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Equipment Use
Capacities and Capabilities of the Gibbs Ascender

by: Carl Levon Kustin

Recreational climbers and rescue personnel have utilized the Gibbs Ascender for many years. Like any product it has gone through evolution of change to improve its performance capabilities. Understanding the limitations of the equipment to be used in a rescue system is critical for rescue personnel. To avoid system failure means understanding and anticipating where the system could potentially fail.

The following are the manufactures models, usage classifications, construction and recommended working capacities:

    #1 Gibbs Ascender - "Aluminum, Free Running - Recreationuse.
    Manufacturer recommended working load:500 lbs
    Rope damage will occur at approximately:2100 lbs
    Ultimate breaking strength:2500 lbs
    #2 Gibbs Ascender - "Aluminum, Spring Loaded - Recreation use.
    Manufacturer recommended working load:500 lbs
    Rope damage will occur at approximately:2100 lbs
    Ultimate breaking strength:2500 lbs
    #3 Gibbs Ascender - "Aluminum, Spring Loaded - Rescue use.
    Manufacturer recommended working load:1000 lbs
    Rope damage will occur at approximately:3000 lbs
    Ultimate breaking strength:5200 lbs
    #3S Gibbs Ascender - "Stainless Steel, Spring Loaded - Rescue use.
    Manufacturer recommended working load:1000 lbs
    Rope damage will occur at approximately:3000 lbs
    Ultimate breaking strength:5200 lbs
    #4 Gibbs Ascender - 5/8 " Aluminum, Spring Loaded - Rescue use.
    Manufacturer recommended working load:1000 lbs
    Rope damage will occur at approximately:3000 lbs
    Ultimate breaking strength:5200 lbs
    #4S Gibbs Ascender - 5/8" Stainless Steel, Spring Loaded -Rescue use.
    Manufacturer recommended working load:1000 lbs
    Rope damage will occur at approximately:3000 lbs
    Ultimate breaking strength:5200 lbs

For years rescue personnel used the #1 & #2 Gibbs Ascender. The new generation #3 & #4 Gibbs Ascender have a higher load capacity due to the thicker shell, larger diameter pin, larger cam with wider grip edge and a indented shell that causes the cam to hold the rope more effectively. With these modifications rescue personnel have found additional resistance when positioning the Gibbs Ascender on the rope. The #3 & 4 Gibbs Ascender does not "run" as easily as the older style #1 & #2.

Don't throw away your older style Gibbs Ascender just yet. Rescue personnel have found practical applications for the older style Gibbs Ascender. For example, during a vertical rescue in a shaft, a piggy back mechanical advantage system can be attached to a victim or rescuer's safety line using a #1 or #2 Gibbs Ascender. These Gibbs will run down the safety line better than the newer generation models.

Understanding the limitations of your equipment can allow you to choose the best piece of equipment for your specific problem. Know the specifications of your equipment! If you are in doubt, contact the manufacturer or their distributor to find out.

For comment on the Gibbs product line, contact Peter Gibbs the manufacturer.


Carl Levon Kustin is the lead instructor and President of Lee & Associates. He has been a Firefighter for 17 years and a Rescue Squad Officer with FEMA Task Force 3 for 5 years.

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