Irreducible perfection: Vulture Safety Loops

Last year, during a crossing one of Egypt’s great sand seas, I wanted to get some video footage of the Land Cruisers from a camera mounted on the hood and, if possible, the side of the truck. I had a massive Manfrotto suction clamp to secure our Canon 5D MkII, but there was no way I was going to trust $3,500 worth of camera and L lens to a glorified bathroom plunger. So I rigged up a pair of safety lines to the camera’s strap with some 550 paracord, secured with my best bowlines to the roof rack and the base of the windshield wipers.

As it happened, the suction mount performed flawlessly, even on its side with gravity working against it over some firm sand corrugations (sorry about the bathroom plunger remark, Manfrotto). But the camera strap flapped around while the vehicle was in motion, and the paracord lines seemed a bit jury-rigged. I was happy to have them, but mused about fabricating something that would be more readily accessible and a little more elegant as well.

Fast forward to this summer’s Outdoor Retailer show, where Roseann and I had coffee with William Egbert of Vulture Equipment Works. VEW is best known for making the strongest camera straps in the world, designed for rigging systems when the photographer is, say, hanging out of a helicopter door (review to come). But I was intrigued when William produced a couple of lengths of cord no thicker than dress shoelaces, with a loop at each end. And he really got my attention when he said, “You could hang a motorcycle from one of these.” I raised an eyebrow, and he added, “Seven hundred pound load limit.”

The Vulture Safety Loops, William told us, are made from “a proprietary weave of aerospace fibers.” Hmm . . . After being subjected to a short waterboarding session, he admitted the actual material was a para-aramid (Kevlar is the brand name of one such fiber). Kevlar is produced from the reaction of para-phenylenediamine and molten terephthaloyl chloride—and despite having been discovered in the 1960s, chemists are still not certain exactly why it displays such an astounding strength-to-weight ratio. It’s expensive stuff, in part because, I’m told by someone who knows these things, “Manufacturing the para-phenylenediamine component is difficult due to the diazotization and coupling of aniline.” So now you know why too.

Safety Loop (bottom) compared to 550 paracord

The VEW Safety Loops come two to a package; one 24 inches long and one 38. A woven sheath protects the fiber within from abrasion, but they’re still so slender it’s hard to believe the strength. I didn’t hang any of our motorcycles from one, but I did hang myself from one, and it laughed off my 150 pounds. They display virtually zero stretch, and the material is extremely cut- and flame-resistant.

I can foresee a bunch of uses for these elegant but brutish cords. They’d be perfect as insurance on duffels or Pelican cases strapped to a roof rack, or gear bungeed on the back of a motorcycle. For photography they’d clearly be an excellent replacement for my paracord bodge jobs, or one could use them to secure a tripod in windy conditions, or to keep a camera on a strap from flopping. Beyond that? You could probably employ one in a motorcycle recovery operation.

At $29 a pair they might not seem cheap at first, until you consider both the strength-to-weight ratio and the strength-to-cost ratio. One of them weighs three grams—that’s undoubtedly the lightest insurance you can buy for $3,500 worth of camera and L lens . . .

Vulture Equipment Works will be at Overland Expo 2014. In the meantime you can find them HERE