(Relatively) Ultralight quickdraws – Petzl Ange & DMM Shield

Henrik did a great post about ultralight climbing a few days ago, and I love most of the gear he lists (the rest I haven’t tried, but damn I want to try that CAMP harness). However the gear I love most are quickdraws, which didn’t get a look-in! Saving weight on QDs is great, by getting QDs that are 30/40 g lighter means you can save maybe half a kilo on a nice long 10 clip route like those at Ekoberget.

Sometimes the finicky details in gear reviews that get noted seem ridiculously over the top, stuff like how stiff the straps are on a rucksack, or what shade of orange a fuel bottle is painted. I have however realised that when it comes to climbing gear that there is a reason for the anal attention to detail. For example, when I bought my first QDs I thought the cost of snag-free noses was too high and bought the relatively light and cheap Wild Country Wild Wires. The notch in the nose ended up annoying me as I learnt how to lead climb. I would be well over the last bolt, feet on slippery sloped smooth granite, one sweaty hand sucking onto a shitty grip, the other slowly, oh-so-slowly reaching back to my gear loops to grab a QD, and then as I thumb it open and draw it out from the gear loop it would invariably and frustratingly snag, causing terrible curses to come out of my mouth and streams of sweat to break out from my forehead.

I sold most of mine to Michi, he doesn’t mind them because he can actually climb properly and doesn’t shit himself when leading. Here he is leading and not shitting himself at the super-nice, super-overhanging Finnsvedsberget.

These snaggy noses are on all except the premium QDs, so I guess most people don’t mind them as much as I do, even the big gear carabiner from Petzl (the caritool, below) has a grabby nose. It’s the kind of thing I blame for my failures instead of blaming my lack of technique. When failing at something, buy more expensive tools!

The Wild Wire is still a great quickdraw though, and is lighter than most of the usual competition (the QD I see most often at cliffs around here is the BD Positron, 107 g each). I bought a few different QDs to compare with the Wild Wires and to lose a little weight. Below, from left to right, you can see what I have been playing with. Some DMM Revolvers (51 g just for the carabiner), one of the Wild Wires (93 g), a Kong Frog (125 g… I’ll explain later), some DMM Shields (76 g), which are superbly crafted QDs with massive carabiners from DMM, a few famously durable Petzl Spirits (104 g), which are regularly lauded as the definitive quickdraw and finally some of the new Petzl Anges (66 g!). The more I climb, and the more experience I get under my belt, the more I am starting to try and lead as much as possible, rather than top-rope, and lately this A-team have been my tools all over the Stockholm crags.

The Ange is so new there are almost no reviews for it yet. Climbing circles seem to be reluctant to accept new gear, which makes sense, when it’s your life on the line you don’t want to be in that early adopter, beta-testing group. I’m a sucker for beta-testing, hence the brand new Grigri2 I just got sent from Petzl to replace the beta one I bought (Petzl recalled it for a design flaw which made it more likely to catch fire and explode during rear-impact accidents).

Climbing circles also seem to be notoriously cynical to new gear, which is very easy to see with the Kong Frog. It gets treated as a kind of running joke, ripped apart on its arrival by people that hadn’t even tried it, and accepted by people that don’t seem to get what it’s for. (Seriously, check the last picture in that latter link, he clips the frog into the gear loop of his ATC… That’s a shitty situation waiting to happen right there).

The Frog is a bizarre contraption that I bought completely out of curiosity. The idea is that you lead a route and when it comes to that bolt, the fucker that you cannot make, you reach past your normal draws, grab the frog and push it at the bolt to clip in. Once it’s “armed” it just needs to have the bolt enter its jaws to have the spring-loaded mechanism snap closed.

By holding the lovely thick and stiff sling you can clip a bolt a good decimetre further away than you could with a normal QD. I thought it was a just a novelty until two nights ago, when I ended up a few metres up and to the right of my last clipped bolt on a route here in Stockholm, at the beautiful Kanalklippan.

I had fuck all to stand on or hold onto, and was shitting bricks. No matter how much I stared at the bolt, it stubbornly remained out of reach. I started thinking about down-climbing, when I slipped a little and smashed my teeth onto a rock projecting out from the wall (my mouth was open and turning the air blue with a steady stream of curses at the time). That freaked me out, in desperation I grabbed the Frog, muttered a prayer, leaned over and poked it in the general direction of the bolt. A few seconds later I was clipped in, and as usual with leading, as soon as the bolt was clipped all the tension melted away and I suddenly found a lot more holds. The Frog got kissed like crazy once I got my feet back on the ground, and I sincerely approve of its place in the toolkit. You could argue that if you need to use something like this on a route then the route is beyond your skillset, but what do you gain by staying on challenges you can deal with? Leading a route that is just a little beyond me is terrifying, every single time I do one I start to think What the fuck am I doing here?, I could be doing something less dangerous, like going hunting with Dick Cheney. It is the exact same terror, intensity and eventual feeling of accomplishment as I get doing submission wrestling competitions.

Awful tension beforehand. Alarming, near uncontrollable adrenaline during. And a totally unbeatable feeling of triumph afterwards. The best possible way to challenge yourself. The funny thing is this is only true of lead-climbing outdoors. Leading indoors I can fall all day long without any fear or giving too much of a shit. If it’s outdoors I desperately fear falling and just don’t consider it an option. I am currently reading Dave MacLeod’s ‘9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes‘, a fantastic book about the most common problems climbers have, the major one of which he thinks is falling above protection. His answer? Fall hundreds of times to unlearn the fear. Thanks for the tip Dave!

The Shield and Ange are both the premium QDs from two leading climbing companies, both with their own take on making a shrouded, notch-free nose. The hot-forged Shield has a strange twisted wire-gate that allows for an enclosed nose, and the cold-forged Ange has a novel mono-filament gate that some lambast as Petzls way of making a wire-gate they can patent. The Anges are unbelievably light and beautiful to play with. The criticism from the climbing community is that their crazy low weight comes from using small carabiners. This is obvious when you compare them to the Shields, which are 10 g heavier, due to the larger crab. The criticism is that the smaller size means less pleasant handling. I found it to be the opposite, the Shields are lovely to use, but feel the upper part of the twisted wire gate is a little finicky to handle, sometimes the changing angle of the gate twists the crab in my hand, which is a pain in the ass when you’re clipping at the crux. It’s the most tiny diminutive of criticisms though, they are supremely nice to use and the untwisted base of the wire-gate is comfortable to squeeze on.

The Anges fit neatly in my hands, the little black block of plastic on the pin makes it easy to pop the gate open, and the gate opens wide, almost as much as the shields in fact (23 mm versus 24 mm). The size makes it nice to clip with, the sling is also decent, quite thin but very rigid. The Shield is superb, but not superb enough to justify its weight penalty over the Ange (they both cost roughly the same). The Shield is definitely sexier though.

They both have perfect noses, rounded and smooth, as gently inquisitive and velvety smooth as a high-class sex toy. Eagerly and effortlessly sliding into loops or slings like the lubed fingers of a masterful prostate specialist. This is really noticeable compared to the Spirits, which are great and chunky and solid, but feel clunky and awkward once you get used to the Anges.

I also gave the DMM revolver a go, they are quite heavy, have a hooked nose and aren’t particularly handy, but they have the attraction of having a built-in pulley wheel.

The idea is that they will reduce friction in the rope system. Maybe they do but I don’t dig the weight and snagging issues. Good to have some pulleys in the tool box though, who knows when they might come in handy, self-rescuing from one of the many crevasses around Stockholm. I am reasonably sure they are aimed more at the trad-scene, I remember when trad climbing with Toby from Northern light blog, that he had a few and they looked liked they had been through a couple of wars. With trad-climbing protection is not in a nice neat line and friction is inevitably higher than in a sports route.

There are other factors, the gate-closed, cross loaded and gate-open strengths for example (in kN);

  • Petzl Spirit ↔23 ↕10 ⦦9
  • Petzl Ange ↔20 ↕7 ⦦9
  • DMM Shield ↔24 ↕7 ⦦10
  • Wild Country Wild Wire ↔24 ↕9 ⦦9
  • Kong Frog ↔29 ↕10 ⦦12 on the crab, 22 on the frog
  • DMM Revolver ↔24 ↕7 ⦦9

And there are some other neat details, like the external rubber strings the Petzl QDs have compared to the slightly shittier and less durable internal ones on the rest (patents I guess?). The Anges also have little holes in the socket for the gate, which Petzl say aid in ejecting debris from the socket (compared to the closed socket on the DMM Shields).

I guess that could be useful, considering if there was some shit in the nose it would drop the strength from 20 to 9 kn, which is well within the range of forces you might get in a long fall. Or a short fall if you’re fat.

Those details don’t sway me much though, mostly I care about the weight and the handiness of the QDs. At just 66 grammes, with perfect handling, the Ange easily is my favourite quickdraw so far, despite the cost. This is my only problem with climbing actually, the amazing, superbly designed but pricey gear is like pure crack to my shamefully gear-addicted soul. I despise myself lusting after lovely shiny toys but the attraction is too strong. For me the local climbing shop is like a kindergarten to a pedo, dangerously irresistible.

6 thoughts on “(Relatively) Ultralight quickdraws – Petzl Ange & DMM Shield

  • August 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm
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    Loved the post, Tomas. I definitely will need to go climbing with you when I make it the next time to Stockholm – or, alternatively, you're welcome to visit me in Tampere! 55 minutes flight from Stockholm! Hiking! Climbing! Gear geekery! Beer!

    Reply
  • August 30, 2011 at 7:27 am
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    Sounds like an option, certainly. I will have to check out some flights, maybe you could give me a crash-course in pack-weight cutting!

    Reply
  • August 30, 2011 at 8:25 am
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    btw, what do you think of the new CAMP Nano 23 Express sets (53 gram!)?

    For flights you should check Blue1, they can be had for under 150€ going – return…

    You should install Disqus for comments – that's a lot more user-friendly as I get an Email if you reply 😉

    Reply
  • August 30, 2011 at 11:32 am
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    The Nano 23's look great, but I don't like the hook-nose. I can take an extra ten grams to have it all smooth. Toby from Northern Light reviewed them along with the DMM Phantoms which are also crazy light, I think he liked them.

    http://www.ukclimbing.com/gear/review.php?id=1155

    I should give Disqus a go, and I also want to get a proper domain name but I always seem to have something else taking my focus. Too much to do at work, not enough spare time!

    Reply
  • September 16, 2011 at 9:01 pm
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    Back from climbing in Croatia I have to say that despite what you say I definitely still shit myself while lead-climbing…

    Came back today, and first thing I do is check your blog! Good, he?

    What up the next weekends?
    Bistaberget is supposed to be fine until december…

    Reply
  • April 20, 2014 at 11:08 pm
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    I've used the new Petzl ange biner extensively, and have no regrets in having bought them, although I did, an would again, wait for a decent sale online. The small size scares many people away, but you quickly get used to it, and the biner gives you all the room you need.

    I just ordered a set of the DMM Shield QDs, and cannot wait to compare the two. The prices are definitely steep, but I do think that the snag-free noses are worth waiting untill some supplier is overstocked to fill out your rack.

    Reply

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