Petzl Pirana

The Petzl Pirana is a one of the first descenders specifically designed for canyoning…

Canyon Magazine
May 2013

The Petzl Pirana is a one of the first descenders specifically designed for canyoning. Although many more have come onto the market since the Pirana was introduced, the Piranha still remains one of the best descenders on the market for canyoning. It’s fairly obvious why it’s called Piranha when you turn it on its side.

I have been using the Piranha for some time now and is my preferred descender over a standard figure of eight or an ATC due to the multiple braking options and can be installed on the rope without removing it from the harness. There are three different braking positions to select from before beginning a descent which you can choose. Depending on the different factors such as the rope you have chosen, the weight you are, how fast you want to descend based on experience and the terrain will depend on which brake setting you want to employ.

There are two recommended carabiners that fit the Piranha. These are the Petzl Attache and Petzl William. You can either use the Screw Lock or Self locking carabiners and as everyone does have their own preference on what they like so choose the one you feel the most comfortable with. You can use other 3rd party carbines with the Pirana but I believe you are better off staying within the same family.

The Pirana is also best used with the Petzl Canyon Harness which has horizontal belay loop. This way when you attach the carabiner and Pirana to the belay loop it lies flat. If you are going to be using a rock climbing harness with a vertical belay loop, it will work better if you attach a Mallion Rapide link to the belay loop and as this will change the orientation not introduce a twist in the belay loop.

Pirana Parts

  • 0: Eye (Anchor)
  • 1: Fin (First cleat)
  • 2: Hook (Second cleat)
  • 3: Mouth (Third cleat)
  • 4: Rubber Positioner (Carabiner Guide)
  • 5: Carabiner Attachment (Attachment Hole)
  • 6: Body (Rope path hole)

Rope recommendations

Petzl recommends a rope diameter of 9 mm to 13 mm in size. A 9 mm rope will provide a very quick descent compared to a 12 mm ~ 13 mm static rope.


Rigging the Piranha

There are three main positions for running the rope that give its unique braking. Running the rope under the carabiner helps prevent the formation of a lark’s head hitch around the body which can happening using a traditional figure of eight.


Position 1 – Minimum braking

Position 1 is through the Rope Path Hole, through the carabiner and placed on the top side of the Pirana. This is used for a quick descent and also for thicker rope up to 13 mm in size.


Position 2 – Medium braking

Position 2 is through the Rope Path Hole, through the carabiner and half of the rope is under the first cleat. This is used for an average speed descent.


Position 3 – Maximum braking

Position 3 is through the Rope Path Hole, through the carabiner and then under both the first cleat and the second cleat. This is used for a slow descent. You can use a smaller diameter rope when using this position.

Weight Recommendations

Weight plays an important part in deciding on which breaking position you want to use. As a recommendation this is what we have tried and found that works best.

  • Position 1 – 40 kg ~ 50 kg
  • Position 2 – 50 kg ~ 70 kg
  • Position 3 – 70 kg ~ 90 kg
  • Again, you also have to factor in your rope. If the rope is wet or dry as that too can change the way the braking speed handles.

Additional Breaking & Locking off the Pirana

There are times when you need additional braking and to do this with the Piranha you have 2 options.


The first method of hooking it over the second cleat is quite tricky to do when you are in the middle of descent as you can move into a path of less resistance. It is ideal to start this way or wait until you get to a ledge to adjust.


The second method is warp it around the second and third cleat. This provides a lot of friction and be quite difficult to move smoothly. I tend to use this when I know I am going to be stopping off halfway in an abseil to take photographs.


You can apply a temporary stop with the Pirana by wrapping your rope around the second and third cleats twice. Under this configuration, you still must hold onto the belay end of the rope.

To do a hard stop there are numerous ways to do this. The two recommended ways from Petzl to lock off the Pirana depend on certain situations.


The first method is to slide the rope between the anchor rope and the “rope path hole”. This effectively locks off the device for gentle declines allowing both hands to be free. We would not recommend this position for anything more than a 60 degree decline.


The second method requires you to do a temporary stop, but instead of pulling the belay rope back towards you, apply a mule hitch to the anchor rope. To do this pull the up, and make a small loop in the rope behind the anchor rope and then feed a bight through the loop and tighten. This effectively locks off device.


You do get a bit of slippage when you first apply this but once it is done you can use both hands. To lock it off further if you are going to be in a position for a long time, we recommend in doing another overhand knot using the hitch.


Position 1

For a quick descent that you have done before and just want to get down on a single rope. Using double ropes from 9 mm to 11 mm in size.

Position 2

Don’t need fast or slow this is where you need to be. Long abseil over 20 meters.

Position 3

For a first descent you have never done before and want to take it slow and steady. Lock off the device halfway through an abseil for photography or bolting. Tired, cold and unsure.


When you have used the Pirana for some time you will notice the grooves where the rope runs. Our advice is that when you have reached around about a quarter to a third of the way through the metal it would be time to replace the Pirana.


Our thanks to Alteria Japan who is Petzl’s distributor for checking the accuracy of the documentation.