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Quickdraws have always been the very last thing on my rack to get replaced. The very little money that I can afford to allocate for new gear tends to get swallowed up very quickly with other more important items such as ropes, ice screws, and other necessary gear. For some reason quickdraws have never really needed replacing in my eyes as how much more innovation and improvement can you really put in to them? Over the last 5 years it seems that the reply is “a lot”. My previous set of QDs were heavy ones which whilst they were fine for cragging, they weren't ideal for the Alps. But here I am five years later with a new set of impossibly light quickdraws, one of many now available from several manufacturers, and I'm thinking “how on earth did they do that?”
Xenon design detail
© Jon Griffith / Wild Country, Mar 2008
I have to be honest and say that I was a little worried about these draws because of their size. They are slightly smaller than a standard size and I thought that this would be a problem in the alpine environment with thick gloves on. I was also worried that the head size would be too small to clip into badly orientated bolts (yes that's right if I see a bolt in the Alps I use it!) and that the force of a fall would cause the head to snap (imagine a bolt orientated horizontally instead of vertically and you might see what I mean). Of course after 40 years of production you would expect the designers at WC to have thought of this and many other variables that I haven't and therefore it wasn't a problem.
Andrew Lanham on M6 Solar
© Jon Griffith / Wild Country, Mar 2008
As you might expect from a super-light QD it comes with a super-light sling; at 10mm wide they perfectly complement the lightweight biners at both ends without compromising on strength. In addition those clever WC people have sewn in a rubber 'Tadpole' into the rope clipping end of the sling; meaning that your rope clipping biner won't move and this avoids cross loading completely. I know it's not exactly a new innovation but in a QD which is trying at all costs to shave on weight and promote itself as one of the lightest QD's in the world, it's good to see that they didn't put marketing over design in a further bid to impress you with the lightweight appeal (something that gear companies do a lot these days). Rated at 22kn these slings wont let you down. They come in lengths of 10cm, 15cm, and 20cm so you can use them on all occasions.
© Wild Country
As for the wiregate I have to say that I was impressed with the clean action and I have yet to catch my glove in it (something that happened quite a bit with my last set). From comparing the two, the Xenon has (as they call it) a hooded nose shape which makes clipping a lot easier (I can't really explain why, it just does). In addition the small metal tooth (see first photo to understand) on the Xenon is rounded and very small which would probably explain why I have yet to catch anything on it - in comparison my last QDs had a much larger catching area and was more pointed instead of rounded. The Xenon is also, as you would expect, a strong biner rated at 24kn closed gate and 7kn cross and open gate.
One of the things I really like about this QD is the way it racks on my harness. I often find myself with too many things hanging off me and if you add the fact I always have a camera hanging off my hip belt you can imagine that it can get a little hectic down there. A set of 5 Xenon Lite QD's just sit so perfectly it's ridiculous. They slide up to each other and take up almost no space - this is due to the smaller heads, thinner krabs and the thinner slings between them. In contrast my last QDs are much bigger due to a lager head and full size 20mm sling. OK it might sound like I'm being very picky here but at the end of the day 5 of my last QD's took up quite a bit of space on my gear loop and they didn't fit snugly together whilst these new Xenon Lite QD's take up less than 2/3rds of the space (honest!). The tadpoles also are a great help in this case too as when the bottom biner is able to move about they can often get a bit tangled with one another if you are jostling them about.
Well as you might have noticed I've been impressed by the upgrade in my rack and especially appreciate the saving in weight in the Alpine environment. I think what's also great about these QD's is that they are very well priced. Here is a top of the line QD that is available from only £10.99! I would have been expecting this to be pushing into the £15+ category which automatically excludes it from your average climber. In addition you can buy them in sets of 5 which will save you between 5-10%. Even better is you can buy a 'Trad set' which offers 2×10cm, 1×15cm, and 2×20cm so you aren't forced to buy 5 of the same lengths to get a discount. Be aware though that these karabiners are slightly smaller than full size and some people may find this a little disconcerting. The karabiner is still very strong and uses the tried and tested 'I Beam' construction but some people may prefer the full size. I haven't found it a problem even with thick gloves on, so do be too worried about it. At the end of the day they aren't the absolute cheapest quickdraw and if you want to save a couple of pounds per draw and only go cragging then so be it, but if you want to enjoy a major upgrade in quality and lightweight ingenuity then a couple of extra quid is not a lot to pay for it.
For more information on the Xenon Light Quickdraw visit the Wild Country Website
Jon Griffith - age: 24 - Chamonix
My first climbing days were back in Bristol where the Avon gorge provided countless trad limestone routes that were great fun to get into climbing. Having no climber friends I ended up 'teaching' myself how to lead climb and thankfully I managed to get through the first few months without falling which was great since most of my gear kept falling out anyway. That summer I bivied across the high route of the Pyrenees and come that winter I decided that I wanted to head out to the Alps and see what that was like. No surprises then that I ended up in Chamonix and was initiated into ice climbing down at the Crémerie.
© Jonathan Griffith
From then on I took advantage of the huge university holidays and tried to spend a maximum amount of time out in the Alps. I spent my first few years out in Zermatt (thanks to my climbing partner at the time Brian Birtle who put me up countless times) getting more into the mixed and alpine element rather than just rock climbing Chamonix style stuff. I finished my 'time' out in Zermatt on a high point with the Lyskamm North Face and decided I was ready to move on and try Chamonix style rock routes. I finished university last summer and moved out to Chamonix where I am currently working in photography and film work.
It's hard to pick one specific type of climbing that I prefer over the others but I think my heart still lies with big mixed alpine routes that potentially involve a couple of nights bivying. I am still getting used to the whole Chamonix 'get back in time for the last lift' style- I still include bivying as a part of any decent mountaineering experience. I am also still getting used to crack climbing- it hurts.... a lot.
Read more about Jon on his photography website Alpine Exposures.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Jon Griffith: