Black Diamond Hoodwire Quickdraw $20; blackdiamondequipment.com
This is the first ready-to-buy draw using BD’s clever HoodWire technology. A standard wire-gate biner has a hook in the nose that can snag on bolt hangers or gear loops on your harness, but the HoodWire shields this hook with little stainless-steel strips for hassle-free clipping and unclipping. The hood will not trap debris that could cause open-gate failures, and it protects the nose from wear. This draw’s 14mm Dynex bone is slim but not too small—large enough to grab in a pinch but not too heavy—and the rope-end biner sports a firm rubber gasket for stable rope clipping.
Camp Photon Screw Gate $12; camp-usa.com
No matter how many “groundbreaking” new carabiners are released each year, climbers seem to reach for their favorite biners time and again. After using the Photon Screw Gate for the past eight-plus months, our chief tester placed it permanently in her must-rack category. From tying in to a threeman rope team for an ascent of Mt. Baker in Washington to the Yellow Spur (5.9+) in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado, this locking biner won points for being light (1.5 oz.), strong (major axis: 21 kN; minor axis: 7 kN), and just the right size. It was easy to handle with gloved hands, and it didn’t freeze or malfunction after being left in the snow overnight at 6,500 feet.
Ask any seasoned Valley climber to name his favorite small-crack cams, and more likely than not his response will be the Alien. The super-narrow heads and unique cam shapes helped them slip into piton scars and other awkward placements like a hand in a silk glove. When Colorado Custom Hardware ceased production of the treasured piece in 2009, climbers everywhere gasped. But now Spain’s Fixe Hardware has bought the machines and relaunched the Alien with virtually the same design. Meanwhile, Totem, another Spanish company, has come out with a slightly modified version of the Aliens called the Basic Cam. Both are worthy replacements for the originals.
Fixe is selling six sizes of Aliens, from black (tiny) to red (jumbo finger cracks). It has yet to produce hybrids, but says they are coming by mid-year, followed by the larger sizes of regular Aliens later in 2012. Though Fixe says the design, materials, and fabrication are identical to the old CCH version, our primary tester felt the new Aliens had smoother trigger action.
With the Totem Basic Cam, you might recognize the design and colors from the CCH Aliens or the new Fixe Aliens, but there are some key differences. Instead of the proneto- kinking trigger wire in the Alien, the Basic Cam has a small twisted cable that may prove to be more durable. The trigger action is a bit stiffer then the original Alien and the Fixe unit, but the flexible stem cable is the longest of all three—an advantage, our tester felt. The Basic cam has a slightly different size range than its cousins, but each unit will work in virtually the same situations.
The truly dramatic difference between the Basic Cam and the Fixe Alien is price—the Basics cost $20 less apiece, even with UPS shipping from Spain, and you get a 10 percent discount if you order five or more. On the other hand, Basics are only available in three sizes (green, yellow, and red, spanning thin to wide fingers), plus two hybrid versions. “If I were looking to build up a full range of Alien-style cams, I would buy the Totem line and then expand the range with the additional Fixe Alien sizes,” our tester said. “Either way, I will never buy any other thin cam but an Alienstyle unit.”
EDITORS' CHOICE Black Diamond Magnetron $25 (Rocklock), $30 (Gridlock); blackdiamondequipment.com
At first glance, our reaction to BD’s Magnetron technology for locking carabiners was that it might be the most innovative solution we’d ever seen to a problem that might not exist. But after digging deeper and using the biners indoors and out—they won’t be available in stores until July—we’re convinced Black Diamond is onto something. Instead of the traditional screw gate or spring-loaded auto-locking mechanism, the Magnetron relies on magnets (duh!), with a steel bar embedded in the carabiner nose and magnets in two locking arms on either side. Press on the arms and the magnets’ repulsion holds them apart—and keeps the gate unlocked. Release the arms and the magnets clamp onto the nose. The magnets don’t provide the strength in the lock—the shape of the gate and nose do that. But they do make it super-easy to lock and unlock a biner with one hand (and it’s just as easy with either hand). The system is also easy to use with gloves and less likely to ice up than screw gates in winter. The Rocklock is a typical small pear locker; the Gridlock, a Climbing Editors’ Choice winner in 2011, is BD’s clever belay biner designed to prevent cross-loading. Both biners weigh about 3 oz. and pair smoothly with a Grigri 2 or tube-style belay device. These are about the most expensive aluminum carabiners on the market—$7 to $15 more than the same BD biners without the new technology, but we think you should try one for yourself. You might get hooked.
Wild Country Ropeman 3 $45; wildcountry.co.uk
When the Ropeman came out in the mid-1990s, it was the smallest, lightest ascender available: a spring-loaded gripping cam, mounted in a tiny housing, that worked by pinching the rope against the device’s attachment carabiner. The Ropeman 3 is a huge step up from the original. With its reengineered forged steel plates, it uses an original-style cam, but elongates the housing so that the attachment carabiner is taken out of the clamping equation—it functions consistently regardless of what carabiner is used. The end product is a light (2.5 oz.), versatile device. The only real drawback is trying to maneuver the rope into the awkwardly rotating plates with frozen gloves. Also, use the wire keeper-leash, or the device may end up in the bottom of a crevasse, like our tester’s did.
Black Diamond ATC-XP $20; blackdiamondequipment.com
“If you’re anything like me, then you take more gear then needed,” our belay device tester said one day. “I mean, who doesn’t want Buddha’s own rack of double cams, draws, and slings?” With that approach, odds are you’re going to have the right piece, but you might as well carry a boat anchor, too. That is where tools like the newly redesigned Black Diamond ATC-XP come in handy. With cut-outs in the side walls and subtle changes to the shape, the new ATCXP is 30 percent lighter (now 2.3 oz.) than the original, shaving weight while not compromising safety. It also doesn’t heat up as fast, and thus will remain relatively touchable after 200- foot raps. Our tester felt it also handled thick ropes (up to 11mm) better than the old version, while still performing flawlessly with a dental floss 8.9mm and even skinnier half ropes.
GREAT VALUE Climb X HMS $9 (screw gate), $13 (auto-lock); climbxgear.com
When you’re at the store comparing two items, you see the less expensive item and automatically assume it’s lower quality, right? In the case of the Climb X HMS biners, you’d be way wrong. These locking biners are a bit stronger than many other lockers (major axis: 25 kN; minor axis: 9 kN; open-gate: 9 kN) and lighter at just under 2.3 oz. And they’re easier on the wallet, too, at about $9 for the screw-gate version and about $13 for the auto-lock. And despite the light weight, their beefy size is really nice for handling with gloves when belaying, clipping in to a rope team, or rappelling in frosty temps. Our tester was even able to set up a rappel with gloved hands and screamin’ barfies after bailing on a wintry attempt on Ant Hill Direct in Eldorado Canyon.