We looked at the best climbing nuts and tested them in a wide range of cracks in a mixture of rock types. We compared their ability to hold a fall in a full range of fissures, from pin scars to parallel sided cracks. We examined and weighed factors that we believed most appropriate for alpine, aid and free climbing. We also looked at what could be the best buy for a person getting his or her first rack to break into the traditional climbing world.
The Best Climbing Nuts and Stoppers
The DMM Alloy Offset nuts are our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice because they are simply the most versatile nut available, fitting the greatest variety of placements. They were the runaway favorite for pin scars and flares. With a groove cut on each side, they fit irregular rock as well as smooth stone. They are one of the lightest nuts and the matching color scheme with DMM and Wild Country Nuts made them user-friendly. They are the most expensive nuts we tested. However, the fact that they were among the more difficult to clean and their rank just below average in parallel cracks didn't keep them from being worth every penny of $15 each. The Cypher Huevos were our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy because they performed every bit as well as many other models, yet were by far the best price. If you are a climber on a budget, you won't be giving up much with the Huevos.
Read Review: DMM Offset Nut
The Brass Offsets fit the greatest variety of small fissures the best. Also, the primary reason most people buy brass nuts is for aid climbing. When aid climbing you are often placing nuts in pin scars, for which the DMM Brass Offsets were the runaway favorite. That said, we did like the Metolius Astro Nuts for their stability and the BD Micro Stoppers because of the large surface area they provided, giving greater security on those mini-placements.
Read Review: DMM Brass Offsets
These share a similar design to the iconic Black Diamond Stopper but cost much less. They are durable and come in a wide range of sizes. The cables don't kink as much as most other options.
The downside is these nuts are heavy and don't do well in pin scars or flared cracks. We recommend them to a beginning climber who might not have yet bought all the small cams they need. An entire set costs about as much a new camming device.
Read Review: Cypher Huevo
While nuts are already relatively light, the Superlight Rocks take weight savings to the next level. They are roughly 50% lighter than most others. How do they do this? There is just a single cable to the nut head, unlike most nuts that have two. Also, these nuts have a tapered shape that works great in pins scars and irregular cracks. The downside, other than their high price, is they are not that durable. The single cable kinks easily and requires extra care when cleaning. The big questions, is since most nuts are already pretty light, how much is the weight savings worth it to you? If you are traveling as absolutely light in the mountains, they are probably worth it. If not, we would go with one of the more durable options above.
Read Review: Wild Country Superlight Rocks
At first glance, the limited size range of the Peenuts leads you to think you don't need them. You would be wrong. We have found these to be the most used nuts on our rack. While the largest one is not that big, any bigger and we usually use a small cam. Any smaller is a micro size usually just found on aid routes or very scary technical leads. Best of all, these nuts are durable. The cables kink far less than brass nuts, and the nut head deforms much much slower than any nut of comparable size. This is especially useful if you are aid climbing and standing on these a lot. We use these a lot on El Capitan and other mostly aid routes. The only downside, other than the relatively small range, is that these don't bit quite as much as brass nuts. For those micro tricky placements, we still carry the EC micro nut above.
Read Review: DMM Peenut
These are among the lighter nuts we tested. The cables are embedded in the nut head eliminating a swage and some cable. This makes these nuts lighter and less bulky. The double offset design and curved faces mean these nuts do great in irregular cracks. It also means they are a little more prone to getting fixed and stuck (nut tool mandatory).
Read Review: Metolius Ultralight Curve Nut
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 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. 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 irregular cracks. They also tend to walk more easily than other nuts.
Read Review: Black Diamond Stopper
Climbing Nut Buying Advice
Three Shape Options
This is the most common design used today. The curve allows three points of contact, giving greater stability. The curve also helps the nut bite into more irregular and highly featured rock. The three points also can help cam the nut into the rock in parallel sided cracks. The curved nut design is generally harder to clean than a straight taper but easier than an offset taper. An example of this design in the Black Diamond Stopper.Straight taper
The straight taper of the Frost Works Sentinel Nuts will hold well in a classic bottleneck. It is the most straightforward design for checking on placement quality. The straight taper is not as stable or versatile in flaring or parallel sided cracks and doesn't fit as well with irregular rock or sizeable crystallized rock. The straight taper is the easiest to clean. Very few nuts use this design.Offset taper
The offset taper is best for flares and pin scars; it handles most constrictions well. Most offset nuts like the DMM Offset Nut or the DMM Peenut don't do as well in parallel sided cracks. They are harder to clean because of the offset design and how they fit into pin scars. These nuts often don't like to rotate if you just pull them upwards — they are best poked out with a nut tool. Because micro cams are now so good, really the only reason to use nuts, other than to save money on your rack, is to make small placements in irregular cracks. Because of this. You only want to use offset taper nuts if you have a good selection of small camming units.
How They Work
Nuts hold falls in slightly different ways, depending on the design and the nature of the crack. They are "passive protection" as opposed to cams, which are "active protection" because cams expand into a crack and nuts just sit there until a downward force is applied. On a standard placement, the head is too big to fit through the crack below it. That is why all models have a taper, or a thinner bottom and broader top. Different amounts of taper allow more or less surface contact depending on the crack, which is the key to holding power. As the crack becomes more parallel or irregular, a curve design helps in two ways. First, the curve creates three points of contact, 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 potentially allows more surface contact with irregular or more textured rock. All nuts have slightly different curve and taper. That's what affects its ability to hold a fall — the amount of surface contact in a given crack.
Pin scars result when pitons are hammered into the rock. These scars are common in climbing areas throughout North America, from Yosemite and the Index town walls to Zion. Cam lovers put a lot of climbing nuts into pin scars because this is often where cams won't work. We thought the DMM Offset Nut — both brass and aluminum models — were the best in pin scars. They fit perfectly in pods where other nuts would barely hold body weight. The DMM Peenuts also excelled at smaller, flaring placements and were much more durable than their similarly-sized brass counterparts. The Wild Country Superlight Rocks also feature an offset taper and fit pin scars almost as well as the offset models mentioned above. Superlight Rocks fit in some small funky pods even better because of their low profile head and single cable. Superlight Rocks were best for free climbers, being bomber in small, funky placements. However, they were a little too tall to fit into micro fissures often used by aid climbers.
Parallel Sided Cracks
While no climbing nut was incredible in perfectly parallel sided cracks (and hey, that's what cams are for) some climbing nuts performed better than others when cracks constricted less than you might hope for. The Metolius Ultralight Curve Nuts was one of our two top picks for parallel sided cracks. Their double curve design allows three points of contact. The other top pick was the DMM Wallnut, which excelled because its high curvature along the side-to-side axis (the most common placement) helped the nut cam more than others. The BD Stoppers, Omega Pacific Wedgies and Wild Country Rocks weren't far behind. This was another place where Wild Country Superlight Rocks showed their versatility. They are tapered for pin scars on one axis with the other axis being the same as that on Rocks on a Wire. The DMM Alloy Offsets didn't fare as well when placed in the typical orientation, but when placed wide side face out they could run with the rest.
How Easy to Clean
We found climbing nuts with more rounded edges were slightly easier to clean. However, it was cruxy trying to give a single nut the Best in Class. With their relatively straight-sided taper, the Frost Sentinel Nut was the easiest to clean. But not far behind, with a fairly similar design, were the Omega Pacific Wedgies and Cypher Huevos with their edges slightly more rounded than those on the Black Diamond Stoppers and Wild Country Rocks on a Wire. The Metolius Nuts were the hardest to clean; DMM Wallnuts were close behind. The notch on the Wallnut, while conforming well to highly textured rock, tended to get hung up on small crystals and other deformities.
Black Diamond Stoppers, Wild Country Rocks on a Wire and DMM Wallnuts were the most durable as far as cables not getting kinked or frayed or heads of the nut not getting too banged up during extended cleaning sessions. All aluminum headed nuts stood up about equally well, although DMM Wallnuts stood a little above the rest, being extra burly because of their hot forged heads. There was a broader range in the durability of each nut's cables. Models with fixed cables got fixed or didn't allow the head to move easily were prone to kinked cables. This tended to happen just below the head after too many upward jerks. Over time this kinking would lead to the cable coming unraveled. The least durable cables were the DMM Brass Offsets, although by a small margin over other brass nuts. Among aluminum nuts, the DMM Alloy Offset Nuts' cables started kinking the soonest. You can avoid this if you are nicer to your nuts — poke them out with a nut tool instead of yanking up on them. The DMM Offset has trouble in this area for two reasons: its cable is glued into the head and the shape of the offset head prevents it from rotating in the crack, causing the cable to bend. The only non-aluminum nuts we reviewed were the DMM brass offsets. Brass or copper is simply less durable than aluminum, so the heads will certainly get more beat up.
This refers to a nut's ability to be placed along both of its axes, a feature of all the nuts we tested. All of them are most commonly placed with the narrow side facing out, giving more surface area to the rock and thus more stability. Some nuts stood out for versatility. Wild Country Superlight Rocks had two excellent options, each complementing the other. On one axis they had an offset taper for pin scars and flares; on the other axis they had the same shape as Rocks on a Wire, which helped them excel in parallel or irregular cracks. Not too far behind was the Metolius Curve Nut with its double curve design, which gave three points of contact on either side. The DMM Wallnuts had two of the most different options for placement orientation. The Frost Works Sentinel Nuts have both sides with an aggressive taper. This was easy to read, leading us to place them in both orientations more often than others.
Many types of materials are used to manufacture nuts, but the best for general free climbing is aluminum like the classic Wild Country Rocks or Black Diamond Stopper. It is more durable than brass, bronze or copper used in the DMM Brass Offsets or Black Diamond Micro Stopper. You might see or hear of some climbers using brass nuts for traditional free climbs, but most people don't use them on a day-to-day basis. For micro-aid copper and brass work best. Both are softer metals that deform to the rock, maximizing their ability to hold a fall or even just body weight.
Different nuts excel at different rock types
All of these nuts work in almost all rock types, but there are differences. DMM Wallnut and Metolius Ultralight Curve Nut excel in more irregular and larger crystallized rock types such as those at Smith Rocks, Joshua Tree and the Canadian Rockies. For less coarse climbing areas such as Yosemite, Index and the Adirondacks, the heavily tapered offset nuts work best to fit the pin scars typical in these areas. Climbing areas with lots of funky protection such as the Needles of North Dakota and Eldorado Canyon is where nuts like the Peenuts and Brass Offsets come to life. For the weight conscious alpine climber, Metolius Curve Nuts and the Wild Country Superlight Rocks could be a great choice.
Looking for a complete set
For climbers getting into traditional climbing, here are some critical factors. 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. We like the size range offered by the Black Diamond Stoppers, Cypher Huevos and Omega Pacific Wedgies. They range from big-but-not-too-big down to I'm-scared-to-fall-on-one-that-small. The Wild Country Rocks and DMM Wallnuts are close behind, starting just one size above the nuts above. However both DMM and Wild Country make smaller aluminum nuts that are designed to fit into their size range. One nice feature of all the DMM and Wild Country nuts: all the styles of nuts they make share a common color coding system. So you can get a red Superlight Rock or regular Rock and it will match your Wallnut. DMM Offsets is our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice but you will need more than just a set of those to get you by. They complement a rack rather than make up the bulk of it. Same goes for the Superlight Rocks and Peenuts.
The History of Climbing Nuts and Stoppers
It is almost impossible for many of today's climbers to imagine a time before the advent of the spring-loaded camming device, or cams in other words. But there were many years where the sport of rock climbing took place without cams. In fact, there was even a time before Pitons in which climbers relied purely on wrapping wedged stones, flakes and horns of rock to provide protection.
The rock climbing community was a very small group of people through the first half of the 20th century. When pitons became the widely accepted means for protecting climbs and mountaineering pursuits much of the climbing community in Britain rejected this form of protection. This group viewed the pitons as detracting from the inherent challenges of rock climbing and therefore across England pitons were banned at many climbing areas, especially around the famous Lake District. Climbs in this area almost always followed natural cracks and protectable features. So here the climbers continued to relay on slung chockstones to protect their ascents.
To protect their climbs, climbers would often place rocks into the cracks to create chockstones which they could sling and use for protection. The first report of this is credited to Morely Wood with the ascent of Pigott's Climb on the Clogwyn du'r Arddu in North Wales. Climbers like Wood often collected various size pebbles that they would place into the crack and then loop a sling around, a tedious process no doubt.
By the 1950's British climbers had begun to collect machine nuts from the railroad tracks outside of this Clogwun du'r Arddu climbing area. A lightbulb went off in the minds of several climbers to pre-sling these nuts, wedge them into the cracks and then remove and reuse them. This was far better than placing a new pebble each time you made an ascent. Additionally, the hexagonal shape of the machine nuts was ideal for wedging down into a constriction of a natural crack feature. Climbers throughout England quickly embraced the new technique for protecting climbs. Climbers began to seek out different sized nuts for different sized placements.
Stephane Pennequin of the Nuts' Museum credits John Brailsford from Sheffield with producing the first commercially available stoppers. Using aluminum he milled hollow cone-shaped pieces of metal that allowed for a sling to pass through the center and called these Acorns. It didn't take long before there were many different versions, all based on the same idea; a retrievable metal stopper that could be placed into a crack in order to catch a climber should he fall. Soon there were different shapes, sizes and weights, some people drilled holes into the original machine nuts to lighten them, others created whole new designs to be slotted into the rock.
In 1966 the legendary Yosemite Valley climber Royal Robbins took a trip to England and on that trip he was introduced to all the different versions of stoppers already on the market there. Robbins was inspired by the 'clean climbing' that they were doing in England and was a major proponent of applying this technique in Yosemite Valley. In 1967 Robbins made the first ascent of The Nutcracker using only removable chocks, this marked a major turning point in American climbing. However it was a few more years before the use of nuts took hold in the American climbing community.
By 1975 Yvon Chouinard had teamed with Tom Frost and released the first and second versions of the famous Hexentrics. The first allowed for a single Hex to be placed in three different unique placements, each of which accommodated a different size crack using the same size Hex. The second generation Hexentrics allowed for a fourth type of orientation due to an Asymetrical side. This proved to be a much improved design when it hit the markets in 1974.
By this point there were dozens of different shapes and styles of chocks, stoppers, nuts, and hexes. Bill Forrest had invented a unique item called a Titon which was a T-shaped piece of metal that could be cantilevered into a crack for superior holding power. It also came in a wide array of sizes, including large Titons that could protect off-width and wide cracks. Chouinard had previously released 11 sizes of Hexentrics up to the size of a wide hand, he used larger diameter circular tubing to create the Tube Chock which could also protect cracks wider than a fist.
Over the following years Chouinard and Frost modified and improved the design of both the Hexentric and their wedge shaped stoppers which hit the streets in 1971. On the other side of the globe the legendary Australian Roland Pauligk had developed a new style of tiny stoppers by using brass that he inserted the wire into and brazed with silver solder. Previously small climbing nuts had two holes drilled vertically in them and the wire was passed up through one and down through the other. This created a serious weak point where the cable made the sharp bend over the top of the stopper. By using the silver-solder technique to affix the wires to the stopper head, Pauligk had fixed this dangerous weakness, thus creating the first RP's. These were the first non-aluminum chocks on the market and were smaller than anything else released. These small stoppers lead to many groundbreaking first ascents in Australia and across the United States.
During these years there were many bizarre inventions when people tried to create different camming stoppers. Many of these designs failed to catch on, with the exception of Greg Lowe's now famous Tricam. Lowe began using the first tricam prototype as early as 1973, however, it was not until the early 1980s that they hit the commercial market.
Up until 1979 all the stoppers, nuts and chocks had been made using flat sided wedge-shaped aluminum pieces. Other strange devices had been released but not caught on; small vertical tubes of metal to be slotted into cracks, I-beam looking wedges of various sizes and other variations on the original Acorn. It was then in 1979 that Wild Country developed and released Rocks, the first curved stopper. A simple modification allowed for substantially better holding power by allowing for three points of contact instead of just two, regardless of the shape of the crack.
One last major development was made in 1983 by another now legendary British climber, Hugh Banner. Banner was in need of protecting small flared cracks. To compensate for the flared angle of certain cracks he created offset brass nuts. Using the same technique as RPs, Banner soldered the wires into small offset wedges allowing for maximum contact in flared cracks. Still this design is one of the most important types of nuts available.
— Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara