Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Lightweight and full size
Cons: Wiregate’s notch can snag on rope or gear, we observed some gate issues
Best Uses: Traditional and Ice climbing, Alpine
The CAMP Photon Wire Straight Gate is one of the lightest full size carabiners on the market. This product was designed with light and fast ascents in the mountains in mind. In fact, this is the favorite carabiner of our founder Chris McNamara on his frequent one-day climbs of Yosemite's El Capitan. Unfortunately, we observed several issues with its gate function during both our testing process and personal use, and if a friend asked us our opinion on what to buy, we would not feel comfortable recommending the Photon at this time. Please continue reading for our full review, including a report on these issues and the response we received from CAMP.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The CAMP Photon Wire Straight Gate is a cold forged wiregate carabiner. It weighs 29 grams (1 ounce) and has a 28 mm wide gate opening.
Ease of Unclipping
In the CAMP Photon Wire, the notch that the wiregate latches on is exposed and can snag on your gear or rope. We found this particularly noticeable when climbing steep terrain, or trying to unclip from a nut or bolt. In contrast the Wild Country Helium Carabiner and Black Diamond Oz Carabiner have protected notches to mitigate this issue.
Ease of Clipping
The gate tension on this product was noticeably softer than any of the other models that we tested. At first, we appreciated how easy it was to clip, because the softer gate tension and wide 28 mm opening seemed to clip the rope for us. But the downside to a softer gate tension is that the gates can easily cross-clip another carabiner when bunched up on a harness or sling. Most climbers have experienced this at one time or another, and know how frustrating it is to reach for a piece only to find your gear in a knot. While this can happen with any biner, we found it occurred more frequently with this model, and during the actual testing of products for this review, we only experienced the issue with this model.
Concern About Wire Gate Length Variation
During our testing of the CAMP Photon Wire Express Dyneema quickdraw, we noticed an apparent gate anomaly on one of the carabiners. The wire seems to have been cut a few millimeters to long, resulting in the gate hitting the back of the notch instead of sitting in the middle. This caused the gate to catch on the body of the carabiner every time we went to open it. When we brought this to CAMP's attention, they requested the model back for testing, and replaced it. Although none of the other five Photon Wire bent and straight gate biners had this issue, there did seem to be slight variances between the lengths of all the gates.
We then went to two local gear stores and looked over all their inventory of Photon Wires, and of the 38 carabiners they had, six were longer than the others and one was touching the back of the notch (like the one we tested).
CAMP had their experts look at our photos of various gate lengths on biners we observed. They felt the variances we observed are within their normal manufacturing tolerance, and do not represent a safety concern. They also took time to explain a bit about their quality control and testing process; this testing process is the primary reason that they see the gate length variance as a non-issue.
CAMP Explains Its Individual Testing Process
As part of their standard quality control process, CAMP informed us that they subject every carabiner to an individual pull test to assure quality. They believe that if the variance in the gate length were a problem, it would be discovered in their individual pull test. But, that's not the only kind of testing they do. CAMP also performs batch testing to failure on a regular basis (meaning they keep pulling until the biner breaks, and measure the amount of force required to finally break it). If gate length variation was a breaking strength issue, CAMP is confident it would be revealed also in those failure tests.
Last, but not least, CAMP notes that their "design of the hook and gate interface creates a more surefire engagement between the gate and hook than other carabiners."
Sticky Gate Issue Observed
Another issue we discovered was from one of our review editors' personal set of these carabiners. He had purchased a set of the CAMP Photon Wire Express Dyneema quickdraws, and within one year's time 8 out of his 27 carabiners had become "manuals." That means that the gate was not springing closed again after opening. A manual carabiner can easily create an open gate scenario, which reduces the strength of the Photon Wire from 21 kN to 9 kN. When the gate of any carabiner is open, it can more easily come unclipped, or even break during a fall. Although his personal set had gotten wet numerous times while climbing alpine routes, they were not dirty or full of grime, and when he tried cleaning them in hot water and lubricating the wires the tension did not improve.
CAMP Offers to Replace Sticky Gate Biners
We spoke to CAMP USA and they assured us that the company stands behind its products and is happy to work on warranty claims with any customers who experience less than satisfactory results with their equipment. They were prompt in contacting our reviewer in order to process a warranty claim to replace all of his carabiners with sticky gates. In a little under two weeks, he had received eight new biners (and they were even the same color as the ones he sent in).
We're impressed at how CAMP USA handled this issue, and it gives us confidence in them and their commitment to quality and customer satisfaction. We don't really have any way of knowing why those particular biners developed sticky gates, and CAMP didn't indicate there was any known issue that would have caused the problem. But, the fact that they stand behind their product and are willing to replace products for people facing an issue like this is laudable. CAMP's warranty is for 3 years and covers faults in materials or manufacture.
The CAMP USA warranty department is reachable by phone at 303.465.9429 x2 (9-5 MST) or via email at email@example.com.
Ease of Handling
The CAMP Photon Wire earned mixed reviews from our testers in this metric. On the plus side, the spine is narrow, which means it takes up less space on your harness or rack. The large size of this biner makes it easy to handle, particularly with gloves on, and the narrow nose profile allows it to fit in tight sling-stuffed bolts at a belay, unlike the Wild Country Helium. But when we took into account our experience with the gates cross-clipping and becoming "manuals," we ended up giving the Photon Wire a lower score in this metric.
How Many Ropes Fit
The large basket on this model and the 28 mm gate opening allowed the gate to open fully during our three-rope test (three figure eights on a bight using 10 mm rope). This is nice for organizing belays with multiple people, or if you like to use clove hitches for anchoring.
Rope Pull Smoothness
This product has a large rope bearing surface and the rope pulled smoothly through it.
This product weighs 29 grams, or 1 ounce, and is the lightest full-size carabiner that we tested. The Black Diamond Oz and Wild Country Astro are a similar weight of 28 grams, but a little smaller in size.
The CAMP Photon Wire was designed for light and fast pursuits in the alpine environment. However, our reviewer's personal set lasted less than one year being used in that exact environment. CAMP does manufacture this biner in eight different colors for racking with your camming devices.
This model is attractively priced, however given our testing experience, we feel you may be better off considering a more expensive model like the Wild Country Helium.
There is the potential for any piece of climbing gear to be manufactured with a defect. Given the inherently dangerous nature of climbing, gear manufacturers take the safety of their product very seriously. And, we know that CAMP is a quality manufacturer that has produced great climbing gear for a long time. Almost all of our review editors who climb have at least one CAMP product, and we consider the brand and their products favorably. And, in fact, our founder Chris McNamara considers this Photon biner his personal favorite, and it is the predominant biner on his rack when he scrambles up the Nose of El Capitan on a regular basis.
However, in this review, we don't feel we can ignore the experience we had with the Photon in our tests. We know CAMP feels the variance in gate length we observed is a non-issue in terms of safety, but frankly we didn't see that kind of variation on competing products and we feel a bit more comfortable with tighter gate length tolerances we see in competitor's products. We also can't be sure that the sticky gate problem one of our review editors experienced on 8 biners of his personal set of 27 Photons wasn't a fluke (the fact that CAMP was happy to replace them under warranty seems a testament to their commitment to quality and customer service). As product reviewers, we don't believe we can ignore issues we observe in our testing. At the end of the day, our testing experience informs our ratings, and we feel an obligation to report in an objective manner on our findings. In the same way we'd feel an obligation to report on a sleeping bag zipper failing in the field, we feel an obligation to report on the issues and observations we had with the Photon Wire biners.
The bottom line is that, based on our testing experience, if a friend asked us what to buy, we would not recommend they purchase of the CAMP Photon Wire at this time. We'd suggest spending a bit more and looking at the Wild Country Helium Carabiner instead.
This product comes in a bent gate version, and in an eight-color rack pack to color code with your gear. It also comes as part of CAMP's pre-assembled Photon Wire Express quickdraw.
— OutdoorGearLab Staff
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Most recent review: April 9, 2015
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