Related: The Best Nut Tools for Climbing
The Best Climbing Nuts and Stoppers
The DMM Alloy Offset nuts are our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice Award winner because of their overall versatility and how bomber they are in places where other pieces of protection might only be bodyweight. The Alloy Offsets are designed specifically to fit old pin scars and small flairs, and it shows as they are far and away our favorite for these types of placements. This is another reason why the current cam generation has transitioned to offset models over more traditionally shaped curved options. As small cams have gotten better and better, most climbers place far more cams than nuts on any given pitch. As a result, climbers tend only to place nuts where cams don't fit, and for this purpose, offset nuts work far better than traditionally shaped models. They also work well in a variety of rock types. With a groove cut on each side, they fit irregular or larger grained rock just as easily as smooth stone.
The Alloy Offsets are okay in more parallel-sided cracks but aren't as good as traditionally-shaped curved models. We think their biggest disadvantage is that they offer them only in limited size sets, meaning you need to couple them with another set with smaller sizes to really have a complete collection - we recommend the DMM Peenuts. While we think they are worth every penny, these nuts are one of the spendier aluminum models in our review.
Read Review: DMM Alloy Offset
At first glance, the limited size range of the Peenuts leads you to think they are a niche piece and that you don't need them. Simply put, you would be wrong. We have found that these are some of the most heavily used nuts on our rack. While the largest one is not that big, they pair perfectly with the larger DMM Alloy Offsets. Any smaller options are less strong micro-sized pieces that are usually only found on aid routes or very scary technical leads. We found the size run of the Peenuts to strike a nice balance of having the sizes most used by the majority of trad climbers while maintaining strength and durability. While their aluminum heads don't "bite" as well as brass models, they are WAY more durable, and their cables kink far less than brass nuts because the cables aren't swagged in the head.
The downside is they do need to be paired with a larger nut to make a complete size run for the majority of trad climbs. However, we found them to be the absolute best performing smaller aluminum nut when it comes to strength and durability. Even though we'd recommend brass nuts for the majority of aid routes, we love bringing these on El Cap routes because they are SO tough. Their narrow aluminum heads open your eyes to the places they can be placed, which is sure to be appreciated by trad climbers at any level.
Read Review: DMM Peenut
The CAMP Pro Nuts are a new take on an old design. They've taken a classic curved nut, slightly increased the curve and taper, and added grooves/ribs onto the main face for better "bite". While we didn't find that the ribs help significantly, they certainly don't detract from the Pro Nut's holding power, and in more featured rock may provide for a slightly better bite. These nuts offer even more curve than most, helping make them one of the most stable out there. This is because the heavily curved design facilitates always having three points of contact on the rock instead of two, which is inherently more stable. CAMP also rounded the heads more than most models, which makes them the easiest model to clean, which we appreciate.
Worth noting are this model's cables, which are slightly lower gauge than others we tested, relative to their size, which has both pros and cons. The pros are that it's lighter and more flexible, so they are less likely to pull out because of rope drag while you are leading a pitch. The main downside is that the cables are marginally more prone to getting kinked than other models, but not by a ton. The other disadvantage is their size run; though it includes seven pieces - and certainly the most commonly used sizes - it isn't quite enough to be a stand-alone set. We think this run is great for alpine climbing or complementing other nuts you might already have on your rack, but might be a little lacking for an all-around trad rack on their own.
Read Review: CAMP USA Pro Nut
These are among the lightest nuts we tested. The cables are embedded in the nut head, eliminating a swage and some cable, a technique mostly reserved for brass nuts. This makes these nuts lighter and less bulky. However, it also makes their cables more prone to getting kinked. While we didn't notice it too much, we don't think it is nearly as bad as your typical brass nut because the cables on these are so much thicker and thus more durable.
The unique thing about these nuts is their double offset design, and double-curved faces mean these nuts do great in irregular cracks and are extremely stable when placed. This is because of the double curve design; they always have three points of contact when placed regardless of orientation. The downside is this also means they are a little more prone to getting fixed and stuck. They consistently take a little more effort to clean, which requires nut tools.
Read Review: Metolius Ultralight Curve Nut
The Cypher Huevo nuts are nearly identical in design to the iconic Black Diamond Stoppers but cost much less. In fact, the only real difference we can find is the cable length, as otherwise, they are exactly the same sizes just with different color-coding. These nuts are also just as durable and come in a wide range of sizes. We also like that Liberty Mountain/Cypher sells this product in a wide range of groups from full sets to just key sizes, making them an even better value for those just starting off and those adding to an existing rack. We also love how tough they are; compared to most other pieces of passive protection, the market their cables don't get kinked as much. Their curved design, shared with the Black Diamond Stopper, works well in parallel-sided cracks by keeping three points of contact and thereby increasing stability and holding power in more featured rocks.
The downside is these climbing nuts are a bit heavy and don't do as well in pin scars or flared cracks. We'd recommend them for an alpine climber looking to get the most versatility out of only a handful of pieces, or for a beginning climber who might not have yet bought all the small cams they need - an entire set of Huevos costs about as much a new camming device! But for more experienced climbers we prefer offsets more, as they fit well where cams just don't. Plus, the sheer number of nuts you get in the full set of Huevos really shows its value.
Read Review: Cypher Huevo
The Stopper is one of the oldest designs around. They are so ingrained in climbing history that many people refer to all climbing nuts as "stoppers" in the same way many people call in-line skates Rollerblades. Their time-tested design is very durable and easy to clean. You can easily slide the cable through the nut head, which is handy if you have to loop these over a bolt with a missing hanger. We like both of the orientations that this nut can be placed in adding to its overall versatility.
That said, there is a reason why most other nut shapes have evolved so much; the basic design of the Stopper does not perform well in pin scars or almost any kind of irregular cracks. They work in more parallel-sided cracks, but as today's climbers end up protecting any given pitch with mostly cams, they will benefit from a nut that works better in places where cams won't rather than more-or-less overlapping with them except in the smallest sizes. While they are easy to clean, we've also found them to walk and pop-out more easily due to rope drag than other nuts. Still, a tried and true option that is a solid all-arounder, we just feel you can buy better, more complementary nut for the current cam-first generation.
Read Review: Black Diamond Stopper
Tiny brass climbing nuts are considered mandatory for any thinly protected route, from steep El Cap aid lines to Eldorado Canyon sketch-fests, and the DMM Brass Offsets are our review teams pick for the best micro nut. Like their aluminum counterparts, they are the most updated version of a tried and true classic. They are made in micro sizes, and the large "scope" in the side of their heads accommodates more textured and larger grained rock nicely. The cables are swaged into the head, minimizing extra material and allowing them to be slotted into the tightest of spaces.
Their brass heads are softer than aluminum models, which is both good and bad. On the plus side, the softer brass metal deforms to the rock, facilitating better bite that hopefully translates into better holding power - and something we certainly appreciate in these smaller sizes. The disadvantage, however, is that the soft heads get beat up faster and are consistently harder to clean. Their thin cables also require extra care and kink easily if you clean them carelessly. The DMMs also are seriously challenged by the Black Diamond Offset Micros, which are very nearly as good and a way better value. If money isn't an issue, we like the DMM's better, but for the money, the Black Diamonds are tough to beat.
Read Review: DMM HB Brass Offset
A relative newcomer to the offset mini nut market: the Black Diamond Offset Micro offers a number of small but notable tweaks on the older classic DMM designs. The Offset Micro features a "copper/iron" mix in its head that preformed similar to most brass models we've tested. We did find them slightly harder and more durable than that of the DMM Brass Offsets but still not even close to suitable for day-in-day trad climbing. The fact that they were more durable than the DMM Brass was both good and bad. The good is that they are noticeably more durable. However, the downside is that they don't "bite" quite as well. We like how Black Diamond rounded off one of the inside edges, which makes them a bit easier to clean than comparable models. Likely our favorite thing about this model is how much more reasonably priced they are among the competition.
While we like a lot of things about these, micro nuts again they aren't really a piece to bring on most trad climbs as their heads will get too beat up and their cables wrecked. However, for aid, hard-to-protect free climbs, and big wall routes, they are amazing. While we like a few small things about the DMM Brass better (like the design of the scope in their heads to facilitate use in more textured rock), we don't think it's worth the significant price increase for everyone. The bottom line is that we like the DMM's a little better and think they're the bee's knees when the cost isn't a factor, but the BD's are nearly as good.
Read Review: Black Diamond Offset Micro
How to Choose Climbing Nuts
This review focuses on climbing nuts used for protecting traditional free climbing routes as well as for aid and big wall routes. We tested all of the products in our review in a variety of rock types in places like Squamish, Eldorado Canyon, Yosemite Valley, the North Cascades, Smith Rocks, Red Rock, Joshua Tree, Zion, and more.
How They Work
The hold of climbing nuts works in slightly different ways, depending on the design and the nature of the crack. They are all, however, considered "passive protection." The reason they are considered passive is because they don't press any force, use springs, or apply any mechanical advantage. They are simply set in a crack that constricts to a point smaller than the nut being placed, and (as long as the crack doesn't break), the nut can't fit through. This is different from spring-loaded camming devices, more commonly called cams, which are considered "active protection" because they actively expand into the crack they're placed in and use mechanical advantage to push out on the rock and stay in place.
In the most standard placement of a nut, the head is too big to fit through the crack below it. That is why all models have some taper and aren't just a square; instead, they're thinner on the bottom and broader on top. Different amounts of taper allow more or less surface area to contact the rock depending on the crack, which is the key to holding power. This is a foundational rule of passive protection - the more surface area in contact with the rock, the more secure the hold.
As a crack becomes more parallel or irregular, a curved nut design helps in two ways. First, the curve creates three points of contact (rather than two), which makes the nut more stable and, to a certain extent, allows the nut to cam into place. The second benefit of a curve is that it can potentially allow more surface contact with irregular and textured rock. All climbing nuts have a slightly different curve and taper, with each offering certain advantages and disadvantages. Of course, the magic is in figuring out what nut shape fits the greatest number of cracks that climbers want to use. The answer is complicated, but we'll go through it below:
The offset taper is slowly becoming the most popular shape for general-purpose trad climbing. This is a change from years past, where curved nuts were the most popular. Offset models are best for flares and pin scars for which they are specifically designed. This is the background as to why offset models are becoming more popular, but it also has to do with cams. Small camming devices have made significant strides over the past decade and are now significantly better and more versatile than they once were. This means most climbers are, understandably so, more likely to carry and use far more cams than nuts on any given pitch.
It's this new cam-first generation of climbers that benefit the most from offset stoppers than in decades past. As most climbers are more likely to place cams anywhere they can, they are better off carrying nuts to fit where few cams will. This tends to be in flared cracks and pin scars where more traditionally shaped models and cams are mediocre but offset models are more appropriate tools.
Most offset climbing nuts, like the DMM Alloy Offset or the DMM Peenut don't do as well in more parallel-sided cracks, but that's okay as most people are more likely to place a cam in this places anyway. Offset models are also generally harder to clean because they are asymmetric - they don't want to rotate upwards and instead more frequently have to be backed up.
This is still the most common design used today, though offset models are gaining popularity. Their curve allows for three points of contact, giving greater stability to the piece while still letting it be cleaned easily. The curve, which is generally only on one side, also helps the nut to bite even when placed in irregular or highly featured rock. Examples of curved models are the Cypher Huevos and the Black Diamond Stopper.
The straight taper has been nearly phased out, but there are still a handful of models being produced with this design. For example, the Frost Works Sentinel Nuts feature a straight taper that was used on hundreds of first ascents throughout North American in the '60s and '70s and still holds well in a classic bottleneck. It is the most straight-forward design for checking placement quality. The straight taper is not nearly as stable or versatile in flaring or parallel-sided cracks, though, and doesn't fit as well with irregular rock with sizeable crystals, as it doesn't have any clearance. While they are less versatile, they are still the easiest to clean.
Pin scars result when pitons are hammered into the rock. These scars are common in climbing areas throughout North America, from Yosemite to Eldorado Canyon to White Horse and Cathedral Ledge. Smaller pin scars are places where traditional cams don't work very well nor do curved nuts. Offsets, however, are specifically designed for these scars and are frequently bomber in these locations where nothing else will even hold body weight. All the offset models we tested work pretty well in these types of cracks: the DMM Alloy Offset, the Black Diamond Offset Stopper, and for smaller spaces, the DMM Peenuts, DMM Brass Offset and the BD Offset Micro. They all fit perfectly in pods where other nuts are terrible.
We love the DMM Peenuts, and we appreciate that there's a little more mass to them, and that they're easier to clean. However, for aid routes and big walls, it's hard to beat brass models. The DMM Brass Offset and the BD Offset Micro are both made of brass, which is a softer metal than aluminum and thus deforms to the rock to give you better leverage and connection. This deformation means they aren't great for everyday trad climbing but for scary, thinly protect trad leads and aid climbs where every little bit matters, they definitely offer a better bite.
Of note, all climbing nuts need some sort of crack constriction in order to function. We compared how different models perform in more parallel-sided cracks versus heavily tapered or flaring spaces.
The Metolius Ultralight Curve Nuts is one of our top choices for parallel-sided crack performance. Their double curve design allows three points of contact pretty much no matter what, which makes them far more stable in these types of fissures. Other notable options include the CAMP Pro Nuts, which excel because of their high curvature along the side-to-side axis (the most common placement), helping the nut cam to remain more stable. The BD Stoppers and Cypher Huevos aren't far behind.
Most of the offset models didn't do as well in more parallel cracks, and the more parallel the cracks were, the worse they performed. The offset nuts aren't worthless in more parallel-sided cracks, but they just aren't as solid as curved models. Of note, the offset models are generally better in parallel-sided cracks than the curved nuts are in pin scars.
Ease of Cleaning
Climbing nuts with more rounded edges or slightly more pronounced trapezoidal shapes are slightly easier to clean. However, it is challenging trying to give a single nut an "easiest to clean" designation.
Overall we think the CAMP Pro Nuts, Black Diamond Stoppers, and Cypher Huevos are the easiest to clean of the traditional models. Both the Stoppers and the Huevos feature a nice trapezoidal shape while the Pro Nut offers more curved edges. These are significantly quicker to clean than any of the aluminum offset models. Among brass models, the Black Diamond Micro (consisting of a copper/iron allow with similar properties to brass) is easier than the DMM Brass Offset. This is because Black Diamond rounded the inside edge (the thinner side) off, making it easier for it to break free from its position.
The Metolius Ultralight Curve Nuts are the hardest to clean. The two sides of curves on the Metolius, while conforming well to highly textured rock, tend to get hung up on small crystals and other deformities. It makes the nut super stable but also means it takes more skill to remove.
The Black Diamond Stoppers and Cypher Huevos are the most durable overall products in our review. While we don't feel there are any truly "flimsy" aluminum-headed models, both of these stand out for not getting too banged up during extended cleaning sessions.
We also evaluated how easy it is to kink a cable during the use of any of the nuts we tested. In our experience, the Metolius Ultralight Curve Nut, DMM Alloy Offset, and Black Diamond Offset Stopper all struggle with this. With the three of these, the cables became kinked just below the head after too many upward jerks. Over time this kinking led to the cable coming unraveled or exhibiting a sharp bend just below the head, making them more challenging to place properly.
Most of the non-aluminum models we tested were either brass or some sort of copper-iron blend that exhibited similar overall characteristics. Some of these models included the DMM HB Brass Offset and Copper/Iron Black Diamond Offset Micros which both proved noticeably less durable than aluminum options. This is so somewhat by design, as their brass heads (or in the case of BD a copper/iron blend) is designed to deform to the rock for better "bite," hopefully increasing the nut's holding power. However, this deformity is the biggest reason that we don't think brass nuts are great for everyday trad climbing. Sure, they work great — they just don't last super long. Most of the time, you could get away with using much more durable aluminum models. However, for big walls, aid climbers, or sparsely protected free climbs, they are pretty much mandatory.
Between the two models, several of our testers found the metal in the head to be slightly harder in the Black Diamond Offset Micros compared to the DMM Brass Offsets. There isn't a huge difference, but it was enough to see a difference after just 1-2 big walls.
This refers to a nut's ability to be placed along both of its axes, a feature of all the climbing nuts we tested. All of the products we tested are best with the most narrow axis facing out and the wider axis contacting the rock. However, some models stand out for their versatility along both axes more than others.
The Metolius Curve Nut, with its double-curved design, provides three points of contact on either side regardless of orientation, and is the best. They are easy to read, leading us to place them in both orientations more often than others. Closely behind are the Black Diamond Stoppers and Cypher Huevos, which are among the most stable in their secondary position.
Nearly the same can be said for the DMM Alloy Offsets and BD Offset Stoppers. We applaud all of these models for their overall versatility and for being quite functional in either direction. Unfortunately, as much as we love the DMM Peenuts, they offer no real secondary options.
Different Nuts Excel at Different Rock Types
All of the nuts in our review work in all rock types. However, some excel in certain types of rock more than others. We love offset models for all areas, as they just fit better where cams don't. But if you climb in an older area like Yosemite, Eldorado Canyon, Lumpy Ridge, or Cathedral Ledge (to name a few) that have plenty of pin scars, offset nuts are practically worth their weight in gold. They are perfectly tapered to fit old pin scars and are bomber, where a more traditional nut is just marginal.
If you climb in an area with heavily featured rock like Smith Rock, Joshua Tree, or the Canadian Rockies, the CAMP Pro Nut or the Metolius Ultralight Curve Nut both stand out. These models excel in areas with more irregular and larger crystallized rock because of their more heavily curved shapes, which create more clearance to accommodate large crystals better than others, and they are able to maintain three points of contact even against textured rock.
Looking for a Complete Set
For climbers getting into traditional climbing, there are some critical factors. The size range is important. Having your nuts extend to over one and a quarter inches can be the right way to start on the cheap, using larger nuts to cover sizes some people might cover with cams.
If money isn't an issue, we love the combination of the DMM Peanuts and the DMM Alloy Offsets. We think this passive protection size run will last most people through many stages of their climbing careers and work well for a wide range of users and rock types. We also think that people might not use the biggest model as often, nor the tiniest, but they are still useable, and we've already talked a lot about how valuable their offset design is.
With that said, for less money, we still really like the size, versatility, and durability of the Cypher Huevos and Black Diamond Stoppers. These tried and true pieces offer two super useable axes with versatile and easy-to-clean shapes. Both of them are sold in several sized sets, meaning you can start with a partial set and fill it in later, or buy the whole thing and double up on the most common sizes.
Our team of experts, led by veteran climbing guide Ian Nicholson, take testing climbing protection to a very serious degree. Fun is also had, but resulting from the process is the most comprehensive review of today's most popular climbing nuts. When reading through our assessments, keep in mind the type of rock you want to climb, the style you like to climb, and other factors that are important to you to get the best set for your individual needs.
— Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara