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There’s something to be said for not over-designing a piece of climbing gear: Things can always get lighter and sleeker, but is that always a plus?
To me, CAMP’s Alpine Express Draw is a great example of equipment that strikes that happy medium between weight and handleability. CAMP has lighter and more expensive alpine draws in its arsenal, but the Alpine Express performs better than those in trad and alpine climbing of all stripes. Between its lightweight 60-centimeter Dyneema sling, and its two lightweight—but not too small!—Photon Wire carabiners, it has become my go-to alpine draw of late.
Some folks, particularly those who are counting grams like the high-school pot dealer carefully weighing out his product, prefer the lightest gear. But I find that those tiny/micro/nano/what-have-you carabiners can be more of a curse than a blessing when you’re trying to fumble the rope in at the crux, especially with gloved hands. Though the Photon carabiner on each end of the Alpine Express is extremely light—at just 30 g/1.1 oz, CAMP bills it as “the lightest full-size carabiner in the world”—it isn’t obscenely small. It has a healthy-sized, smooth-actioned wiregate and a nice big basket for the rope to sit in. The action in particular has been great—despite a number of trips to the desert and days getting tossed around in the dirt (yes, I should treat my gear better), all the carabiners on my Alpine Express draws are as snappy as ever.
The size of the carabiner comes into particular play during ice and winter climbing. With gloves on, the Photon wiregates are still easy to clip.
There’s something to be said for having a matching set of alpine draws, too. As much as I delight in cobbling together random leftover crabs and slings that I swore I had lost in the back of my gear closet, there’s an argument to be made for having consistent visual cues across any single genre of gear. It makes selecting the right piece easier, even with quickdraws. And when you’re cruxing out with your last piece a good ways below you, every second counts. The alternating pattern of orange and silver sewn into the Dyneema sling on the Alpine Express picks up on the two Photon carabiners, one orange, one silver, for high visibility/recognizability
On particularly wet ice climbs, the Dyneema sling freezes up and gets pretty stiff. This isn’t abnormal, but can be unsettling as you think of whipping onto what suddenly seems like a far more static material. (But hey, you shouldn’t be falling anyway when you’re ice climbing, remember?) Still, if you did whip, the Alpine Express would hold you, stiff as a board or not.
At $23.95, the Alpine Express isn’t as cheap as some other alpine draws out there, but again, the balance of weight with ease-of-clipping and rackability is excellent. If you buy the carabiners and slings separately, you’ll save 10 cents per draw compared to buying an individual, pre-assembled unit. I’m lazy, though, so the extra dime-saving per quickdraw wasn’t incentive enough. But a four-pack for for $89.95? Well that’s savings of a buck a draw. Well worth it to me.