Buying a quickdraw set is like buying a puppy: It’s not just for Christmas, it’s for life.
Whatever quickdraw set you get, you’re stuck with. They last forever, so it’s worth making sure you get some good ones.
Now, you’ve probably read articles “like this” before, that are just like, “Here’s the best one, and here’s the second best, and here’s the third best, blah blah blah” and so on.
Well, don’t worry, I hate those too, so I’m not going to do that. I’m going to recommend you quickdraws based upon meaning and purpose, rather than some generic, arbitrary scale of quality.
So, let’s start with the best one.
The Best Quickdraw: The Petzl Spirit Express Quickdraw
Petzl’s Spirit Express quickdraws are pretty much flawless. They have everything you’d ever want in a quickdraw, so it’s safe to say, that these are what you could call a “lifetime buy.”
“What do you mean by a ‘lifetime buy’?”
I mean that they’re the kind of endgame product that you’re never going to need to upgrade, because they’re already the best you can get.
They’re what you’d upgrade to if you’d started out with any other quickdraw set.
So, in that sense, you can truly say that they’re a “lifetime buy.”
Yes, like a puppy.
“So, what’s their secret? What makes them so good?”
Well, it’s no secret that Petzl have a great reputation for quality, but let’s start looking at the actual features of these quickdraws to see what’s so good about them.
We’ll start with something subtle about them that makes a far greater difference than you can possibly imagine:
The Keylock Gate
This feature is so significant that I’d even go as far as to say, that you should never buy a quickdraw set that doesn’t have this.
If you’ve never heard of a keylock gate before, you might mistake it for a “locking gate” that you get on locking carabiners. Don’t worry, it’s completely different.
You’re not going to be fiddling around with some kind of locking mechanism while you’re trying to use them.
In fact, the whole point of a keylock gate is that it makes them far easier to operate.
…that, and: it makes them roughly three times stronger, being able to take a maximum of 23kN of force. That’s massive; it’s just over 5000lbs.
“Three times stronger?” you exclaim, spitting your drink all over the table. “How does it do that?”
It’s quite simple. Normal quickdraws have an “open” design, where the gate isn’t really helping out; it’s simply there to stop things from unhooking out of the carabiner.
If you put a ridiculous amount of force on an open carabiner, you’d see it unbend and stretch out, as if you were straightening out some kind of big, meaty paperclip.
A keylock gate means that the carabiner is a “closed” system. When you put a ridiculous amount of force on it, you’ll see that the gate locks down tight and keeps the force equally applied along the carabiner.
That’s why it’s three times as strong.
It also means that the gate can’t slip open and unclip you when it catches your fall, which is especially good if you’re a fan of “not dying.”
You can tell when a carabiner has a keylock design or not. When the gate is open, you’ll reveal the “nose” of the carabiner, and see that it has a thicker part at the bottom if it’s a keylock gate.
If it doesn’t have that thicker bit, then it’s not a keylock design. You’ll notice it has a little hook on the inside instead.
This little hook, that non-keylock carabiners have, is the most annoying thing ever. Everyone hates it.
It snags onto the bolt, it snags onto the rope, and it snags onto your emotional wellbeing when you get frustrated from trying to get it uncaught every single time you try to unclip anything from the quickdraw.
So, now you can see why keylock gate are the best: they’re good for “not dying,” and they’re good for “not tearing your hair out in frustration.”
Also, there’s also another great thing about the gates on the Petzl Spirit Express Quickdraw that’s worth mentioning. Sure, some might say it’s a minor thing, but I think it’s amazing.
“Well, what is it?” you’re no doubt thinking.
It’s that really satisfying sound they make when you clip in.
*CLIP*, as you hook one onto a bolt.
*CLIP*, as you push your rope through the gate.
It really adds to the whole experience.
No longer is clipping in just something that you do for safety. Now it’s as satisfying as popping bubble wrap.
Next on the list, is something which everyone will agree is super important to have in a quickdraw:
A Thick, Wide Dogbone
There’s two things that make this almost essential. One is to do with the thickness of the dogbone, and the other is to do with the width.
Let’s start with the thickness.
If you’re a new climber, this will be something that’s more important than you’d expect.
“Surely a thinner dogbone is better because it’s lighter and less bulky?” you’d probably be thinking.
The truth is, dogbones are incredibly light as it is already, and a thinner one wouldn’t make any difference in terms of space on your gear rack, because the carabiners are already about the same thickness as a thick dogbone.
However, there’s something particularly useful about having a thicker dogbone that might not be immediately obvious if you’ve never owned a quickdraw set without them, and that is, that they’re so much easier to grab.
Remember what I was talking about earlier? The experience of using something matters just as much as the raw facts about its strength, materials and so on.
Something as simple as a thicker dogbone on your quickdraws can make a profound difference to your climbing experience, so much so, that you’ll never want quickdraws without them ever again.
The reason that something so subtle makes such a big difference, is that it removes the need to pull your focus away from climbing for a second while you grab a quickdraw to clip in.
A thicker dogbone makes it so easy to grab the quickdraw that you’ll be grabbing them without even thinking about it.
You’ll clip in on reflex, rather than on purpose, and that means you won’t be momentarily distracted while you fumble with gear.
With nothing to break your focus, you’ll feel like you’re doing one continuous climb, rather than climbing a bit, clipping in, climbing a bit more, clipping in…
You see, a good quickdraw set is like a good pair of shoes: they won’t be distracting if they do their job well.
Alright; enough about the thickness. Let’s take a look at the width.
This makes it easier to grab too, but it also serves another purpose.
That is, it stops the bottom carabiner from flipping over.
This isn’t just something that’s best left to the neat-freaks to worry about. It can actually be really dangerous to have a quickdraw twist the wrong way,
Because if that happens, what you’ve ended up with is the same as if you’d back-clipped.
In case you don’t know, back-clipping is when you clip the rope in so it’s going towards the rock rather than away from it. Simply put, it means that when you fall, your rope has a good chance of landing on the outside of the gate and unclipping itself completely. Not good.
Okay, now, let’s look at something else that’s often overlooked in a quickdraw:
“What’s it for?”
It stops the rope-clipping carabiner of quickdraw from rotating.
“Why’s that useful?”
A whole bunch of reasons.
First of all, it keeps the quickdraw in place when you go to clip the rope in.
You see, when you push the rope against the bottom carabiner’s bent gate, you’ll naturally be applying some turning force to it. The only way to prevent it rotating would be to somehow steady the carabiner while you clip in – something which is hard to do when your clipping-in hand is already occupied with holding the rope with your fingers and the carabiner with your thumb. Your other hand can’t do it either, since it’s busy with the whole “not letting go” thing.
The keeper makes the bottom end of the quickdraw stiff so you can clip in without any hassle. Nice.
However, keeper’s ability to stop the carabiner rotating is not just about ease of use: it also serves the purpose of making the quickdraw much more reliable at protecting your climbs.
This is because it stops the bottom carabiner from rotating all the way around so that the gate is facing the direction you’re climbing in.
And let me be clear: quickdraw gates should never be facing the direction you’re climbing in.
Because if the top carabiner’s gate is facing the direction you’re climbing in, you run the risk of the other edge of the bolt hanger pushing open the gate and unclipping your quickdraw when you move off.
But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re assuming you clipped in properly, but because your bottom carabiner didn’t have a keeper, the movement of the rope through it caused it to rotate all the way around so that the gate is facing the direction you’re climbing in.
If that ever managed to happen, you’d be left with, once again, a setup that has the same danger as if you were back-clipping.
Having the bottom gate face the direction you’re climbing in would mean there’s always the chance the rope will land on it when you fall. If that happens, the rope will unclip itself. Again, not good.
Granted, it’s more of a chance that it’ll happen, rather than a guarantee, because the rope will still be running away from the rock… unless you back clipped anyway because you’re a madman with a death wish.
Anyway, the point is that keepers are not just about convenience; they’re about making the protection they provide more reliable, so you can climb freely without having to look down and check if your quickdraws will actually save your life or not.
I guess, in that way, you could say that they are about convenience after all.
The Petzl Spirit Express Quickdraw comes in two lengths: 12cm and 17cm.
The difference? With the 17cm one, you fall 10cm further, which is only 4 inches. Yes, 10cm – that’s not a mistake – because they catch you 5cm lower, with 5cm of more slack in the rope.
Really, when you’re comparing these two lengths, there’s not much in it to be honest. You could say that the shorter ones are perfect for sport climbing, because they’re a little safer and they hang down 4 inches less on your gear rack.
Go for the shorter ones if you’re doing routes where the bolts are pretty much in a straight line, but if you’re ever thinking doing some of the more interesting routes out there, as in, the ones which wander from side to side or even have overhangs, then definitely go for the longer ones. They’re so much more versatile.
“But they’re exactly the same, but only 4 inches longer?”
It’s because they extend your gear more, and that means that they’re excellent at reducing rope drag.
If you don’t know what rope drag is, it’s essentially the resistance you get when the rope zigzags between your quickdraws when they’re not long enough. It can get pretty bad on those interesting routes that I just mentioned.
You can use longer quickdraws on the bolts away from the center line of the route, and you can use shorter quickdraws towards the center. That way, the rope will be nice and straight, without over-sacrificing your fall length.
That being said, 4 inches of extra fall distance is practically nothing, so go for the longer ones if you’re a badass.
So, that just about wraps up the Petzl Spirit Express Quickdraw. I’d say the only downside is the price tag. They’re Petzl’s premium product, after all.
However, I’ve got some good news for you fellow cheapsakes out there. Petzl do ones that are almost exactly the same, are much cheaper, and come in a handy pack of 6.
The Best Quickdraws for the Price: Petzl Express Quickdraw Pack
The gates are the same, the keylock is the same, the build quality is the same, and it still has keepers… yet, they’re cheaper.
Oh, and did I mention, that they’re amazing for climbers with large hands too?
Compared to the Petzl Spirit carabiners, these Djinn ones feel much easier to operate with my giant, oversized hands.
The carabiners are shaped a bit more like ears. The spine isn’t straight like the Spirit ones are, and it’s a bit easier to get your hands around them when they’re curved.
I’d say that even if you had tiny hands like a baby, the Djinns would feel nicer in your hands. The shape is just a bit more natural.
However, there’s one big drawback to the Petzl Djinn Axess Quickdraws that prevent them from taking the quickdraw crown.
And that is:
The Slimmer Dogbone
Everything that I praised about the dogbones on the Petzl Spirit Express earlier goes the opposite for the Djinn Axess.
Its dogbones are strong, reliable, and high quality, yes, but they completely lack the thickness and width that make their premium cousins so damn nice to use.
However, I’d say that they’re still easily worth it. Besides, some people even prefer quickdraws with less stiff dogbones.
The allow the quickdraw to have much more play, which minimizes the chances of the quickdraw being lifted up by the rope.
“Why would that be a problem?”
Because then it’s just like if you’d clipped your quickdraw the wrong way.
If the quickdraw is lifted up by a dogbone that’s too thick, it can bring it up against the other edge of the bolt hanger, which will then push open the gate and unclip your quickdraw.
In that way, you can say that the less-stiff dogbones of the Petzl Djinn Axess Quickdraws are safer, although it’s pretty much balanced out by them not being quite as flip-proof.
Buy these if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to the Spirit Express ones, or if you’re a climber with large hands. That’s all there is to it.
You can also buy them individually if you click here, with the option of getting the two-inch longer, 17cm ones.
It’s just I was saying earlier with the other Petzl ones: buy the longer ones if you’re looking to reduce rope drag on complex routes, or buy the shorter ones if you’re doing straightforward sport climbing routes where the bolts are pretty much in a straight line.
Now, there’ll be some of you out there who are looking to find a more extreme remedy to rope drag. After all, two inches of extension over the shorter ones isn’t really much at all.
If you’re a rope drag hater looking for the best long quickdraw that you can find, then look no further than:
The Best Long Quickdraw: The Metolius Bravo Long Draw
These quickdraws are strong, light, and really, really long.
Part of the reason why they’re so light is that they have wiregates, rather than solid gates.
Wiregates mean no keylock design, and therefore they have that snagging tooth at the top.
However, wiregates do have one advantage over solid gates, and that is that they’re less prone to gate flutter.
Now, gate flutter is no joke. The Petzl ones are the least gate-fluttery draws that you’ll find, as far as solid gate draws go, but it still happens to some degree.
“What is gate flutter?”
It’s when the gate bounces open for a second if the carabiner gets bashed against a rock.
At this point, I don’t think I need to explain how that’s a really bad thing. Besides, a carabiner bashing against a rock isn’t going to do wonders for its longevity.
Because of this, you’re meant to always make sure that quickdraws are free-hanging, so that the bottom carabiner isn’t resting awkwardly against the rock.
Now, with longer quickdraws, you’ve obviously got a lot more play with the dogbone, so it has a much greater chance of bashing against the rock even if you’re using it properly.
For this reason, it’s not so much a bad thing that Metolius’ Bravo Long Draws have wire gates. They’re practically immune to gate flutter, and they’re strong enough to take a bit of roughing up.
Now, let’s take a look at the length options available, because length is what these quickdraws are all about.
A Wide Range of Length Options
The carabiners are the same, but the dogbones are color-coded by length.
You’ve got the option of a 12″ one in yellow, a 16″ one in green, and a 20″ one in black.
Oh, and as of the time of writing, the pictures for the short and long ones are swapped around on the Amazon page – but don’t worry – the 12″ one is definitely yellow, and the 20″ one is definitely black, despite what the product page shows.
Anyway, let’s take a closer look at the length options.
For comparison, the dogbones on the longest one are four times longer than the ones on the short draws that Petzl sell.
I’d say to go for the middle option, and choose the 16″ green one. Alpine draws are 24″, which are even longer than the 20″ one, but you usually double them up to make them the same length as the 12″ ones if the full length isn’t needed.
That means the 16″ green ones are a nice balance between the two, and you always can use short draws like the Petzl ones above, when the extra length isn’t needed.
The Budget Option: The Mad Rock Concorde Quickdraw Set
Funnily enough, these quickdraws are rated at 27kN, which means they’re even stronger than some of the more expensive ones out there, despite being lighter than them.
Well, they have wiregates, which are pretty basic, but at least they’re not prone to gate flutter. That’s not so bad.
But where they’re really showing their cost-cutting is in the bit of plastic that acts as a “keeper” of sorts.
Instead of being over the end of the dogbone on the rope-clipping carabiner side, holding it firmly and securely in place, it sort of sits under it, not knowing what to do with itself.
It sort of does the job, but after heavy use it starts to come free, which means you’ve no longer got a keeper, and the dogbone at that end isn’t tight enough to make do without one.
What this means is that while they’re a fair bit cheaper than the Petzl Djinn Axess Quickdraws, which are still reasonably priced as far as quickdraws go, you’ll probably be replacing them in the future with some more long-term ones.
Even so, they’re a great beginner set when you’re on a tight budget.