Harry Houdini is best known to us as a magician and an escape artist.  Many of his best-known feats were not only dramatic, but also dangerous.   It is important to remember that he survived and thrived in his profession because he understood his challenges, had the right equipment for the job, and practiced and planned to minimize the risk and maximize the response. It is to these values and techniques that we dedicate and model our very own Houdini Kit.

Houdini Kit Overview
The Cal-ESAR Houdini Kit was inspired by the idea that with the right equipment and training, you should be able to get yourself safely out of any backcountry surprise you might encounter. 

Technical Rope training tends to emphasize knots and systems, and introduces you to personal safety, and skills that don't normally get used in the real world, like the rappel.  This type of training is usually in a static setup; you do your rappel, you get back up and dismantle the system.  Our kit is designed to let you not only do these things, but to also handle the more common Cal-ESAR backcountry situation, where you must do these things on the move, and still be able to recover you equipment without backtracking.  Some of these situations might include:
  • Cross-country traverse through slippery terrain.  It's not bad enough to do a rappel, but you want a safety line to keep you from doing an unexpected glissade down a hill.
  • Wet creek crossing.  You might be able to just go for it, but if you slip, you and/or your gear might be lost.  Setting up a simple system will get you and your gear across.
  • Improvised stretcher
  • Stokes Litter shoulder carry strap.
  • Setup and recovery of a rappel ring or friction saver or edge protection from the bottom.
The kit we define here lets you do all of these tasks, and more.  It's make up continues to evolve, and most of the components we describe can be substituted with your own gear of similar or superior specs.  

Before you read any farther on this site, remember that this kit is not a magic bullet, and cannot get you out of every situation.  There's no substitute for real training from people who have experience, and know what they are doing; reading it here, or watching a couple of YouTube's best are not enough.  There's an old saying that notes that natural selection works - and it's forever.  Be safe out there!

The Kit

Below you will find an overview of what's in the kit.  For more detailed information on the contents and their usage, look at Kit Resources, which will be updated and modified on a ongoing basis.

Personal Gear

Uniform Rappel Belt: Yates 1.5" Uniform Belt with front V-Ring.
This belt gives you a quick attachment point to a rope.  It's not designed for you to rappel with it alone, for that you need leg loops (below).

Leg Loops: Fastrap II Leg Loops When you need to rappel, you need a harness, but they restrict your movement and are uncomfortable to wear long term when you are hiking.  The solution is removeable leg loops that you can add/remove quickly to your existing Rappel Belt:

Gloves: Gloves keep your hands from getting burned/abraded by the rope.  They need to
have a palm that is non-melting, so leather is usually the answer.  You can pay anywhere
from $50 to $15 for these at REI or a boating store.  Hardware stores like Ace Hardware or Home Depot will have things that work as well, as long as you avoid synthetic palms.  They 
need to fit you, well, like a glove. Finger-less models help with knot tying, but you'll have to play the odds on finger tip damage/injuries. See more on gloves in the Kit Resources area.

Kit Gear
Rope: 75' of Sterling Searchlite Heat-Resistant Rope There's no shortage of
candidates, but his one stands out to us.  It's a flexible, highly heat-resistant rope with a breaking strength of almost 4000 pounds (17.4 kN).  Because it is designed for Fire use, it means even a fast rappel should not melt this.  It's Technora and nylon, so it's durable and flexible, and still holds knots well.  It has a reflective strip, so you can see it easier at night.  One of the features of this rope is you can get it with an eye loop permanently sewn on 1 end.

Edge Protection:  2' of hollow 1" webbing, threaded on to the working end of the rope.

ebbing:  4 pieces, following the CalOES USAR length and color standards

5' (Green), 12' (Yellow),      15' (Blue), 20' (Orange)  (GYBO)

SMC CR "Crevasse Rescue"  This is a prusik minding micro pulley that you can add/remove easily from the rope to make 2:1 and 3:1 systems ("C" rig and "Z" rig).  Great specs and cost for something this size.

Carabiners: 4 total, all locking, assortment of Pear, D and Oval. No shortage of options here, some of this is preference .  At least 1 needs to have a gate big enough to get around a litter rail.  Here are some candidates, what will be in the kit will be dependent on pricing and availability.

Locking gates have 2 configurations, manual and auto.  

With a manual gate, you must screw it open and close.  This is good, in that it lets you control when it gets locked; it's a pain to have to unlock something every time you add and remove a couple of things at a time.  The bad news is that you might forget to lock it.

Auto gates have several methods of doing it, some of them proprietary.  Some are ambidextrous, but many are designed for right-handers.  Pluses, you can't forget to lock, minuses, adding/removing items can be a nuisance.

Petzl William: The Petzl William has one of the largest gates on the market for an aluminum carabiner.  Several different locking schemes are available to suit your preference.

RockExotica Orca
: ORCA is Open Regular Close Auto, which means you can temporarily lock this biner open, but still get it to autolock when you want.  This comes on all 3 shapes, Oval, D and Pear ("Pirate").  Here's more on ORCA.  RockExotica also has several other locking arrangements.

Descender: Rock Exotica Mini 8  Great little descender, handles ropes from 6-13mm, has
a slot built in for belaying.  Side ears let you add/remove friction on the fly, plus tie off when needed.

Prusiks: 3 sizes of pre-tied Autoblock/Hollow Block loops from Sterling.  These give you less bulk and the same functionality.  The ropes are stitched together and protected with  a see-through coating.  These sizes let you create leg loops, plus two lengths for other applications.

550 ParaCord: 100550 Paracord - Not much of an explanation needed here, this is used to help you retrieve your system from the bottom of a pitch.  For a 75' rope, you really only need 75', but the extra will come in handy.  Available everywhere, just be sure you get the 550 (for 550# breaking strength) as opposed to cheaper brands.

Carry Bag: Condor Fold Out Medical Bag  - 
No shortage of options for this, but this bag is sturdy, it's sized to fit ropes up to 75', and has multiple, distinct compartments for the rope and other gear.  At under $20, it can't be beat for what it has to offer.  If you have something better, feel free to use it, or let us know so we can offer it as an option in the future.

So, there's the basic kit, how each part gets used will be the topic of various trainings.  If you have questions or issues, don't hesitate to contact me.