Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: Varies from $11 - $12 | Compare prices at 6 resellers
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to grab, durable
Cons: Heavy, dual wiregate carabiners are prone to snagging
Best Uses: Sport Climbing, Ice Climbing
The no-frills Black Diamond FreeWire Quickdraw sacrifices style and weight for price, and still comes out a winner. The dual wiregate carabiners are prone to snagging on just about everything, but you might be willing to put up with that for the money you'll save. Our Best Buy award winner clips and handles well, and you can rest assured that all its parts are still high quality and full strength. If money is no object, we think the Petzl Spirit Express is a better option, but if you are living the dirtbag lifestyle and eating from dented cans, this is the draw for you.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Black Diamond FreeWire quickdraw comes with two cold-forged Quicksilver wiregate carabiners on either end of an 18mm wide and 12cm long nylon sling. Although this draw earned lower scores in our ease of unclipping and portability metrics, our Best Buy award winner offers a lot of bang for the buck.
Ease of Unclipping
As with most wiregate carabiners, the Black Diamond FreeWire is difficult to unclip on steeper terrain as the rope gets caught in the notch at the gate. (One exception is our Top Pick award winner, the Wild Country Helium Quickdraw, which has an inset notch). The FreeWire has dual wiregate carabiners, and our testers found that the upper carabiner occasionally got hung up on their harnesses or the bolt as well. This is why most draws on the market these days have a keylock carabiner on top, and are moving towards hooded wiregates on the bottom. That extra engineering is reflected in the cost of the gear, however. For double the price of the FreeWire you can buy the Black Diamond LiveWire Quickdraw which has a keylock carabiner on top and their new hood design over the notch on the bottom carabiner. If you want to avoid wiregates altogether the Petzl Spirit Express and Petzl Djinn Axess have keylock carabiners on both ends to minimize the snagging issue.
Ease of Clipping
The Black Diamond FreeWire received high scores for ease of clipping. The full-sized wiregate carabiner is easy clip the rope into even in difficult clipping situations. Wiregate carabiners are less prone to fluttering open in a fall than a standard bar gate, making this a good choice for all types of climbing. If you want to learn more about the difference between wiregate and keylock carabiners check out our Buying Advice article.
The Black Diamond FreeWire is not lightweight, but a rack of twelve of them is only a few ounces heavier than the Petzl Spirit Express. If you are mostly sport climbing in areas with short approaches then this should not be a major issue. If you are looking for a less expensive lightweight model, the CAMP Photon Wire Express Dyneema fits that bill.
Ease of Handling
This piece of gear mostly handles well, and was very easy to extend for those situations where the natural clipping hold is considerably lower than the bolt placement or where you want to avoid rope drag. It comes with a sewn-in rubber Straightjacket to keep the bottom carabiner in its proper orientation.
Ease of Grabbing
Here is one area in which the FreeWire excels over most of the other products we tested. The 18mm wide sling is the perfect size for grabbing whether it's out of desperation or necessity. This is a main consideration for several reasons. From a sport climbing perspective, sometimes it's safer to grab a draw and clip, particularly if you're looking at a nasty fall. If you are well above your bolt and fall with a bunch of extra slack out you can take a long and potentially dangerous fall depending on the situation. Other times, you might be faced with a bolt-ladder partway up a multi-pitch climb to avoid a blank section, like on the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral. It's much easier to get up an A0 section with some wide slings than trying to hold on to narrow ones with fatigued hands. Other draws that are designed for grabbing are the Petzl Spirit Express and the Black Diamond LiveWire.
The Black Diamond FreeWire is a great quickdraw for sport and ice climbing. The wide sling makes for easy grabbing when things get difficult on a sport climb. Additionally, when you are swinging ice axes with gloves on, draws with full-sized carabiners are easier to use than those with smaller ones like the Black Diamond Oz Quickdraw. Also, wiregate carabiners function better in the cold as they are less prone to icing up. Finally, this might not be a bad draw for taking up a big wall either. Heavy for sure, but if you're going slow and already have a 20 pound pin and gear rack, a slightly heavier draw is not going to be your downfall. This is a sturdy option that will hold up to the abuse that five days on El Cap will dish out to your gear.
The price on the FreeWire cannot be beat. For half the price of Petzl Spirit Express you get a fully serviceable draw that meets all the industry safety and strength standards. For this reason, it earned our Best Buy award.
The Black Diamond FreeWire isn't much to look at at first glance, but we were quickly reminded not to judge a book by its cover. It performs well in most situations (the exception being super steep sport climbing), and if you're more interested in value than esthetics you'll want a set of these draws. If your entire draw rack is made up of scavenged leaver-biners, consider spending a few dollars for this good and durable product.
The FreeWire can also be purchased with an 18cm long sling or in a five pack:
Black Diamond FreeWire Quickdraw, 18cm, $12.
Black Diamond FreeWire Quickdraw, Five Pack, $60.
— Cam McKenzie Ring
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: May 11, 2014
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