I first purchased the Petzl Paso ropes right when they became available. Petzl offered a pretty awesome special to AMGA members, and I picked up a set for really cheep, and I was pretty psyched. In the past year, I've had the opportunity to to try them in a variety of terrain both rock and ice.
Lets start with the specifications. The Paso's are 7.7mm in diameter, the skinniest rope I've ever owned by quite a margin. Certified as both twin and half ropes, the Paso's weigh 42grams a meter, are 33% sheath and have a dynamic elongation of ~30% for both half and twin setups. They're treated with Petzl's 'Duratec Dry Treatment' which is their latest and greatest in dry treatment technology. Another fancy technology they call 'Ultrasonic Finish' fuses the sheath to the core, enhancing durability, avoiding sheath slippage and fryed ends. The rope is avalible in two colors (black and orange), and comes in 50, 60 and 70m lenghts. COOL! So what does all this crap really mean?
Lets focus on breaking down the technical specifications first. To start with, Petzl ropes aren't actually made by Petzl, there made by Edelrid. Petzl doesn't do any of the actual manufacturing, just the designing. Long story short, in the past Petzl's rope's weren't exactly top of the line. In 2013 Petzl announced a huge overhaul, redesigning their entire rope line and moving their manufacturing to Edelrid's factories. The complete new rope line (found here) is actually made by Edelrid. Here in the US we don't see Edelrid ropes as much. Simply put, Edelrid just isn't as popular in the States as it is overseas. But, when I heard that these new ropes were being made by Edelrid, I jumped on the opportunity to buy a pair knowing that their product is top quality, and that I would likely not be disappointed. But I digress, lets get into the numbers.
Starting with diameter, these ropes are 7.7mm. Thats pretty small. Its not the smallest, (that goes to the Flycatcher 6.9's) they are on the smaller end of the spectrum when it comes to ropes. The size is pretty noticeable. The ropes themselves don't feel like much in your hand, which can be a bit worrisome at times. At 42g/m they weigh slightly more than similar ropes like the Mammut Twilight 7.5 at 38g/m or the Beal Iceline 8.1 at 39g/m. Curious to me where this weight actually comes from, given that the Iceline, a thicker rope with an 8% thicker sheath, manages to weigh less still. Does this really matter? In a 60m length the Petzl Paso weighs 2,520grams or 5.55lbs for you non-metric thinkers. Compare that to 2,340 or 5.15lbs for the Iceline, the different is subtle at best. The other number I like to pay attention two is sheath percentage. Usually this translates directly to durability. More sheath, more durable rope. Less sheath, less durable, but lighter rope. Its a balancing act. 33% sheath is on the low end of the spectrum, meaning this rope isn't exactly going to be more durable compared to its competitors, especially since it actually weighs more than many similar ropes in its class. The last number I listed above is dynamic elongation at ~30%. Typical for a rope of this size, that number really doesn't mean much to me since I try not to fall on my doubles. That being said, this number can effect how many falls your rope will hold, and it does effect the impact force of the fall. Its important to look for numbers on the high and low end of the spectrum when making decisions about your rope purchase.
Great! So we understand the numbers, how do these things actually perform? Lets start with the things I like. These ropes handle extremely well. They're easy to work with, tie great knots, belay extremely easily and coil very well. They fit manageably in my hands, don't tangle excessively and seem to stand well to abuse. Perhaps my favorite part of these ropes is the colors, black and orange. There is never any confusion to what rope is where. The ropes both come middle marked, although a black middle mark on a black rope is easily the dumbest thing I've ever seen in the history of climbing manufacturing. I'm not sure why their middle marked anyhow, this isn't a rope I'd every carry by itself. Also worth mentioning is the dry treatment. I've taken these ropes up a number of sopping wet routes, and run them through significant amounts of running water. The dry treatment works. The rope doesn't absorb water, and doesn't freeze easily. When it does freeze, its a light covering on the outside, which is easily broken and doesn't impair the rope at all. Comparing it to other dry treated ropes I've used, I've actually found it works just as good, if not better. Nowadays the standard in Dry Treatment comes from ropes that meet the new UIAA 1% dry treatment standard. While Petzl's ropes don't technically meet that criteria, I actually found that these ropes ice up less than other ropes I've used that do meet that standard. Perhaps this has something to do with the surface of the rope itself. Seems to me that water has a hard time freezing on the surface of these ropes compared to others. Moving on to the not so great things. Compared to other ropes of their size, these ropes are actually slightly heavy. The difference is subtle, but at the end of the day the weight does make a difference. Another drawback, these ropes are so supple, they don't coil as easily. I find that much more attention needs to be put into coiling in order for the ropes to stay. Other than that, I see no major drawbacks. There are however, two topics that I want to discuss further, durability, and belaying/rappelling.
First durability. I've used these ropes on a number of rock and alpine routes, dragged them over edges and given them the works. I must say I'm impressed with how they have stood up. Its probably important to mention that this rope is marketed specifically for ice and alpine, not for rock. Petzl does a good job of addressing that specifically. That being said, I've used them on pure rock routes maybe 10-15 times, and taken them on ice or alpine routes somewhere between 20 and 30 times. While that might not seem like a ton of use, think about how often you really use your doubles. Until their last use, there was minimal wear. Almost no fraying, ends intact, overall looking in near new shape. The only sign of use was a slightly worn middle mark on the orange rope. However, I did recently trash one of these ropes. While climbing Damnation Gully in early March, we were caught off guard by worse than forecasted weather, and quickly heightening avalanche danger. After initiating some unsettling cracks in the snow of the gully proper, we retreated right to the rock buttress, where we attempted to push on through mixed terrain. After a few pitches, we were moving too slow and decided to bail. The leader built a rap anchor at the top of his pitch and we went to pull the ropes. Stuck. Instead of slinging a horn with cord, he chose to wrap the ropes around instead. Wrong choice. The three of us managed to pull the ropes, but not before destroying a 30m section and adding 7 brand new core shots to my shiny ropes. Bummer. At the end of the day I was surprised by the extent of the damage. I've made similar rappels before without issue. For whatever reason however, this rope got stuck and we paid the price. So what's the conclusion? For the use I'd put on them, I was impressed with their durability to date. I mean it honestly when I saw these ropes were in impressively good shape. What happened in Damnantion Gully probably would have happened regardless of the rope we used, and rather was a mistake due to lack of experience and common sense. Compared to other ropes I own, and compared to other doubles I've used, I have to say I was overall surprised by the durability, and would conclude that it really isn't a concern when considering these ropes when all is said and done.
The next concern I had with these skinny ropes was when it came to belaying. My initial concern was not the ability to catch falls, but rather belaying seconds, particularly, two seconds at once. My skepticism was confirmed when I got these and discovered a standard plaquette device like the ATC Guide or Reverso didn't lock down adequately when a single strand was weighted fully. Going hands free on one of these devices is not something I would recommend, however, catching a fall while holding the break strand would be no issue. For this reason I sometimes opted to carry the Edelrid Micro Jul, which locks perfectly in guide mode, increasing my confidence for a hands free belay. This method could be particularly useful when belaying a second on one rope and hauling a pack with the other strand. The Micro Jul is small and clumsy to use, so I typically only use it on rock routes or on warm days. For long alpine days, I stick with my DMM pivot. Unless the pitch is particularly steep, I'm not concerned about leaving my hand on the break at all times while using the pivot. Worth mentioning also is rappelling. Small ropes require more wraps and a skinnier prusik. One advantage of the Micro Jul is an autolocking rappel mode that works extremely effectively. For a normal rappel, a good extension and long prussik with lots of wraps was required for a controlled decent with the ability to go totally hands free.
So what's my final say? I love these ropes. Climbing on skinny ropes makes a huge difference in the alpine. Less weight, easy handling and versatility makes a light cord a huge asset for long days in varying terrain. Compared to other double's I've used, I find the Paso handle slightly better, and holds knots easier. However, for its size, it is slightly heavier than I would like. A recent article on ropes that came out in Climbing Magazine indicated that most people are concerned with durability when it comes to picking a rope. In this category, I would say that Paso scored excellently. The ropes are built to last, even though I mistakenly trashed one. Overall I've been happy with mine, and since now I only have one useable rope, I'll be buying a new one complete the set again. The Paso's are a great choice for someone looking for a light, reliable, effective set of doubles for use in the alpine. That being said, I wouldn't recommend these ropes to anyone interested in using them outside of the alpine more than 80% of the time. The simply are not designed to handle the abuse of rock climbing. While I have used them on rock routes, its mostly been on easy, long routes that don't abuse the rope. These are not ropes that are designed to be fallen on regularly like a fat single is. If your looking for a workhorse alpine rope for moving light, fast and effectively, this is one that I would recommend.