Via ferrata gear: what is it?

Helmet, harness, carabiners and lanyards that is a minimum via ferrata kit

Helmet, harness, carabiners and lanyards that is a minimum via ferrata kit

Although the point of a via ferrata is to make hiking trails with climbing sections accessible without full climbing gear, you still need specialist via ferrata equipment to be able to safely scale these trails. The minimum gear you need for a via ferrata consists of a via ferrata lanyard, a harness and a helmet. Here’s more about each.

Via ferrata lanyard

A via ferrata lanyard, as its name suggests, is the key bit of kit that you need for a via ferrata. It consists of an energy absorber, two elastic lanyards and two special “Klettersteig” carabiners attached to the end of each lanyard.

An Edelrid via ferrata lanyard

An Edelrid via ferrata lanyard

See also: What is a via ferrata aka Klettersteig?

The entire lanyard attaches to a climbing harness through a simple loop. Next in the set-up comes the energy absorber and then two elastic lanyards with special “Klettersteig” carabiners at their respective ends.

Using a proper via ferrata set as opposed to a DIY set-up using standard climbing slings and carabiners is essential, as the impact forces applied to the equipment in case of a fall are significantly higher than in case of a usual climbing fall. In via ferrata there is only a short length of static rope to absorb a fall in contrast to a long dynamic rope used in climbing.

Climb big mountains has posted a great video illustrating the different results in falls of an 80 kg (about 12 stone) person using different equipment.

See also: What happens to an 80 kg person who falls on a via ferrata

The energy absorber is a crucial part of the lanyard. Currently most via ferrata lanyards use a progressive tearing absorber, which consists of a length of webbing folded and sown together. In case of a fall some of its energy is absorbed by the tearing of the seams in the webbing (the webbing itself doesn’t tear) and by the fact that the webbing extends the length of the lanyard.

The two carabiners are there to be attached to the metal wire of a via ferrata. With two carabiners you can make sure that you remain clicked in even when you are transferring between two sections of the wire.

Harness

A climbing harness for mountaineering pursuits

A somewhat simpler and lighter mountaineering harness for via ferrata

A via ferrata lanyard is nothing without a harness to attach to. Most people use standard climbing harnesses. You can also buy specific mountaineering harnesses, which tend to be a little bit simpler, lighter and easier to put on while wearing heavy boots. On the down side, mountaineering harnesses are not suited to rock climbing. Since I don’t rock climb, I use a mountaineering harness.

Helmet

A helmet is an important part of via ferrata gear for two reasons. First of all via ferrata tend to be prone to rock fall. They are after all relatively accessible, i.e. often full of climbers, and on rock. Second, should you fall on a via ferrata, you are likely to swing around a bit, which could lead to a head-rock direct contact. … unpleasant in any case.

A via ferrata kit including a via ferrata lanyard, harness and helmet.

The complete minimum via ferrata kit, this time neatly laid out on my kitchen table.

All the other things

The three items above constitute the most important gear that you need for via ferrata. This kit comes on top of your usual hiking gear for serious mountain terrain, like water-proofs or sturdy hiking boots (the latter is a must for a via ferrata).

In addition to these three bits, you might also consider buying via ferrata gloves. These make moving along the metal wire and operating the carabiners more comfortable, but are not a must.

I hope that if you are new to via ferrata this post helps to explain what equipment you need. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.

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