A “Z-Drag” is also known as the “poor man’s come-along.”
The Z-Drag is considered an important tool in whitewater rescue and is used primarily for the recovery of pinned boats.
The Z-Drag is considered an important tool in mountain rescue because of its simplicity and is used for nearly all lifting systems.
It also serves as an excellent method for tightening the rope to be crossed in a Tyrolean traverse, where the other end is also fixed to a stable
Once again I found myself board to tears in yet another doctor’s waiting room, when I picked up an old copy of a sportsmen’s magazine. One of the
articles I found there was for an updated version of the relatively simple Z-Drag. Something I had learned about years before when I attended a
mountain rescue training course up in the Colorado Rockies. As I read I quickly became annoyed with this author. In his attempt to make himself sound
bigger badder and wiser then his readers; He managed to turn a simple technique into a needlessly complex confusing mess…. So I will now attempt in
my own way to correct that error and try to teach you the right way to rig a Z-Drag.
I warn you now… don’t just scan over this lesion and believe yourself to be an expert.
This technique requires a thorough understanding of its theory use and lots and lots of practice.
Learning to do this correctly can help you lift anything heavy. Like a game up a tree for skinning and butchering, Un-sticking a mired ATV or rescuing
a buddy stranded on a cliff ledge. Learning to rig a Z-Drag properly gives you a 3 to 1 haul ratio, with only a minimal amount of equipment.
So what does that mean in laymen’s terms…
This handy dandy trick can transform a tire old fat man, such as myself, into a regular old superman with the strength of three grown men!
So are you ready for this? ----- Great then lets began.
The first thing you need is a skill, and that skill is the ability to tie a “Prusik” knot… Oh don’t look like that; this will be one of the
easiest knots you’ll ever learn to make.
Get it now???
As for the gear list you need
1. About 100 feet of good haul rope.
2. 12 feet of smaller 5mm rope cut in half and the two sections tied into loops. You’ll make your Prusik knot out of one of these sections.
3. 2 count em “Two” carabiners. I mean real ones and not those little cheap ones on your key ring.
4. Optional are 2 petzl ultra legere pulleys. They cost about $4. And can be found online or at any good mountaineering store. They are really a small
wheel that turns your carabiners into pulleys…cuts down the drag on the rope, especially if that rope is wet… nice if you have em… but… they
look like this
now for the how too
Tie off one end of the haul rope to whatever needs lifting…. from that point go back from the attachment point…Maybe a foot or so… maybe more
maybe less… Less is better but might not be feasible… there you attach that Prusik knot. Attach the first of your two carabiners to the loop.
Now you need a good sturdy anchor point Like a truck bumper, tree trunk or for lack of anything better a stout stake driven at an angle into the
ground opposite of the direction you’ll be pulling. Wrap your second piece of 5mm rope around that anchor and attach your second carabiner. Now run
the haul line through the biners as shown in the photo
Before you start pulling… and really, pulling is the next and final step…. there are a couple of things to know…
The first is there is no break, meaning if you let go the rope… whenever your lifting is going to fall right back down… you need to preplan your
lift …position yourself so once the… whatever it is… is lifted free… then you can tie off the haul rope, to a tree or truck bumper… it also
helps to have a second person standing by. They might need to slide the Prusik knot back into position or swing you’re…. Whatever… Into the
Also it makes no difference if you rig a Z-Drag along a horizontal or vertical axis; (meaning up and down or side to side) what is important is you
maintain the basic “Z” configuration. Depart from that too much and you quickly lose lifting capacity. Then you’re done.
Remember too this is not some cheesy parlor trick… you can hurt yourself or others if you rig it wrong or use poor quality gear. If you really want
to be the hero then you need to practice, practice, practice…
On a tech note, you can in a pinch, use the rope in your toss bag, just remember the rope they typically use in a rescue toss pack is not a
“static” rope, expect some stretching… to keep that stretch down try to use the shortest haul line you can get away with. By keeping your line
short you remove the bounce when pulling, too much bounce and you might find you’re… Whatever… is pulling you, off your feet….
Remember too this is just a starting point... there are many many ways to rig a Z-Drag I've only covered one of those... the other methods I leave to
you to discover and they are well worth the time to learn
Watching how one is rigged and seeing for yourselves is priceless so if you can... watch this quick vid youtu.be...
Now get up out of your chairs and go have fun in the great outdoors… if anyone objects you tell em Daddybare said it was okay.
As an advanced rope rescue physics instructor I have hauled hundreds of people and other loads up cliffs and banks with Z systems. Here are a few
Use a smaller diameter rope for the prusik than the host (main) line or it will never grab.
If you tie your prusiks so they have a very small tail then the pulley will mind the prusik automatically for you. This will allow you to run the Z
system much faster.
Prusiks, once they grab, hold with great veracity. An 8mm prusik on an 11mm rescue rope can hold with a tension of nearly 3000kg and will end up
tearing the mantle off of the host rope rather than start sliding down it. Because of this a prusik can be difficult to disengage during multiple
resets you will need to do during a pull. An improved prusik (called a Backman hitch) incorporates a carabiner as a release. I'll upload a video of
If the load is so heavy or burdened by the ropes drag along the ground that you need to set up a multi stage Z then Make sure you set up a long run.
This is because the the last stages will move so slowly that the stretch in the rope and re-engaging of the prusiks may take up the entire distance of
a short run, especially if the rope is wet.
Prusiks are great for use a tensioners for things like tents tarps and Hammocks too. In fact I have them tied permanently into my hammock to easily
adjust the camber as it stretches.
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