Daniel Arnold

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Different braking systems

A via ferrata brake must absorb the energy from a fall (which is dependent on the height of the fall and the weight of the user) dynamically. Using the formula "energy = force x distance", this can be achieved either by means of a long braking distance with a low braking force (bungee rope) or by a short braking distance with a high braking force (concrete floor). The braking forces that occur in via ferrata brakes are not constant. To examine and optimise braking equipment, the time-dependent behaviour of the mechanisms is measured and depicted in the form of a force/distance curve. The area under the curve is the energy generated by the fall and which must be absorbed by the brake.

Rope brake

Conventional rope brakes generate a characteristic peak at the start of this curve, i.e. a brief force peak with a relatively low impact force which absorbs most of the energy. Since the impact force resulting from these standardized, inspected via ferrata brakes is in the permitted range, these models offer satisfactory performance for adults of normal weight. However, in the case of lighter persons or children, it is possible that very little brake rope will pass through the mechanism, thus making the brake almost static and generating extreme forces. This can be particularly dangerous for children.

Typical brake force curve with rope brake design

Webbing brakes

In the case of the new Tec Step via ferrata webbing brake, the energy from the fall is absorbed by tearing the connection between two interwoven pieces of webbing. Increasing the strength of this connection in four stages results in a progressively stronger braking force. This helps to avoid a high initial peak force as with the rope brake. The completely textile construction of the webbing brake with no metal parts guarantees safe operation in all weather conditions.

Typical brake force curve with webbing brake in comparison with rope brake design.

Via ferrata sets stop you from falling for any great distance. However, due to the height differences and the protruding fixing points (high risk of injury), falls should always be avoided during via ferrata tours. When planning a tour, bear in mind: when choosing via ferrata routes, make sure that the level of difficulty is well within your capabilities. Avoid pushing yourself to the limit on any via ferrata tour in case of a fall. For inexperienced adults, Mammut recommends additional belaying by a partner with a climbing rope. Children must also always be secured with a rope from above.