Questions For Chris Rowlands of DMM About the Phantom Carabiner

© Mick Ryan
Fred Hall, DMM Head of Design, revealing what is in his secret drawer.
© Mick Ryan, Mar 2007

DMM (website) have been making climbing gear since 1981. They are based in Llanberis, North Wales and employ 110 people making them the most important employer in Llanberis. If you are a climber you probably have a several bits of DMM gear. They have designed and produced innovative products like the Predator, Rebel and Anarchist Ice tools Ice; the Terminator crampon; and a whole host of innovative carabiners like the Mamba, Wirelocks and Revolvers.

Most recently they have developed the strongest, lightest 'biner in the world, the Phantom. It weighs 25.5 grams without compromising strength, it achieves a 9 kn gate open rating.

The Phantom carabiner was chosen as our first Product of the week (click here) at asked Chris Rowlands, marketing director at DMM about the Phantom carabiner.

Chris Rowlands - DMM
© Mick Ryan -
Phantom Quickdraw
So Chris Rowlands is this Phantom really the lightest carabiner in the world?

I reckon so. It is what most people would call the lightest climbing carabiner in the world. It isn't a keyring or a toy, it is very strong, light, and a useable size.

Why is light right?

Light is generally right, but can be more important in certain situations. The Phantom will excel when you need to carry lots of draws, such as on a big Trad route, or if you are carrying lots of gear up into the mountains. In contrast, on a fairly straight forward sport route, other issues become equally if not more important such as ease of clipping, a clean nose etc.

How did gear wizard and alchemist Fred Hall work his magic with this new creation.....what's this alloy you speak off?

Fred is definitely a wizard (quite a small one, but definitely a wizard !). One of the most important contributory factors was the use of the I Beam design which Fred introduced on the Revolver and which has subsequently been applied not to just to biners but also to our new Ice tools, the Rebels and Anarchists. This allows us to create very light products which retain design features such as a good rope radius, ergonomic handling shapes etc AND achieve high strength ratings. The alloy is 7075 which is Hot Forged, and then heat treated on site by ourselves. The Heat Treatment is another key factor, as correct treatment becomes even more important when you are pushing the limits of design. We have always carried out all our own Aluminium Heat Treatment on site in Llanberis, so as to have total control over this very complex process. Fred would also be the first to say that he has a superb team working with him, many of whom have a huge amount of experience and expertise in their own fields.

3 sigma tested...what's that then? 3 Sigma tested? Some people's eyes glaze over at the mention of the word, but it isn't so complicated really. It is a mathematical calculation to arrive at a figure which you know that 99.9% of that batch will exceed. (This is obviously a much more meaningful figure than an average breaking strength which was once used). So for example If we test 3 biners out of a batch of 500 to destruction, calculate the average, calculate the Standard deviation (eyes start to glaze over, but stay with it !! ). Multiply the standard deviation by 3, and then subtract from the average you have your figure. If this were say 9.5 kn we could safely rate the product at 9 kn 3 Sigma. Incidentally we were the first climbing manufacturer to use the 3 Sigma rating on their gear.

Phantom Carabiner
It's hot forged. Sounds sweaty, what is this process and why are you guys so proud of it?

Yes we are proud of the standard we have achieved in this area. Quite simply it allows us to create the sort of products I have mentioned before. Light, strong, and containing all the right design elements. Hot Forging is also better for the alloy than cold forging, and will create an integrally stronger product. Virtually all or biners are Hot Forged now, as are many other products, Bugs, walnuts 1-7, Rebels, Anarchists. Our expertise is such that we carry out work for other companies outside of climbing. If you Kayak, look at the little handle on a Pyrana Kayak, it's Hot Forged by DMM !

(You can read more about Hot Forging at the DMM website- click here)

It's light, but is it strong? It won't snap will it?

Hot Forge Machine
© Mick Ryan, Mar 2007
It is possible to snap any biner, but thankfully this is a very rare occurrence and usually happens when the biner is used incorrectly and loaded in a dangerous orientation. By that I would mean something like crossloading, when the load is placed across the gate and back. Our new Shadow biners have a minor axis strength of 9 kn which is pretty impressive. However prevention is better than cure, and it is important to attempt to create designs which try to prevent the biner from ending up in this potentially dangerous orientation in the first place.

How light are 10 Phantom quickdraws?

580 grams.

Why should climbers buy this rather than some cheaper carabiner manufactured in China ....after all price is everything so some climbing shop owner told me on Friday.....I could probably buy 10 quickdraws by Acme Crabs to 5 of DMM's?

Yes you might buy the Acme crabs cheaper if you really want to. As for price being everything I'm not so sure. There are different ways of looking at it. DMM carabiners are designed, prototyped, tested and manufactured in Llanberis, North Wales, and have been for 26 years. We are a specialist manufacturer of climbing equipment. We have an unrivalled history and expertise in this area. All the safety critical processes are carried out on site, like the heat treatment. All our carabiners are 100% inspected at final inspection by men who have been inspecting our products for over 15 years. We never compromise on quality. Some of the top climbers in the world recognize our products as the best available.

Climbing hardware can have a lifespan of 10 years dependant on usage etc. So for the £7.50 or a couple of Starbucks posh coffees you can buy a Spectre carabiner weighing 35 grams and giving you a reassuring 10kn gate open which could last you ten years.

When you're 20 feet above the last piece of gear with the prospect of a bit of a whipper, sometimes it helps to focus the mind, and you don't want to have any doubts whatsoever about the quality of your gear. I show a large number of climbers around our factory each year and without exception they leave with an added respect for the care, attention and expertise they have witnessed in the production of our gear.

Hot Forged Crabs resting
© Mick Ryan, Mar 2007

Mick Ryan is the editor of and co-author of the Bishop Bouldering guidebook published last month (website).

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28 Mar, 2007
Needs correcting, 10 quickdraws won't weigh 255 grams, 10 carabiners will. Cheers, FT.
28 Mar, 2007
P.S. Last time I pointed out a mistake on DMM's website, they sent me some lovely shiny wallnuts! Hint hint. Pedantry pays. Cheers, FT.
28 Mar, 2007
Gosh, I bet DMM are happy with UKC writing an article about them!
28 Mar, 2007
do I hear cynicism in the room?
28 Mar, 2007
There will be several articles coming up about climbing companies, focussing on gear issues and education. I'm sure if you have any further questions about 3 sigma and hot forging, both Chris and Simon will be happy to answer them on this thread similar to this answer that Simon Marsh at DMM gave about larks footing on this thread. DMM even went as far as to do some tests for us........ "I was emailed by Paul Evans because he was looking for technical data on how larks-footing slings directly to wire affected their strength. I have always regarded this as a big taboo, but was not aware of any technical reports. I spoke to Fred Hall, our Technical Director, and he also cited the practice as being dangerous because of the small diameters and tight angles involved. However, he was also not aware of any formal technical reports on this topic. Thus we then proceeded to tensile test a variety of different sized nuts that had been larks-footed to a variety of different webbings. I should stress that the results here are not conducted in a scientific or controlled environment; they are just snapshots to give one a general idea of how this practice may reduce the strength of the system. The results were all obtained using new product, thus the results are likely to be at the top end of those than could be expected. This is because nicks, cuts and abrasion damage on the nut/tape would be likely to reduce the strength of the system. The drop tower was in use and therefore we had to use the main tensile tester. ........etc"
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