The Best Nuts and Stoppers
We looked at 11 different types of climbing nuts and tested them in a wide range of cracks in a mixture of rock types. We compared their ability to hold a fall in a full range of fissures, from pin scars to parallel sided cracks. We compared and weighed factors that we believed most appropriate for alpine, aid, and free climbing. We also looked at what could be the best buy for a person getting his or her first rack to break into the traditional climbing world.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
We tested for bomber placement in a variety of cracks. We compared how easy each climbing nut was to clean and its overall durability. We preformed side-by-side comparisons on those points and we also checked to see how each nut placed along both its axes.
Pin scars result when pitons are hammered into the rock. These scars are common in climbing areas throughout North America, from Yosemite and the Index town walls to Zion. Cam lovers put a lot of climbing nuts into pin scars because this is often where cams won't work. We thought the DMM Offset Nut — both brass and aluminum models — were the best in pin scars. They fit perfectly in pods where other nuts would barely hold body weight. The DMM Peenuts also excelled at smaller, flaring placements and were much more durable than their similarly-sized brass counterparts. The Wild Country Superlight Rocks also feature an offset taper and fit pin scars almost as well as the offset models mentioned above. Superlight Rocks fit in some small funky pods even better because of their low profile head and single cable. Superlight Rocks were best for free climbers, being bomber in small, funky placements. However, they were a little too tall to fit into micro fissures often used by aid climbers.
Parallel Sided Cracks
While no climbing nut was incredible in perfectly parallel sided cracks (and hey, that's what cams are for) some climbing nuts preformed better than others when cracks constricted less than you might hope for. The Metolius Ultralight Curve Nuts were one of our two top picks for parallel sided cracks. Their double curve design allows three points of contact. The other top pick was the DMM Wallnut, which excelled because its high curvature along the side-to-side axis (the most common placement) helped the nut cam more than others. The BD Stoppers, Omega Pacific Wedgies and Wild Country Rocks weren't far behind. This was another place where Wild Country Superlight Rocks showed their versatility. They are tapered for pin scars on one axis with the other axis being the same as that on Rocks on a Wire. The DMM Alloy Offsets didn't fare as well when placed in the typical orientation, but when placed wide side face out they could run with the rest.
How Easy to Clean
We found climbing nuts with more rounded edges were slightly easier to clean. However, it was cruxy trying to give a single nut the Best in Class. With their relatively straight-sided taper, the Frost Sentinel Nut was the easiest to clean. But not far behind, with a fairly similar design, were the Omega Pacific Wedgies and ABC Huevos with their edges slightly more rounded than those on the Black Diamond Stoppers and Wild Country Rocks on a Wire. The Metolius Nuts were the hardest to clean; DMM Wallnuts were close behind. The notch on the Wallnut, while conforming well to highly textured rock, tended to get hung up on small crystals and other deformities.
Black Diamond Stoppers, Wild Country Rocks on a Wire and DMM Wallnuts were the most durable as far as cables not getting kinked or frayed or heads of the nut not getting too banged up during extended cleaning sessions. All aluminum headed nuts stood up about equally well, although DMM Wallnuts stood a little above the rest, being extra burly because of their hot forged heads. There was a broader range in the durability of each nut's cables. Nuts where the cable was fixed or didn't allow the head to move easily were prone to kinked cables. This tended to happen just below the head after too many upward jerks. Over time this kinking would lead to the cable coming unraveled. The least durable cables were the DMM Brass Offsets, although by a small margin over other brass nuts. Among aluminum nuts, the DMM Alloy Offset Nuts' cables started kinking the soonest. You can avoid this if you are nicer to your nuts — poke them out with a nut tool instead of yanking up on them. The DMM Offset has trouble in this area for two reasons: its cable is glued into the head and the shape of the offset head prevents it from rotating in the crack, causing the cable to bend. The only non-aluminum nuts we reviewed were the DMM brass offsets. Brass or copper is simply less durable than aluminum, so the heads will certainly get more beat up.
This refers to a nut's ability to be placed along both of its axes, a feature of all the nuts we tested. All of them are most commonly placed with the narrow side facing out, giving more surface area to the rock and thus more stability. Some nuts stood out for versatility. Wild Country Superlight Rocks had two excellent options, each complementing the other. On one axis they had an offset taper for pin scars and flares; on the other axis they had the same shape as Rocks on a Wire, which helped them excel in parallel or irregular cracks. Not too far behind was the Metolius Curve Nut with its double curve design, which gave three points of contact on either side. The DMM Wallnuts had two of the most different options for placement orientation. The Frost Works Sentinel Nuts have both sides with an aggressive taper. This was easy to read, leading us to place them in both orientations more often than others.
The History of Climbing Nuts and Stoppers
It is almost impossible for many of today's climbers to imagine a time before the advent of the spring loaded camming device, or cams in other words. But there were in fact many years where the sport of rock climbing took place without cams. In fact, there was even a time before Pitons in which climbers relied purely on wrapping wedged stones, flakes and horns of rock in order to provide protection during a climb.
The rock climbing community was a very small group of people through the first half of the 20th century. When pitons became the widely accepted means for protecting climbs and mountaineering pursuits much of the climbing community in Britain rejected this form of protection. This group viewed the pitons as detracting from the inherent challenges of rock climbing and therefore across England pitons were banned at many climbing areas, especially around the famous Lake District. Climbs in this area almost always followed natural cracks and protectable features. So here the climbers continued to relay on slung chockstones in order to protect their ascents.
In order to protect their climbs, climbers would often place rocks into the cracks in order to create chockstones which they could sling and use for protection. The first report of this is credited to Morely Wood with the ascent of Pigott's Climb on the Clogwyn du'r Arddu in North Wales. Climbers like Wood often collected various size pebbles that they would place into the crack and then loop a sling around, a tedious process no doubt.
By the 1950's British climbers had begun to collect machine nuts from the railroad tracks outside of this Clogwun du'r Arddu climbing area. A lightbulb went off in the minds of several climbers to pre-sling these nuts, wedge them into the cracks and then remove and reuse them. This was far better than placing a new pebble each time you made an ascent. Additionally, the hexagonal shape of the machine nuts was ideal for wedging down into a constriction of a natural crack feature. Climbers throughout England quickly embraced the new technique for protecting climbs. Climbers began to seek out different sized nuts for different sized placements.
Stephane Pennequin of the Nuts' Museum credits John Brailsford from Sheffield with producing the first commercially available stoppers. Using aluminum he milled hollow cone shaped pieces of metal that allowed for a sling to pass through the center and called these Acorns. It didn't take long before there were many different versions, all based on the same idea; a retrievable metal stopper that could be placed into a crack in order to catch a climber should he fall. Soon there were different shapes, sizes and weights, some people drilled holes into the original machine nuts to lighten them, others created whole knew designs to be slotted into the rock.
In 1966 the legendary Yosemite Valley climber Royal Robbins took a trip to England and on that trip he was introduced to all the different versions of stoppers already on the market there. Robbins was inspired by the 'clean climbing' that they were doing in England and was a major proponent of applying this technique in Yosemite Valley. In 1967 Robbins made the first ascent of The Nutcracker using only removable chocks, this marked a major turning point in American climbing. However it was a few more years before the use of nuts took hold in the American climbing community.
By 1975 Yvon Chouinard had teamed with Tom Frost and released the first and second versions of the famous Hexentrics. The first allowed for a single Hex to be placed in three different unique placements, each of which accommodated a different size crack using the same size Hex. The second generation Hexentrics allowed for a fourth type of placement due to an Asymetrical side. This proved to be a much improved design when it hit the markets in 1974.
By this point there were dozens of different shapes and styles of chocks, stoppers, nuts, and hexes. Bill Forrest had invented a unique item called a Titon which was a T-shaped piece of metal that could be cantilevered into a crack for superior holding power. It also came in a wide array of sizes, including large Titons that could protect off-width and wide cracks. Chouinard had previously released 11 sizes of Hexentrics up to the size of a wide hand, he used larger diameter circular tubing to create the Tube Chock which could also protect cracks wider than a fist.
Over the following years Chouinard and Frost modified and improved the design of both the Hexentric and their wedge shaped stoppers which hit the streets in 1971. On the other side of the globe the legendary Australian Roland Pauligk had developed a new style of tiny stoppers by using brass that he inserted the wire into and brazed with silver solder. Previously small climbing nuts had two holes drilled vertically in them and the wire was passed up through one and down through the other. This created a serious weak point where the cable made the sharp bend over the top of the stopper. By using the silver-solder technique to affix the wires to the stopper head, Pauligk had fixed this dangerous weakness, thus creating the first RP's. These were the first non-aluminum chocks on the market and were smaller than anything else released. These small stoppers lead to many ground breaking first ascents in Australia and across the United States.
During these years there were many bizarre inventions when people tried to create different camming stoppers. Many of these designs failed to catch on, with the exception of Greg Lowe's now famous Tricam. Lowe began using the first tricam prototype as early as 1973, however, it was not until the early 1980s that they hit the commercial market.
Up until 1979 all the stoppers, nuts and chocks had been made using flat sided wedge shaped aluminum pieces. Other strange devices had been released but not caught on; small vertical tubes of metal to be slotted into cracks, I-beam looking wedges of various sizes and other variations on the original Acorn. It was then in 1979 that Wild Country developed and released Rocks, the first curved stopper. A simple modification allowed for substantially better holding power by allowing for three points of contact instead of just two, regardless of the shape of the crack.
One last major development was made in 1983 by another now legendary British climber, Hugh Banner. Banner was in need of protecting small flared cracks. In order to compensate for the flared angle of certain cracks he created offset brass nuts. Using the same technique as RPs, Banner soldered the wires into small offset wedges allowing for maximum contact in flared cracks. Still this design is one of the most important types of nuts available.
Bottom Line – Nuts
After our testing was done our choice was the same as the our earlier selection based on years of experience. The DMM Alloy Offset nuts are our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice because they are simply the most versatile nut available, fitting the greatest variety of placements. They were the runaway favorite for pin scars and flares. With a groove cut on each side they fit irregular rock as well as smooth stone. They are one of the lightest nuts and the matching color scheme with DMM and Wild Country Nuts made them user friendly. They are the most expensive nuts we tested. However, the fact that they were among the more difficult to clean and their rank just below average in parallel cracks didn't keep them from being worth every penny of $15 each. The ABC Huevos were our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy because they preformed every bit as well as many other models, yet were by far the best price. If you are a climber on a budget you won't be giving up much with the Huevos.
Bottom Line – Micro Nuts
We choose the DMM Brass Offsets as the OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice because they fit the greatest variety of small fissures the best. Also, the primary reason most people buy brass nuts is for aid climbing. When aid climbing you are often placing nuts in pin scars, for which the DMM Brass Offsets were the runaway favorite. That said, we did like the Metolius Astro Nuts for their stability and the BD Micro Stoppers because of the large surface area they provided, giving greater security on those mini-placements.
— Ian Nicholson
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