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Discussion: Trek/run tow system...?

in: Adventure Racing; Training & Technique

Nov 19, 2014 4:28 PM # 
I've done some research, and it seems like most teams are using a simple shock cord (bungee) with loops tied on either end. One end is attached (usually with a small carabiner or other clip) to the tower's pack on back then the other end is attached (same method) to the towee's waistbelt on front. Simple.

What I haven't been able to find out is what length & size shock cord works well for this application. Any help?

Also, any secrets to using this to the most effect, or is it really as simple as it seems?
Nov 19, 2014 4:46 PM # 
curious how many teams at the ARWC used tow systems while trekking.
Nov 19, 2014 4:50 PM # 
Kyle probably has it down to the millimeter, and can tell you what thickness and length to buy at your climbing store, but it will vary slightly. Trial and error during training IMHO. Make sure you have it tucked away securely so it doesn't turn into a shit show while bushwacking. The Out There! packs have a million pockets, and one happens to be right where you'd stash and attach such your tow system, at the back and bottom of the pack. Other packs like Gregory, Salomon, Osprey, MacPac etc. may have a sturdy sewn-on loop there, but you sometimes need to get creative in securing the cord.

BIKE: Personally, I just use the smaller/medium size retractable dog leash system heavy-duty zip-tied AND duct taped onto my seatpost.. only a small loop hangs out,so it dangles just a few inches. When I'm towing, it's easy for someone to grab it without slowing down or god forbid stopping.

BOAT: You want the weaker paddlers' bow pretty damn close to the rudder of the boat in front of you for drafting. The tow line will keep them in the draft as an insurance policy. You obvsly don't want them to hit the front-runner's rudder, but this is a race so you don't want them to drift out of the draft, ever. Work as a team. Sure sign of Rookie paddlers/adventure racers: two-boat teams paddling side by side, or one boat 10' in front of the other for the entire paddle, yelling at the slower boat to catch up. Contrast that with the top teams who will paddle in a pace line, in sync, with beautiful matching strokes, drafting. It's....GLORIOUS!
Nov 19, 2014 4:54 PM # 
For running, it's better to start out too long than too short so don't get scissor-happy! :) When you're being towed, you're already going at a pace higher than you would choose naturally, and if you can't see rocks and holes coming up on the trail because you're too close to the tower, it's easy to get hurt or expend unnecessary energy on last-minute maneuvers.

I don't measure when I make tow ropes but the one I'm looking at right now is a little over 2 m unstretched, and the shock cord appears to be about 4 mm in diameter. The important dimension is the stretched length, and you may want to test that with a friend before you make the final decision on your first tow rope. When I'm a towee, I often run off to one side of the tower to make sure I can see upcoming obstacles.

Something else we've done is make an optional belt for both ends - webbing with a Fastex buckle. Depending on the pack, this can be easier for the tower. When he/she is not using it, the tow line is wrapped around their waist with the carabiner clipped into a loop. More importantly, a belt at the towee's end allows teammates to take the towee's pack if necessary, and it allows the towee to wear a pack without a waistbelt like the Salomon Skin Pack.
Nov 20, 2014 1:42 AM # 
For bike towing, as the towee, I like it if there's some rubber tubing on the loop that I hold. It makes it a lot more comfortable. It sounds lame, but it sucks when your fingers get abraded from stretching bungee on your skin or when you start losing feeling in your fingers. +1 on the dog leash system. Note that you have to shorten the leash a bit and that when letting go, it's critical to be sure it doesn't get dropped into your teammate's wheel/rear derailleur.
Nov 20, 2014 2:43 AM # 
ha! sorry I didn't clarify. surgical tubing loop attached to retractable dog leash cord. Sorry!
Nov 20, 2014 3:03 AM # 
As for ARWC. I would say every team used a tow at some point. There were teams on tow in the first 5k. Don't be afraid to use them early and often
Nov 20, 2014 3:29 AM # 
For paddling, the rear boats' centre of gravity needs to be falling down on one of the waves in the wake. Also towing from a point further up on the front boat helps reduce the front boat being pulled into a turn.

Edit. The rear boat doesn't get pulled all that much. It just gets kept in the wake draft and saves a good chunk of energy.
Nov 20, 2014 12:57 PM # 
My team and I were starting to wonder about tow ropes also. We were discussing about using them want to try them out. Thanks for the great discussion and thanks The Mickstar for beating us to the post.

What I'm scared of is if the trekking/running towee is too fatigued while being pulled along, they don't picking up their feet enough then dropping like a rock over a little stone in the middle of a clear path and causing the tower to fall too. Is this a concern? Does the towing help move the weaker/tired person along so they can focus on their feet more?
Nov 20, 2014 2:05 PM # 
Thanks, everyone. It sounds like the best thing to do is work the length of the trek/run tow out in training. I'd still like to know what size (diameter) shock cord is working for people, though.

And since we've brought bike towing into the discussion, I have a few questions about that, too. It seems like there are two main designs people are using...

The first system is the latex (surgical) tubing design that utiltizes some system (flexible plastic pipe, fishing rod, car antenna, etc.) to dangle the tubing behind the rear wheel (and keep it out of the wheel when released). Has anyone experimented with both latex tubing and shock cord in this application? Surgical tubing seems to be the preferred choice. But shock cord is cheaper, and seems like it would be more durable. Thoughts?

The second system is the retractable dog leash. For those using this system successfully, did you simply shorten the cord that came on the leash and add a shock cord loop for the towee to hold (or otherwise attach to their bike)? It seems like there wouldn't be a whole lot of "give" since the only flexible part of the system is the small loop, and that the towee wouldn't really get any assistance until the cord was fully extended. Thoughts? Also, if you are using this system successfully, what specific leash are you using (brand/model)?

I have to admit, the retractable leash would be nicer to live with when not in use. The idea that it could get dropped into the rear wheel by accident has me wary, though.
Nov 20, 2014 2:34 PM # 
Previous bike tow discussion link.
Nov 20, 2014 4:05 PM # 
Our tow rope appears to have 4 mm diameter shock cord.

Yes, the towee has an extra force pulling on their waist so balancing takes more conscious effort, e.g. if they trip on a root. People who haven't been towed may not realize that you have to work to be towed! Towing requires good communication and a recognition that you're trying to increase the team speed but not go into overdrive. Inexperienced towers often get over-tired so they can't help the team much later in the race.

Also, if the terrain is too rough, it is fine for towing at trekking speed but may be too risky otherwise. We met a team in transition once - a team that wouldn't have expected to see us so late in the race. They took off towing on rough bike trails. We found them half an hour later. The towee thought she had a broken arm. Not worth it.
Nov 20, 2014 11:24 PM # 
I agree with Bash that it's nice to have the option to have the towee (or tower) moving without a pack so a system that doesn't rely on a pack strap is great. I like to keep mine really simple; I just make my shock cord a bit longer so it can go around the hips/waist of either person and then the biner just clips to the actual shock cord itself. Easy and light.
Nov 22, 2014 4:53 PM # 
I use a 5' or 6' 1/4" length of shock cord or a 6' surgical band. I prefer the shock cord because it doesn't bounce around as much as the surgical band while running (could mean the line is too long and not enough tension). I wear a Salmon XA20 pack and attached the towline on the waist strap off to the side of my pack when towing. I am planning to try adding another line to span across my back to allow the tow line to slide side to side as the towee moves to my left/right while moving (this would create a "Y" shaped line).

I saw O-Store at Wilderness Traverse last year using a canoe tow and it was nearly a 16' long. From discussion above it seems it should be shorter. Is it recommended to adjust the length of line based on the wave action? What's the rule of thumb?
Nov 23, 2014 12:01 AM # 
Speaking as a member of that O-Store team, yes, our line was too long. The trick is that whatever length the line is, there always needs to be tension on it so it doesn't drag in the water (especially if you're paddling in lily pads like we were at WT because stuff gets all caught up in it). But the best solution for towing in a boat is to switch your teammates around so you don't have to tow at all. :)
Nov 23, 2014 4:06 AM # 
Slice is right IMHO and refer to urthbuoy above If you follow those two 'rules' you'll optimize paddling speeds.
Ideally both boats can take turns pulling. Sometime it even works out that multiple teams can work together like a bike pace line. But I've only been that fortunate about 5% of the time. If that.
Equalizing your boats and managing the wake is key!

This discussion thread is closed.