Suspension Equipment Recommendations [Level 3]
This article lists some of the specific models of hardware I find most useful, and offers a few pointers on what to consider when choosing equipment for suspension. There's generally no single right answer when it comes to choosing equipment, however; your habits and preferences may be different than mine. At the end of the day, whatever you like is the right thing, so long as it's safe.
The single decision with regard to suspension equipment which is likely to make the biggest difference in your life -- and be most costly to change -- is your choice of carabiner.
For the vast majority of suspension applications, there is no reason to consider anything except an aluminum climbing carabiner. However, that still leaves hundreds of models to choose from. The factors you want to consider are:
- Width at the wide end; the wider it is, the more rope you can pass through it without jamming.
- Flatness at the wide end; extra width doesn't help much if it's at an angle that shoves all the rope down into the center, or up against the spine.
- Cross-sectional shape; a circular cross-section reduces friction and puts less wear on your rope; most climbing biners are only smoothly rounded over a small section of the inside.
- Locking mechanism; locking carabiners are not strictly necessary in most bondage situations, from a safety perspective, but they offer extra peace of mind and flexibility. Personally, I find screw gates abominably inconvenient in suspension work. Auto-lock carabiners are my preference, but there are many different mechanisms available; you ideally want to find one that you can easily open with one hand.
You could spend weeks researching different carabiners trying to find the perfect combination of traits, but let me save you the trouble: there is exactly one carabiner I have ever seen which is ideally designed for rope suspension, and it is the Black Diamond Rocklock TwistLock. The only reasons I've ever heard of someone not liking this model is if you have hands too small to operate it one-handed (but most people can with practice), or if you really want something black.
I stopped using rings years ago. They are heavy, bulky, and use up a ton of vertical space when working under a low hardpoint.
If you want to use a ring, the three things you have to decide on are diameter, thickness, and material. A larger diameter ring is easier to reach through and allows you to stack more support lines through it without jamming, but takes up more vertical space. A thicker ring is heavier, and there is some evidence it may increase friction. There is no actual evidence I've seen that an extra-thick ring decreases the chance of rope breaks, as claimed by some proponents. Wooden rings -- a recent trend -- produce substantially more friction than metal rings, and thus make lifting more difficult and increase the chance of rope breaks if using weak support lines.
While it is possible to simply chain one carabiner off another, I find that putting more than 1 support line + 1 additional biner on any given biner tends to be a recipe for jams. When working without a ring, this means that you extend your rig downward by one carabiner per support line, thus doing my least favorite thing -- squandering vertical space.
The solution to this is the rigging plate -- a device which holds several carabiners spaced out horizontally at the same height. My preferred model is the Petzl PAW Small; it has a shape which promotes stability, good spacing, and comes in black. I find a 3-hole plate to be the right size for the majority of single-person suspensions. Occasionally I will clip additional biners in, extending down onto a second level; but now I can get up to 6 support lines in 2 carabiners of vertical space, a 3x improvement over without the rigging plate.
I've noticed that when getting their first rigging plate, many people tend to assume bigger is better -- it can't hurt to have extra spots for more biners, right? Wrong. The problem is that the wider the rigging plate is, the more it tips back and forth as you're using it. Also, even in situations where you need 5 or 6 lines tied off, having that many biners all right next to each other at the same level can become too crowded. I can't recommend strongly enough going for a small rigging plate. The only situation I've ever found larger ones useful in was doing highly complex multiple-bottom transition stunts.
The Rock Exotica Shackle Swivel is a great option because you can install it directly into a ring or rigging plate, without sacrificing height to a carabiner to connect the swivel to your ring/plate. However, be sure to read all the relevant technical information and understand the special limitations and risks involved in using it; improperly used, the pin can fail and drop your entire rig.
For more normal use, almost any climbing swivel is fine; however I find Black Diamond models to have slightly higher friction than Petzl and Rock Exotica, which I prefer.
In addition to safety scissors, when I suspend I always have a Fury Tactical Spike Folding Tool. This cheap and oddly named rigging knife is the only tool I have ever found with a folding, locking marlinspike which tapers for its entire length. This makes it excellent at unjamming knots -- something that may be important in situations where cutting a rope would mean dropping your bottom. The knife and pliers are also perfectly serviceable. I have about 5 of them, because I'm terrified it will be discontinued, although I've yet to wear one out.
It turns out that hardware made for swingsets is great for building suspension frames out of. My frame at home is built from these inexpensive corners; just add lumber and you've got a frame of whatever dimensions you want for around $200, that's as or more stable than any custom-designed-for-bondage frame I've ever encountered. Some trigonometry required.
I was asked about how to calculate the footprint of one of the A-frames I link to above; here are the dimensions for my setup:
- Floor to Top of Beam: 96"
- Footprint of Frame, Parallel to Beam: Length of beam + 48"
- Footprint of Frame, Perpendicular to Beam: 97"
- Length of Legs: 103"
All those numbers should scale linearly with each other, assuming you get a bracket identical to mine.