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Hands-on Gear Review
Wild Country Helium Carabiner Review
The Wild Country Helium carabiner has received a lot of hype since its release over a decade ago, and, due to its exorbitant price here in the US, a lot of grumbles. Is this carabiner really worth it? We seem to think so. For the second time, this product has won our Editors' Choice award. When it was first released in 2003, it was the lightest, strongest full size biner on the market, and its "clean nose" design was a big step in carabiner innovation. Today, it still stands out amongst the competition as a high performing and well-designed biner. With the Wild Country Helium, you really are getting what you pay for.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Wild Country Helium is a hot-forged wiregate carabiner. It weighs 33 grams (1.16 ounces) and has a 27 mm gate opening.
Ease of Unclipping
Our testers gave this product one of the top scores in this metric. Its unique design allows for snag-free unclipping. Most wiregates have an exposed notch in the nose that the wiregate latches on, but the notch on this model is buried in the nose itself. Thanks to this design, it will never snag on your rope, nuts, or slings, or get hung up on a bolt. This is one area where our Editors' Choice winner gets ahead of the competition. The CAMP Photon Wire is of similar size and weight, but still has an exposed notch that can snag on your gear. The Black Diamond Oz Carabiner solves this issue by placing a stainless steel wire hood over the nose, but in the case of that model its small size makes it a little bit harder to unclip.
Ease of Clipping
This full-size biner is easy to clip, even with gloves on. The tension on its gate seems a little bit tighter than the CAMP Photon Wire. The higher gate tension does have a plus side though: these carabiners are less likely to clip onto each other if crowded on a harness or gear sling. There's nothing more annoying than reaching for a certain camming device only to find that it's become intertwined with the piece next to it, which did happen with the Photon Wire.
Ease of Handling
This model earned top marks in ease of handling as well. It is designed with a bulbous nose that houses the notch for the wiregate. There are benefits and down sides to this design in terms of ease of handling. The main benefit is that the nose protects the gate and takes most of the wear. With the Wild Country Helium carabiners that we tested, a lot of the anodized color on the top and sides of the nose scraped off after only three months of use. This shows us that it is the nose that is actually coming into contact with and scraping against the rock, and not the gate. In the case of other wiregates, like the CAMP Photon Wire, it's the reverse. The problem with a gate scraping against the rock is that it could cause the gate to open, and/or weaken the wire itself.
The drawback to this nose design is that it has a much bigger profile and is more difficult to fit into tight situations, like some anchor chains or fixed gear. Overall, our testers felt that the safety gains of a protected gate outweighed the inconvenience caused by its size.
How Many Ropes Fit
Like most of the full-size models we tested, this one scored very well in this category. It can hold three loops of 10 mm rope and still have the gate open fully, thanks to its deep basket and 27 mm gate opening. Some full-size biners - like the Petzl Spirit Straight Gate (21 mm) - do have smaller gate openings, and those do not make a good choice for anchoring at the belay. But our Editors' Choice winner could accommodate three strands with room for more. This would also be a good carabiner to carry lots of webbing or a cordallete on. It easily accommodated our twin 7.8 mm ropes, and you could definitely clip two 10 mm ropes into it like you might do if you were climbing with a party of three.
Rope Pull Smoothness
This product has a slight groove in its basket, which helps direct the rope to pull along the main axis in case of a fall. Whether this helps or hinders the smoothness of the rope pulling through the carabiner is hard to say. Most of the models that we tested scored well in this category, with the exception of the smaller "keychain" models due to their narrower rope bearing surface. In general, a wider rope bearing surface equals a smoother pull and less wear on your rope when taking falls. The rope bearing surface on this piece is a little bit narrower than the Petzl Djinn Straight Gate.
Neither the Wild Country Helium (33 grams) nor its full-size competitors won this category. The CAMP Nano 22 Carabiner (23 grams) and Metolius FS Mini (24 grams) were the lightest models that we tested. Our Editors' Choice is a pretty light biner by most standards, but compared to the Nano 22, it's a heavyweight. Think of this - for every two Heliums on your rack, you could have three Nanos for the same weight, and 20 Nanos weigh half a pound less than 20 Heliums. But weight is one factor, and usability another. In the case of the Wild Country model, that extra half a pound gets you a more workable, stronger piece of gear that you can use in all disciplines.
In general, a wiregate is preferred over a solid gate if you ice climb or use your gear in cold conditions as they are less prone to icing up. We weren't able to test these in the snow in our updated review (it took place mostly in Las Vegas in the spring and summer); however our testers wondered if the fancy nose design on this biner wouldn't clog up with snow or ice and impede the latch.
For most types of climbing, our Editors' Choice winner would be our testers' first choice over models like the CAMP Photon. It has a higher strength rating than most of the lightweight carabiners we tested, which makes them strong enough to use on quickdraws and take repeated sport climbing falls on. It also comes in five different anodized colors to match up with your camming devices, and their slim profile means you won't end up with a bulky rack. You could also use one to rack your nuts on, and wouldn't have to worry about the wires getting snagged.
There's no question that this model has a distinct sticker shock factor. You might hope that the number on the tag is for two carabiners, but no, it's just for one. And you can buy two of our Best Buy award winner Mad Rock UltraLight Bent Gate biners for the same price as one Helium! So, if you are on a budget, or new to climbing and not even sure if this is the sport for you, consider the UltraLight instead. If you covet this Wild Country model and can't bring yourself to pay full price, bide your time and shop the sales. Every now and then a few dollars gets knocked off the price, bringing them back into a reasonable range, and they are also sold in a five-pack for a (slightly) reduced price. You can also comfort yourself with the knowledge that not only are these carabiners CE an UIAA certified, but 3 Sigma rated, a vigorous standard of quality control (you can read more about all of these certifications in our How to Choose the Best Carabiner Rock Climbing article).
Throughout our review, the Helium impressed all of our testers. Not only did it earn high scores in most of our metrics, it was also the preferred choice when we just sat back and thought about which product we'd like to buy (if money were no object, of course). Its snag-free design, protected wiregate, and sturdy construction are what vaulted this carabiner to the top of the podium. Still not convinced? Buy one or two of these and start using them with your other gear. Pretty soon you'll be starting a savings fund just to replace the rest of your rack with them. We know we are.
Wild Country Helium Quickdraw
— Cam McKenzie Ring
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