Black Diamond updated their popular FreeWire quickdraw recently, and we liked the changes that they made. They switched the carabiners on this draw to their HotWire wiregate carabiners and updated the dogbone from a plain nylon runner to a flashier polyester one. They've kept the price point low still, and at $14 a draw they were an easy choice for our Best Buy award. They clip and handle well, and you can rest assured that all its parts are high quality and full strength. 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. If money is no object, we think our Editors' Choice winner, the Petzl Spirit Express, is a better option, but if you're looking to save some money on your next purchase, this is a great choice. If you're living the dirtbag lifestyle and eating from dented cans, check out our other Best Buy option, the Cypher Firefly II, which retails for only $11.50 a draw.
Black Diamond FreeWire Quickdraw Review
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Inexpensive, easy to grab, durable
Cons: Heavy, dual wiregate carabiners are prone to snagging
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Black Diamond FreeWire quickdraw has two cold-forged HotWire wiregate carabiners on an 18mm wide polyester sling. It comes in two lengths, a 12 cm long dogbone and a 16 cm long option. Black Diamond recently updated this model, with a new color scheme and dogbone. Thankfully they kept the price about the same, and it won our Editors' Choice award once again for its combination of solid performance and affordable price tag.
Ease of Clipping
The Black Diamond FreeWire received high scores for ease of clipping. The full-sized wiregate carabiner is easy to clip the rope into even in difficult clipping situations.
Whether you prefer to clip wiregate or bargate carabiners is often a question of personal preference — sometimes it's impossible to tell the difference! 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. They also typically weigh less and cost less to produce than a keylocking bargate carabiner, however, the wiregates do have that pesky notch (see Ease of Unclipping below).
Ease of Unclipping
As with most wiregate carabiners, the FreeWire is difficult to unclip on steep terrain as the rope can get caught in the notch at the gate. The FreeWire has dual wiregate carabiners, and our testers found that the upper carabiner occasionally got hung up on 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 almost double the price you can buy the Black Diamond LiveWire, which has a keylock carabiner on top and a "hood" over the notch on the bottom carabiner. If you want to avoid wiregates altogether but like the looks of this draw, the Black Diamond Positron has a similar sling but with keylocking carabiners instead.
This quickdraw 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.
For times when you need to shave as much weight off your harness as possible, such as when alpine climbing or moving light and fast on big walls, the Black Diamond Oz Quickdraw, our Top Pick for Lightweight, weighs only 2.2 ounces per draw.
Ease of Handling
This quickdraw handled 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" positioner to keep the bottom carabiner in its proper orientation. The plus side to this positioner is that it is lower profile than an external keeper, but it is impossible to replace if it breaks (and we've had some break on us in the past on thinner runners). It also doesn't protect the sling from wearing out while rubbing against the rock.
Ease of Grabbing
While Black Diamond changed the sling on this draw from nylon to a polyester material, they kept it 18mm wide. This makes it much easier to grab than the narrow 10mm slings that we tested, but not quite as easy to grab as the ones in the 25-27mm range.
Whether it's out of desperation or necessity, we've all had to grab a quickdraw every now and then, so having something you can actually wrap your hand around is key. Sometimes it's safer to grab a draw and clip, particularly if you're looking at a nasty fall. 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. The DMM Alpha Sport and Petzl Spirit Express were even easier to hold onto though, so if you're a notorious draw-grabber, go for something wider, particularly if you have larger hands.
The Black Diamond FreeWire is a great all-around quickdraw. The wide sling makes for easy grabbing when things get difficult on a sport climb. These would be a good option for ice climbing as well, as the carabiners are full-sized carabiners and easier to use than those with smaller ones. 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. A little 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.
We really appreciated the combination of low price and functionality found on the Black Diamond FreeWire. They cost $14 for one, or $80 for a six-pack, which is a significant savings if you're purchasing a lot of these compared to the $25 and up models out there. Is it the cheapest draw out there? No, that honor goes to the $11 Mad Rock Concord. But it wasn't quite as good as a performer as the FreeWire, so if you have a few extra dollars to spare then we'd opt for them first. If you are looking for a lightweight trad-specific draw that is also a good deal, the Cypher Firefly II costs only $11.50 and weighs 2.6 ounces.
The Black Diamond FreeWire's recent facelift is a nice change to a classic and well-performing model. 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 set of draws is made up of scavenged leaver-biners, consider spending a few dollars on the FreeWire instead.
— Cam McKenzie Ring