Review by: rcaret, 2003-09-28
The Rock Exotica Soloist ($100) is similar to the Solo Aid, but feeds rope out automatically, making it superior for free climbing. It is about twice the size of the Solo Aid, is heavier, and costs $20 more. This device also has a three-part construction and is assembled around the rope. Threading the rope properly and correctly positioning the unit between your sit and chest harness (a chest harness is mandatory for using the Soloist) takes practice, which is wisely done at home.
When you are climbing, the Soloist glides smoothly along the rope, letting you do harder free moves than any of the knot belays or the Solo Aid. However, the device won’t catch upside-down or head-first falls. In situations where you might fall inverted, such as laybacks or roofs, you need to tie backup knots close to the Soloist or switch to the figure-8 belay.
Aid climbers will find the Soloist more bane than boon. The unit tangles easily with an aid rack, and its hands-off operation isn’t an advantage since while aid climbing you are hanging on gear and always have a hand free.
Toprope solo climbing is the Soloists’ real specialty and for this use we favored it over all other solo devices. It glides up the rope easily, locks securely when you weight it, releases easily when you want to resume climbing, stays out of your way because it rides above your waistline, is easy to back up, and quickly converts into a functional and controllable single-rope rappel device.
The Soloist, like all solo-belay devices, works best on straight-up topropes set on vertical or less-than-vertical climbs. Overhanging and traversing routes are difficult to get back onto once you have fallen, and cause the device to drag hard because the rope pulls at an angle rather than running straight through the unit.
We used the Soloist on 10-, 10.5- and 11-millimeter ropes, these being the sizes recommended by Rock Exotica, and found that thicker ropes produced only slightly more drag. For best toprope performance attach an empty pack or small rack to the bottom of the rope, which lets the Soloist slide up the rope easier.