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Gear Review - Toucan Belay/Rappel Device
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By raygay
From Las Vegas, Nevada
Oct 5, 2006
Cleaning gear on rappel after solo ascent of P3 on Prodigal Sun.

Toucan Belay/Rappel Device - One User's Perspective

I'd seen posts on various climbing websites throughout the first half of 2006 about the Toucan belay/rappel device. I also had watched the videos of a man speaking French while demonstrating the use of Le Toucan in belaying both a leader and a second. The videos are available at www.wichard-usa.com/SIMOND/Products/index11.html. The Toucan seemed to offer functionality similar to the Reverso, the ATC Guide and other tools in allowing a leader to belay a follower or two in autoblocking mode. I decided to purchase and experiment with the Toucan while climbing several moderate routes in Yosemite during September 2006. This report offers my perspectives of the device. The October 2006 issue of Climbing magazine (page 90) also offers some comparative information about various autoblocking belay devices, including the Toucan.

Made by Simond, of Chamonix, France, a firm that specializes in ice climbing equipment, the Toucan is fabricated from 9 individual components. Three of these components are fasteners that hold the rest of the contraption together. With reference to the photo of the Toucan below, the main body of the device consists of two thin aluminum plates sandwiched between two anodized blue aluminum shrouds. These four components are clamped together by two rivets. The other three components consist of a lever arm, a flared keeper sleeve that attaches the lever arm to the main body at a pivot point and allows the lever arm to swivel, and a bent wire spring, whose purpose I will explain later. If viewed in a certain orientation, the device does resemble the beak of a toucan bird; hence the name Toucan.

The basic components of the Toucan
The basic components of the Toucan


The Toucan weighs in at 100 grams compared to 80 grams for the Reverso and 103 grams for the ATC Guide. Unlike the solid monobody design of the ATC Guide, the design of the Toucan is definitely more complex, but no more so than the Reverso and, to me, the Toucan is more intuitive to use than the Reverso. My regular climbing partner was highly suspicious of the Toucan, being unfamiliar with the device; he said it made him nervous to have me belay him with it. Although the working principles of the Toucan are not fundamentally different than any other slot belay device, I confess that initially I would occasionally get the device turned around when hooking up a belay. Pretty quickly though, I would remember that the friction biner always goes on the concave side of the Toucan and that the braking end of the rope always lies against the v-groove formed by the flared section of the middle plate, as shown in the photo below. It's the v-grooves in each slot that are intended to provide friction over a broad range of rope diameters.

The Toucan in standard belay or rappel mode, showing the friction inducing v-grooves formed by deformation of the two middle plates.
The Toucan in standard belay or rappel mode, showing the friction inducing v-grooves formed by deformation of the two middle plates.


The bent wire spring serves to push the lever arm against the friction biner, forcing the biner away from the main body whenever allowed by some slack in the rope. This little push of the spring against the friction biner facilitates feeding the rope through the device to the leader.

One of my greater concerns in contemplating the wide slots of the Toucan, even taking into account the v-groove feature, was the friction available for controlling vertical rappels. Simond says the device is rated for rope diameters as small as 7.5mm. I experimented with some free hanging rappels on various single ropes with diameters between 8mm and 10.5mm. A rappel on a single well-worn dynamic 10.5mm rope was a bit loose for my 195 pounds, but not uncomfortably so. The Toucan gave me much less friction than I would have preferred when in a free hanging rappel on a single well-worn 8mm dynamic rope. For grins, I compared rappelling on a Reversino using the same 8mm dynamic rope. I was surprised to discover that the friction on the Reversino seemed about the same as on the Toucan. Adding a second friction biner on the Toucan increased the friction somewhat. I also tried rappelling with the Toucan on a brand new 8mm static canyoneering rope. Although the new sheath was smooth and slick, the stiff canyoneering rope actually gave slightly more resistance than the well-worn dynamic rope. Climbers usually rappel on double ropes, so the additional friction of two ropes should compensate for the looseness of the Toucan. However, for serious rappelling on skinny ropes, I think I'd prefer something with more bite than the Toucan. If using the Toucan to rappel, I'd consider extending the rappel device and using an autoblock hitch on the braking rope.

The Toucan's primary attraction is its purported ability to easily release the belay from the autoblocking mode under tension to lower a second with reasonable control. The setup for the autoblocking mode is shown in the photo below. The release is effected by pulling down on the lever, which rotates the Toucan to free the braking rope from the v-groove pinch.

The Toucan set up for belaying a second in autoblock mode.
The Toucan set up for belaying a second in autoblock mode.


I experimented with this release technique under actual climbing conditions and found that the lever arm alone was adequate to initiate a controlled release in each situation. However, my experiments were limited to less than severe situations. There might be times where release of a heavy, incapacitated, free-hanging second would require an assist by attaching a sling from the lever down to your foot for the application of additional force. The advantage of the Toucan compared to other autoblocking belay devices is that you pull down on the lever to rotate the device, instead of having to lift up on one end of the device using a sling redirected through another biner.

All in all, I found the Toucan to be an acceptable device for belaying a leader, belaying a second, and rappelling. But, it does not feel like a rock-solid tool. The number of parts from which it's assembled gives me some pause. I'm not yet convinced that the rivets holding the device together won't someday loosen up and perhaps even fail under hard use. The way the lever arm is attached to the device at the pivot point seems a bit funky, but the lever arm is not a critical component so failure of the lever arm attachment would not be catastrophic. In spite of these concerns, I have no serious qualms about continuing to use the device, especially for belaying a second in the autoblock mode. I think my partner will eventually get comfortable with the Toucan.

- Marc


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By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Oct 5, 2006
Artist Tears P3

Marc,

Thanks for posting the review. This is great. It's what I envisioned from the start, a community gear review section.

I have a lot of stuff I'm in the process of reivewing, Fish rope bags, BD ATC Guide, Metolius Utralight TCU's that all just need a bit of more time at the coal face before I'm totally confident in my findings...

Cheers

Jon


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By brenta
From Boulder, CO
Oct 5, 2006
Cima Margherita and Cima Tosa in the Dolomiti di Brenta.  October 1977.

Marc,

What was your rappel setup? Did you connect the Toucan to your harness by the "pivot point" or just as you would connect a standard ATC?

I ask this question because the V-grooves are at the opposite end of the attachment point--just as in the ATC Guide. In the case of the ATC Guide, this means that it cannot be rigged as Petzl recommends that one rig a Reverso for rappel. I wonder what your experience was with the Toucan. Thanks!


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By Buff Johnson
Oct 5, 2006
smiley face

Thanks for the review, Marc, I appreciate the thought you put into your post.

John, you know what could be good is a chart & comparison of various devices available in the market; what they do, how they work, & maybe more facets/factors. This might be more of a spreadsheet format than the text forums. Don't know if it is doable or not, just a thought.

Brent - Just wondering how the Guide & Reverso are rigged different for a rap?


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By brenta
From Boulder, CO
Oct 5, 2006
Cima Margherita and Cima Tosa in the Dolomiti di Brenta.  October 1977.

Mark Nelson wrote:
Just wondering how the Guide & Reverso are rigged different for a rap?

I believe you are familiar with the movie on the Petzl site showing how to rappel with the Reverso. The slots are vertical; the Reverso is connected (through an extender) to the belay loop by the attachment point; one biner is clipped through the ropes to provide friction.

The ATC Guide, in my experience, does not work well in this configuration. I've only tried it once that way, but I had horrible friction and it took me forever to get down (from the First Flatiron if memory serves me well.) The reason is that the loaded ends of the ropes, those between the device and the rappel anchor, engage the high-friction ends of the slots--those with the grooves.


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By abc
Oct 5, 2006

I bought a Toucan this summer, and I have been very happy with it. I have used the Reversino too, but the major advantage of the Toucan is its ability to easily lower/give slack to the second. It gives slack quite well; however, the lower is not all that smooth. Yet, it is a step up from other similar products on the market.


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By Lee Jensen
Oct 5, 2006
Top of the second pitch on Touchstone.

Interesting alternative to the other common devices. How does price compare?

It seems that with the BD XP the distance from the pivot point would make it easier to lever the release of a autoblock. It appears that the Toucan is levering right off the pivot and therefore more difficult. Is this a true observation?


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By Buff Johnson
Oct 5, 2006
smiley face

brenta wrote:
The ATC Guide, in my experience, does not work well in this configuration [cow-tailing]. I've only tried it once that way, but I had horrible friction ... The reason is that the loaded ends of the ropes, those between the device and the rappel anchor, engage the high-friction ends of the slots--those with the grooves.


I think I follow what you are describing, the high-friction mode engages irregardless. I was going to get a Guide this past summer, but went with another Reverso & Reversino (they were on a "dump it" sale price); I'll see if a friend has one and try to cow-tail a rap and see what happens, but I think I can figure it out. Maybe you have to keep firing slack up into the device, which is hard when also using a friction hitch.


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By brenta
From Boulder, CO
Oct 5, 2006
Cima Margherita and Cima Tosa in the Dolomiti di Brenta.  October 1977.

Mark Nelson wrote:
Maybe you have to keep firing slack up into the device, which is hard when also using a friction hitch.

Exactly.


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By brenta
From Boulder, CO
Oct 5, 2006
Cima Margherita and Cima Tosa in the Dolomiti di Brenta.  October 1977.

Lee Jensen wrote:
It seems that with the BD XP the distance from the pivot point would make it easier to lever the release of a autoblock. It appears that the Toucan is levering right off the pivot and therefore more difficult. Is this a true observation?

This how I see it: in both the Toucan and the BD ATC Guide the fulcrum is the attachment point. The Toucan is a first-class lever, and the ATC is a second-class lever. The mechanical advantage of the Toucan should be a little less, because the lever arm you use to release the device is a little short, but there should be no big difference, and the fact that you are pulling down should compensate for that.


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By raygay
From Las Vegas, Nevada
Oct 6, 2006
Cleaning gear on rappel after solo ascent of P3 on Prodigal Sun.

brenta wrote:
Marc, What was your rappel setup? Did you connect the Toucan to your harness by the "pivot point" or just as you would connect a standard ATC?


brenta: I set up my rappels on the Toucan the same as I do for a standard ATC (same as in the second photo above and consistent with the instructions supplied with the Toucan). I suppose you could set it up with a biner connection between the harness and the "pivot point", which I visualize as essentially implementing the autoblock mode in reverse for rappelling. Not having tried it, I'm not sure how well it would work. You mention horrible friction when trying this method on the ATC Guide. If using the Toucan in this mode, I don't know why you couldn't use the release lever to reduce friction on the rope in the v-groove as needed to facilitate the rappel.

- Marc


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By raygay
From Las Vegas, Nevada
Oct 6, 2006
Cleaning gear on rappel after solo ascent of P3 on Prodigal Sun.

brenta wrote:
This how I see it: in both the Toucan and the BD ATC Guide the fulcrum is the attachment point. The Toucan is a first-class lever, and the ATC is a second-class lever. The mechanical advantage of the Toucan should be a little less, because the lever arm you use to release the device is a little short, but there should be no big difference, and the fact that you are pulling down should compensate for that.


brenta: Actually, if I've understood the principles involved correctly, both the Toucan and the ATC Guide act as 2nd class levers when releasing the autoblock because the fulcrum is the attachment point for both the Toucan and the Guide. I also think the Toucan is designed to give greater leverage than the Guide in applying effort against the load. The following diagram illustrates how the the effort applied in pulling down on the Toucan's release lever employs the principles of a 2nd class lever to magnify the applied effort against the load, resulting in rotation of the main body around the fulcrum and release of the braking rope. I don't think forces involved with the Guide provide as much of a lever arm as the Toucan because, on the Guide, the effort and the load are about the same distance from the fulcrum. It's not easy to discern in the diagram below, but a small corner of the lever arm impinges on the Toucan's main body at a point very close to the pivot point (fulcrum). That is where the lever arm applies its rotating force and that is why the Toucan offers greater mechanical advantage. The load is very close to the fulcrum and the effort to overcome the load is applied at a relatively far distance from the fulcrum.

- Marc

The Toucan autoblock release lever employs the principles of a 2nd class lever to magnify the applied effort against the load, resulting in rotation of the main body around the fulcrum and release of the braking rope.
The Toucan autoblock release lever employs the principles of a 2nd class lever to magnify the applied effort against the load, resulting in rotation of the main body around the fulcrum and release of the braking rope.


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By brenta
From Boulder, CO
Oct 6, 2006
Cima Margherita and Cima Tosa in the Dolomiti di Brenta.  October 1977.

Marc, thanks for your detailed reply and the helpful diagram.

I still believe that the Toucan operates as a first-class lever. By definition, that implies that effort and load are applied to opposite sides of the fulcrum, which seems to be the case in your diagram.

To understand the mechanical advantage, for a lever like the one in the diagram, it is better to resort to the principle that the torque applied by the effort arm must balance the torque applied by the load arm. The torque is the product of the arm's length and the component of the force orthogonal to the arm.

One should observe that the direction of the load is fixed (it pulls down). Hence, as the Toucan rotates, the component of the load that contributes to the torque increases from essentially zero to the full weight of the load according to the sine of the angle of rotation.

The direction of the effort is not fixed if you operate the lever by hand. It is more or less fixed if you hitch a sling and pull down with your foot. In any case, the perceived mechanical advantage decreases as the rotation angle of the load-bearing arm increases.

Initially, the effort will be very small, but so is also for the ATC Guide if you pull out to the side rather than up. If you redirect the sling with the ATC guide, you lose that easy start.

In this analysis, I'm sure you will have noticed, I've regarded the Toucan as a rigid body. Your observation about the small corner of the lever arm pushing on the Toucan's main body is relevant to understanding the kind of pressure applied to the main body of the Toucan, but not in analyzing the mechanical advantage experienced by the climber.

Alternatively, you can analyze two levers. One is the second class lever you refer to, and the other one is a first class lever with a very short effort arm and a long load arm. The mechanical advantage is the product of the mechanical advantages of the two levers. While this analysis is certainly possible, it leads to the same conclusions after more work.

I don't dispute that the Toucan may be a better device than the ATC Guide when it comes to giving slack. On the contrary. I'm just trying to shed some light on how it works and how it compares to the ATC Guide. The point I should have made more explicitly in my posting is that things like the friction in a biner if the climber redirects the sling used to release the device, or the direction of pull, have a greater impact on the required effort than the difference in ideal mechanical advantage.


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By raygay
From Las Vegas, Nevada
Oct 6, 2006
Cleaning gear on rappel after solo ascent of P3 on Prodigal Sun.

brenta:

I believe I follow your thinking. Looking at the whole Toucan assembly as a rigid body and acknowledging the effect of the dynamic translation of the forces around the axis of rotation is more accurate than my simplistic assumption of static forces on only the release lever as an isolated system. Very good!

- Marc


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By raygay
From Las Vegas, Nevada
Jun 19, 2008
Cleaning gear on rappel after solo ascent of P3 on Prodigal Sun.

For any who are interested to know . . .

I've continued using the Toucan for nearly two years now. It's not had heavy intensive use, but I have used it regularly in my moderate climbing schedule. The Toucan has endured pretty well. The rivets holding the parts together are still tight. The rotating lever arm has not bent or broken.

Still, although I like the Toucan well enough, I would not recommend the Toucan as superior to the BD Guide or to the new and lighter Petzl Reverso 3. The Toucan is just a bit too complex. It's clever, but not elegantly simple like the Guide or the new Reverso.


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By Buff Johnson
Dec 4, 2009
smiley face

Based on some auto-locking prelim drop testing from Ouray, this device didn't hold up very well. I believe it failed/blew apart at 6kN.

It seemed to me that the Reverso3 didn't perform well either.


The BD Guide did perform in every aspect tested as long as the brakeman was proficient.


I checked the ITRS site and the '09 papers are not yet published. Granted I'm talking about hitting these devices with fairly static systems & rescue masses; but the inference can be drawn to what climbers are using in a recreational setting. Certainly a heads-up about the Toucan might be a benefit here.

From what I saw the BD Guide is a solid device over a wide range of applications.


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By Kiwilassy
From Boulder, CO
Feb 7, 2010
Upper Falls, Boulder Canyon.   <br />December 31st, 2009.

I just purchased one of these from Sierra Trading Post (web order) for $7.49!


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By Puzman
Feb 7, 2010
Little finger

Mark Nelson wrote:
Based on some auto-locking prelim drop testing from Ouray, this device didn't hold up very well. I believe it failed/blew apart at 6kN. It seemed to me that the Reverso3 didn't perform well either.


Do you have any data? I'd be interested to see some real test data on belay device strength.


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By Buff Johnson
Feb 7, 2010
smiley face

This is where the papers will be published:

www.itrsonline.org/index.html

As I understand it, the '09 papers are still to be made available.


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By SexPanther aka Kiedis
Feb 7, 2010
Thumbtastic

I use a GiGi and a standard ATC. Always have a backup device, everything is easy to set up for switching from autoblocking with the GiGi to lead belaying with the ATC. Speeds up transitions.


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