How to Choose the Best Locking Carabiners (and Giveaway)

 

How to Choose the Best Locking Carabiner

Locking carabiners are an integral part of the climbers kit. In this post we are going to take a close look at the notable differences in styles, shapes, and mechanisms along with making suggestions as to where in the climbing system certain models are best suited for both convenience and greater security.


Screwgate Locking Carabiners

Petzl Attache Locking Carabiners

The most common style of locking carabiner is the traditional screwgate. This style has a “sleeve” on the gate that can be twisted until the sleeve is over a potion of the carabiner reducing the chance of the gate opening in any situation. A common error for beginning climbers is to screw this sleeve to tightly when locking the carabiner and finding it difficult to unscrew after the carabiner has seen load. Best practice is to simply screw the sleeve to where it stops easily turning then stop. Do not give it that “extra” turn. Then perform a quick “squeeze” test to verify the carabiner is locked. These carabiners are suitable for any use in the climbing system from belaying and anchoring to creating a top-rope master point. I prefer a screwgate as my personal anchor carabiner while multi-pitch climbing since auto-locking styles do not facilitate tying a clove-hitch on to the carabiner as smoothly as a screwgate that you can leave unlocked until you want to lock it. You can see that process in this quick video:

I also think a pair of the Petzl Attaches is the best choice for a top-rope master point and I carry two dedicated to this use. The reason these excel at this use is Petzl designed some grooves in the sleeve that interlock with the forged ribs of a reverse and opposed Petzl Attache. When used in this configuration the slightest of load basically eliminates the ability for these carabiners to unlock by vibration or even intentional hands. If you’ve ever arrived at a top-rope anchor to discover a locking carabiner has become unlocked during your session you’ll appreciate this added security feature in addition to the more well known “unlocked” red indicator, a nice visual clue that the carabiner is not locked.

Petzl OK Locking Carabiner and Petzl Micro Traxion Pulley
Petzl OK Locking Carabiner and Petzl Micro Traxion Pulley

Another screw gate carabiner I carry is the Petzl OK Locking Carabiner.  This carabiner is in a symmetrical oval shape which makes it ideal for use in both aid climbing and big wall climbing with the Petzl Ascension Handled Ascender. For improvised rescue (both multi-pitch trad and glacier travel) it pairs perfectly with the Petzl Tibloc. For use in a self-belay top-rope system (or a more robust rescue system) it pairs perfectly with the Petzl Micro Traxion Pulley pictured above.

Petzl William Locking Carabiner
The Petzl William Locking Carabiner easily organizes 6 quick-draws, 4 alpine draws, and my two “mini-quads“.

I do carry one larger Petzl William Locking Carabiner shown above which has a few advantages over the smaller locking carabiners I have already mentioned. If I need to lower someone with a Munter-Hitch the wider “rope end” shape of the carabiner offers smoother lowering even when using thicker ropes. There are also some situations where a large locking carabiner can make a convenient easy-to-use “master-point” at the anchor when climbing in parties of 3 or more. I also find this carabiner to be a convenient way of keeping my quick-draws and alpine draws organized before or after the climb.

One final thought on screwgate carabiners… it has been noted that these mechanisms can be less prone to “gunking up” in dirty environments. For ice climbing I have not found them to be less prone to getting iced up then any other style of carabiner. See the maintenance section near the end of this post for tips on prevention.


Twist Lock Carabiners

The next style we are going to look at is a locking mechanism that requires some care to be safely used. Twist Lock carabiners have a spring loaded sleeve that self-rotates into the locked position when the gate is closed. The advantage is the carabiner locks itself quickly. Popular models in this category are the Black Diamond Twistlock Carabiner, the Petzl Am’D Locking Carabiner and the Petzl Sm’D Locking Carabiner (both available in other locking styles). There is potentially less security in this style in the event of moving rope or a wrongly clipped belay loop that could press across the locked gate unlocking and opening it in an alarming fashion. This is best shown in a quick video clip:

 

While there are not many documented cases of this style failing there are a few incidents where this style might have contributed to a climber becoming disconnected from their rope system. Details are sparse enough that it could be fairly considered rumor. Regardless these carabiners are best used within the climbing system where there will not be moving rope going through them and their position can be monitored to ensure no unintended “unlocks”.

Some examples of where I would discourage their use:

  • Rappelling with a tube style (Black Diamond ATC/Petzl Verso) device. It is conceivable that the carabiner could rotate into a position where either the climbing rope or the belay loop of the harness could press against the spring loaded sleeve in a manner that could cause it to open like demonstrated in the video above.
  • Anchoring in on multi-pitch climbs, especially if in a larger climbing party. For starters it is a little less smooth tying a clove-hitch on to the carabiner when the carabiner looks itself when ever the gate closes. Also any moving rope, cordage, or slings above your anchor carabiner run a risk, however small, of passing over the gate in a potential fashion to open the gate.

Some examples of where they would be appropriate:

  • Rappelling with a figure-8 style device. While not very common in rock climbing circles these devices are still preferred for caving, spelunking, canyoneering, and rescue. The difference between this and a plate style device is the moving rope does not pass through the carabiner greatly reducing the chance of it coming into any contact with the gate. Care should still be used when loading the system that the belay loop is not twisted and the carabiner is in position to be loaded properly along its main axis.
  • Belaying with a brake assisting device like the Petzl GriGri2 or GriGri+. Since the climbing rope does not go through the carabiner with these devices the risk of unintended opening is almost nil. Care should still be used when loading the system that the belay loop is not twisted and the carabiner is in position to be loaded properly along its main axis.
  • Added security at static points in a climbing system. For example to secure one leg of a multi-leg static top-rope anchor. Once the system is set up and loaded there is virtually no risk of anything coming in contact with the sleeve. Essentially Twist Lock carabiners are best used in places where they will not be exposed to much moving material.

Triple Action Locking Carabiners

Petzl OK Triact with Petzl GriGri2
Petzl OK Triact with Petzl GriGri2

This category offers a fair amount of extra security over Twist Lock carabiners. While there are some variations within this category essentially a Triple Action carabiner requires three “actions” to unlock and open. In comparison it could be argued a Twist Lock under the right (or wrong) circumstances only requires one action to unlock and open (see video above). Popular styles include:

Petzl William Locking Carabiner: Available in Ball-Lock and Tri-Act Lock

Petzl Am’D Locking Carabiner: Available in Ball-Lock and Tri-Act Lock

Petzl Sm’D Locking Carabiner: Available in Ball-Lock and Tri-Act Lock

Petzl OK Locking Carabiner: Available in Ball-Lock and Tri-Act Lock


Let’s look at the main difference between Petzl’s two Triple Action options. The following is from Petzl.com:

BALL-LOCK

Petzl Ball-Lock Carabiners
Petzl Ball-Lock Carabiners

ERGONOMICS

Advantages:

• Rapid auto-locking

• Visual locking indicator

Disadvantages:

• Sleeve must be unlocked each time the carabiner is opened

• Tricky sleeve operation, especially with gloves, requires practice. System is less “ambidextrous” than the others

• Two hands needed to insert a device into the carabiner

SAFETY

Advantages: 

• Security of triple action locking (excluding rubbing and external pressure)

• Rapid auto-locking

Risks:

• Chance of improper locking when the carabiner closes (e.g. sling caught between the nose and the gate). The user must verify that the carabiner is properly closed and locked, even when using an auto-locking system

TRIACT-LOCK

Petzl Triact Locking Carabiners
Petzl Triact Locking Carabiners

ERGONOMICS

Advantages:

• Rapid auto-locking.

Disadvantages:

• Sleeve must be unlocked each time the carabiner is opened

• Tricky sleeve operation, requires practice

• Two hands needed to insert a device into the carabiner

SAFETY

Advantages:

• Security of triple action locking (excluding rubbing and external pressure)

• Rapid auto-locking

Risks:

• Chance of improper locking when the carabiner closes (e.g. sling caught between the nose and the gate). The user must verify that the carabiner is properly closed and locked, even when using an auto-locking system

• Sensitivity to mud or other foreign objects that can impede auto-locking

This style of carabiner is an excellent choice for dedicated belay/rappel carabiners, plate style belay devices, and brake assisting devices like the Petzl GriGri2 and GriGri+ (review here).


Some other Triple Action options

DMM Big Boa HMS Carabiner: Available in “Locksafe” option

DMM Aero HMS Carabiner: Available in “Locksafe” option

DMM Rhino Carabiner: Available in “Locksafe” option

Mad Rock Hulk HMS Carabiner: Available in “Triple Lock”

CAMP USA Guide XL Carabiner: Available in “3Lock”


Magnetic Auto-Locking Carabiners

Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner

While a small category in the industry this is my most favored style of auto-locking carabiner. Namely the Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner. This innovative style uses a magnetic system to lock the carabiner the moment the gate shuts. To unlock the carabiner one must pinch both sides of the gate. This motion is quickly mastered with either hand making this a very easy style to operate (yet next to impossible to create a scenario where the rope or a belay loop could mimic this pinch). After three winters of use I’ve had no issues with the mechanism getting iced up. Essentially I find these to be the fastest and most secure option in two places in my climbing system. First I use one for my main belay/rappel carabiner. Zero chance of forgetting to lock this important attachment and while it seems trivial the few seconds saved at every transition can add up. Second I use two on my plaquette style belay device.

Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner
Black Diamond VaporLock and RockLock Magnetron Carabiners with the Kong GiGi

Pictured here is my KONG GiGi but the popular Petzl Reverso 4 and Black Diamond ATC Guide would be a common substitute. Since some may ask about the GiGi I’ll add here that I typically am guiding with two clients so often I belay two ropes simultaneously. This can trash a guide’s elbows and shoulders over decades of yarding up rope and the Kong GiGi helps by having less resistance when pulling slack. I do also carry a Petzl Reverso 4 for rappels and as a “back-up” should anyone drop their belay device on a multi-pitch climb.


Maintenance

Depending on the environment you climb in you may need to do some light maintenance to keep your locking carabiners functioning properly. In the Northeast I don’t find my locking carabiners needing much attention and probably give them a tune up every 3-5 years if they haven’t incurred enough wear to be retired. Climbing in soft dusty deserts might require a more regular maintenance cycle. Luckily it isn’t that hard. If a gate or sleeve is sticking or feels “gritty” wash the carabiner in a warm soapy wash. An old toothbrush can help if they are really gunked up. Rinse well. Apply a quality lube like Metolius Cam Lube. I’ve also had great results with Teflon based bike lubricants. DO NOT use WD-40 as this spray really attracts dust and dirt and you’ll find yourself back in the kitchen sink pretty quickly.


My Kit

After reading all this you might be wondering how many locking carabiners I carry. I see quite a few newer climber carrying an excess of locking carabiners on their harnesses. If you think carefully about your climbing system you can streamline it which will help make you a more efficient all-around climber. Here’s exactly what I carry for multi-pitch traditional or alpine climbing:

Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner paired with my Petzl Reverso 4

Black Diamond VaporLock and RockLock paired with my Kong GiGi

Petzl Attache dedicated to being my anchor carabiner, doubles as my third-hand back-up during rappels

Petzl William Locking Carabiner for racking my draws, munter-hitches, master-points

If we will be top-roping I add two Petzl Attaches per top-rope system I’m setting up.

So that’s only 5 locking carabiners with specific jobs for multi-pitch climbing and another 2 for top-roping. As always if you find yourself short a locking carabiner somewhere you feel you need one you can use two non-locking carabiners with gates reversed and opposed.


Related

Tying a Clove-Hitch on the Carabiner

Tying a Munter-Hitch on the Carabiner

Gear for Top-Roping

Improved Belay Checks


Summary/Giveaway

Hopefully this post has been informative and will help you optimize the amount and style of locking carabiners you spend your money on. There are so many options out there these days and it is helpful to recognize where one style may more more convenient, or even more secure, than another style. Drop a comment below on anything related to this post and your name will be entered into a drawing for a brand new Petzl Am’D BallLock Carabiner! Drawing will be held on October 31st at 12 PM EST and winner announce here and contacted via email.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



Links above are affiliate links. By making a purchase you support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!

Gear Review- Black Diamond Vapor Climbing Helmet

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review

The Black Diamond Vapor Helmet is the lightest and most breathable helmet in Black Diamond’s line and is only an ounce heavier than the Petzl Sirocco that I reviewed here. A sheet of Kevlar and a series of carbon rods in between co-molded EPS foam provides the bulk of impact protection along with a thin but full polycarbonate shell. I’ve been testing this helmet out while climbing and guiding for the last three months and I’m ready to share my opinions on it! As normal I’ll start with the most noticeable features and work towards the minutiae.


Weight

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review

Black Diamond lists the weight of the M/L size at 199 grams, or 7 ounces. My home scale measured 206 grams, or 7 3/8 ounces. For comparison my size 2 Sirocco weighed in on the same scale at 174 grams, or 6 1/8 ounces. While the listed weight seemed a slight bit low it truly weighs only an ounce more than the bar-setting Petzl Sirocco. This ultra-light weight is a boon for long approaches and descents and increases long-term comfort. You truly can forget you have your helmet on when wearing lids like this!


Breath-ability

IMG_9585

Twenty one geometric and well placed holes offer excellent airflow through the helmet making this one of the best hot weather options out there. Furthermore I tested the “Blizzard” color which is basically white and reflective and I found the helmet to be as cool as is possible even on sweltering August days.


Fit/Comfort

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review

The M/L size is listed to fit a head circumference of 58-63 cm (23-25 in). My head measures about 60 cm (23.5 inches). That said I found the helmet to run a little small. It fit my shaved head well but was almost maxed out (I do have a large head). I have just enough room for a thin hat liner for cold weather climbing. Removable and breathable helmet pads are soft on the skin and can be removed for washing. The Y-harness strap is not adjustable but fell perfectly around my ears. The feather like weight and high degree  of breath-ability really do make this one of the most comfortable helmets I have ever tested.


Features

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review
The author wearing the Black Diamond Vapor while topping out the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Mount Washington. Photo by Brent Doscher

Other than the weight and breath-ability the only other feature to talk about is the headlamp clips, which oddly are removable. Black Diamond suggests that removing them may make the helmet less likely to get snagged on slings, etc. but I’d suggest just leaving them on. They didn’t get caught on anything while I was testing. The helmet also has a nice low profile while providing great coverage on the back and sides.


Durability

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review
Alex rocking the Black Diamond Vapor helmet during an early morning climb at Otter Cliffs- Photo by Brent Doscher

It’s hard to accurately rate long term durability after just three months. I have friends who have climbed regularly in theirs for over a year. The thin polycarbonate shell does not resist small dents and dings with regular use. Black Diamond advises against packing this helmet inside your pack. I packed mine in the top of my pack like I usually do if I don’t have a full load and had no issues (but I remember it is in there and don’t sit on my pack when it is in there). If you strap it on the outside of your pack I would suggest you don’t just drop your pack on the ground when you reach the crag. I wouldn’t say you need to “baby” this helmet but if you want something that can take more abuse check out the Black Diamond Half Dome or Petzl Boreo that I reviewed here.


Summary

This is a specialist helmet. It’s a bit pricey, but the weight savings and breath-ability can easily justify the price. I’ve heard that cycling helmets made with a similar construction can go for 2 to 3 times more! The best uses for this helmet would be alpine climbing and long multi-pitch trad climbing. I’d chose something longer lasting for sport climbing where a couple ounces more can buy you a lot more durability. If weight and long term comfort in warm weather are a priority the Black Diamond Vapor is a great pick!

Buy on Backcountry

sale price vapor.PNG

Buy from EMS

Buy from Moosejaw

sale price vapor.PNG

Buy from Mountain Gear

sale price vapor.PNG

Buy from REI

sale price vapor.PNG

Gear for Top Rope Climbing

Gear for Top Rope Climbing
Photo by Alexandra Roberts

After teaching an anchor building clinic last week my guest started an email chain with me looking for some specific recommendations on improving his top-rope “kit”. After making a few suggestions I realized I get these questions a few times a year and there are probably others out wondering what an optimized top-rope kit looks like.  So here I share what I think are the best of the best from ropes to carabiners, belay devices to harnesses and helmets, these are my “first picks”.


Climbing Rope

Sterling Marathon Pro Dry Single Rope

Sterling Marathon Pro Climbing Rope
Sterling Marathon Pro Climbing Rope

I would recommend this 10.1 mm rope in the 60 meter length. With a higher ratio of sheath-to-core this rope will hold up to hard use for many years. It comes equipped with a middle mark, which is a feature I insist on for any of my ropes if it’s not a bi-pattern rope. Some might question the added expense of getting a dry treated rope for top-roping. In addition to not taking on 5 pounds of water when you get caught in the rain dry treatments also help resist dirt and friction which adds both life and smoother handling. I pretty much only shop “dry” ropes these days despite the added cost.


Rope Bag

Arc’teryx Haku Rope Bag

Gear for Top Roping

Protect your investment in your climbing rope with the Cadillac of rope bags. This model has an integrated ground tarp and can compress the rope into a pack-able size when carrying a larger backpack to the crag.

Gear for Top Roping
Photo by Corey McMullen


Static Rope

1st Choice Sterling 7/16 in. WorkPro Static Rope 61m

Gear for Top Roping

2nd Choice Mammut Performance Static Rope 50m

If you will be top-roping anywhere that anchors are located a bit far back from the cliff edge you will need a static rope for extending your master-point out of the edge. Examples where static rope is helpful, if not necessary; Square Ledge, Pawtuckaway, Stonehouse Pond, Otter Cliffs, etc. Tubular and flat webbing IS NOT a substitute for static line as they both have enough stretch in them that they will quickly fray where they run over the cliff edge during repeated climbing cycles.


Cordelettes

Sterling PowerCord Cordelettes

Gear for Top Rope Climbing

I recommend 2 in the 5.5 meter (18 foot) length. I use the Flat Overhand Bend as my joining knot on these instead of the more traditional Double Fisherman so that they are easy to untie for more anchoring options. Most often they are deployed in a Quad construction, around a large tree, or in a pre-equalized 3 piece gear anchor.

Gear for Top Rope Climbing
Photo by Corey McMullen

Slings

Black Diamond Nylon Slings

Gear for Top Rope Climbing

I’d recommend two 120 cm nylon slings and one 60 cm sling. The longer slings are most often deployed around medium size tree anchors, used in a pre-equalized fashion on two bolts, or as part of a larger more complex gear anchor, and will have two dedicated carabiners (see section below). The 60 cm sling is most often used in a “sliding-X” configuration.


Belay Devices

Gear for Top Rope Climbing
Photo by Alexandra Roberts

Petzl Grigri+                   Black Diamond ATC Pilot                  Petzl Verso

The Petzl Grigri+ is a top-tier choice that comes with a bit of sticker shock. That said it is an incredibly well designed piece of gear. Check out my 1000+ word review of it here and decide for yourself! The new Black Diamond ATC Pilot is a much more affordable option that has a simple design and still includes a “brake enhancing” feature. My detailed review of that device is here. These two devices only accept one strand of rope so the classic Petzl Verso is carried for rappelling. Each of these will have a dedicated locking carabiner that works well with the device.


Carabiners

            Petzl Attache          Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner     Petzl William Ball-Lock

I put more thought into what carabiners I use and where than most. There are some designs out there that make more sense in certain places of your rope safety system. I carry 4 Petzl Attache Locking Carabiners , one Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner Screwgate, and one Petzl William Ball-Lock Carabiner.

For the master-point (where your climbing rope will be running). I use two dedicated Petzl Attache Locking Carabiners. Along with the red “unlocked” indicator these carabiners have a feature many people don’t realize. When used at the master point with gates reversed and opposed the grooves on the screw-gate are designed to lock into the ridges of the opposed carabiner when under even just a light load. This prevents them from vibrating into an unlocked state even during the longest top-rope session. Even curious hands (I take a lot of young kids climbing) wouldn’t be able to unlock these with the tension of the rope on the carabiners. These are “dedicated” to this purpose so they wear evenly and I’ll replace them once they show a few mm of wear.

I also use one of the Petzl Attache Locking Carabiners for my Petzl Grigri+. Call me OCD but I like the Petzl/Petzl match up here. Likewise I match my Black Diamond ATC Pilot with a Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner Screwgate… it fits perfectly. For my Petzl Verso I use the Petzl William Ball-Lock Carabiner. The wider rope end of a larger pear shaped carabiner allows smoother and less “kinking” rappels. I also like the auto-locking mechanism of the “Ball-Lock”, a much more secure design than some “2-action” auto-locking carabiners.


Helmet

         Petzl Boreo Helmet                                          Black Diamond Half Dome

Yes, I recommend a helmet for top rope climbing (despite using some images in this post of helmet-less heads). I won’t say I wear mine 100% of the time, but I always have it with me. If I am climbing or belaying it is on. If I’m hanging around directly under climbers I have it on. The two models I endorse as excellent all around lids are the new Petzl Boreo (full review here) and the iconic Black Diamond Half Dome.

Photo by Corey McMullen
Photo by Corey McMullen

Summary

Gear for Top Rope Climbing
Photo by Alexandra Roberts

As I mentioned to start these are my top-tier choices. You can definitely save a bit of money by sacrificing some of the features I like, from dry treatment to middle marks, “brake enhancing” to unlock indicators. These are simply what I think are some of the best options in this category currently being offered. Please comment below with your own recommendations, ask me to clarify any of my choices, or just say hello!

In the coming months I hope to have a clearer picture of what you, my reader/follower, would like from Northeast Alpine Start. A recent Instagram poll revealed Tech Tips are more desired than Gear Reviews so I’m already working to add more skills to my growing list of Tech Tips. Feel free to comment or drop me a message on what you would like to see more of here!

 

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Gear Review: Black Diamond ATC Pilot Belay Device

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review

The new Black Diamond ATC Pilot is an impressive addition to the growing number of “brake assisting” belay devices on the market.


What it is

From Black Diamond:

The lightweight Black Diamond ATC Pilot represents an advance in technology for the world of assisted braking devices. Providing an added level of security to your belay, the ATC Pilot threads similarly to other tubular belay devices and accommodates ropes from 8.7-10.5mm. The durable steel braking surface has no moving parts, and the smooth and secure control allows for gradual lowering. With an easy rope payout, the ATC Pilot makes single-pitch projecting burns less tiring for the belayer and more secure for the climber.

 

  • Accommodates ropes from 8.7-10.5
  • Provides an added level of security to single pitch belays
  • Smooth rope payout
  • Controlled lowering
  • Steel construction
  • Ergonomic, non-slip surface
  • Single rope use

How we tested

Over the course of two months I carried the Black Diamond ATC Pilot Belay Device for almost two dozen days of climbing between Rumney Rocks and crags all over Mount Washington Valley along with a couple trips to the Salt Pump Climbing Gym. We used a Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner (our favorite belay carabiner). More significantly I handed it to my clients and regular climbing partners every chance I could to get their opinions as well as determine really how intuitive this device would be in the hands of both longtime veteran climbers and first-day-ever climbers. Over the test period I had at least 10 different people belay me while lead climbing and top-roping, some as young as 10 years old!

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review


The results

We found the Black Diamond ATC Pilot to be incredibly intuitive with a quick learning curve to become proficient in both lead and top-rope belaying. Experienced climbers felt that using it felt very similar to operating a regular Black Diamond ATC or Petzl Verso. Clear images on the device and a lack of moving parts helped even the newest, and youngest, of our testers properly install the device on the rope.


Top-roping Belaying and Lowering

Belaying on a top-rope system is quite simple with the Black Diamond ATC Pilot. Using the universal belay technique belayers had no problem removing slack from the system. When it came time to lower minimal coaching was required to have the belayer lower the climber. The biggest advantage during the lower is the lack of moving parts or levers make this device feel less likely to have an inexperienced belayer defeat the camming mechanism causing an uncontrolled fall and possible injury.

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review
Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review

Lead Belaying

Belaying a lead climber with the Black Diamond ATC Pilot is quite simple and we found that newer belayers could “keep up” with the lead climber’s progress easier than other brake-assisting devices on the market. With just slight upward pressure on the thumb lever (while keeping the brake hand around the brake strand) slack could be payed out as easily as any tube style belay device and at least one tester felt it could be payed out even smoother than a Petzl Gri Gri+ in experienced hands. In the event of a fall it is highly unlikely for a belayer to keep upward pressure on this lever and intuitive to slide the brake hand back down the strand for a secure catch.


Assisted Braking

The amount of braking will vary based on rope diameter and age, along with the amount of friction already in the system (top-rope vs lead catch). We found skinny new single ropes like our Sterling Fushion Nano IX 9 mm would slowly slip in a top-rope system (but were easily locked off with proper brake hand position). The slightly thicker Black Diamond 9.4 mm used in the video below would hold fast. Regardless the device must not be treated as “auto-locking”. A brake hand is required 100% of the time.

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review
Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review

Rappelling

While the Black Diamond ATC Pilot is not designed for rappelling it can safely be used to descend a single strand rappel. Care must be taken as without gloves on your hand will come in contact with the carabiner which will create some heat on a long or fast rappel. We would likely still carry a traditional belay device like the Black Diamond ATC Belay Device if we were planning on doing a lot of rappelling.


Video


Summary

The Black Diamond ATC Pilot is a great addition to the growing amount of assisted braking devices on the market. While it’s obvious this would be a good tool for gym and sport climbers we believe it could also earn a place with climbing guides and instructors. It’s an excellent choice for a new belayer due to its intuitive use and extra layer of security it provides while maintaining a simple design. The symmetrical design also makes this device equally effective for those who are right or left handed, something that many similar devices do not do. We also find the light weight and competitive price of this device to be a compelling reason to add it to your kit. You can check it out from the following retailers:

Shop Local!

International Mountain Equipment, North Conway NH

Eastern Mountain Sports, North Conway NH

Shop Online!

Backcountry <- currently 25% off and adding our favorite Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner to go with it gets you to free two-day shipping!

Bentgate

EMS

Mountain Gear <- currently 24% off

REI


Technical Instructions from Black Diamond

Special thanks to AJ at Mountain Life International and Jeremy Ray for their assistance in making the above video.

Disclaimer: The author bought this item with his own money. All opinions are his own. Affiliate links above help create reviews at Northeast Alpine Start like this at no additional cost to you! Thanks for reading!

 

Gear Review: Petzl Boreo Climbing Helmet

The new Petzl Boreo helmet is a super protective rugged great value choice that replaces the long loved Petzl Elios helmet in Petzl’s award winning helmet line.


How we tested

We tested this media sample while sport climbing at Rumney, NH, cragging at various cliffs in Mount Washington Valley, and multi-pitch climbing on Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledge along with some alpine climbing in Huntington Ravine. I shared this sample with some of my co-workers, climbing partners, and guests and solicited their opinions. After 3 months of testing I’m ready to share my opinions on this model to help you decide if this is the right helmet for you. As usual we will start with the most positive stand-out features and work our way down the list after covering the manufacturer info.

Petzl Boreo Review
Tom tests the Petzl Boreo during some alpine climbing in Huntington Ravine

From Petzl:

Durable and very versatile, the BOREO helmet is suitable for climbing, mountaineering, caving, via ferrata, canyoning… Thanks to its hybrid construction, the helmet is both compact and head-covering. Protection against lateral, front and rear impact is reinforced. Optimized volume on the head and wide ventilation holes make it a comfortable helmet for all activities.

Description

  • Rugged:
    – hard outer shell is impact and scratch resistant for optimal durability
    – hybrid construction with thick ABS shell, an EPP foam liner and an EPS foam liner makes it compact on the head
    – soft headband conforms perfectly to the shape of the head and folds into the shell for storage and transportation
  • Head-covering design for optimal protection against lateral, front and rear impact:
    – carries Petzl’s TOP AND SIDE PROTECTION product label
    – head-covering shape, lower in the rear, offers reinforced protection
  • Versatile, for a variety of activities:
    – suitable for climbing, mountaineering, caving, via ferrata, canyoning…
    – four clips for headlamp attachment
    – compatible with the VIZION eye shield

Specifications

  • Material(s): ABS shell, expanded polypropylene (EPP) liner, expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner, polyester webbing
  • Certification(s): CE EN 12492, UIAA
  • Weight S/M 285 grams (10 ounces) M/L 295 grams (10.4 ounces)

Durability

Petzl Boreo Review
The author cragging with the Wednesday Sendsday crew- photo by Corey McMullen

Petzl uses three main materials in the construction of the Boreo. The outer shell is a hard plastic ABS shell which both protects the energy absorbing liners and helps dissipate force in a hit. An expanded polypropylene (EPP) liner makes up the bulk of protection around the entire helmet except for the crown (the very top of the helmet) which uses an expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner for added impact protection from a direct top hit. For comparison this EPS liner is about 25% smaller in size than the EPS liner in the award winning Sirocco 2017 model (my review of that model is here).

Petzl Boreo Review
A protective ABS plastic shell houses the EPP foam with a crown section of EPS foam in the Petzl Boreo

All this adds up to a helmet that is super durable and long lasting. It should survive many years of small knocks and hits from falling ice, occasional rocks, etc. As with any helmet a major hit whether from a fall or object might require retiring it, but this is a helmet I could cram into an overloaded haul bag and not get too nervous when I forget it’s in there before sitting on my pack at a trail break (I’ve broken ultralight climbing helmets in this manner before). This helmet definitely stands out in terms of long term durability!


Protective

Petzl Boreo Review
Full side and back protection makes the Petzl Boreo a great choice for those who want the most protection regardless of the type of hit or fall

The next most significant feature of the Petzl Boreo is how much protection it provides. There are a lot of things that determine how protective a lid will be so let’s start with the material. The ABS/EPP/EPS combo is un-matched for being able to absorb and dissipate energy in a hit and is likely the most durable construction out there (at the cost of some weight). While carrying certifications from both CE and UIAA Petzl has gone further and created there own internal tests for gauging side and rear impact protection. CE and UIAA tests focus on top protection but for a helmet to truly protect the wearer from a bad fall the sides and rear of the helmet need to be tested as well as they are certainly prone to impact. This may be the most protective (and durable) climbing helmet on the market.


Affordable

Petzl Boreo Helmet Review
The author testing the Boreo while setting the rigging for a guided Waterfall Rappelling adventure. Photo by CF Photography

There are very few models that can offer the protection, durability, and design Petzl achieves at this price point. This makes the Boreo a great choice for institutions, climbing camps, guide services, and climbers who appreciate durability over saving a few ounces or grams.


Comfort

Petzl Boreo Review
The Petzl Boreo has good ventilation for warm weather climbing

I found the Petzl Boreo to be relatively comfortable for a helmet in this weight category. It definitely feels heavier than the ultralight Petzl Sirocco and on long climbing days I rarely would forget I have it on. The removable foam pads are comfortable directly on the skin and can easily be washed after they’ve seen a few weeks of sunblock greasy climbing. Ventilation is much better than the Petzl Elios it replaces but not as airy as the super breathable Petzl Sirocco.


Fit

Petzl Boreo Review
Dylan found the Petzl Boreo to be quite comfortable during a morning tour of Cathedral Ledge despite having a twist in his helmet strap here!

The Petzl Boreo comes in two sizes, S/M and M/L. S/M is for a head circumference of 48 to 58 cm and the M/L is for a head circumference of 53 to 61 cm. My head measures in at 59 cm so the M/L fits me well with no hat and I can where a thin winter hat liner with the helmet adjusted to its largest setting. If your head is 60 cm or larger you might find this helmet a bit to snug to wear with a winter hat. While the side yoke straps are not adjustable they did fall perfectly around the ears. My only small gripe about the adjustable mechanism is when the helmet is packed it tends to adjust itself to a smaller size requiring the need to re-size the helmet almost every time I take it out. This only takes a second or two but it is worth noting.


Features

Petzl Boreo Review
Four helmet clips secure your headlamp on the Petzl Boreo

The Petzl Boreo is compatible with the Petzl Vizion Face Shield and that combo would offer the most about of protection possible for ice climbing. The helmet includes four clips for mounting a headlamp and my Petzl Actik Headlamp attached quickly and securely. As already mentioned the removable and washable foam pads are really comfortable on direct skin and clean up easily when they get that mid-season funk.


Summary

The Petzl Boreo is the most durable and protective climbing helmet I have reviewed to date. The focus on increased side and rear impact protection is proof of Petzl’s forward thinking design and desire to not only meet existing standards but go beyond. The Petzl Boreo is a great choice for not only rock and ice climbing but for ski mountaineering pursuits. While ounce counters might not like the relatively high weight those looking for value in a long lasting highly protective helmet wouldn’t find many options as appealing as this one. I think this is an excellent choice as a “first” helmet and its durability will likely keep it in your kit for certain missions throughout your climbing career.

You can pick this helmet up at the following local retailers in Mount Washington Valley:

International Mountain Equipment, North Conway

Eastern Mountain Sports, North Conway

You can also order from these authorized Petzl online retailers:


Backcountry   Bentgate   EMS   Moosejaw   Mountain Gear   REI   Amazon


See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: A media sample was provided for purpose of review and affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

Gear Review: Furnace Industries Kronos Ice Axes

I first heard about the Furnace Industries Kronos Ice Axes through a review posted on a fellow gear reviewer’s blog. Technical ice axes made out of wood? The concept was definitely intriguing and I was pretty excited to check a pair out. Unfortunately these did not work for me. My experience with them did not match what other online reviewers have reported, and that’s ok. Reviews after all are largely based on opinions. Here’s how I tested them:

About a dozen days of ice climbing in the White Mountains on grade 3 & 4 waterfall ice. Routes like Thresher, Unicorn, Pegasus, Standard Route, Chia, Dracula, Hitchcock, and The Cleft. I loaned them out to a few fellow guides who collectively put another half dozen days on them. Their opinions largely echoed the ones I had developed and will share here.

Furnace Industries Kronos Ice Axe Review
Furnace Industries Kronos Ice Axe Review- photo by Peter Brandon

First, the manufacturer info:


The KRONOS® is the world’s first ‘T’ rated, CE certified technical ice climbing tool made from organic material.

Technical Specifications

  • Weight: 1 lb 7.8 oz (675 g)
  • Size: One Size
  • Length: 19 in (48.26 cm)
  • Material: Densified Beech Laminate / Hardened Tool Steel

Other Features

  • Axe comes with a hand finished removable and replaceable Type B Furnace Industries Ice pick
  • Type T Pick sold separately available HERE
  • Replacement Type B Picks available HERE
  • A softer swing as the wood absorbs shock of the pick strike offering increased sensitivity at all temperatures
  • Wood handle offers enhanced grip and thermal insulation
  • Hand finished handle offers multiple grip options
  • The KRONOS Ice Tool has a Type T shaft

 The Swing

One of the reported advantages of the wooden construction is the ability for the shaft to dampen vibration with each strike which could have the benefit of reducing arm and hand fatigue. This dampening effect was not as noticeable as it is when swinging carbon fiber tools like the Black Diamond Cobras or Grivel Carbon Tech Machines. The weight of the tool (1 lb, 8 oz) is 3-4 ounces heavier than most similar tools. That extra weight was felt by more than one tester to be a bit on the heavy side. The bulk of the weight feels like it is around mid-shaft which also felt less ideal for easy sticks.

My opinion here is likely effected by two decades of climbing on tools like the Petzl Quarks and Cassin X-Dreams where most of the weight feels closer to the head of the axe allowing for a bit of a “wrist flick” type placement rather than the kind of “elbow drop” type swing this design seems to encourage. One tester thought attaching some head weights might help better balance the tool but at an already comparatively heavy weight I think it would be better if they could move some of this mass higher on the tool somehow.

All in all while seeking fresh sticks in virgin ice a few of our testers felt the pick angle would cause occasional “bounce out” failed sticks and the heavier weight would contribute to fatigue. For hooking pegged out routes and dry-tooling the tool performed quite well, though felt a little on the heavy side for that to be the primary benefit of the tool.


Durability/Thermal Effeciency

While I’ve seen claims of great durability come from a few sources this is the other place where these really fell short for me. During our local Ice Fest I got first hand reports of a demo pair breaking and then my sample was damaged while another guide was taking them for a test drive. While still fully functional the two spots here where the laminated wood broke leave me concerned for long term durability. To be fair that upper trigger rest is a vulnerable spot on many tools.

In the past I’ve broken the removable trigger rest on the Petzl Quarks (and shortly after just always removed that piece from the Quark). The picks however have held up great for the amount of use they have seen. The hardened tool steel used here is probably the best thing about these tools. I’ve only tuned them twice and they hold a tune longer than most other picks I’m familiar with!

There is a bit of thermal advantage to using wooden ice axes (I have really warm hands so this benefit probably doesn’t get the credit it should). If you suffer from cold hands ice climbing this change in material may be of a greater benefit.


Summary

Without question these are hand-crafted with passion and are a solid accomplishment in engineering, but in my opinion they still need to be refined to cross from novelty conversation item to competitive and practical technical ice axe. I would encourage you to try them though! Other reviewers and better ice climbers than I have sung praises for them so this could definitely be a case of “not right for me but could be right for you”. I’d encourage you to grab a pair at your local Ice Fest and see for yourself. If a Kronos 2.0 arrives I’ll be eager to take another look!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for the purpose of this review and has been returned to the manufacturer. All opinions expressed are my own. Affiliate links help support this blog.

Climbing Cams Comparison Review (and Giveaway!)

This post originally published in Fall 2016. In Spring of 2017 I added a set of Black Diamond Ultralights to my kit and now with a year of testing it was time to update my findings. New contest for a free cam as well!

For the last two decades Black Diamond Camalots have been a mainstay of my rack. When the new C4’s came out in 2005 I upgraded my whole rack and saved over a pound in the process. While I’d been aware of the DMM Dragon Cams for a few years it wasn’t until I needed to replace a few well loved cams on my rack that I decided to give them a try. Note that this original review compares the previous version of the Dragons. The DMM Dragon 2’s are now available and have slightly wider cam lobes (more contact) and a textured thumb press for better grip.


C4’s vs DMM Dragon Cams

DMM Dragon Cams Review
DMM Dragon Cams Review

I picked up the 2, 3, 4, and 5, which is equivalent to the Black Diamond C4 .75, 1, 2, and 3.

Since the numbers the manufacturers assigned for the sizes do not correlate well we will be happier if we refer to them by color (which thankfully correlates). So I picked up the green, red, yellow, and blue size.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
A welcome addition to the rack

While they felt light in hand manufacturer specs and my home scale confirmed they are almost identical in weight to the Black Diamond C4’s. A full set of each weighs within one ounce of the other, with the Dragons coming in a hair lighter. When you consider the amount of quick-draws you could reduce from your kit while using the DMM Dragons (because of the built in extendable sling) the DMM Dragons are definitely a lighter option than a set of the Black Diamond C4’s.

However investing in the Black Diamond Ultralights one would save about 8 ounces, half a pound, over either the DMM Dragons or the Black Diamond C4’s for a full rack.  That weight savings comes at considerable cost, about $200 more for a full rack. The weight savings are noticeable throughout the size range but the largest gains are made in the biggest sizes.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
Breaking down the numbers

When comparing weight savings we have to take a look at probably the most noticeable feature of the DMM Dragons, the inclusion of an extendable dyneema sling.

DMM Dragon Cam Review
Expandable sling not extended
DMM Dragon Cam Review
Expandable sling extended

The advantages & disadvantages to this unique feature are a bit specific to the route & type of climbing you predominantly do, but lets take a look. First, you can gain 12-14cm of “free” extension on your placement without having to carry an extra quickdraw. How much weight can that save? Well 7-8 average quick-draws like the Petzl Djinns weigh close to 2 pounds, so that’s significant. On a straight up route where the gear is in-line this advantage is less pronounced as you’ll be clipping the sling un-extended, just like the sling on a C4. On a wandering line or alpine route this feature could probably save you a few draws and slings further reducing total pack weight.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
Hot forged thumb press

There are a few considerations with this design. First, the “thumb loop” found on the Black Diamond C4’s is considered to be one of the easiest to manipulate when pumped or trying to surgically get the best possible placement in a weird situation. Personally I feel the thump press on the DMM Dragons is plenty sufficient to keep control of the cam while making difficult placements (and has since be improved with the DMM Dragon 2’s). The thumb loop does provide a higher clip point on the protection, which should only be used for aid climbing applications, so this point is quite obscure for non-aid climbing applications. The last concern is the more complex cleaning process for the second. If the sling is extended it can be tricky to re-rack the cam one handed without it hanging low off the harness. With a little practice it can be done, but it is definitely not as easy as re-racking an un-extended sling.

As for holding power there has been anecdotal comments since they were released in 2010 that the slightly thinner surface area might be a concern in softer rock (sandstone). I have not seen any evidence of DMM Dragons failing in softer sandstone conditions when a thicker cam head may have held, so I think that theory can be debunked at this point. (Update the newer DMM Dragon 2’s have increased their cam head by 1.5 – 2 mm in size).

DMM Dragon Cams Review
DMM Dragon Cams Review

Black Diamond Ultralights

As mentioned above I picked up a set of Black Diamond Ultralights during Spring of 2017 and now have one full year climbing on them. I guided over 40 days of rock in the East with them and took them on a two week trip to the Cascades. They are holding up extremely well for the amount of use they see and have become my most reached for set whether I’m heading to the local crag to guide or off on a Cascades climbing trip.

Black Diamond Ultralight Cam Review
Still looking great after a full year of guiding and trips!

I’m hoping the above spreadsheet is helpful for some when deciding if the additional weight savings is worth the additional moo-lah. For some it will be a resounding yes, and others will be happier with the flexibility of the DMM Dragons (especially with the improvement made to the DMM Dragon 2’s), or the time-tested standby of the C4’s (especially if also aid climbing).


Where to Buy

First shop local! You can find most of these items at the following retailers in Mount Washington Valley!

International Mountain Equipment

Ragged Mountain Equipment

Eastern Mountain Sports, North Conway

You can also find them online at the following merchants:

Backcountry has all Black Diamond Cams 10% OFF!

You can also find them at Bentgate, EMS, Moosejaw, Mountain Gear, and REI!


Contest/Giveaway

I’m giving away one DMM Dragon Size 5 (equivalent to a Black Diamond #3), a $70 value!

To enter click the link HERE!

DMM Dragon Cam Size 5 Giveaway
DMM Dragon Cam Size 5 Giveaway

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: David Lottmann bought all the items referred to in this review with his own money. This post contains affiliate links.