Via Ferrata Equipment

Ferrata equipment: what gear is required?

In addition to the standard gear required for mountain hiking, such as appropriate clothing, backpack, first aid kit, food, and drink, embarking on a Via Ferrata in the Dolomites demands specific Ferrata equipment to ensure safety. This specialized gear includes a helmet, harness, ferrata lanyard, and ferrata gloves. While not mandatory, ferrata gloves prove beneficial for shielding your skin against both the cold and potential abrasions.

The shoes must be chosen carefully, being another important element of the equipment. A headlamp, ice axe, and crampons are sometimes indispensable, but it depends on which Ferrata you intend to climb and the time of the year. But let’s see in detail what characteristics the individual elements that make up the Ferrata equipment must have.

FERRATA HELMET

The helmet is just a mandatory piece of equipment. It is essential to be able to safely climb the Ferrata.

Contrary to the widespread belief that a climbing helmet serves only to protect your head from falling rocks, its role extends well beyond such scenarios. A high-quality climbing helmet is not only a guardian against potential rock hazards but also a crucial safeguard in the event of a fall.

When embarking on a challenging venture like a Via Ferrata in the Dolomites, the importance of a reliable climbing helmet becomes even more apparent. It becomes an essential piece of Ferrata gear, offering protection not just from overhead rockfall but also minimizing the impact in case of a fall. In the dynamic and unpredictable terrain of Ferrata in the Dolomites, a properly fitted and sturdy climbing helmet serves as a vital defense, enhancing both safety and confidence during the ascent.

Remember, your climbing helmet is not merely an accessory; it is a key component that contributes significantly to your overall safety, making it an indispensable companion for any adventure, especially on challenging routes like a Ferrata in the Dolomites.

What are climbing helmets made of? Today, most shells are made out of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS).
There are three main categories of helmets:

1 – Hardshell helmet.
2 – Foam shell helmets / In-mold helmets.
3 – Hybrid shell helmets.

For via Ferrata, I suggest a robust hardshell helmet.


HARNESS

If you’re gearing up for your adventure and planning to climb a Ferrata in the Dolomites, a harness is another essential piece of equipment. There are various types of climbing harnesses available, but primarily, there are two different types: the sit harness and the full-body harness.

The harness I recommend is the sit (or sitting) harness. A sit harness typically comprises a waist belt and two leg loops connected at the front of the hips through a permanent webbing loop known as a belay loop. These harnesses, available for both men and women, are widely used due to their ability to provide a broad range of movement while ensuring a high level of safety.

On the other hand, the full-body harness combines the features of a sit harness, offering support to the hips and upper legs, with a chest harness that supports the shoulders and chest. While less comfortable than the sit harness, it becomes impractical when putting on or taking off a fleece or windbreaker.

Full-body harnesses are most commonly employed in industrial and rescue scenarios and are also used by small children instead of a sit harness, which is easier to slip out of. They are the preferred choice for children, but for adults, this type of harness is generally not recommended. The exception is when carrying a heavy backpack or load, in which case a full-body harness might be a better choice.

To summarize, for most climbing and via ferrata activities in the Dolomites, a sit harness is the preferred and more comfortable option for adults, providing an excellent balance between mobility and safety.


VIA FERRATA GEAR: THE IMPORTANCE OF A LANYARD!

The Ferrata lanyard is what you use to connect yourself to the iron rope and fixtures attached to the mountain or rock. It is a purpose-made device consisting of short lengths of rope, carabiners, and an energy absorber.

In rock climbing, the dynamic rope performs adequately the function of an elastic stop in case of a fall, but in a via ferrata, since one travels singly, the Ferrata lanyard has two very short rope lengths: this creates a high Fall Factor. Fall factor and impact force are two important concepts in the physics of climbing falls.

To understand a climbing fall, it is important to recall a basic law of physics: when an object falls, it stores energy. The Fall Factor “Fc” is the ratio of the height of the fall to the length of rope used to stop the fall. In a normal roped and belayed rock climb, the maximum fall factor one can reach is 2. On a via ferrata, however, the Fall Factor can be significantly higher than 2. Learn more about the Fall factor.

Without going into arcane technical details, one has to realize that the higher the Fall Factor, the graver the consequences of a fall. To minimize these consequences, the two short rope lengths are equipped with a braking device that absorbs the energy of the fall and drastically reduces the Fall Factor.

A great product that I recommend is the Kinetic Gyro Rewind Pro. Renowned German magazines Alpin and Bergsteiger dedicated their attention to Ferrata lanyards and bestowed awards upon the CAMP Kinetic Gyro Rewind Pro. The Gyro system on the CAMP Ferrata lanyard was recognized as the best anti-tangling system available in the market.

Another highly recommended product is the one produced by Edelrid, the Cable Comfort VI. A high-end Ferrata lanyard with high-strength elastic arms and exceptional ease of use. Compliant with the new European safety standard for Ferrata kits. Similar to the Kinetic Gyro Pro, this Ferrata lanyard is also equipped with an integrated swivel component that prevents the ends from twisting during use.

How is a Ferrata lanyard composed?

A Ferrata lanyard is composed of several components, including:

  1. Carabiners: These are used to attach the lanyard to the steel cable of the via Ferrata.
  2. Elasticated Arms: These are flexible arms that allow for freedom of movement while maintaining a connection to the cable.
  3. Swivel: The Swivel is a rotating ring that prevents the entanglement of the arms.
  4. Shock Absorber: This component dampens the forces in the event of a fall, enhancing safety.
  5. Tie-in Loop: This loop is used to connect the Ferrata lanyard to the climber’s harness.
Ferrata Set for via Ferrata in the Dolomites.

These components work together to provide security and flexibility for individuals navigating via Ferrata.

How does the energy absorber of a Ferrata lanyard work?

The core element of a Ferrata lanyard is the shock absorber. It lengthens the braking distance and thus reduces the forces during a fall. The most common construction of shock absorbers is a progressive-tear energy absorber, which consists of two webbings specially sewn together to allow progressive tearing in case of a fall.

WARNING !

Many tests have shown that in case of a fall, the lack of a proper braking device can result in the breaking of the carabiners and, in some cases, the breaking of the rope segment. Have a look at this video – it is in German, but the pictures speak for themselves 🙂
It is not that uncommon to see people climbingng a Via Ferrata in the Dolomites using normal rock climbing slings with a couple of carabiners attached and/or quickdraws to protect them in the event of a fall. Such jerry-rigged setups will not save someone if they fall off a Ferrata because they will not be able to take the fall factors involved. Do not copy these people!


CARABINERS

Before making a purchase, pay close attention to details, such as the carabiner used in the Ferrata lanyard. Ensure that the set you choose provides a carabiner with handling that suits your preferences.

The locking system mustn’t be of screw-lock variety. A good example of carabiners to use is the Tango, produced by KONG, and Horai, produced by CAMP.

The Horai stands out as an exceptionally robust Ferrata carabiner, boasting an ergonomic design for enhanced grip and improved handling. With a generous gate opening, unique inner geometry, and keylock nose, it simplifies the process of clipping and unclipping from cables and anchors.

Via ferrata carabiners
Tango and Horai carabiners

As for the Kong Tango, its wide opening allows for the attachment of even large-diameter cables. The ergonomic shape, the optimal grip, and the opening system allow you to attach and release the carabiner with just one hand.

For both the Tango and Horai, the user-friendly locking mechanism ensures ease of use and optimal safety — the gate opens by squeezing the back lever and gate together simultaneously.


FERRATA GLOVES

Via Ferrata gloves prove to be an invaluable accessory, particularly in recent times in the Dolomites. The transition from old metal cables to thicker ones, while enhancing grip, has introduced a new challenge. The increased thickness, though providing better traction, also brings about a coarser surface that has the potential to cause blisters on the hands.

In the pursuit of a seamless and enjoyable Ferrata experience in the Dolomites, I emphasize the importance of including a pair of gloves in your Ferrata gear. Even a minor injury, if left unattended, can escalate into a significant impediment, rendering the climb arduous and perilous. To preemptively mitigate this concern, I strongly advocate for the use of Ferrata gloves. These gloves not only ensure a secure grip on the Ferrata cable but also act as a protective barrier, shielding your hands from both injury and the biting cold, enhancing both safety and comfort during your ascent.

At the shops, you can find two types of via ferrata gloves: half-finger or full-finger.

While most vendors recommend half-finger gloves, I personally prefer and always use the full-finger ones.

Click on the images to buy online (Amazon) a pair of Ferrata gloves!

Half-finger gloves for via ferrata in the Dolomites.
Gloves for via Ferrata in the Dolomites.

Disclaimer: Guide Dolomiti participates in the Amazon Affiliate Program and receives a small percentage on purchases made through the links on the site. Affiliation with Amazon does not increase the price of the product, but it is a form of support for the site. It allows me to improve the content and quality of the site day by day.


FERRATA SHOES

The pivotal element of your mountain attire undoubtedly resides in your choice of footwear. Exercise caution and steer clear of venturing into the mountains with sneakers; instead, I highly recommend opting for approach shoes.

When considering approach shoes, meticulous attention to details such as the fit, binding, and robustness of the sole’s edge becomes crucial.

Look for a profile featuring a ‘Climbing Zone’ at the toe, ensuring optimal sensitivity and friction on vertical walls—qualities essential for tackling challenging terrains like a Via Ferrata in the Dolomites.

My steadfast sponsor, Scarpa, stands out as a brand synonymous with excellence. They provide me with not only top-notch approach shoes but also climbing shoes and ski boots. In a single word: exceptional!

I have a profound admiration for SCARPA boots, appreciating their high level of safety and durability. The continuous stream of technical innovations ensures that their products are well-suited for every path, especially vital when undertaking ventures like a Ferrata in the Dolomites. Trust in SCARPA—where innovation meets reliability.


HEADLAMP, ICE AXE and CRAMPONS

Speaking of Via Ferrata equipment, it’s worth noting that ice axe and crampons can sometimes be useful. This holds particularly true at the onset of the season when snow persists on the highest peaks and the northern slopes of the mountains. What might be an uncomplicated trail can swiftly transform into a challenging and hazardous terrain when snow or ice is present. Carrying appropriate equipment becomes paramount in such scenarios, potentially serving as a lifesaver.

Moreover, when venturing into the captivating Ferrata routes in the Dolomites, being equipped with an ice axe and crampons becomes especially crucial. The Dolomites, known for their breathtaking but challenging rock faces, can present unexpected icy conditions, demanding preparedness to ensure a safe and enjoyable ascent.

Building upon the essentials, a headlamp evolves into a crucial companion for those enthusiastic about delving into the labyrinthine tunnels meticulously excavated by the military during WWI.

As these subterranean passages intricately weave through the heart of the Dolomites, providing an unparalleled historical perspective, a dependable headlamp transcends its practical role, transforming into a portal that opens the door to a captivating journey through time.