Tech Tip: The Big Bad P.A.S.

By Mike Schneiter

If you’ve spent any time on Internet forums lately, you’ve inevitably run into a post where someone asks a seemingly benign question about the use of a Personal Anchor System (PAS). And, almost without fail, the forum quickly devolves into a scathing dialogue that runs along the lines of “Yer Gonna Die!” for using a PAS followed by a “you should just get rid of that thing, there’s no reason to have one!”

So, is the PAS really some dark, evil creature that should be feared by all?

Personal Anchor Systems have become popular in recent years with many incarnations of the system being made my companies like Metolius, Blue Water, etc. The PAS seems to have arisen out of increased fear, and rightly so, about the use of daisy chains for things other than their intended use in aid climbing (I’m excited, by the way, about the introduction of full strength daisy chains, similar to the construction of PAS’s). Personal Anchor System feature loops of nylon sewn together in a chain but unlike a daisy chain, each loop is independently sewn and hence, is full strength.

Metolius and other companies advertise their benefit for use in a myriad of situations, including cleaning sport routes and equalizing anchors. Any number of suggested uses will still be called heretical on the forums so here’s a brief reason of why or when you might want to use a PAS, thus showing that they don’t have to be the Big Bad Wolf of climbing gear.

Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid

  • Your rope is the best material at hand to anchor yourself into the anchor for a number of reasons on a multi-pitch climb. Still, there are occasions when using a PAS on a multi-pitch climb might be beneficial. Perhaps you decide to bring it along because you’ve got a number of rappels to access the climb or to descend afterwards. Yeah, you could use a sling or slings but maybe it’s a sport multi-pitch where you just want to carry draws. Or, if there are a large number of rappels you might decide on the PAS to have the adjustability and easy storage offered. If you’re climbing in Colorado National Monument, for example, you might be jugging back to the rim after climbing and the PAS can be a handy tool for clipping into ascenders. When guiding I will often bring along my PAS to help free myself up, particularly when I know I may not always be able to stay clove hitched into the same rope at all times. In any multi-pitch scenario your primary contact point should be your rope but the PAS may help things flow in the right situation.
  • I use my PAS all the time for setting top ropes. At a number of areas you can scramble to the top of the cliff and drop your ropes on climbs after clipping the anchors. Hence, I use my PAS as a point of contact with the anchor to try to ensure my safety. While you should be concerned about clipping an anchor below a cliff edge and falling off, generating a lot of force quickly, it doesn’t mean you just shouldn’t clip in when working at the cliff’s edge. Use your judgment and take some steps to safeguard yourself when working at the edge. I also use my PAS when leading pitches to establish a top rope anchor for others, particularly when guiding. I will often use it as a way to establish my first point of contact with an anchor while setting things up. For me, it’s a lot easier to grab a carabiner on the end of a PAS than it is to try to clip in direct to the anchor with draws to do some work.
  • I always use my PAS when rope soloing. It’s just an ease of use thing for me. When I get to the top of a route and need to switch from “climbing mode” to a “descent mode,” such as putting on my rappel device, the PAS makes it quick and easy and it’s one of the few things I have on my harness when rope soloing.
  • Ascending a fixed line is another great use for a PAS. For me, I particularly use it when bolting new lines or replacing old bolts because it’s got the adjustability I seek when attaching to an ascender and jugging a fixed line. Plus, when I want to go in direct, I’ve got a variety of lengths to choose from and each loop or contact point is full strength.
  • Using quickdraws to connect to an anchor is just fine for cleaning a sport climb but there are still times, particularly when I am guiding and clipping in and out of multiple anchors, where the ease and adjustability of a PAS is spot on for the task.

When It Should Stay In Your Pack

  • Whatever you do, please do not create a “PAS Thong” by taking your PAS, putting it between your legs and clipping it to the back of your harness. For the love of all things beautiful, please don’t look like a tool by doing this. Sure, you probably think you’re being efficient but you kind of look like the kid who still rolled the bottom of his jeans and tucked in his shirt years after it was no longer popular.
  • While there may be some times it is “okay” to clean a sport pitch with a PAS, I realize it’s also rather passé to bring anything extra with you to clean an anchor at a sport area like Rifle. We dress to impress and try to fit the mold of the culture around us, and at a place like Rifle you may look a little silly. And, it would be okay to look silly if there was a true safety concern being addressed by using it, but in most cases there’s nothing wrong with some quickdraws linked together. I know, I know, we’ve all heard about being solid, redundant, and equalized but think about the forces involved in hanging from two bolts while threading an anchor. Think about the danger, or lack thereof, when hanging from non-locking carabiners when cleaning a route. Instead, focus on having solid anchors (the bolts, which are hopefully good) and being redundant (attaching to two bolts and with two quickdraws to your harness) and having the gates opposite and opposed.
  • There are a whole host of reasons why some things are better done without a PAS. Use your judgment and get qualified instruction through books, classes, experienced partners or elsewhere. Don’t just try to figure things out on your own and know what your gear is designed to do and what it isn’t. For example, as mentioned earlier, use your rope to anchor yourself whenever possible because it’s the strongest thing you have and has great characteristics, such as being dynamic, to help protect you.

So before you ditch that PAS your boyfriend bought you for Valentine’s Day, remember it actually can be quite useful, though there are certainly times you should just leave it in your pack. Have fun!

Mike Schneiter has never worn a PAS or daisy chain thong, but he’s thinking it might be a good costume at the next Rifle RendezSPEW. He is owner of Glenwood Climbing Guides.

9 Responses to Tech Tip: The Big Bad P.A.S.

  1. Tech tip?
    For starters this “Personal Anchor System feature loops of nylon sewn together” is incorrect.
    The Metolious PAS device is made using Spectra, which is why it has the white material braided through it(spectra will not hold dye). That is the reason alot of folks recommend not using the PAS. On the flip side there are several other companies that do make a device similiar to a PAS which do utilise nylon loops sewn together. Spectra has NO dynamice qualities, ie; it does not stretch. In drop tests it failed the first time, everytime, due to this fact. In the same drop tests the similiar products that used nylon only failed after repeated drop tests. This is due to the fact that nylon has give ie; it’s dynamic. This is the basic arguement behind the refered too, “YER GUNNA DIE” internet posts.
    If used properly are you going to die? Nope. Does the PAS have some excellent uses (as describe above and others)? Yes. Should people that are using the device understand its limitations? ABSOLUTELY.
    This “tech tip” doesn’t explain the limitations. In fact when you get to the “when it should stay in your pack” section this reads more like a climbing “fashion tip”. Do people really need to know whats “passe” or how to not look like a “tool”. There is not one thing there discussing the limitations of the PAS.
    To pass this off as a “tech tip” is irresponsible.

    Dontusespectre! April 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm
  2. You’re right, the PAS isn’t made out nylon. That was an editing error on my part and something we can correct. The Metolius PAS is made out of dyneema, as are many other personal anchor tethers or chains, as some people call them. I’m sorry that you felt the tip was irresponsible in its scope. The intent was to describe ways in which people should be using these devices to combat the internet flaming that exists on many sites anytime someone suggests or talks about using these devices. Such behavior could be considered irresponsible as well because the suggestion that you should never use spectra or dyneema can be similarly small minded and part of our intent here is to describe how they should be used. In my view it contributed to misplaced fears about how we climb and protect ourselves. That’s why I pointed out that “Your rope is the best material at hand to anchor yourself into the anchor for a number of reasons on a multi-pitch climb” and “use your rope to anchor yourself whenever possible because it’s the strongest thing you have and has great characteristics, such as being dynamic, to help protect you.” To say a nylon sling is dynamic isn’t lying but it can also be easily misconstrued to mean that is equivalent to a nylon climbing rope, which it is not. Finally, I’m sorry you didn’t appreciate the “fashion tip”. I guess my attempt at a little brevity with the subject was missed by some. I have friends that wear the personal anchor thong and it’s something we all laugh about but I still like them and climb with them. If we ever meet out at the crags I hope we can share a beer and I don’t have to hang my head in shame for being so irresponsible in your view.

    Mike May 7, 2012 at 5:05 pm
  3. Wow. You really spend a lot of time thinking about how one should “look” climbing. My advice? When writing about technical issues, for the love of all things beautiful, please don’t sound like a tool attempting to interject your views about image or style.

    Eric May 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm
  4. Wow, you guys really missed the humor in that one, huh? I thought it was funny, but I’ve stayed away from the daisy chain thong for years, so maybe my opinion doesn’t count. In all seriousness, though, you guys should lighten up and go do some climbing, you’ll probably feel better. And yeah, you can wear whatever you want, whether that be (Warning! Humor ahead!) man-pris, daisy chain thongs, or Justin Beiber t-shirts.

    BJ Sbarra May 7, 2012 at 7:09 pm
  5. BJ, Those two are just “baiting”. My guess is that they’re “masters”…’

    Jerry Cagle June 27, 2012 at 8:19 pm
  6. Pingback: Lead Belaying with Newbies | Splitter Choss

  7. I agree that a PAS is useful in some situations, but why not use a Purcell prusik? It can be adjusted with just one carabiner and without unclipping, it makes weighting a rappel device downright luxurious, it can be used to ascend a rope, and you can always untie it to replace bad webbing on a rappel. And you’re only out about three bucks. I’ve also heard that the prusik absorbs energy in the event of the shock-load-at-the-anchor scenario. Plus, when you wear it as butt floss, you can loosen up the prusik one handed if it’s getting a little too… friendly.

    Vincent November 2, 2012 at 11:17 am
    • The principle drawback of the PP is its small adjustment range and the difficulty of making any adjustments when it is under tension. A big plus… skid marks don’t show up on skinny climbers. 🙂

      J Viers March 31, 2016 at 1:01 pm
  8. Vincent, the Purcell prusik is a great tool to use but realize the point of this article was how PAS’s are designed to be used. We could do a whole other article about Purcell and its pros and cons. Some people love it and some people don’t. One of the biggest lessons from all of these discussions is that there are many tools to use and each have their own use.

    Mike November 20, 2012 at 7:58 am
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