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We took 5 of the best nut tools and tested them at cleaning a variety of cams and nuts 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.
Rounded end more comfortable for bashing with your palm
Holes for tightening bolts in 4 different sizes
Narrow head for removing tiny stoppers
REASONS TO AVOID
A little heavy
Every nut tool in our review is swiss-cheesed full of holes to make them lighter. The holes in the Metolius Torque double as a wrench for tightening bolts. We feel like this is an awesome, mega clever idea, and it's in line with the improvisational, Mcgyvering spirit of nut tools in general. Additionally, this tool has a rounded end so you can more comfortably beat on it with your palm to free stuck cams and nuts. The business end of this tool is thin so it can access micro nuts in super-thin cracks.
While the Metolius Torque isn't the lightest tool in the shed, its stainless steel construction makes it tough as nails, big wall ready, and fully capable of taking a beating. It's our favorite nut tool for everything from big expeditions to casual days at the crag.
Black Diamond does a good job of balancing weight and comfort. The Black Diamond Wiregate 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's more adept at grabbing cam triggers. It is relatively comfortable to pound with your palm but not quite as good as 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.
The Metolius Feather 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.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our team of testers has measured, weighed, bashed, and trashed these tools, debated the merits of lightweight versus durability, and engaged in some heated arguments over hook lengths and special features, coming to a sometimes uneasy truce over which tool is truly the best.
Our testing of nut tools is divided across five different metrics:
Nut Cleaning (35% of overall score weighting)
Cam Cleaning (25% weighting)
Ease of Use (20% weighting)
Durability (10% weighting)
Weight (10% weighting)
As a long-time Yosemite valley denizen and YOSAR member, Matt Bento has been fishing out stuck cams and nuts from classic climbs for a decade, building entire racks from other people's trash. He brings a wealth of knowledge from climbing, falling off, and inadvertently getting gear stuck in every type of climbable stone out there. He knows the fatigue and frustration of trying to free stuck gear with a sub-par nut tool, and even worse, the soul-crushing banality of accidentally leaving his nut tool at home (again).
Analysis and Test Results
Each nut tool in our review has been run through a series of side-by-side testing in accordance with our metrics. We chose nut cleaning (and by cleaning, we mean removing or extracting), cam cleaning, ease of use, durability, and weight. Since these tools' main purpose is to remove stuck nuts, that metric carries the most weight, accounting for 35% of the scoring. Removing cams is worth 25% since cams are such an expensive part of your rack, and sometimes a little love from the nut tool works much better than squeezing the triggers and frantically wiggling your stuck cam. "Ease of use" factors in special features on each tool, such as clip-in points and keeper cords, and durability and weight are taken into account, too.
All of these nut tools fall within a fairly small price range. If you're on a tight budget, the least expensive tool is the Camp USA Nut Tool, and while it's not our favorite tool, it'll remove nuts and cams and continue to function long after you've been put out to pasture since it's made of stainless steel.
Keep in mind that the price between our favorite tools and non-award winners is marginal. In this case, it's easy to choose based on your preferences over the price. Remember, you'll be using this tool to prevent your very expensive trad rack from getting stuck in the cliff, so a nut tool could be the most valuable piece on your harness.
While you can likely clean big ol' number 13 stopper with a stick, smaller nuts that have welded themselves into incipient cracks and seams require a tool with a narrow end. The Metolius Torque and the Metolius Feather take the cake here, able to weasel out small micro nuts better than the thicker Camp Nut Tool and the Wild Country Pro Key. Though thicker steel makes for a more durable tool, it will hinder your access to hard-to-reach stoppers. The Black Diamond Wire Gate Nut Tool offers a nice middle ground.
Many nut tools are now rounded at the end of the handle so that there is a larger surface to pound on with your palm (or a rock, or a Grigri). This makes cleaning nuts more comfortable, especially if you're aid climbing and cleaning pitches with many nut placements that have been weighted by the leader. The Camp Nut Tool and the Trango Shark both lack this feature and lost a few points in the nut cleaning metric.
Cams are expensive. These devices are light, compact, and can save your butt. However, if you get one irretrievably stuck, you'll be losing out on a good chunk of change in equipment costs. Sometimes freeing a stuck cam is a simple task, like when a cam has walked back into a crack and hasn't become over-cammed, just unreachable. In this case, you just need a tool (sometimes two) that's long enough to reach the cam triggers and pull the cam out. Tape and a long stick are sometimes necessary for this operation. The tools in this review are marginally different lengths; we're talking about differences in length of a quarter of an inch at best. Aid climbers will tell you that every centimeter of reach is important, so with that in mind, the tools with the most reach are the Metolius Torque and the Feather at 8-1/4 inches, followed by the "shorties" — the Camp USA Tool, the Wild Country Pro Key, and the BD Wiregate at 8 inches.
The other, perhaps more important factor in cam removal is the size and shape of the hook at the end of your nut tool. You'll need something that's curved enough to hook a trigger and small enough to fit into the holes in the cam lobes. Again, it also helps if the tool is as narrow as possible on the end for when you need to shimmy the tool between a cam lobe and the rock to get some movement. The Black Diamond Wiregate Nut Tool has by far the largest hook, giving it a leg up when it comes to grabbing and a little mechanical advantage for levering and prying. The Metolius tools both have a shorter (but still very effective) notched hook, while the WC Pro Key and the Camp USA tool have a more rounded shape that doesn't snag onto things as well.
Ease of Use
When we say "ease of use" we're comparing the actual user experience when you remove the tool from your harness, clip it to a sling or the rope so you won't drop it, and use it to work out a stuck cam or nut. A bit of an umbrella metric, but a great place to analyze a few of the subtler aspects of these humble little tools.
Built-In Clip-In Points
All the tools in this review have a built-in clip-in point except for the Camp USA Nut Tool. Having a clip-in point is convenient and provides an ounce or so of weight savings since you don't need an additional carabiner to attach the tool to your harness. Of the tools we tested, the BD Wiregate Nut Tool has the largest clip-in point, making it the easiest to attach it to or remove from your harness. The Metolius Torque and Feather have smaller gates on their built-in biners, making them more finicky. The Wild Country Pro Key's attachment point has a slightly larger gate than the Metolius. The Pro Key also features an extendable keeper cord with an additional attachment point. If you're terrified of accidentally dropping your nut tool off the mountain, the keeper cord spells sweet relief. It has plenty of reach, so you can fully extend your arm with the tool while it remains safely tethered to you. Our testers are evenly split between feeling that the cord is superfluous and annoying and never wanting to leave home without it.
The Tangle Factor
Anyone who has stood at the bottom of their first El Cap route with daisy chains, aiders, an assortment of hooks, and a double rack weighing them down knows the anxiety of the tangle factor. Before you've dialed in your aid climbing skills (turns out, it actually takes skills), you'll be cursing the tangled mass of webbing and hardware hanging off your tattered dehydrated body, and an 8-inch tool with a hook on the end doesn't help. So, predictably, the WC Pro Key may frustrate some users due to its keeper cord, which some see as just another thing for a carabiner to accidentally clip into or snag on. The tip of the hook on the Pro Key is pointy, which could create some discomfort or even injury if you took a whip and landed on it just right. The Metolius tools are the shortest, most low-profile, and least likely to get tangled in your aid climbing rat's nest.
A few nut tools have some distinguishing features that make them even more useful or are just gimmicky, depending on your perspective. Besides the Pro Key and its keeper cord, there's the Metolius Torque with its built-in bolt tightening wrench, and the Camp USA Tool with its rubber-coated ergonomic handle.
The Camp USA Nut Tool's rubberized handle makes it easier and more comfortable to grip, but only in one orientation (how you would hold an ice tool). We found that more often than not, we ended up holding the tool in different ways while we pounded on the end to free nuts that had been weighted.
Finally, the Metolius Torque has wrench sockets in four sizes for tightening bolts. Not only does this reduce the weight of the tool, it adds functionality to an already valuable little tool. The Torque is many of our testers' go-to nut tool.
All of the tools in our review are constructed from stainless steel, with the exception of the super-light Metolius Feather, which is aluminum and receives the lowest durability score. You'll be hitting these tools over and over, and we feel like all of the steel tools are up to the task. We never managed to break any of the tools during our testing process.
For the weight-conscious climber, the obvious choice is the Metolius Feather. At 0.74 ounces, it's less than half the weight of the next lightest tool, the BD Wiregate (1.62 ounces).
Next is Torque (2.30 oz), and the Camp USA Tool (2.64 oz). The heaviest tool is the Wild Country Pro Key. With the keeper cord, the Pro Key weighs 3.84 ounces.
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?
If you are just starting out, consider how 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.
After analyzing over 45 harnesses, we bought the best 15...
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