The CAMP USA Photon Lock is a full sized screw gate locker with an offset-D shape that is versatile, incredibly light, and comes at a fantastic price. These features catapulted it to near the top of our overall ratings, and at such a low price, makes it a shoe-in winner of our Best Bang for the Buck Award. Besides weighing in less than many tiny, compact lockers, the Photon Lock also comes with a very handy visual indicator symbol on its gate that aids in quickly deciphering whether the gate is fully locked or not, a feature found on surprisingly few screw gate lockers. This budget choice is ideal for building anchors, using as an attachment point on a personal anchor system (PAS), or any number of other uses, and is an excellent addition to any climber's rack, regardless of whether they are looking to save money or not.
CAMP USA Photon Lock Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Very light, affordable, visual indicator on screw gate, full-sized offset-D
Cons: Gate spring squeeks, less versatile than HMS style
Manufacturer: CAMP USA
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Photon Lock is CAMP's lightest locking carabiner, and we found it to be one of the lightest overall in this comparative review, regardless of size, which is remarkable considering this locker is a fair bit larger, and therefore easier to use, than its smaller competitors. Many people tested the newest iteration of this locker for us, released in early 2020, and all commented on how much they liked using it, and how noticeably light it is in the hands. It's made with an I-Beam construction that cuts out a lot of material while still maintaining the necessary strength, and combines this with a keylocking nose. Virtually every feature of this locker, described in great detail below, endeared it to us, with the notable exception of the gate spring, which squeeks as you open and close the gate. Closer examination reveals that this squeak is simply the sound of the internal spring mechanism rubbing against the aluminum gate, and has no bearing on performance, but the sound persists nevertheless.
Offset-D shaped lockers, like this one, tend to be the most commonly used lockers in most multi-pitch climbing situations, making them an especially valuable addition to the rack. In most cases, we appreciate the lower weight and smaller package of a compact locker, but the Photon Lock is actually a lot more useful than these super tiny lockers, while still weighing the same. While it isn't quite as versatile as an HMS/pear shaped locker, we used this biner for nearly any application you could conceive of, and found solid performance for almost all uses.
In particular, this locker serves great for anchoring oneself to the wall, either in the form of an equalized anchor on a multi-pitch climb, or on the end of a PAS or other form of tether. We used it quite a bit with our GriGri while belaying, and found it also worked just fine for this purpose. We also used it belaying and rappelling with an ATC, and while the larger size of the locker enables it to still function for this purpose, the offset-D shape does cause ropes to not run as smoothly, so this wouldn't be the reason we would buy it. Likewise, it served us okay for use as a second locker in a guide-mode belay setup on an anchor, but adds friction to the system in comparison to a round-stocked HMS style locker if used as the biner the ropes run through. Better is to use it as the anchor attachment locker.
Ease of Unlocking and Locking
Our testing revealed that it takes 2 ¼ full twists of the screw gate nut to go from fully locked to fully unlocked, and vise versa. This is good, and is very nearly the best of all the competitors with a screw gate. The less revolutions needed to lock or unlock a gate simply saves you time and effort, which accumulate over the course of a long day where you may open or close a locker upwards of 20 or more times. We also found that the vertical ridges on the screw nut are quite pronounced, and offer more grip than the more common cross-hatched stamping that most screw gate nuts have on them, making this one even easier to quickly open or close.
That said, the Photon Lock is a screwgate, and does not come available for sale with any other sort of locking gate. Screw gates inherently take more time and effort to open and close than double-action twistlock gates, but are also cheaper and far lighter. We encountered no issues with the gate becoming screwed closed so tightly that we were unable to easily open it, as we have with some lockers in the past.
Compactness and Weight
On our independent scale, we weighed the Photon Lock at 43g, the same weight advertised on CAMP USA's website.
While this locker is termed "full-size," the reality is that they are nowhere near as big as your average pear-shaped locker, and are still not very much larger than a compact locker. The point is, while they aren't the absolute most compact, they are nowhere near large enough that carrying four or five on a back gear loop would be considered an inconvenience, or as unnecessary baggage. The added size makes them easier to use in our hands and to clip through large bolts, so the fact that we get a full-sized locker at such a low weight is a serious bonus.
Screw gates such as this one are inherently less secure than auto-locking carabiners for two reasons. First off, they don't automatically lock by themselves when the gate closes, you have to remember to lock the gate, which is forgotten sometimes. Secondly, if oriented the improper direction, it's possible for screw gates to occasionally unscrew themselves if subjected to repetitive vibration, like when a rope is running through the carabiner. In order to combat this effect, one should always flip the locker so that gravity would wiggle the nut closed, rather than open, if this effect should come into play.
For a screw gate, this one is rather secure due to the added visual indicator laser etched onto the gate. On each side of the gate is a small caution symbol that is only visible if the gate is open, and becomes completely covered up if the gate is closed. Indicators like this make it easier to verify the gate is closed with just a hurried glance. However, the one on this locker is nowhere near as visually obvious as the red stripe used for the same purpose on some other lockers.
We measured the gate clearance of the Photon Lock at 1.8cm, which is basically the exact same amount of clearance as the other similar sized offset-D lockers we've compared it to in this review, and slightly more than the compact offset-D lockers, which tend to have an opening of 1.6cm. It's quite a bit less than the largest HMS/pear shaped lockers with openings up to 2.6cm.
Practically speaking, we found it pretty easy to slide in a clove hitch or figure eight on a bight when we needed to, and also to remove them once we were done. This locker holds one knot easily, but is a bit too tight for two knots, and isn't the shape you would want for using a Munter hitch.
While it isn't the absolute cheapest locker in this review, it sure is close. With such a low price tag, and as one of the top overall scorers, the Photon Lock presents excellent value, and is a no brainer for our Best Bang for the Buck Award. While we experienced no issues with durability in our testing, many years of testing has shown us that sometimes CAMP carabiners don't last as long as others. Considering the price, though, replacing them when needed shouldn't be an issue.
The CAMP USA Photon Lock is the winner of our Best Bang for the Buck award because it combines superior performance with a fantastic price. It's most notable for its lightweight, and should serve all types of climbers well, from hardcore alpinists to beginners searching for the best deals.
— Andy Wellman