We took six of the best nut tools and tested them at cleaning a variety of cams and nut types in all sizes and over a broad spectrum of rock types. We compared their weight, durability, ability to clean a nut, ability to clean a cam, the comfort level while pounding on the nut tool with our hand. We also looked at how nicely they ride on a harness and each tool's overall value. Whether you are climbing on granite, sandstone or volcanic cracks, we have a recommendation for you.
The Best Nut Tools for Climbing
Not only is this one of our favorites, it's one of the best deals and would have also won our Best Buy award. It has the largest area to pound on with your hand. It comes with a spring leash and while most people find this pretty useful, if you find it dorky it is easily removed (keep in mind the high weight includes the leash). It has a relatively low profile head (second only to the Metolius tools) for freeing micro stoppers and it hangs toward the front of the pack for cam removal. If you are climbing longer routes, the Wild Country Pro Key is a nice choice for its comfort in palm pounding and its removable spring leash.
The Torque replaces the popular Freenut which is a past award winner. They made the Torque less expensive and added wrench capabilities at the cost of a few extra grams. We think it's worth it as just tightening a few loose bolt nuts will make you and other climbers happy (whoever carries a crescent wrench with them, anyway?). While it's hard to overtighten nuts with such little leverage, if you are inexperienced with installing climbing bolts, it's best to err on not tightening too much. Other than the cool wrench, this nut tool excels at cleaning tiny nuts and stoppers.
BD does a good job of balancing weight and comfort. This is one of the lighter nut tools but still feels sturdy and relatively comfortable. It's not as good at the micro nuts as the Torque, but it does a better job with grabbing cam triggers. It is relatively comfortable to pound with your palm but not quite as good ad the Pro Key. Overall it's a good option if you want to go light but don't want to go quite as light as the Feather.
This is by far the lightest nut tool we have used - the next lightest is double the weight. It's about the weight of a really light carabiner and you don't notice it on your harness. With the diminutive size, it's on the border of feeling flimsy and we don't recommend wailing on it too hard. It is also not the most comfortable to pound with your palm. Are the weight savings worth it? For some, no. But if you like to travel as fast and light as possible, there is no better option.
When climbing in less traveled areas where you need a knife to replace webbing and cordage at rap anchors, the Trango Shark is a great option. It's also just really cool. It cleans nuts relatively well. The downsides: you have to bring an extra biner for it (adding to the weight). To give full protection from the knife accidentally opening, you have to leave this biner on when hitting the end of The Shark with your palm. Even if you take the biner off, it's still not ideal for cleaning stuck stoppers.
This is one of the oldest models out there and still one of the least expensive. While it gets the job done and will conveniently open a beer at the end of the day, it didn't score that well for nut cleaning. It is also not that comfortable to pound on with your palm. While relatively light, it doesn't come with a clip so you have to factor in that weight as well. In addition, once you add a biner, this will jangle around on your harness much more than options with built-in clips.
How to Choose a Nut Tool
When it comes to gear for traditional routes, climbers often just think of essentials such as the pieces of protection that make up their rack, a harness, and a helmet. A nut tool is an afterthought. But in fact, if you intend to keep your rack intact, you need to invest in the right tool.
While there isn't as much difference in nut tools as there is in many other pieces of climbing equipment, there is enough variation to potentially make your life easier in certain situations.
Things to Ask Yourself
- How much do I really want to spend?
- How important is weight?
- How important is comfort?
- Do I want a built-in leash?
- Am I going to be wearing gloves most of the time?
- Am I going to be pounding on this with a wall hammer or an ice tool?
- Do I climb in areas with lots of smaller cracks?
- Do I climb mostly longer routes?
- Do I normally carry a knife?
- Does my climbing partner seem to bury all of his pieces?
Obviously the lighter the tool, and the less you notice it on your harness, the better. Keep in mind that if it doesn't come with a built-in clip, you will also need a binner that will add another 20-30 grams. Also, when you clip a nut tool to a biner, it will flop around a lot more on your harness than a tool with a built-in clip.
Ability to Clean Nuts
All of these tools worked well cleaning medium and large nuts. The noticeable difference was in smaller cracks. The two Metolius tools, with their thinner profile heads and slightly shorter hooks, could get into some of the smallest fissures to probe out seemingly fixed wires. Both the Torquer and the Feather share this smaller profile, making them the best at excavating even the most immovable small stoppers. Our runner-up was the WC Pro Key.
Ability to Clean Cams
When trying to retrieve a cam that has walked in too deep to reach with your fingers, contenders with a larger hook and longer shaft do better. Both the Black Diamond models have larger hooks that are ideal for this.
We measured how well we could hammer our palm without fear of tearing our hand to shreds. Best was the WC Pro Key and the Ushba Titanium. They each had by far the largest area for beating with your hand, which translated to the least pain. The Metolius Free Nut finished not far behind in third place.
Here is where we measured how badly a tool gets tangled in everything it is not supposed to. The Metolius models were the least trouble due to being shorter in length as well as having the lowest profile hook.
Ease of Handling
This is possibly the crux of this review. We tested all the tools on how nicely they came on and off our harness, how easily they poked out a nut while holding it, not pounding the tail end with our palm. We gave higher points to built-in carabiners and ease of clipping onto gear loops. The Metolius has a small carabiner that was low profile but it made removal from our gear loops slightly more difficult. The Ushba and the Omega came on and off our harnesses the nicest. The Wild Country Pro Key rode along well and had a built-in spring leash. This never seemed to be a bother and kept us from accidentally dropping it. The Ushba Titanium has finger hole protectors that kept our fingers from getting scraped up.
In the beginning, regardless of what nut tool you buy, you are bound to loose some nuts at the cliff. Cleaning nuts is an art that you will only improve on with time.
Comfort can be a big deal for folks starting out. You are bound to spend more time whaling away, trying to get out those pricey pieces of swagged aluminum. If your nut tool is really bothering your hand, try keeping a small rock in your pocket to help hammer on stubborn wires.
If you are just starting out, consider whether you will be attaching the nut tool to your harness. Not having to worry about dropping it is a big thing, especially at first when you are focusing on so many other things. All the models we looked at easily facilitate clipping or girth hitching a sling to the tool and attaching the other side to your harness. While this works, the Wild Country Pro Key comes with a built-in leash that is less bulky than most you could make.
— Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara