The Pirana is a rappel device manufactured by the Petzl corporation. It is a versatile unit with design options for no less than four different friction settings as demonstrated by the manufacturer. It is the incorporation of the necessary horns and rope channels into the design that give the Pirana its’ distinctly unique shape. It is a lightweight unit made from aluminum that retails at most places for around thirty five dollars. We had difficulty locating one at first but after a brief search managed to acquire one at a local Sport Chalet. Petzl recommends the use of this product on rope between eight and thirteen millimeter diameter. We tried it on various friction settings on eight, nine, and thirteen millimeter ropes in wet and dry rappels to evaluate the performance of this little device. The first thing noticed is an interesting little quirk about its preference for Petzl carabiners. It’s design features a plastic bushing that essentially traps the device on the ‘biner so it will not drop off when removing the rope from the device. This requires the carabiner to fit tightly into the device. Petzl recommends the use of their Attache or William carabinerswith the Pirana and we would agree as these seem to be the only carabiners that fit the hole properly – if at all.
For ease of writing as well as ease of reading, the friction settings in this article will coincide with the pictures and will escalate numerically as the friction increases. For example, friction setting one will be shown in picture one and will be the lowest friction setting the device is designed for. Friction setting two will be picture number two and will be the next higher friction setting on the device – all the way to the highest setting shown in picture number five. For testing purposes, we used the least expensive static rope that was readily available to us that is specifically designed around rappelling. In this instance this is the Sterling Ropes H.T.P. rope in a 9mm dry treated super static. This rope is a polyester on polyester kernmantle design rope with good wet and dry properties. This evaluation is intended to give you an overview and basic working knowledge of this rappel device. It is not intended to instruct you on it’s use or substitute for proper training. All information contained in this review is for you to use at your own risk. Opinions vary and references to personal ability and angle of rappel are subjective. With that said…
Friction setting one is a fast setting with similar properties to a figure eight. With our test rope this setting is best used on a moderate angle rappel (numerically less than 60 degrees) for the average user to easily maintain control.
Friction setting places the rope behind the lower horn on the left side of the device (in the right handed rappel position). Friction setting two was much better and required a significantly lighter grip to keep your speed under control. It is still potentially a “fast” rappel but most can maintain control without too much effort at higher angles (60 to 80 degrees). long rappels or those that require tricky maneuvering might want to go to the next setting though.
Setting number three on this device placed the rope behind both lower horns and was extremely controllable, offering smooth rope feed characteristics on high angle to free hanging situations. This setting is still manageable on lower angles but a little finesse is sometimes needed to keep the rope flowing smoothly under these conditions.
Setting number four is the highest friction setting with the rope having to be basically fed through on all but free hang situations. This setting wraps the rope around both outer horns and is good in situations where you have a heavy pack or are rappelling through a waterfall and your footing is very uncertain. Be aware that under this setting you must keep light tension on the rope at all times in order to keep from allowing any slack in the rope from slipping off the upper horn of the device. This is extremely rare to the best of my knowledge I have only heard of it once and my source was prone to exaggerate) but it could be possible under some circumstances. The nice thing about friction setting four is it is applicable on the fly. You can be running any of the aforementioned three settings and apply number four on top of them at anytime during the rappel. This versatility is comforting if you find out mid-way through your rappel that you didn’t set up enough friction when you “got on the rope”. It is not difficult to do but practice this maneuver close to the ground first to get the hang of it before it counts.
Summary: This little device proved to be versatile and sturdy as it would be expected to be from a company such as Petzl. Petzl products always come with detailed instructions and diagrams and the Pirana is no exception. The ease of use, versatility, as well as the light weight and design features definitely deserve our recommendation as a must – have rappel device. The tight fit onto the carabiner means you are less likely to lose it when coming of rope with wet, cold, stiff hands or when entering a pool of water. I have been using this little device for a number of years. I started this review long ago and just got around to finishing it. The information has been updated and the pictures are recent in the interest of keeping current. I have used the Pirana on ropes ranging from 8mm to 11mm, on polyester, nylon, and aramid. It has also been run in a double line configuration (not shown) and is now my preferred rappel device.