Petzl Freino Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Secure and easy to use auto-locking gate, friction spur adds versatility
Cons: Expensive, only works with single ropes, limited applicability
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Our Analysis and Test Results
We want to give Petzl credit where it is due for inventing a locker that provides a solution to a problem: inadequate braking control when using thin or new ropes with a GriGri, or for very light belayers or kids who struggle to lower heavier partners in control. By looping the brake hand rope through the friction spur, one can add significant amounts of friction, making lowering very easy to control. We should point out that this locker is designed to be used with a GriGri, and with only a single rope, and so have found its use to be unfortunately limited to the exact situations described above. We will admit that we were initially a bit confused as to how to use this braking spur feature, and so scoured the internet for ideas on how other people are using it, which we then tested ourselves. Here's how some of these uses went for us:
As a redirect on a top-belay using a GriGri: Climbers at an anchor belaying up a second sometimes clip a GriGri directly to the master point and belay the second up in this manner. If you have to lower them, however, you must redirect the brake rope upward to maintain proper braking control, and the braking spur of the Frieno can be used for this (see picture below). However, a second locking carabiner clipped to a higher anchor piece could also be used for less money, and in general we prefer to use an auto-locking ATC such as the Petzl Reverso or ATC Guide to belay up a seconding climber, as they are more secure for this use (and a lot lighter and less clunky to carry up) than a GriGri.
Lowering a climber using an ATC: The Frieno is designed to be used with a GriGri to add friction while lowering, but also works with a single rope and an ATC. However, we found that looping the brake strand through the spur changes the orientation of the rope exiting the ATC to a direction it is not designed for, and will likely wear through the side of the ATC very quickly if repeated often. Not ideal.
Rappelling: If rappelling a single rope with a GriGri, the Frieno can add friction and braking control. However, it is rarer to rappel a single rope rather than double ropes, which the Frieno cannot help with. We also feel that ATC style belay devices offer more control for rappelling than a GriGri (and once again are a lot lighter and easier to carry up a climb). Thirdly, on any rappel it is wise to tie a brake hand backup attached to your harness, which greatly aids with brake control (even allowing you to go no hands if desired or needed), thereby eliminating the need for the expensive Frieno.
The Petzl Frieno is an offset-D shaped locker that uses round stock, and as mentioned includes a unique braking spur on the outside of the spine. The offset-D shape limits effective function to one rope, as two would tend to pinch each other in the basket next to the spine. For using two ropes, an HMS/pear shape is ideal. However, the Frieno is designed for one rope anyway. If using it as a belay locker in conjunction with a GriGri, which is the very particular function for which it is designed, then it works great. That said, it is not a very versatile locker, as the friction spur is large and the offset-D shape precludes one from using it for building anchors or as a master point.
Ease of Unlocking and Locking
The Frieno features a double-action auto-locking twist gate. To unlock it, you twist the gate 90 degrees, or one-quarter turn, and then open the gate. We found it to be one of the easiest lockers to quickly unlock. It's far easier to manipulate with one hand than a triple-action twist lock. The auto-locking gate closes itself with spring action, and automatically locks when it is closed, every time. We awarded the Frieno the highest score for this metric.
Compactness and Weight
We weighed this locker at 87g on our independent scale, which is roughly in line with other large, belay specific carabiners in this review. However, it's bulky, and the friction spur can easily get caught in slings or cams hanging on the harness.
If gate security is a concern, then the Frieno is an excellent choice. Its auto-locking mechanism literally slams closed and locked the moment you let go of the gate, so there is no way that it could be forgotten. The twist locking gate is super secure, but is not quite as difficult to get open as a triple-action one.
We measured the gate clearance at a mere 1.6cm, tied for the smallest amount of any locker in this review. Of course, this opening is wide enough for pretty much any thickness of single rope, and is wide enough to thread a GriGri as well, so there shouldn't be any concern.
The Frieno retails for far and away the highest price of any locker we tested, by a healthy margin. If you are buying it as a Christmas present for a belayer who nearly dropped you once before, it could be worth it! However, with limited uses, and considering other adequate solutions to these problems can be found for less money, we don't think it is a solid value purchase.
The Petzl Frieno is a very unique belay locker that includes a friction spur that enables one to loop the brake end of the rope over it for increased braking control. It must be used with a GriGri on a single rope to be effective, and costs a lot of money for a single locking carabiner. For these reasons, it is not our preferred, or recommended, choice for a belay-specific locker.
— Andy Wellman