Climbers have a lot of reasons to climb ropes. The disciplines of aid climbing and big walling often involve a second climber following a leader using ascenders on fixed lines. Route development and route setting often utilize ascenders in conjunction with other devices, as do the worlds of caving and arboriculture. The one thing all of these setups usually have in common is the hand ascender.

Jugging with two hand ascenders is the de facto standard when long, tall climbs are on the menu, but other devices and methods exist for ascending a rope. We’ll cover the two most used scenarios and some things to look out for when choosing the gear you need to get it done.

Classic Jugging – 2 hand ascenders, 2 ladders

Hand Ascender Parts Diagram

Named for the jug-style handles on the devices, this method uses two hand ascenders attached to the harness, usually via daisy chain or tethers. These will function as your attachment to the rope, and allow you to hang on the ascenders should you need to. You’ll also need to attach a ladder or aider to each ascender so you can alternate standing in and weighting one as the other slides up. We’ll cover this more in a bit.

Standing on one ladder while the opposite foot and ladder slide up in unison takes some practice and balance, but once you get into a rhythm, a lot of vertical distance can be covered quite efficiently. The difficulty of this method of jugging a fixed rope increases when the route becomes more overhanging, as the amount of core and upper body strength required to stay upright also increases.

Jugging a rope
The 4 basic steps of jugging a rope with two hand ascenders and two ladders (a type of aider).

Frog Ascending (Frogging) – 1 Hand Ascender, 1 Foot Loop, 1 Braking Device

Another common method for jugging uses a bit less gear and only one leg to stand in an aider or foot loop. For climbers this method typically involves an aider, a hand ascender, and an assisted belay device or capture pulley. Sliding the ascender and aider upward together and standing is the same as in classic jugging, but the slack created must be manually pulled through the belay device before the ascender can be unweighted and the process repeated in a stand, pull, squat sequence.

A more traditional version of can also be accomplished with a chest ascender in place of the belay device with both feet kept together in an aider. This is where this method gets the name ‘frogging’ due to the frog-swimming movement done when both feet move together. Modern climbers refer to both of these variations interchangeably as frogging, though the traditional method is preferred by many in caving and arboriculture.

People using ascenders to climb ropes.
Two common setups for using ascenders to frog ascend. Image Courtesy Petzl.

This method takes a lot more energy per cycle than traditional jugging, especially if you use one leg, because the squatting movement can get very tiring over long pitches. Frogging is usually favored by cavers, photographers, and route setters who spend a lot of time sitting and fixed in position, rather than simply climbing the rope pitch to pitch where the hand-over-hand rhythm of traditional jugging can cover a lot of ground quickly and efficiently.

The few key differences between hand ascenders

There are currently 22 manufacturers who make hand ascenders. Though there are variations in some small features, they all basically function the same way. We’ve noted a few things that we feel are worth keeping in mind for comparison.

  • The number of holes (upper and lower) determines how much gear you clip into them
  • The size of holes (upper and lower) determine exactly what you can clip
  • The shape of the handle can make jugging more or less comfortable depending on the size of your hand

The most common configuration for hand ascenders has 2 bottom holes: one made for one carabiner and one for a quick link or maillon which is used to attach an aider or foot loop. This style is great if you are mostly jugging long pitches such as on a big wall and have no intention of removing your ladders. A quick link is also more compact, lighter, and semipermanent so using one here frees up your precious lockers for the climb. One thing to remember about quick links is that they can become hard to undo mid-wall if you need to remove them, so you may want to carry a small adjustable wrench in your haul bag if you go this route and want to stay flexible.

A carabiner and a quicklink attached to a hand ascender.
Some ascenders have smaller holes meant for the attachment of soft goods via quicklinks, and larger holes to accommodate carabiners.

The classic Black Diamond Index has oversized carabiner holes that allow for larger gates like those found on most auto-lockers to pass through. The cam also has a pass-through hole on the trigger which is designed to make it easier to grip and release it from the rope, which is handy when you need to down-jug a bit.

The index Trigger

The Turbohand Pro from CAMP has two features that increase efficiency in jugging. A steel rope guide keeps the rope running vertically in the ascender when leaned back on an overhanging rope, and an integrated steel roller helps the rope glide more smoothly as you jug. The roller also allows the Turbohand to function as a small weight (100kg) hauling device, though it is not certified or tested to haul humans.

Steel Roller and Guide
Steel roller being used for hauling.

Keep in mind that smaller holes (upper or lower) on ascenders mean you have to be more specific about what gear can get clipped through them. It is often the choice of those who jug regularly to use oval carabiners on ascenders as their symmetry means they always sit the same no matter which way they flip.

Tip: Make sure that your attachment carabiners can fit through and rotate in the holes the way you expect them to before you leave the ground.

The grip style and shape can also vary from model to model, which is a thing that is often overlooked but is very important if you plan to spend a lot of time pulling on them. Too small/thin grips mean larger hands will cramp from being out of their most powerful position, while hand ascenders with trigger grips can mean the part of the handle with the most grip is in the wrong position for smaller hands. Other than trying on in person, reviews are currently the best way to find out about small/large hand issues as there are no size standards.

The current version of Petzl’s Ascension has updated from having two different sized bottom holes to just having one large hole. The rubberized trigger shape on the grip makes it more ergonomic in very overhanging terrain, though it may be uncomfortable in smaller hands. It is the lightest handle style ascender on the market.

The A&D hand ascender from Grivel has a built in belay/rappel plate that is designed to allow a climber to transition from ascending to descending without the need for additional gear. This can be useful if you are following an aid climb and realize you’ve forgotten to clean a piece but have already jugged past it, but is also great for doing controlled lower-outs in traversing terrain.

AD-descending 1

Choosing a jugging setup will help you figure out your ascender needs.

As always, the best setup for jugging rope depends on the situation.

If you’re mostly following on fixed lines with the ability to pull on rocks and stand on ledges, the two ascender/two ladder method works great. You will likely be resting at an anchor often, and won’t mind having the extra hand ascender as a grab while hauling your gear up behind you.

The frog method has the advantage of being able to be made of several different types of pieces, which can already be on your rack depending on the type of climb you’re on. It also allows for incorporating descending devices which is handy when taking pictures or going back to the ground to get more climbing holds.

If you want to dive deeper into ascender options let us suggest this ascenders type post. Otherwise, if you want to see all the hand ascenders and filter on specific features like  how many bottom holes are available on an ascender, WeighMyRack’s ascender page is waiting to help you.

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff currently lives in the Midwest and spends most of his free time answering questions nobody asked. When not plugging gear on moderate warmups and calling it a day, he can be found whining about whipping on bolts in the gym or at the local pub waxing poetic about climbing saving humanity and the planet.

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