each aider has a sub step sewn into the second step, where most of the action will take place. Unless you are on a slab, that kookie step in the top of other aiders will be virtually impossible to use. When you find yourself on the steep stuff, the second step will be home 90% of the time. If you need a little more height to reach an out of reach placement, step into the sub-second step on your FISH Aiders. Voila! The extra height---and that A7pitch---are in the bag. Nice job! Smart Aiders come in assorted colors and have step stiffeners sewn in to keep 'em open when you need 'em, and sport more bartacks than most third graders can count. For 2001 we are now putting all the steps on the same side. try it, you 'll like it! $47.00 per pair or $50.00 per pair with grab-loops sewn into the top.

Steps on the same side ... I wasn't sure I was going to like that. My backup plan was to sell them on Ebay. So I contacted Russ and he offered to make them up pronto and I had them the next week.

First Impressions
The aiders are made out of 1 inch flat webbing, with 5 steps and a sub step in the second step. The sub step makes top stepping much easier since it allows an immediate step. Each pair of aiders is made from the same webbing color, so they match and help keep aider management straightforward. They are well made with tons of stitching and reinforcements throughout. The bartacks are tight and tidy with no hanging chads, oops, I mean threads.

The first thing I did after inspecting them was to cover the main seams and wear areas with seam grip. This stuff works wonders in prolonging the life of wall gear.

There isn't a lot you can say about aiders since there isn't many things that can go wrong with them other then stitching coming apart or tearing at seams and really it comes down to personal preference on the type of aider and the number of steps.

After a fair bit of use over the last year or so, they are showing some wear and tear that you would expect from using them, but other than that they are still in tip top shape. Five steps seem about right. I've also got to like having steps on the same side and I don't foresee going back to the old school way of doing it right now, unless I change from 2 pair of aiders to just 2.

The only change I would make with my next pair is to go with 3/4 inch rather than 1 inch wide tape to save on the weight and bulk. I tend to wear supportive shoes (mad rock fanatic) so I doubt I would notice the difference in width.

Fish Aiders are made for big walls and not for your living room.

I hope this review has helped shed some light on aiders and aiding systems. As I said at the start, they look simple but there is more to them than at first glance. It takes time to learn how to aid and expect to be really slow the first few times out. Speed and efficiency will come with time and practice.

Learn to climb clean aid routes first and wait until you really need that hammer before you buy it. Pin scars don't grow back.
John McNamee
From Littleton, CO
Joined Jul 29, 2002
845 points
Dec 22, 2007
John: Thanks for the great review/primer on aiders; it's a great addition to the site. I'm not a highly skilled aid climber, but I'll weigh in on the Russian Aiders since no one else has. I have a set that I have used on a few pitches of aid and I found them to work pretty well. The picture above is pretty self explanatory, but I'll supplement it here: You strap a stirrup onto each foot that is held in place by a strap around your calf just below the knee. There is a titanium hook (everything from Russia has to have titanium, right?) on the inside of your calf below the knee that hooks onto a series of rings (titanium of course) sewn on to a piece of webbing (+/- 9/16"). The set comes with two stirrups and two pieces of webbing with rings.

There are several pluses to the system: It is pretty compact and light, even compared to one set of regular aiders. Your foot is held in a comfortable position in the step, it doesn't shift around. Since there are two rings at the upper positions your feet can be at the same height, and in my opinion they feel a bit more stable than when your feet are in two separate aiders. The biggest plus in my mind is that when the wind is blowing regular aiders around it can be hard to get your foot properly placed in the step. Reaching down to hold the loop open for your foot is pretty awkward. Since the ring is at your knee, it is much easier to reach down, hold the ring steady and hook into it.

There is one negative that may be a deal breaker for many people: The top ring puts your foot well below where the top step of a typical aider is, and probably a bit below the second step. This can really reduce your reach and thus efficiency when aid climbing.

The stirrups also have a webbing loop where the hook is which can be used to attach the stirrup to the webbing/ring of your choice for jumaring. This works better than it sounds and I actually find ascending a bit easier than with regular aiders.

The product description talked about an easy transition from aid to free by pocketing the small webbing/rings and leaving the stirrups on. This does seem to work fine for easy free climbing, but my limited experience was that you have so much gear when aid climbing that it is a limited improvement.

I believe mine came from Trango but they don't seem to carry them any more. John: If you want to round out your encyclopedic knowledge of aiders you're welcome to borrow these and try them out.
David Hous
From Boulder, Colorado
Joined Nov 18, 2001
145 points
Oct 22, 2008
David Houston wrote:
There is one negative that may be a deal breaker for many people: The top ring puts your foot well below where the top step of a typical aider is, and probably a bit below the second step. This can really reduce your reach and thus efficiency when aid climbing.

Just wanted to address this concern. I switched to Russians in 2002 and love them. While the above is accurate, there are two things to note:

1. You can also put the hook directly into the biner on the piece or the clip-in loop on a cam or nut, which usually eliminates this concern altogether, and in some cases could actually give you more reach than a std setup.

2. On steep terrain, since your weight pivot point is at your knee instead of your foot, and your leg below the knee acts as a counterforce lever against the wall, it is much much easier and more stable to be high on a piece in russians on steep terrain than regular aiders. In regular aiders it feels like you're going to tip over backwards.
Will S
From Joshua Tree
Joined Nov 15, 2006
1,013 points
Oct 24, 2008
I have to agree with Will S on the Russian aiders, I switched to
ruskies in 1999 and after some initial getting used to I won't climb
with anything else, in fact when Trango stopped making them I went out
and purchased the last 4 sets that the mountain chalet had ..

My only two gripes with the Trango model is the buckles suck and whoever thought of using such a small piece of velcro for the leg
strap ought to have that shoved up there ass .... both problems can be fixed easily I have now added fastex buckles , and a larger 3 1/2"
wide velcro strap I also added a piece of two inch webbing over the
original foot loop to beef it up. I have seen some pretty nice homemade models on the web that I would like to try or if Russ could
ever get the hooks in for the leg strap I would have him whip me up a
pair to my specs as his gear is the cats ass!!

As for the high stepping issues I really don't notice it anymore and I
often just hook the leg hook into the piece or the carab/cable/ ? attached to it..

I also use a total of four aid trees one on each daisy and two on carabs clipped to my harness ready to be leap froged onto the next piece...
From Colorado Springs
Joined Oct 19, 2007
0 points

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