If you’ve been around climbing for a little bit then you’ve probably heard the concept of fall factors explained. A supposedly simple formula to determine the amount of force in a lead fall that the climber and gear are subject too. Sadly as simple as the concept is, it is still misunderstood by a surprisingly high amount of climbers. The importance of understanding fall factors is risk assessment when leading a climb, and understanding how much abuse your gear can withstand.
To start in keeping things simple assume a perfect world, normally I would cry about the world not being perfect but with fall factors an imperfect world actually acts in the climbers favor.
Distance fallen/total amount of rope out
Because of this the maximum fall factor a climber can take is a Factor 2, if a climber climbs 50 feet above their belay with no gear and falls they will fall for 100 feet excluding rope stretch, 100/50=2 to fall further than that would require ripping out the belay at which point its no longer a fall factor, rather a crater at the bottom of the cliff. On the flip if a climber climbed the same 50 feet and was smart enough to place pro at 25 feet up from the belay now that same fall would total 50 feet on the same 50 foot of rope out as before 50/50= factor 1. Or if the climber had placed several pieces with the last being 40 feet up from the belay you’d have the same 50 foot of rope with a 20 foot fall potential 20/50= factor 0.4 The lower the fall factor, the lower force will translate through the system from the fall.
In the kindergarten level diagram above (someday I’ll figure out how to color inside the lines…) point A represents the belayer, B the climber and C the pro. to understand possible fall factors take 2X the distance between C and B and divide it by the TOTAL distance between A and B
A factor 1 fall is one of the most important falls to understand for multiple reasons
- Rope impact ratings are based off testing at factor 1
- Exceeding a factor one will exceed the listed impact rating of the rope
- Factor 1 and above equate to hitting the ground on the first pitch.
NOTE* when calculating fall factors keep apples as apples and oranges as oranges. If using total fall distance after rope stretch use total rope length AFTER rope stretch. If using rope length before rope stretch use fall distance before rope stretch.