Suspension Equipment Recommendations [Level 3]

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Article:

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.

Carabiners

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.

Rings

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.

Rigging Plates

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.

Swivels

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.

Rigging Knife

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.

Suspension Frames

It turns out that hardware made for swingsets is great for building suspension frames out of. My frame at home is built from two of 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.

Measurements

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.

Rope

For recommendations on support lines, please see Support Line Selection. For general information on bondage rope, see Rope Materials.

Comments

  1. userpic
    oldlabelsdancing | Apr 17th, 2016 7:35pm PDT #

    (As of mid-April 2016) The Rocklock Twistlock is backordered and out of stock everywhere I checked; even Black Diamond doesn't have an ETA for when they'll be available again. :(

    Any alternate recommendation for the upcoming intensive?

    Reply to this comment

    1. userpic
      Topologist | May 12th, 2016 8:58pm PDT #

      I have searched high and low and don't have an awesome option to suggest, unfortunately. The next closest thing I've seen is the Rock Exotica Pirate:

      http://www.rockexotica.com/product/aluminum-carabiners/pirate/

      Unfortunately the wide side is not quite as flat as the Rocklock, and the auto-lock is a 3-stage rather than 2-stage, so it's harder to operate one-handed. One of my regular students uses the screw-lock Pirates and quite likes them, but then you have to wonder about the tastes of someone using screw-locks. ;)

      It may be the best option is to find something really cheap (doesn't have to be locking), and wait for the Rocklocks to be back in stock.

      Reply to this comment

      1. userpic
        Topologist | Aug 29th, 2016 11:12pm PDT #

        It appears that the Rocklock Twistlock is now back in stock on Black Diamond's website and available for at little as $14 at some retailers. Huzzah!

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      2. userpic
        oldlabelsdancing | Apr 17th, 2016 7:36pm PDT #

        Why a rigging knife; "This makes it excellent at unjamming knots -- something far more likely to be useful in a suspension mishap than cutting ropes." ...why so; is there an article here that speaks to that already?

        Reply to this comment

        1. userpic
          Topologist | May 12th, 2016 8:45pm PDT #

          I updated the text to be more explanatory and less hyperbolic. :) In truth they are both important.

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          amerrigano | Mar 11th, 2017 11:59am PST #

          Hello, Would you be so kind as to write something that addresses how to secure a ring/carabiner to the hard point/frame? I have found advice about what equipment to use but not how to use it. Is it better to secure a ring with webbing or regular support line? Do you have a preference? Thank you for this great site.

          Reply to this comment

          1. userpic
            Topologist | Mar 12th, 2017 1:51pm PDT #

            I prefer to use webbing; it is cheap and strong, and I can easily carry several pre-made loops of different convenient lengths for slinging different sized beams. You can either lark's-head around a beam, or (better/stronger) clip a biner through both ends of a loop wrapped around the beam. To tie bulk webbing into loops, use a water knot:

            https://crash-restraint.com/ties/223

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          2. userpic
            pleasedonotstop | Jun 28th, 2017 7:37am PDT #

            Hi Do you recommend any portable rigging system? (not DIY). I have seen things such as the Tetruss (http://tetruss.com/) - which was reviewed by Twister Monk as not so great, the frame by Bounds of Steel (https://www.etsy.com/fr/listing/188746564/bonds-of-steel-portable-suspension?ref=shop_home_feat_3) or The Point (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpLE1Nwhp74), or even considered frame for Aerial Yogas (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChhMG1iARIU). Unfortunately, I have seen non of them in action and was wondering if you have any recommendation. I also wonder if they are not all shaky (as can be seen on the Aerial Yoga frame video). Thanks for your help !

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            1. userpic
              modernzombie | Jul 12th, 2017 12:43pm PDT #

              This for this great walkthrough! I love your DIY loadout, but like user pleasedonotstop, I am interested in making this portable. Is your setup portable, or have you screwed the lumber into the jungle gym connectors? I am really interested in having a rig that I can take around to events and so on, and I would assume that you are too and you don't just have this set up in your house all the time.

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                Topologist | Jul 16th, 2017 9:23pm PDT #

                The swingset style frame can be assembled or disassembled by 2 people in about 20 minutes, but I'd hardly call it portable. I don't take it to events; I mostly go to events that have hardpoints available. I've never used a truly portable frame that I loved working on; they all suffer from lack of working space, lack of stability, or both. There may simply be no way to achieve portability without making some sacrifices (at least with materials available today). How much to sacrifice in what department is a determination that has to be made in view of your individual requirements.

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              2. userpic
                rileyamor | Mar 22nd, 2018 12:57pm PDT #

                Topologist, what is the shortest length you think is viable for the top beam? I am working with a space where I think the top beam would be limited to either 4' or 5' plus the 48" for a total of either 8' or 9'. Since this has an aspect ratio very close to square (1:1) it seems like it should be still plenty stable, curious if you think the working space would be adequate?

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                  Topologist | Jul 3rd, 2018 8:42am PDT #

                  More working space is more convenient, less is less convenient...but you can work in a pretty small space if you're careful. That doesn't sound especially cramped.

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                  KnotMyProblem | Mar 26th, 2018 7:27pm PDT #

                  I'm a fan of rectangular-footprint frames made of 1-1/2" schedule 40 pipe held together with either gridlocks or rotolocks. While technically portable, a setup like this is quite heavy, and requires some knowledge of the hardware to set up properly. My usual is an 8-foot cube, which requires about 70 linear feet of pipe and 8 90-degree connectors. From there I can add spanning pipes to create overhead points wherever I need them.

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                    brammelo | Jun 25th, 2018 1:55pm PDT #

                    Hi, the ceiling in my appartement is a solid reinforced concrete slab. I was thinking of using this as an anchor point:

                    https://codipro.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/GRADUP_fiche_FEDSR.pdf

                    The M10 version can hold a workload of 0.7 ton at a safety factor of 5 to 1. I think that's on the safe side. Some might even say it's slightly overkill ;-)

                    However, I'm not sure about the way to secure it to the concrete ceiling. My first idea was to use a chemical anchor + threaded rod. Problem with that is: it's hard to remove later on. The logical alternative would be a wedge anchor (in this case an M10 size). But I cannot get straight answers about their ability to take dynamic loads. Some websites say you should never use a wedge anchor for dynamic loads, others say it's no issue.

                    Can anyone shed some light?

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                    1. userpic
                      Topologist | Jul 8th, 2018 1:10pm PDT #

                      The big problem with concrete anchors is that selecting and installing them is highly technical, there's not much you can do to inspect them, and when they fail, it tends to be catastrophically and without warning. I'd recommend a free-standing frame if it's an option for you. If you are going to anchor into the ceiling, hire an expert to design and install a system with sufficient redundancy. Building a hardpoint in a concrete ceiling is not a DIY project.

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                    2. userpic
                      mrkodiak | Jul 18th, 2018 3:19pm PDT #

                      Some equipment sourcing info:

                      Black Diamond Rocklock Twistlock: www.gearexpress.com has this for $13.27 (it says closeout but it's been several months and I've ordered twice) so maybe they have a large amount) 4 of them is enough to bag free shipping. Fury Tactical Spike Folding Tool: Goes down to $11.94 on occasion on amazon. Also available for $9.99 at https://lapolicegear.com/fury-32206-blade.html but shipping usually makes it more expensive than amazon prime. Free pickup in LA though, if someone is there. Occasional free shipping or sitewide discounts make buying multiple ones cheaper.

                      I'll add some additional info in the Rope Materials link on some rope sources http://crash-restraint.com/ties/2

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