Just like every TR worth knowing, I love gadgets: there are few things more fun than flipping open a state-of-the-art rigging pack and seeing all of the neat stuff inside.  New devices, new hardware, all kinds of gee-whiz doodads guaranteed to make even the most jaded rescuer salivate.

However, picking up one of these packs to wave it at a friend can give you a hernia, and there usually isn’t a truss tucked into the back pocket.  Therein lies the biggest pitfall of a bag carrying everything – namely there’s a shortage of people that can actually carry it, at least for any distance.

In some fire departments, this has reached epidemic proportions: there’s a lot more weight in the compartments than in the water tank.  You can usually get away with this in the Fire Service – after all, what a couple of thousand extra pounds when you’re pushing 40K already?

In Rescue, however, those pounds end up on your back.  As a respected ex- former-military teammate constantly preaches, “ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain”.  I thought about this recently while humping a 50-lb rigging pack up forty (actually four)  flights of stairs.  Now, I’m a bit older than most and my knees aren’t what they used to be, but I didn’t think I was in THAT bad a shape…

Before a trip to Guatemala to teach in 2010, David (Chief Pease of REDS) and I devised a high-line solution using a minimum of hardware.  The people we were teaching didn’t have a lot of hardware to begin with, and their rescues are typically prefaced by long (sometimes VERY long) hikes, so carrying excess weight is counter-productive.  While we’re talking minimalist, how about using one (1)  piece of cord to lace the patient into a basket AND provide  the lifting harness?  A Paracaidista de Guatemala  (Guatemalen Paratrooper) tied this for us –   rather quickly, I might add.

All of this got me to thinking – how much do you really need in a rigging pack?  The following things come to mind:

  • Anchors:  A tensionless hitch is one of the best anchors, and it only uses one caribiner.  Make that zero caribiners if you use a figure 8 follow-through for the finish.  Combine it with a BFT and you have a new benchmark for bomb-proof.
  • Caribiners:  Most of the weight in a typical rigging pack is in caribiners.  You can replace steel with the new general-use aluminum hardware, but how often could you save the hardware?  The fact is that the previously mentioned F8 FT can replace most caribiner usage that doesn’t involve moving ropes – anchors, eye loops, anything that doesn’t have a sharp edge (no, I wouldn’t tie an F8FT on a stainless Russ Anderson pulley).
  • Specialty hardware:  I really like the 540 belay device, but a Munter Hitch is a heck of a lot lighter – ditto for pre-made load-release hitches.  I make an exception for really well-thought-out devices like the Petzel ID that can serve for ascent, descent, and as the base for a Z-drag, all in one block.  Throw the rigging plate away and use a double-bight F8.  Leave the CMC Instructor’s harness at home and go with something a lot lighter.
  • Baskets: Just like everyone else, we have the SS Stokes litters – strong , bulletproof, and heavier than  Paula Dean after a meatloaf dinner.  Replace it with something like a SKED:  Both the SKED and a Oregon Spine Splint or KED will fit in a nice backpack.  As good or better support than the Stokes/backboard combo and much lighter,  especially when you add the associated hardware.

I’d replace a lot of this weight with 1” tubular webbing and prusik cord – maybe more than I need, but its light, packs tight and has a myriad of other applications.

With a little effort, you can halve the weight of a rigging pack and end up with more versatility than you started with.  You’ll arrive on site in much better shape to put your master plan into operation, and you’ll look much fresher for the Fire Engineering magazine cover shot.

As Technical Rescuers, we should always remember that the only critical weight on any mission is the three pounds between your ears – everything else should be negotiable.  Pounds on your back (or on your posterior) should be subject to constant and merciless scrutiny.