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Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Snappy clipping action, easy to grab
Cons: Expensive, Not the lightest
Best Uses: Sport climbing
The Petzl Spirit Express quickdraws have been one of the most popular draws on the market for as long as most of our testers have been climbing. Every now and then the carabiners and slings get an update, the last time being just a couple of years ago. It must take some guts for Petzl to mess with perfection, but once again they've managed to make their great product even better. The latest iteration of the Petzl Spirit Express is lighter than before, and the sling was reshaped to fit on the upper carabiner even better. This is the original keylocking quickdraw, and steep sport climbs are its natural habitat. With its recent weight loss there's no reason why you can't take them traditional climbing too, as they'll never snag on your nuts or gear slings. Just about the only thing you never want to do with these is hang them on a project overnight, because they probably won't be there the next day.
RELATED: Our complete review of quickdraws
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Petzl Spirit Express has two cold-forged Spirit keylock carabiners, the upper one with a straight gate and the lower with a bent gate to facilitate clipping. The 12cm long sling is 25mm at its widest point. It tapers at the top to sit securely in the upper carabiner.
Ease of Unclipping
The Petzl Spirit Express was designed with steep sport climbing in mind. Our testers didn't have to wrestle with this draw when seconding or cleaning a steep sport route. The rope easily slid out of the bottom carabiner thanks to the keylock design, and the upper carabiner didn't snag on the bolt either. The gate opening of the lower carabiner is actually the smallest of all the products we tested, even smaller than the Black Diamond Oz Quickdraw (21mm vs 22mm). However, the carabiner itself is still full-sized and didn't feel too small even for our tester with large hands. A wiregate is able to open wider than solid gate, so the smaller Oz carabiners end up with a larger opening even though it is smaller overall.
Ease of Clipping
The Petzl Spirit carabiners have a great springing action in their gates. They feel snappy when you click them and clip very easily and fast. The stiff sling also allows you to easily clip the draw into the bolt even when extended. Because the bottom carabiner is a keylock and not a wiregate, there is a slight chance of the carabiner breaking in a fall due to the "flutter" effect. That is when the bottom gate opens due to the draw banging against the rock, reducing the strength of the carabiner by about two-thirds. While rare, this is why Black Diamond is making many of its draws with a keylock carabiner on top and a wiregate on the bottom, like the Black Diamond HotWire Quickdraw and the Black Diamond LiveWire Quickdraw. Check our Buying Advice guide for more information on keylock vs wiregate carabiners.
Petzl redesigned the Spirit carabiner for the latest version of this product. They moved to the latest "I-beam" construction, where some of the material in the spine is removed to reduce weight without compromising strength. They've also added a slight notch into the rope bearing surface. This notch directs the rope during a fall so that the force is exerted along the spine, the strongest part of a carabiner.
The latest version of the Spirit Express is now a third of a pound lighter for a full rack of twelve. This still does not make it the best draw to take on an alpine or long-multi pitch route, but our testers found that it did make them feel lighter on their harness compared to the old model and could easily be used on a traditional route or two. They also felt significantly lighter when compared to the new Petzl Djinn Axess, however you'd still be better off with the Wild Country Helium Quickdraw or the Camp Photon Wire Express Dyneema if you were doing lots of long routes in remote places.
Ease of Handling
The Petzl Spirit Express is fitted with Petzl's String, an exterior rubber positioner for the bottom carabiner. The good side of an exterior positioner is that it can be replaced once it's worn out—the downside is that it leaves the potential for user error. The Spirit Express comes pre-assembled with the String, but you should always double check that the bottom carabiner is inserted through both the sling and the rubber String before using it for the first time. At least one fatality is known to have occurred due to improperly placed exterior positioners.
Ease of Grabbing
Petzl has engineered the Spirit Express with this metric in mind. While for the most part climbers never want to grab a draw, you often have to when trying harder sport routes because you are too pumped to clip and don't want to take a big fall, or because it helps you clip up a bolt or two and work out a difficult section on top rope. Ethics and style points aside, the Spirit Express was the easiest draw to grab because of its wide sling and tapered section at the top. Our testers found that they could grab the lower part of the sling with most of their hand, then wrap their index finger and thumb tight around the upper section and clip with ease. The tapered upper section also makes the sling sit securely in the bottom notch of the upper carabiner, minimizing any potential cross-loading.
If you are heading up a long route that has an A0 bolt ladder on it, like the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral in Yosemite National Park, you might want to consider bringing along a couple of these draws to help you overcome that section. It's never fun to try and grab your way up something on skinny 10 or 11mm wide slings, and the extra weight from a few of these draws would be negligible.
There is no question that Petzl had pure sport climbing in mind when creating this product, and it continues to be one of the most popular sport climbing draws out there for a reason. Steep or vertical sport routes are where the Petzl Spirit Express belongs. If you only do the occasional traditional route there is no reason why you can take them on that as well, though if you are looking for a more all-around draw the Black Diamond HotWire is a better choice. And if you mostly trad climb and only clip bolts once or twice a year then consider the Top Pick Wild Country Helium instead.
This is one of the more expensive models on the market, and the second most expensive that we tested. They have a reputation for being durable and lasting a long time, but it's hard to gauge the durability of the newer Spirit carabiners in the couple months' time that these draws were tested. If you can't afford these draws, our Best Buy winner, the Black Diamond FreeWire Quickdraw, or the new Petzl Djinn Axess are good second choices.
No one draw can have every feature or be best at everything, but when it comes to sport climbing, our Editor's Choice winning Petzl Spirit Express is our hands down favorite. It clips and unclips better than most other draws that we tested, and the ease of grabbing can't be beat. They are not the lightest draw, but the updated model shaves some ounces off your rack and wont weigh you down as much when you go for that hard on-sight attempt. They are on the expensive side, but we consider it money well spent. We're happy that Petzl didn't mess with near perfection when they retooled the Spirit Express.
Spirit Express 17cm
Petzl Spirit Straight Gate
Petzl Spirit Bent Gate
Petzl Express Sling
— Cam McKenzie Ring
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: May 11, 2014
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