Black Diamond released their newest version of our Best Buy Award winner, the FreeWire, with new materials, new biners, and a new black and orange aesthetic. Check out more details on the update in the individual review!
Best Overall Quickdraw for Climbing
Petzl Spirit Express
Snappy clipping action
Easy to grab
Heavier than some models
The Petzl Spirit Express
is a classic among sport climbers and beyond. It received a makeover a couple years ago, and along with some new colors, they trimmed a few fractions of an ounce off its weight (in true sport climbing fashion, of course). The Spirit Express comes with a keylock carabiner on each end and does everything a sport climber could ask for - clips are fast and snappy, the rope never snags on the keylock gate, and it was made to be grabbed. However, even with its latest weight loss it is still not really suited for long or alpine routes, so if that's your main climbing style keep reading for our Top Pick for Lightweight, but for everything else the Spirit Express is top of its class. Just don't loan them out or you may not get them back!
Read full review: Petzl Spirit Express
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond FreeWire Quickdraw
Ease of grabbing
Snag-prone dual wiregate carabiners
New Version Available
The latest FreeWire is a black and orange draw with new biners (HotWire) and new webbing (polyester). Despite these changes, the price remains $14 and we expect performance to be similar to its predecessor, if not improved. Check out the individual review for more details!
The Spirit Express might feel great in your hand and on a harness, but the Black Diamond FreeWire
feels great on your bank account. You can pretty much buy two of these for the price of one Spirit! Our Best Buy winner performed well in most categories, and best of all, you can save money without sacrificing safety or durability. A harness full of this product is a great starter set for anyone new to climbing, as well as all the loveable dirtbags out there.
Read full review: Black Diamond FreeWire
Top Pick for Lightweight Draw
Wild Country Helium Quickdraw
Full-sized & lightweight
Unique keylock/wiregate combo
In a previous review, the Wild Country Helium Quickdraw
took the Editors' Choice and the Petzl Spirit Express got the Top Pick. Now it's reversed, but really it's a case of what type of climbing you do most, as they are both excellent draws. The Helium is lightweight and perfectly suited to traditional and multi-pitch climbing. Its keylocking wiregate is a great design, and the only downside to this draw is its hefty price tag. Put it on your Christmas list and hope Santa thinks you were nice.
Read full review: Wild Country Helium Quickdraw
Analysis and Test Results
Unless you are a dedicated boulderer and never plan to tie into a rope, chances are high that you'll need to have some type of draw on your rack. In fact, this is often a new climber's first gear purchase after investing in harness, shoes, a chalk bag, and an ATC, and the current abundance of options can be overwhelming. Less than 20 years ago, each major brand had maybe one or two models to choose from, and they were not discipline-specific. Black Diamond alone now makes eight different draws. To help ease the confusion, our review evaluates and compares 15 different models to determine which are best at keeping a secure connection between you and your gear, and what performance criteria you'll want to consider when selecting your next set of draws.
Also be sure to check out our Buying Advice guide
for specific details on how to select the right piece of gear for the types of climbing you'll be doing most.
Our testers got some funny looks climbing with this assortment of quickdraws. Our side by side testing allowed us to compare the quickdraws to each other based on five different categories: unclipping, clipping, portability, handling and grabbing.
Types of Draws
These pieces of gear have evolved from a one-size-fits-all approach to being more discipline specific. Most models will fall into these categories:
- larger carabiners for quick clips, wide slings which are easy to grab.
Traditional and Alpine
- lightweight carabiners (some full-sized some not), narrow lightweight slings.
- there are still some draws made with this in mind, for the climber who does a little bit of everything.
Criteria For Evaluation
Ease of Unclipping
The Peztl Spirit Express (left) vs the Black Diamond HotWire (right). There's nothing to snag the rope on the keylock design of the Spirit carabiner, but the notch on the HotWire can get caught on the rope.
Whether you are seconding a multi-pitch climb or cleaning a sport route, the rope always has to get unclipped from your draw at some point. We've all seen someone stuck at a draw, probably on an overhanging route, cursing because they can't unclip the rope from it. Why? Sometimes the rope is too tight, and other times it's snagged on the notch in the bottom carabiner. Carabiners have various ways of latching. Some have a notch in the nose to catch a solid or wiregate. Others eliminate this notch by creating a groove in the gate that the nose sits in, and are referred to as keylock carabiners. Then there are some wiregates that have hoods in place to avoid snags, or whose wire sits into the nose. Confusing right? Long story short, if you want to avoid snags, avoid notched gates.
Notched gates can also snag on your harness when you go to unclip them, or on a bolt, nuts, slings, or whatever else you might clip the carabiner into and out of. To eliminate this, many draws have a top keylock carabiner. The products that performed best in this metric were the two draws with keylock carabiners on the top and bottom, the Petzl Spirit Express
and the Petzl Djinn Axess
, and also the Wild Country Helium Quickdraw
, whose wiregate notch is buried in the nose of the carabiner. Although the Black Diamond Oz has an extra piece of stainless steel wire added above the hood to avoid snags, our testers still found it difficult to unclip due to its small size.
The Black Diamond Oz (left) and Wild Country Helium (right) wiregate carabiners don't snag on the rope thanks to a new hood for the Oz, and the unique keylock/wiregate hybrid design of the Helium.
Ease of Clipping
When you're clipping from a tenuous position, you want the rope to clip fast and easily. Almost all of the draws we tested were easy to clip.
Most of the products that we tested scored well in this category. Whether they were bent or straight, wiregate or keylock, it didn't seem to make too much difference on how easy they were to clip. What did influence this metric was the size of the carabiner. Even our reviewers with small hands found the smaller carabiners on the Black Diamond Oz more difficult to clip. Our testers' favorite draw to clip was the full-sized Camp Photon Wire Express
- its bent wiregate and wide opening seemed to clip the rope for you. The Petzl Spirit Express had a snappy clipping action, and the Wild Country Helium performed well also. Our testers found the wiregates on Black Diamond's HotWire, PosiWire, and FreeWire easy to clip as well.
When clipping into a bolt, the main difference noted by our testers was that a wider and stiffer sling, like on the Petzl Spirit Express, made the draw easier to clip, particularly when stretched out. Otherwise you are just pushing the gate against the bolt and there didn't seem to be much difference between a wire or solid gate for that application.
There are some noticeable differences between solid and wire gates. Wiregates are less prone to icing up, which is important if you plan to use your draws ice climbing or in cold conditions. Additionally, wiregates are thought to be less likely than solid gates to gum up and get "sticky" over time, meaning that they don't fully close back after clipping; however some of our reviewers have noticed this on their wiregates as well. Solid gates have an internal spring that can get gummed up, and with wiregates sometimes the tension on the wire can decrease, leading to the same effect. While we weren't able to assess this during our two month testing period, it's an important thing to consider, because an open gate is potentially dangerous. The best solution is prevention. Keep your gear out of the dirt, wash your carabiners if they get dirty, lubricate them if they are sticky, and retire them once they no longer spring back.
Brent Armstrong's happy to be using lightweight gear when climbing long routes in Red Rock.
Most draws can be divided into two categories: lightweight for alpine and multi-pitch adventures, or standard weight for everything else. There is no law saying you can't take the heavy Petzl Djinn Axess up a long route, but they weigh significantly more than the Black Diamond Oz Quickdraw
, and those ounces add up to pounds if you are taking a lot of them. Lightweight enthusiasts know that when you go light on everything, from your carabiners to your harness and pack, the difference is noticeable. However, if you are only climbing a long route every now and then, a heavier set of draws is probably fine, but if you are heading into the alpine on a regular basis and you're already weighing your harness down with a double rack of cams, then a lighter set of draws is the way to go.
Lightweight (2.7 ounces or less)
Camp Nano 23 (1.87 ounces)
Metolius FS Mini (1.9 ounces
Black Diamond Oz (2.2 ounces)
Wild Country Astro (2.3 ounces)
Camp Photon Wire Express (2.4 ounces)
Mad Rock UltraLight (2.5 ounces)
Wild Country Helium (2.6 ounces)
Wild Country Nitro (2.7 ounces)
Standard (3.2 ounces and up)
The lightweight quickdraws we tested, left to right: Black Diamond Oz (2.2oz), Camp Photon Wire Express (2.4oz), and the Wild Country Helium (2.6oz).
Black Diamond HotWire (3.2 ounces)
Petzl Spirit Express (3.3 ounces)
Black Diamond FreeWire (3.5 ounces)
Black Diamond PosiWire (3.6 ounces)
Black Diamond LiveWire (3.7 ounces)
Black Diamond Quicksilver (3.7 ounces)
Black Diamond PosiTron (3.8 ounces)
Petzl Djinn Axess (3.8 ounces)
The standard weight quickdraws we tested in our review update, left to right: Black Diamond HotWire (3. 2oz), Petzl Spirit Express (3.3oz), Black Diamond FreeWire (3.5oz), Black Diamond PosiWire (3.6oz), and the Petzl Djinn Axess (3.8oz).
Ease of Handling
This more general category encompassed everything from how each product felt on our testers' harnesses, to how well it kept the bottom carabiner in its proper position. While the former is only a matter of convenience, the latter can have serious safety implications. Carabiners are strongest when the force exerted on them is along the axis of their spine (i.e. they haven't flipped sideways and cross loaded). The top carabiner, which is clipped to a bolt or piece of gear, needs to be able to move freely in the draw's sling so as not to come unclipped from its protection point. The bottom carabiner needs to remain in one orientation so that the rope loads on the bottom scoop, and not cross loaded across the spine or the gate.
In order to keep that bottom carabiner in one position, most slings have rubber keepers, either sewn into the sling or placed outside it. There are benefits to both. The sewn-in versions eliminate the potential for user error, but once it breaks you have to buy a new sling or find an exterior positioner that fits. Although none of the Black Diamond sewn-in rubber Straightjackets tore during our two month testing period, our reviewers have had personal experience with them breaking, particularly on the narrow-sling Oz.
Three different options for keeping the lower carabiner in its proper orientation, left to right: Sewn-in rubber positioner on the Black Diamond Oz, sling sewed tight around the bottom for the old version of the CAMP Photon Wire Express, and an exterior positioner on the Wild Country Helium.
The benefit of an exterior positioner is that it protects the section of the sling that houses the lower carabiner from fraying against the rock. However, they can be installed incorrectly so you should always inspect your new draws to make sure they were assembled properly with the carabiner passing through both the sling and
Our test products had a variety of interior and exterior positioners. The only exception is the old version of the CAMP Photon Wire Express Dyneema, which had the sling sewed tight around the bottom opening. This did not stop the carabiner from spinning, however, and CAMP has since added a sewn-in positioner for 2014. If you purchase this product, be sure that you're getting the newest model.
Another consideration for ease of handling was the size of the carabiners. Smaller carabiners are harder to handle, particularly at the end of a long climb when your hands are fatigued, and even more so if you ever climb with gloves on. If you plan on ice climbing or doing a big wall, one of your most important criteria will be the size of the carabiners, as you want something that you can still operate easily with gloves on. A good choice for these applications would be the Black Diamond Freewire
. Its full size carabiners are easier to handle than the smaller Black Diamond Oz Quickdraw
Ease of Grabbing
Grabbing the draw may not be the best style, but sometimes it's your best option. Here Cam McKenzie Ring finds grabbing the Petzl Spirit Express the easiest way to clip the anchor.
You might not set off up your climb intending to grab a draw(or two), but sometimes it just happens, and rightly so. If you are pumped getting to your third clip, the clipping hold is sub-par, and you fall off mid-clip with a bunch of slack out, you could hit the deck if the route wasn't bolted properly. Better to grab a draw than take a trip to the ER. Similarly, if you are moving fast on a Grade V in Yosemite and don't want to be benighted on the route or descent, the "French Free" technique (grabbing draws and gear to move fast through difficult sections) is a common practice. Grabbing your draws is also pretty standard in sport climbing when working a route at your limit.
The models we tested varied in width from 10mm to 25mm. The narrowest slings, which can be found on the lightweight products, are very difficult to grab. Those in the middle of the pack (14mm) are not that easy to grab either. Our testers found that the sling had to be at least 16mm wide to do well in this category, and the wider the better, no matter their hand size. Petzl's Spirit Express took the top marks in this metric not just because it's the widest at 25mm, but also because of its ergonomic cutout design that allows you to slot your hand on the draw and go for the clip.
Toughest to Grab (10-11mm)
Easy to grab Petzl Spirit Express (left) vs difficult to grab Wild Country Helium (right).
Camp Photon Wire Express
Black Diamond Oz
Wild Country Helium
Grab with Caution (14mm)
Black Diamond PosiWire
Black Diamond HotWire
Aid Your Way Up Anything (16mm and up)
Petzl Djinn Axess
Petzl Spirit Express
Black Diamond FreeWire
Lead tester Cam McKenzie Ring climbs in Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas with a set of the Black Diamond PosiWire draws.
As an important part of any climbing kit, a set of quickdraws is a necessity for almost anyone who rock climbs with a rope. With the many options on the market, it can be a strenuous task to select one set over another. In addition to the expense of purchasing a full set of draws, a few major factors such as ease of clipping and portability need to be considered. This review is intended to help you with those decisions. Our Buying Advice
article can further help you choose the right draws to match your vertical needs.