Activity: Via Ferrata

Via Ferrata: Discover The Alpine World

Via Ferrata Equipment

What is a via ferrata and how do via ferrata routes work?

You’re high up in the mountains and balancing your way across a wobbly suspension bridge. Below, a raging waterfall plummets into the abyss while ahead, a steep mountain face with unique rock formations marks your way to the summit. This is a typical setting for a via ferrata. Climbing via ferratas is an exciting way of independently exploring the alpine world without the need for complex belay techniques. It offers an introduction to verticals and lots of fun, especially for children. Via ferratas open the door to terrain that would otherwise be inaccessible to many people.

A via ferrata is a route through relatively to very steep or exposed terrain that is secured by wire ropes. These are anchored to the rock at varying intervals depending on the level of difficulty and the shape of the terrain. Climbers secure themselves onto the wire ropes with a via ferrata lanyard and can hold onto or pull themselves up them. Furthermore, steps, iron ladders, and iron pins as well as footholds and handholds carved into the rock help people climb the via ferrata. The level of exposure dictates the extent to which climbers can feel the mountain breeze on their face. 

What are the key considerations when climbing in via ferratas?

It’s not hard to climb via ferratas. These come in a huge range of different lengths, difficulty ratings, and levels of exposure, for everyone from beginners to experienced via ferrata climbers, so exciting experiences are always guaranteed! However, there are several rules that you should always abide by to prevent your adventure ending with an unpleasant experience or even an accident. If you are new to via ferratas, we recommend you complete a course, for example with the Alpenverein (Alpine Association) or a mountain guide office, to give you a solid grasp of the basics and enable you to use via ferratas as safely as possible!

In all events, it is imperative that you know how to use your equipment safely. To help you with this, the sections below explain each and every part of your technical via ferrata equipment.

    What via ferrata equipment do I need?

    A complete set of equipment for climbing via ferratas—made by EDELRID.

    To safely climb a via ferrata, you need the right equipment. 

    The basic climbing-specific equipment consists of:

    1. Via ferrata lanyard (EN 958:2017)

    2. Climbing harness (EN 12277-C)

    3. Helmet (EN 12492)

    4. Gloves

    Depending on the requirements and difficulty of a via ferrata, we also recommend carrying additional safety equipment, which we will explain below.

    EDELRID Via Ferrata

    The via ferrata lanyard

    A via ferrata lanyard enables you to enjoy safe mountain experiences. It connects you to the wire rope like an umbilical cord and is the central piece of equipment on any via ferrata. Via ferrata lanyards are Y-shaped and consist of two carabiners connected to a textile shock absorber via two arms. If you fall, the shock absorber will deploy, absorbing the fall energy (impact energy) and dynamically slowing the fall. The sewn webbing on the via ferrata lanyard is directly fastened to the harness’s tie-in loop using a girth hitch.

    You should generally always attach both carabiners to the via ferrata. When you reach an anchor point, always move one carabiner at a time:

    • Move one via ferrata carabiner to the next section.
    • Meanwhile, remain secured to the previous section with the second carabiner.
    • Move the rear carabiner to join the first carabiner in the front section. You should practice using a via ferrata lanyard: it’s better to start with easy routes and gradually work your way up to more difficult ones.

    How is a modern via ferrata lanyard structured?

    1. Via ferrata carabiner
    2. Elasticated arms
    3. Swivel
    4. Shock absorber
    5. Tie-in loop
    6. Holder for snap-in carabiner

    The climbing harness

    Your climbing harness connects you to your via ferrata lanyard. Attach the via ferrata lanyard to the harness’s tie-in loop. If you fall, the load will be extensively transmitted to your thighs and lumbar region so as not to put as much strain on your spine. Ideally, the sit harness shouldn’t ride up and will be comfortable to wear even on long routes. To safely climb via ferratas with children, we recommend that their sit harness be combined with a chest harness or even replaced with a full body harness. This keeps little ones upright even if they fall. Combining a chest harness and a sit harness can also provide additional safety if you plan to carry a heavy backpack


    The helmet

    The helmet protects the via ferrata user against falling rocks and injuries in the event of a fall. It should be light, fit well, have ventilation openings, and be easily adjusted to any head size and shape.


    The gloves

    We recommend wearing close-fitting leather gloves on via ferratas to protect your hands from injury. This is because the wire rope can have sharp strands or pointed ends. A secure cuff fastening is important as this prevent the gloves from slipping off if your hands get sweaty.

    Ideal for children on via ferrata: the VIA FERRATA BELAY KIT

    There are some situations in which additional rope protection can be useful. This reduces the risk of falling on vertical or technically challenging sections. Beginners and children feel safer and can enjoy a more liberated experience of the mountain world. As all via ferrata lanyards are designed for a body weight of over 40 kg, people who weigh less than this must be secured by a rope. To do this, however, you need a good grasp of the necessary rope and belay techniques. The VIA FERRATA BELAY KIT greatly simplifies this situation. It comprises a belay plate with an automatic backstop and a 15 m belay rope with sewn terminations. It is particularly light and compact as well as intuitive to use thanks to its color coding.

    Want to find out more about the VIA FERRATA BELAY KIT?

    Difficulty ratings and choosing the right via ferrata

    F, PD, D, TD, or ED? 

    If you’ve ever flicked through a via ferrata guide or looked up a particular route online, you’re sure to have come across one of these difficulty ratings (see table below). When planning a route, it’s important to know what you are getting yourself into as the harder a via ferrata, the more physical and mental strength and better surefootedness and head for heights it demands.

    Depending on the guide’s author and the country, the difficulty ratings are not directly comparable as, unfortunately, no standardized, coordinated scale has yet been created. When planning a route, you should therefore use the difficulty rating for guidance but also carefully read the descriptions, remembering to take note of information such as the ascent, duration, elevation difference, and weather forecast.

    Austria / Germany Italy France
    A F (facile) F (facile)
    A/B M/D (media difficoltá) PD (peu difficile)
    B M/D (media difficoltá) PD (peu difficile)
    B/C D (difficile) D (difficile)
    C D (difficile) D (difficile)
    C/D MD (molto difficile) TD (trés difficile)
    D D (extrema difficoltá) D (extremement difficile)
    D/E D (extrema difficoltá) D (extremement difficile)
    E D (extrema difficoltá) D (extremement difficile)
    E/F D (extrema difficoltá) D (extremement difficile)
    F D (extrema difficoltá) D (extremement difficile)

    History: from where did via ferratas originate?

    Via ferratas have been around for a long time. Their eventful history dates right back to the 19th century. Even before then though, there were a few isolated climbing routes through the mountains. However, these were purely economic transport routes with wooden climbing aids but no protective wires.

    The first via ferratas

    The first via ferrata was built on the Dachstein in Styria in 1843. At the time, Friedrich Simony and his team were the first to permanently protect an alpine route with iron climbing aids. By 1903, via ferratas on the Großglockner, Zugspitze, and in the Pyrenees had followed. During the First World War, soldiers built via ferratas to help them move around in the mountains more easily and secure the provision of supplies. One such via ferrata can be found on the Toblinger Knoten, for example. This and similar via ferratas are generally listed in the climbing guides as ‘historical via ferratas’.


    Modern sport via ferratas

    Today’s via ferratas are largely designed for sport. They involve numerous, sometimes creative challenges such as overhanging ladders, wobbly suspension bridges, or ropes for balancing over a gorge. In many cases, the climbing adventure is also rewarded with an amazing summit experience and fantastic views. Nowadays though, there are also pure sport or fun via ferratas where the focus is not on the alpine destination but the via ferrata itself. Some via ferratas can even be found in old silos or similar industrial facilities.