How to Choose Quickdraws for Climbing

Article By:
Cam McKenzie Ring
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Thursday
April 19, 2018

Almost every piece of climbing gear you purchase is part of an important safety chain, and the quickdraws you use are no less critical than your rope or harness. A set of draws will last anywhere from a couple of years to a decade, and a set of twelve can set you back anywhere from $150 to $300 plus dollars, so it's not a purchase to take lightly. It's also a type of gear with a lot of technical specifications that can quickly lead to purchasing confusion. KiloNewtons, forging, and wiregates, oh my! We've broken down the various aspects of quickdraw design and construction and will point you in the right direction for what the best type of draw is for you. To learn more about the metrics we used to evaluate these products, check out our full review.

Gear manufacturers make pre-assembled draws for purchase as a means of convenience and savings for the consumer. There's no reason why you can't buy the carabiners that you like the most and put them on a sling of your preference, but you will usually save a few dollars buying a pre-assembled model over purchasing the components separately. Let's get started by breaking down the two major parts of this product: the carabiners and the sling or "dogbone" between them.

Quickdraw testing in Red Rock Canyon  Nevada. We put them to the test while sport and traditional climbing for several months and gauged them on a variety of criteria  including ease of clipping and unclipping  their portability and ease of handling.
Quickdraw testing in Red Rock Canyon, Nevada. We put them to the test while sport and traditional climbing for several months and gauged them on a variety of criteria, including ease of clipping and unclipping, their portability and ease of handling.

Carabiners


Up until recently, carabiners have been made of either aluminum or stainless steel. Most rock climbing carabiners are made of aluminum. Steel carabiners are stronger than aluminum ones, but also much heavier, and are used mostly in industrial applications. You might run across some steel carabiners on in-situ or permanent draws, as they last longer than aluminum ones and you don't have to worry about the extra weight since they are already in place. They will still wear out eventually though (see picture below), and when climbing on in-situ gear, you should always scrutinize them carefully.

A grooved out stainless steel carabiner. This was an in-situ anchor carabiner on the warm-up at a popular crag. This wear occurred in about six months  showing us that even though stainless steel is more durable than aluminum  it still wears out with a lot of use. Always double check in situ gear!
A grooved out stainless steel carabiner. This was an in-situ anchor carabiner on the warm-up at a popular crag. This wear occurred in about six months, showing us that even though stainless steel is more durable than aluminum, it still wears out with a lot of use. Always double check in situ gear!

Edelrid has tried to meld the best of both types of carabiners with their recently released Bulletproof model. This aluminum carabiner has a stainless steel insert on the bottom to maximize durability and minimize wear. As the photo of a steel carabiner above shows, steel will still wear out, so the Bulletproof won't last forever, but they should offer a much longer lifespan than a standard aluminum carabiner.

The Edelrid Bulletproof has a stainless steel insert on the rope bearing surface to help minimize wear.
The Edelrid Bulletproof has a stainless steel insert on the rope bearing surface to help minimize wear.


Aluminum carabiners are often anodized to protect the metal from corrosion. If the carabiner has any color to it besides light gray, then it is anodized. Anodizing is an important consideration if you climb on sea cliffs on a regular basis. Even still, the anodized layer quickly wears off where the rope runs, and the best protection against corrosion is to clean your gear, particularly if it has come into contact with salt water.

The anodizing layer quickly wears off where the rope runs. This does not affect the integrity of the carabiner.
The anodizing layer quickly wears off where the rope runs. This does not affect the integrity of the carabiner.

Hot-forged vs. Cold-forged

"Hot-forged" is the latest buzz word in carabiner construction. This manufacturing process results in lighter carabiners with more elaborate designs. The Black Diamond Oz and Wild Country Astro have hot-forged carabiners. According to Camp, however, cold-forging is a more reliable method and "produces fewer irregularities in the finished product." The average user is probably not going to know the difference between the two, except when spending more money on a hot-forged product.

There are some questions out there concerning hot-forged carabiners and durability. Although we weren't able to notice any difference in wear between a hot or cold-forged carabiner in our two month-testing period, some people are seeing that their hot-forged carabiners are wearing out more quickly than expected. This might not be due to the forging technique so much as how much metal there is in the carabiner. A lighter weight carabiner will have less material on the surface that the rope runs over, leading to quicker grooving.

If you are looking for a durable product, the best bet is to buy a model with beefy cold-forged carabiners like the Black Diamond FreeWire Quickdraw or the Petzl Djinn Axess, along with the new Edelrid Bulletproof.

Black Diamond's cold-forged Positron (left) and hot-forged Nitron (right) carabiners (the Nitron is the upper carabiner on the LiveWire qd). Hot-forging creates more intricate designs and a lighter carabiner by removing some material from the spine without compromising strength.
Black Diamond's cold-forged Positron (left) and hot-forged Nitron (right) carabiners (the Nitron is the upper carabiner on the LiveWire qd). Hot-forging creates more intricate designs and a lighter carabiner by removing some material from the spine without compromising strength.

Strength

The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) regulates all manner of industries, including climbing. Manufacturers are required to meet minimum standards to be CE certified and sold in the EU, and most American manufacturers build to this standard also. All of the products we tested are CE certified — to see if your gear is CE certified look for a CE followed by four numbers stamped or printed on the carabiner. If it's not CE certified, as long as it meets the minimum strength requirements below it should be alright.

The minimum CE requirements for a non-locking carabiner are:
Major axis - 20kN (lengthwise along the spine)
Gate open - 7kN (lengthwise but with an open gate)

Minor axis - 7kN (cross-loaded spine to gate)

Most of the models we tested (in particular the heavier ones) had strength ratings within these ranges:
Major axis - 23-25kN
Gate open - 8-10kN

Minor axis — 8kN

What's the difference to you? Black Diamond conducted a series of drop tests to compare lightweight carabiners with the minimum strength requirements (20kN closed and 7kN open) vs. more heavy duty carabiners (25kN closed and 9kN open). In this test, the drop was a 1.7 fall factor with a static belay, and they repeated it until either the rope or carabiner failed.

Lightweight carabiners were more likely to warp or break after 3 to 5 drops. With the heavier duty carabiners, it was the rope that failed first after 5 to 8 drops, and the carabiners were still functional. The conditions on these drop tests are unlikely to occur in a real setting (for starters, you should always climb on a dynamic rope); however, gear manufacturers want to see the limits that their gear will take and create extreme testing scenarios to figure that out. The takeaway message is that when climbing in situations where you take big, repeated falls on your gear, you should use the appropriate gear. A heavier duty draw like the Black Diamond Positron Quickdraw or the Petzl Djinn Axess will serve you better than a lightweight rig such as the Black Diamond Oz.

If you do end up taking a significant or high factor fall on a lightweight carabiner or any of your gear for that matter, it's always a good idea to inspect it afterward and make sure the gate still opens and closes correctly, and that nothing is warped.

Which carabiner would you rather whip on repeatedly? The Petzl Djinn Axess (left) is larger and stronger than the Black Diamond Oz (right). While they both meet the minimum safety standards  if you tend to fall a lot then consider a beefier option for all of your QDs.
Which carabiner would you rather whip on repeatedly? The Petzl Djinn Axess (left) is larger and stronger than the Black Diamond Oz (right). While they both meet the minimum safety standards, if you tend to fall a lot then consider a beefier option for all of your QDs.

Gates

Carabiner gate technology has improved a lot over the years. The old-style solid gates with a pin that catches a notch in the nose of the carabiner are almost impossible to find anymore, and for good reason. The advantages of the newer gate technologies are hard to beat - lighter weight, safe, and snag free. All of the products that we tested were either wiregate or a keylocking solid gate. A wiregate is as it sounds - a single loop of wire is twisted around to create the gate on the carabiner. In most cases, the gate sits on an exposed notch in the nose of the carabiner.

Keylock vs standard wiregate. The DMM Alpha Sport (left) has no notch compared to the Camp Orbit Wire Express (right)  eliminating snags on the rope  bolts  or gear.
Keylock vs standard wiregate. The DMM Alpha Sport (left) has no notch compared to the Camp Orbit Wire Express (right), eliminating snags on the rope, bolts, or gear.

Wiregates have a safety advantage over solid gates because they have less mass, and when the draw catches a fall on the rope, the lighter wiregate is less likely to vibrate and flutter open than a heavier solid gate. As the safety numbers above can attest, a carabiner with even a slightly open gate is three times weaker than with a closed gate, which can lead to the carabiner breaking in fall. This is exceedingly rare, but the potential is there. None of our testers, with over 150 years climbing experience between them, have seen this in a real setting, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. Recently, professional climber Daniel Woods snapped a carabiner and took a major fall. It's hard to know exactly what happened in that situation, but it's possible that the bolt carabiner was partially open or "nose-clipped" on the bolt, which caused it to break in the fall.

Some manufacturers have moved to a solid gate/wiregate combo, with a keylock carabiner on the upper end of the draw and a wiregate on the bottom. The disadvantage to this is that most wiregates still have an exposed notch that then catches on the rope when cleaning or seconding. In addition to Wild Country's solution, Black Diamond has developed a new hood that covers the notch on some of their wiregates to prevent snags, like the Oz and the new Black Diamond LiveWire Quickdraw.

The Black Diamond LiveWire has a keylocking carabiner on top and a wiregate on the bottom.
The Black Diamond LiveWire has a keylocking carabiner on top and a wiregate on the bottom.

Whether you need a wire or keylock gate also depends on the type of climbing you are doing most. In general, it's really nice to have a keylock (or keylock-like wiregate) for the upper carabiner, so that there is no notch to catch on the bolt, or when clipping nuts or slings. If you're doing a lot of steep sport climbing or top-roping you'll also want a keylock carabiner for the bottom so that the draw is easy to unclip, like the Petzl Spirit Express or Petzl Djinn Axess. Wiregates are less prone to icing up in cold conditions, so if you plan on using your draws in the winter, consider a set with dual wiregates such as the Black Diamond FreeWire.

Keylocking carabiners are easier to unclip from the rope or bolt  particularly on steep sport routes.
Keylocking carabiners are easier to unclip from the rope or bolt, particularly on steep sport routes.

Lifespan

A carabiner's lifespan is largely determined by the amount of use it receives, though occasionally corrosion is an issue. Our main tester had to replace her entire set of anodized draws after only four months of climbing in Thailand. Large flakes of aluminum were peeling off due to the corrosive effects of the salty air and limestone rock. For most climbers though, rope wear is what will affect the carabiners most.

Every time the rope runs through or over the bottom carabiner, minuscule amounts of aluminum are worn away. Most carabiners have a slight groove near the spine so that the rope pulls on the carabiner in its strongest axis. With enough wear that groove can become more pronounced and have a sharp edge, which can sever your rope.

An older PosiWire quickdraw. The groove on the bottom carabiner is pronounced  but not yet sharp. When in doubt  retire it out.
An older PosiWire quickdraw. The groove on the bottom carabiner is pronounced, but not yet sharp. When in doubt, retire it out.

To minimize wear, avoid excessive top-roping, extend draws that are off the main line of bolts, and consider using a dedicated couple of burlier draws for your top-roping anchors, like the Edelrid Bulletproof. Finally, be sure to regularly inspect your carabiners for signs of wear, and retire all questionable pieces.

Slings


Draws come with a pre-sewn sling made either of nylon, polyester, or a brand name polyethylene (Dynex, Dyneema, Spectra). The slings are usually folded around themselves so that three layers overlap in one spot and are sewn or "bartacked" together. These sewn slings are often referred to as "dogbones" to differentiate them from longer slings or runners. To be CE certified the slings must be rated to 22kN when new. In our relatively short testing period, we didn't notice any difference in durability between nylon and polyester dogbones. That said, these two material do have notably different properties.

Polyester (left) vs. Nylon (right). Can you tell the difference? We don't consider this to be a major purchasing decision for quickdraws.
Polyester (left) vs. Nylon (right). Can you tell the difference? We don't consider this to be a major purchasing decision for quickdraws.

With regular use, the two main corrosive effects on the sling are UV exposure and abrasion. If you're taking your draws home with you at night, the UV exposure is not much of a concern. If, however, you're leaving your draws up on a sunny crag for weeks, or you're clipping in-situ draws that have been hanging for who knows how long, then this is an issue. Some people inspect every inch of their rope for core shots, and then clip in-situ draws of unknown origin or wear without a second thought. Just because it's hanging up there does not mean it is safe to use.

Black Diamond tested some worn slings that had been hanging at a crag for indeterminate amounts of time. Some were still near full-strength, and others failed at loads as low as 3.5kN. This is easily within the range of force exerted during a real-life fall, and there have been a few real cases lately of in-situ slings failing during a fall. While in-situ chain draws might not be pretty to look at, this is why they are a better option than leaving a sling draw.

When it comes to your own gear, it's good to continually inspect your slings for signs of abrasion and fading, and keep in mind that a worn out sling is probably more of a safety concern than a slightly grooved carabiner. If you want to geek out more on testing, check out Black Diamond's Quality Control Lab Blog.

When choosing which draw to buy, consider what type of climbing you will be doing most. Lightweight models have narrow slings to save some ounces, and that is great for the alpine, but not well suited to grabbing on a sport climb. Similarly, a wider or heavier set of draws will add unnecessary weight to your harness.

Narrow (10-11mm)
Black Diamond Oz
Wild Country Astro
Cypher Firefly II
Mad Rock Ultra Light Wire

Mad Rock Concord

Medium width (16-18mm)
CAMP USA Orbit Wire Express KS
Petzl Djinn Axess
Black Diamond Positron

Black Diamond FreeWire

Wide and easy to grab (22mm and up)
Petzl Spirit Express
DMM Alpha Sport
Black Diamond LiveWire

Edelrid Bulletproof

Weight


The weight of your draws should be a key purchasing decision if you do a lot of long routes in remote locations. Even if you mainly single-pitch trad climb, you'll already be carrying several pounds worth of cams and nuts, so having a lightweight draw is a good idea. Of the lightweight models we tested, the Black Diamond Oz was our Top Pick for Lightweight. For sport climbing, a lighter version is nice for on-sighting, but if you're mostly hanging your draws and redpointing with them already in place, weight doesn't matter much. In fact, as mentioned above, you'll be better off with a heavier and stronger model that can handle the wear of multiple hard falls. Our favorite draw for sport climbing is the Editors' Choice-winning Petzl Spirit Express.

Types of Climbing



At Red Rocks  you can be clipping bolts at the crag one day and hundreds of feet off the deck the next. While you do not really need a different set of draws for each  having lightweight gear for multi-pitch routes and sturdy draws for sport routes is pretty nice.
At Red Rocks, you can be clipping bolts at the crag one day and hundreds of feet off the deck the next. While you do not really need a different set of draws for each, having lightweight gear for multi-pitch routes and sturdy draws for sport routes is pretty nice.

Some people are Jacks and Jills of all trades, and others are dedicated to their sub-sub-sub disciplines. (i.e. If it's not onsight climbing on unconsolidated mud towers with knots for protection, it's not actually climbing!). With draws becoming more specialized, the type of climbing you'll be doing most should be one of your main considerations when choosing a draw. If you regularly do many different types of climbing, you don't necessarily have to buy a different set of draws for each, as some are good cross-overs.

Light and Fast
Black Diamond Oz (2.2 ounces)
Wild Country Astro (2.3 ounces)
Mad Rock Ultra Light Wire (2.4 ounces)

Cypher Firefly II (2.6 ounces)

Sport Specific
Petzl Spirit Express
Black Diamond LiveWire
DMM Alpha Sport

Edelrid Bulletproof

Intro Draws
Petzl Djinn Axess
Black Diamond Positron
CAMP USA Orbit Wire Express KS
Mad Rock Concord

Black Diamond FreeWire

Check out our full review, as well as our individual reviews of each of these products for more information about what makes them ideal for different disciplines.




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