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The Skinny on Ultralight Biners


Submitted by j_ung on 2005-08-28 | Last Modified on 2010-02-26

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I am yuppie scum.

For years, I was unable to face this fact, but now, in my maturity, I can freely admit it. I used to work in a National Park, but now I work in an "office park". I used to dress for work in shorts, approach shoes and nothing else, but I now dress "business casual". I pay too much for coffee. I bitch about traffic. I have a mortgage.

My yuppiosity has affected my climbing, too. I certainly climb a lot less than I once did, but surprisingly, I actually climb a lot harder. I attribute this to several factors and one of those is the availability of lighter gear. I don't know off hand how much a typical carabiner used to weigh in my climbing youth. A kilogram? Two kilograms? (Yes, I'm kidding.) But now some of them weigh just over an ounce. An ounce! That's 28 grams!

But hey, weight isn't everything. Biners are a little like significant others. Sometimes you and they mesh well and it's a match made in heaven. By way of an analogy, your favorite biners wake you up in the morning with head and bring you coffee afterward. Conversely, sometimes the relationship between you and your biners just doesn't work out. They nag and cheat and their mother shows up in the middle of the night.

So, in the interest of marital bliss between you and your biners, here's a little bit about some of the lighter selections on the market today -- in quickdraw form. Though, of course, I required each of them to pull double (sometimes triple) duty on my trad rack, too.

If you've never held an "ultra-light" biner, heft just one of these quickdraws and you'll actually feel a difference. But that's nothing. Now hold ten or twelve and tell me again how your rack is just fine. OK, so your rack probably is just fine... for you. Become a yuppie like me and that may change.

Iíve posted the standard published specs of each model, but Iíve also included some highly subjective ďMy ratings,Ē based on my experiences climbing sport, trad, in cold weather (which in some cases is no more than speculation, since I didnít obtain a few of these until springtime) and an even more subjective rating, ďHow well we get alongĒ.

CAMP Nano Wire
Photo coming soon.

Published carabiner specs:
Weight: 28g
Strength: 23kN
Gate open: 9kN
Minor axis: 7kN
Gate clearance: 21mm

My Ratings (out of five stars):
Sport: ****
Trad: *****
Ice/cold weather: *
How well we get along: *****

Leave It to Jesus CAMPís tiny little biner ainít no toy. But, since itís foremost on most folksí minds whenever the Nano Wire comes up, letís talk size. I donít have the biggest mitts on Earth, so I love my Nano Wires. But truthfully, I can name you six or seven people with hands far larger who also love them. Though itís obviously counter intuitive, anecdotal evidence suggests that size doesnít matter as much as one might think. A few have noted that the 21mm gate opening is rather slim, but itís only one millimeter less than BDís Neutrino, which enjoys considerable popularity.

That doesnít mean that you shouldnít consider the Nano Wireís size at all when selecting biners; you should. But the only two functions for which the Nanoís size seems to actually be an inhibiting factor are rope-end clipping (that 21mm gate opening takes a little getting used to) and gloved work (forget about it). If you lead on an 11mm rope and have fingers like bratwurst, buy something else. Everybody else, feel free give Ďem a try. I think youíll be pleasantly surprised.

On my trad rack, the Nano Wires are sublime, taking up noticeably less space than any of the other biners included here. I rack many of my cams on them, which means that they often end up as my clipping biner. And even at the end of a floppy, sloppy, shoulder-length sling, clipping doesnít appear to be a problem for me.

I donít know if itís their size, the stiff gate action or just the fact that I know them to actually be the lightest biners on my rack, but these little guys have rapidly become my favorites. Head and coffee, baby. Head and coffee.

Wild Country Helium
Helium

Published carabiner specs:
Weight: 33g
Strength: 25kN
Gate open: 10kN
Minor axis: 8kN
Gate clearance: 27mm

My Ratings:
Sport: *****
Trad: ****
Ice/cold weather: ****
How well we get along: ****

The Helium is the biggest biner in this review, but thanks to WCís innovative I-beam construction, it still qualifies for ultra-light status. Itís also the only biner here that sports a notchless gate, what WC calls ďClean-wireĒ. This makes it an ideal candidate for key-ringing wired nuts and getting your finger (or a bolt hanger) out of tight spots on scary clips. The Heliumís size also makes it the best bet from this review for ice or any other cold-weather climbing.

As for how well I and the Helium get along, itís not perfect, but itís close. I love them in quickdraw form for sport climbing, because even though theyíre not the lightest biners here, they seem like it thanks to their relatively large size. I like them OK on my trad rack, but hereís where their size works against them a little bit. Too many of these on a stacked rack seems more cramped than some of the other offerings reviewed. The gate action is stiff, but gets less so the farther you open it, which makes for a really unique clipping experience that I think youíll like.

Trango Superfly Wire Gate
SuperFly

Published carabiner specs:
Weight: 30g
Strength: 24kN
Gate open: 9kN
Minor axis: 7kN
Gate clearance: (Unpublished, measured at 26mm)

My Ratings:
Sport: ****
Trad: ****
Ice/cold weather: ***
How well we get along: ****

Trangoís SuperFly Wire Gate is one of two biners in this review for which sheer no-frills, airy lightness is the name of the game. The SuperFly performs like a champ with a stiff gate and a tried and true offset-D shape.

Itís only problem comes when purchased as part of a quickdraw set. Trangoís dogbone has stitching at the rope end to hold the low biner in place, but the bolt end is has none and is virtually a 3Ē sling. When my rope line is arrow straight and perpendicular to the ground, the top biner sometimes ends up hanging on its minor axis. A flick of the rope fixes the problem, but stillÖ

On my trad rack, SuperFly Wire Gates are fantastic. I use them for everything but key-ringing wired nuts and love them as extra biners for anchor-building.

Itís worth noting that, if one wants light biners, but still isnít a fan of wire gates, the SuperFly (minus the ďWire GateĒ), is only 37g and comes in both bent and straight gates. Or, if you need lockers on draws or runners for those pieces that must not fail, check out the SuperFly locker, which weighs in at an astounding 41g -- the lightest screwlock currently available.

Black Diamond Neutrino
Neutrino

Published carabiner specs:
Weight: 36g
Strength: 24kN
Gate open: 8kN
Minor axis: 7kN
Gate clearance: 22mm

My Ratings:
Sport: ****
Trad: ****
Ice/cold weather: *
How well we get along: ****

Black Diamondís Neutrino, quite possibly the most popular ultra-light in the climbing circles in which I run, is similar to Trangoís Superfly Ė no-frills, functional, tried and true. Itís the second smallest biner in this review behind CAMPís Nano Wire, but weighs in at 36g Ė a little heavier than most in this review. But letís get a little perspective here, shall we? The difference between the Neutrino and the lightest biner here, the Nano Wire is eight paper clips. Thatís closer to a teaspoon of sand than a full bag.

As for how well I and my Neutrinos get alongÖ Letís just say weíre passionate for each other. Neutrino quickdraws come with the best string Iíve ever used; I like it even more than Petzlís standard-setting rubber cup-style string. The Neutrino is another model that sees duty in all facets of my rockcraft. You can find them scattered throughout my trad rack and on several of my draws. The gate action is nice and stiff, which is a good thing considering that this biner actually has the lowest gate-open strength of all the included models.

Omega Pacific Mega Draw (JC and Doval)
Mega Draw

Published carabiner specs(Doval):
Weight: 37g
Strength: 25kN
Gate open: 7kN
Minor axis: 7kN
Gate clearance: 25mm

My Ratings:
Sport: ***
Trad: ***
Ice/cold weather: **
How well we get along: *

Published carabiner specs(JC):
Weight: 41g
Strength: 21kN
Gate open: 7kN
Minor axis: 9kN
Gate clearance: 25mm

My Ratings:
Sport: *****
Trad: *****
Ice/cold weather: **
How well we get along: *****

Omega Pacificís Mega Draw is the only one in this test that comes with two different biners, so I thought Iíd go ahead and evaluate both. This is an interesting case, since the Mega Draw actually includes one of favorite biners of all time, the JC, and one of my least favorite, the Doval.

Leave It to Jesus 2 Iíll start with the Doval. On the fly and under stress, the Dovalís symmetry makes it nearly impossible to tell which end of the gate opens. This is especially unfortunate because the Doval tends to rotate no matter what role it plays (with the exception of constantly loaded anchor parts). I got halfway past this problem by marking my Dovals with a piece of white tape near the open end of the gate, but it still left the problem of them constantly wanting to rotate. If Omega Pacific made this just a little offset, it would solve every problem and make them instant classics. But alas, theyíre too symmetrical for your own good. Once I run out of booty biners, the Dovals will be best suited for leaver duty.

On the otherhand, the JC is one of my favorite biners of all time. Though at 21kN itís rated a little weak when compared to the others here, it and I get along so well itís scary; you could call it my biner soulmate. And indeed, its minor axis rating is the highest of all the models reviewed. Itís a joy to clip thanks to its small size and relatively huge gate clearance. And like the Helium, its gate starts stiff but lets go a bit as it opens farther. I really like this feature for clipping. Indeed, my JCs seem almost hungry for rope. I use them in almost every aspect of my climbing, but much prefer them to be my rope-end biner for both trad and sport. To me, the JCís only real down side is its weight, a scale-tipping 41g.

The Mega Draws are long and floppy and thick (theyíre the only dogbone here that isnít Dyneema), but the bolt end is wide open, similar to Trangoís SuperFly Wire Draw. Unfortunately, this contributes to the Dovalís tendency to rotate freely. If you buy these draws, I suggest you rubber band the bolt end. The rope end is stitched tightly, so no worries there. Personally, I like a shorter draw when sport climbing, so for me, the Mega is better suited for trad duty.

Conclusions:

When it comes to biners there are so many subjective factors to take into account, itís almost scary. For this reason only, I suggest you not buy any biners until youíve had a chance to at least pick one up and fondle it. One personís Ethel Murman may be anotherís Audrey Hepburn, so you really do need to at least meet and shake hands before tying the knot, so to speak. Consider all the specs, such as strength, but remember that all of them carry certifications out the wazoo Ė you really donít have to worry about whether or not any of them can hold you in a standard fall.

I have one last order of business. A friend suggested that this review just wouldnít be complete without a recommendation for my perfect sporty draw, so here it is: in my opinion you canít do better than a CAMP Nano Wire at the bolt end, a BD Neutrino dogbone and an Omega JC for the rope. Itís not the lightest possible configuration and it doesnít look pretty, but the function is top notch. I think Iím in love!

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4 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 blazesod
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 2006-12-02
4 out of 5 stars Great article !
Humorous, action packed and technical.
 psprings
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 2007-02-27
Thanks for the analysis, especially on the functional side of the biners. Just out of curiousity, did you find that one of the biners seemed best for racking cams? Thanks again for the input [since I don't like buying and trying every piece of gear myself!]!!!
PS
 psprings
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 2007-02-27
Thanks for the analysis, especially on the functional side of the biners. Just out of curiousity, did you find that one of the biners seemed best for racking cams? Thanks again for the input [since I don't like buying and trying every piece of gear myself!]!!!
PS
 chalk_bag
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 2009-03-08
I love my nanos, I also love my nanos on my screamers and use them for ice and mixed climbing. I have little hands, little gloves and little mitts. I definitely have ice climbing partners that hate them and others that love them. My advice, try them with gloves on in the store. For a little climber (I'm 125 pounds soaking wet), they're worth their weight, or lack therof.

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