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Black Diamond nForce Editorial Review

Submitted by vegastradguy on 2007-08-05

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 7 | Comments: 14 | Views: 13868

by John Wilder

By holdplease2

I’ve been running the Petzl ascenders for years. Partly because that’s what I started with (because they were pretty) and partly because I’ve now found three nearly new additional full sets at the base of climbs. I’ve had no complaints about Petzl ascenders and would have bought them next time I needed a pair. But sometimes you don’t know what you’ve been missing until you try something new.

…and that’s how I feel about my new n-force ascenders from BD. You don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve tried them. My Petzl ascenders (all 8 of them) are now relegated to garage duty, and my nForce ascenders are my first choice for walls. I’ve spent 24 days on the wall with them and have few complaints.

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Black Diamond's nForce Ascenders
Black Diamond
Black Diamond's nForce Ascenders. Photo: Black Diamond.

Are they pretty? Oh yes, they are. And this is a priority. As a wall climber, your ascenders will constantly be hanging from your harness, a fashion accessory, to say the least. The gun-metal grey (Black Diamond calls this Anthracite, but I’ll forgive them for that) and the classic gold look fantastic. And boy are they an attention-grabber. Nobody has seen these before, and you’ll get a chat from every hottie who sees you with these.

But now that we have the important stuff out of the way:

The BD N-force ascender does everything that other ascenders do. The beauty of them is that they do some things that other’s don’t, such as shift extra force onto muddy/icy ropes, allow for 360 degree rotation of your attachment carabiner, and offer multiple modes of operation.

The BD ascenders have three features that set them apart from, and in my opinion above, any other ascenders on the market.

1) Force-Multiplying Linkage: I can hear it now “Ooooh! They have too many moving parts...” If I hear that one more time… Ok, so it is a valid concern, if the moving parts are fragile, have room to let “gunk” into the system, or don’t provide a super-cool benefit.

Such is not the case with the Black Diamond N-Force ascender. The linkage is basically a set of joints that let the ascender shift ever-so-slightly like a parallelogram. The joints are tight, simple pivot points. The shift does provide a significant benefit, especially if you plan on climbing muddy/dirty routes, ascending in caves, or climbing ropes that have become icy. Basically, if you plan on moving beyond the trade routes in Yosemite in peak season, this feature could come in handy.

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The nForce with its clamp open- note the teeth sticking straight out rather than pointing down- this is part of how the nForce increases its hold by taking advantage of the linkage system pressing it against the rope.
Black Diamond
The nForce with its clamp open- note the teeth sticking straight out rather than pointing down - this is part of how the nForce increases its hold by taking advantage of the linkage system pressing it against the rope. Photo: Black Diamond.

2) Multiple Ways to Open the Cam: With most every ascender on the market, you have to “Reach” with your thumb around the upper portion of the ascender and wrench the cam lever open with your thumb. If you’re used to it, there is no problem with this. I must admit, I was a little confused by the BD system, until I figured it out. If you try these in the store, you’ll probably get a nice forearm pump trying to figure it out before you get it to work…but once it works, it’s awesome.

Basically, you pull in with your trigger finger on one side of the cam and bump the black thumb trigger with your thumb and a small pin goes through a “Z” shaped cut-out on the body of the ascender. It is nearly impossible to do this by accident (a nice safety plus) and it is not at all awkward to do it right.

But there are options. You can also “Snake” the pin through the cutout using your thumb only on the thumb knob, not unlike the action on the Petzl ascender, though doing it this way may require more finesse on the Black Diamond ascender than on the Petzl.

To close the cam, just bump the black thumb-catch and the ascender snaps shut.

In all, I’m very impressed with the safety, smooth action, and ease-of-use of the cam operating system.

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The nForce in the closed position. Notice the large opening for your carabiner- something Black Diamond required when they were designing it!
Black Diamond
The nForce in the closed position. Notice the large opening for your carabiner - something Black Diamond required when they were designing it! Photo: Black Diamond.

3) 360 Degree Carabiner Attachment: As simple as it may seem, this is the best feature of the BD ascender. The hole in the handle is big enough to allow you to rotate a giant locking carabiner 360 degrees through the hole, accommodating even the beefiest twist-lock mechanism. This has several advantages. If you’ve ever had the gate of one ascender carabiner bind on the other ascender, you know how frustrating it can be. Now, you can just flip the carabiner around to avoid the problem. This feature also makes it easier to remove either your daisy or your aider from your ascending setup, as now neither will become trapped in your system. Very nice, Black Diamond, thank you!

Room for Improvement: Nearly every new product that enters the market has some room for improvement, and I’m sure that the Black Diamond NForce ascender is no different. Occasionally, the linkage shift will cause the ascender to “Nose Dive” onto the rope, clamping onto it and preventing upward movement for a moment. This is not a problem when actually ascending, but if you are hauling with the ascender attached to your belay loop, it can be a pain. This is especially true if you are counterweight hauling and trying to coordinate hauling motion with a partner. Next thing you know, you’re a stroke behind, off the rhythm, and apologizing to your grumbling partner for screwing up.

I found that keeping a little pressure on the lower part of the ascender with the palm of my hand prevents this problem for the most part. I guess it’s just the small sacrifice I’ll have to make to continue to use this versatile, convenient, and oh yes, very attractive ascender.

Go to this item in our Gear Database: click here.

Full Disclosure: The company that manufactured this equipment provided it free of charge to and then provided it as compensation to the reviewer for his or her review.


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14 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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I want some!!!!
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I have some ;-) No respectable gear tart would be without them :-)

But.......even though they may be sexy, attractive and otherwise good, it all comes down to the User! I have only tried them on 2 pitches of jumaring so far! I like them but I seem to be not as well skilled in being able to operate the thumb catch! I think once you master that, then they are actually better than my Petzl ones!

Kate, did you find they "felt", floppier, (is that a word?), compared to your Petzl's?
When mucking about with my setup, I kinda got the feeling, the BD nForce ones, tended to get stuck more (but again that is Operator error I assume)!

Many thanks Kate for your great review!

cheers dirtbagger
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I've heard some people claiming that the straight teeth increase rope wear. Have you seen any evidence of this?

thanks - dave
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5 out of 5 stars bd told me that the straight teeth actually decrease rope wear compared to the downward pointing teeth. the way the nForce works is by levering the straight teeth into the sheath, acting as a clamp (kinda like the grigri, only with teeth). also, the teeth are not nearly as aggressive as the Petzl ascenders.

that said, i'll leave it to kate to answer it from a users perspective.
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5 out of 5 stars 5 *'s. Somehow I can't vote. Nice review.

Kate, you have a garage? ;-)

Best, Kim
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5 out of 5 stars nice review. and they really do look sexy.
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Hi Friends:

Sorry for the delay in responding, I was out climbing. :)

Regarding rope wear, I have not seen evidence of this. I've climbed one route with these ascenders (17 pitches, cleaning 1/3 of the pitches, hauling all of them) on a Mammut Supersafe, which still looks brand new. Mostly because the rope *Kicks Ass*.

The other wall was climbed half on my Partner's (Pass the Piton Pete's) rope and half on the above supersafe. Haven't seen any weird wear.

I could imagine that the outward pointing teeth might wear slightly more when scooting the ascender up the rope. However, John and BD are right, the teeth aren't nearly as aggressive as those on the petzl ascenders. This means that when they grip the rope they penetrate into the sheath fibers less overall. I would bet that its a wash...maybe a little more wear when scooting up the rope, maybe a little less when clamping down.

I haven't found the ascenders to be more floppy, other than the slight "nosedive" effect if you don't keep a little pressure on with your palm, as mentioned in the review.

After my first wall with these, I wasn't totally dialed. I only jumared four of the pitches, though. I had my doubts. However, after two walls, I prefer them to petzl. They take some getting used to, from the standpoint of the thumb/finger trigger action, and you have to do it right...pull with your trigger finger and bump with your thumb.

I'll keep an eye on this thread and would love to answer further questions on these sweet ascenders. Thank you for sending the questions along!


PS - Kim, I have a massive garage (so lucky!), and two of the three walls are peg board, with all of my gear arranged by brand and size, with the carabiners organized by type and function. My ropes each have their own rope hook. Its pure heaven. :)
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5 out of 5 stars Kate,

How about a YouTube trip report of your garage? Imagine..."the camera takes a slow loving pan across each wall, lingering on each and every hook with those wild bird name, each and every pin, the twelve hammers, the double A5, the single ledge, the 6 haul bags, each and every cam, and ending with (of course) the eight Petzl ascenders hanging in their place of honor in what we can only call the "historic" section of the wall. Color commentary with witty antidotes and funny stories would highlight the TR." What do you think? ;-)

Another question - I think I have two and a half pairs of these now useless ascenders. Wind chimes, maybe?

Seriously - do let us know how you like the new PD harness. My Shield needs replacing.

Best, Kim
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You've answered how the ascender performs in terms of fully opening the cam. How does it work when you just want to ease the cam off a bit as is required when the weight of the rope below the ascender is not enough to allow the ascender to freely slide up the rope (at the start of jugging a pitch and after tying in short)? How does this action compare to the petzl? Do you still use your thumb to ease the cam or is that what the trigger is designed for?
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Hey ASU climber...

It TOTALLY rocks at this. Because you can move the cam with your forefinger on the trigger without contorting your hand, it is simple as pie. Doesn't require the "Thumb Reach" of the Petzl ascenders. Its kinda second nature and veeeery smooth.

However, due to the outward pointing teeth, you have to ascend just a bit higher before you can stop manipulating the cam and have it just slide up the rope based on the rope's weight alone.

Hope this helps,

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Contrary to literature and the review, they won't clear the sleeve on kong autolockers.
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Ok, sorry to hear that...I don't have a Kong autolocker, but it works on my fatty lockers, so I figure it works on enough that you can find something that works well.
So a caveat - There may be some larger biners that won't clear.

Thank you, hotgemini.

From another hot gemini. ;)

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I'll add another vote of confidence for the n-Forces. I've only jugged ~250' on them so far setting routes at my local gym and I have pretty much the same things to say about them as Kate, the 'nose-dive' effect was a pain at first but I quickly got used to it.

The main thing I noticed was that the angle the handle hangs at was more natural for my wrist (similar to a leashless/ergo ice tool) and I didn't get that annoying blister on the base of my pinky that I always get from the Petzls when using the 1 jug/1 grigri method.

Also I like having the handle oversized so I can fit a winter glove in there easily for those days when Seattle winter just isn't dreary enough and I have to go and aid in the sleet at Index.
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They do weight 20% more than the Petzel Ascender. This alone pretty much makes the Petzel the reigning champ for anyone concerned about weight...and seriously, who isn't!?

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