DMM Shadow Quickdraws

The DMM Shadow
© TobyA
I made the decision that this year that I was going to do more sport climbing. I can't climb much harder than 6a and in my local area almost nobody bothers bolting anything easy than that. Add to this the fact that almost all the rock around here is granite, and all the 6as and 6a+s seems to be tenuous and smeary, or crystal-crimping finger-rippers on steep slabs or vertical walls, and it means one thing: I fall off. A lot. At 6b the holds seem to start coming back, but then they also start to overhang. I fall off these as well. A lot. Who better then to test DMM's new flagship sport climbing karabiners than an incompetent sports climber who falls off a lot? My first impressions of the Shadows are in this initial UKC Gear Review where I was more interested in the lightweight Phantoms, but after six months of using them I've switched my opinions.

I got rid of the last plain-gate krabs from my rack maybe four or five years ago in favour of all wire-gates, so going back to the plain-gate Shadows has been interesting. For the climber who does a bit of everything – from summer cragging, to Scottish winter or alpine ice – I still think that wire-gate krabs offer the greatest versatility. But some people are just rock climbers or, indeed, just sport climbers, and don't need that flexibility from their gear – they just want it to do one job and do it well, to clip. The Shadows fulfil that requirement with aplomb. By the standards of a decade ago they are very light at 43 grammes, but using I-beam forging they are also ridiculously burly with a gate open strength of 10 kn; as strong as any other biner in its class and stronger than most. This should be reassuring for nutters who miss clips in an all-out effort to send or do hard moves miles above their gear on trad routes.

As firms have competed to make lighter and lighter krabs, they have also tended to become incrementally smaller by the season – but the Shadows run opposite to this trend: they are big, meaty and proud of it. If karabiners got into bar fights (unlikely, I know) you would want to be on the same side as the Shadow. It's the welterweight champ of the karabiner ring; still light enough to be fast but has some serious muscle. After using many slightly smaller krabs, the Shadow's big size is great for me, although people with small hands might not see this advantage in clipping. The size also accounts for their high strength: I met some very hard French lads in Lofoten a few years ago, and they told me they always bought the biggest and cheapest quickdraws they could find because "we wear them out in a year or two". They showed me the gear-end biners on their draws where numerous falls onto bolt hangers had gouged deep grooves into the metal. This will of course happen with all krabs, but the Shadows are designed to be burly exactly at this point meaning they will last forever for all but the most hardcore who climb most days and take regular big whippers.

Keylock Nose
I still don't think that the Shadows are as easy to clip as DMM models of the 1990s such as the Mambas and Cobras that had pronounced noses that held the rope in place as your thumb pushed it through the gate. But clearly such noses increase the chance of the rope unclipping itself in a fall. I always loved the Mambas - even at my lowly level, but it is not just DMM that has moved towards a more minimal nose design - all manufacturers seem to have done so. The spring in the Shadow's gate is very firm. Maybe some gates will be easier to get the rope through in extremis, but most of the time I'll take the peace of mind knowing it is more resistant to gate-flutter and hearing the clear 'click' as it close firmly once the rope is in. The keylock noses are wonderful: mainly they make stripping sports routes a breeze, plus there is less chance of cutting your fingers if you fall whilst actually clipping, but we have also found other esoteric usage that the keylocks nose enables. Firstly, the Shadows work great as fifi hooks whilst aid climbing, allowing you to clip in and out of daisy chains with ease. Secondly, the Shadows make the best ice screw racks out there if you use them in this excellent DIY screw rack design: Going back to their more intended purpose, a few of UKC's harder sport climbers have noted that the dyneema slings that they come with are a bit thin for grabbing when working routes. Personally I haven't noticed this myself - the dyneema is slightly chunkier than they type DMM was using a couple of years backs - but DMM might consider doing an option of the krabs with fat nylon slings for this specific market,

Dianna gear testing on Koff.
© TobyA
Wire-gate krabs have come to dominate the market in recent years and the best of them are real all-rounders. But pictures in the magazines show that many of the hardest climbs in the world are still being done with a quickdraw that has been around for the best part of two decades - the Petzl Spirit. The Spirit remains the gold standard for its class - and it is noticeable that, like DMM with the Shadow, other major manufacturers such as Wild Country, Black Diamond and Camp now all offer a plain-gate, keylock, high strength quickdraw to try and give Petzl a run for its money. Clearly there is a niche for this type of product and the Shadow is a very strong new contender in the ring from DMM, being either cheaper, lighter or stronger (and in some cases all three!) than the competition. So if you want sport climbing-specific krab, or just a non wire-gate, general quickdraw that will last forever, then the Shadows should be at the top of your list.

From Simon Marsh at DMM:

"We will be giving retailers the option of supplying the Shadows on a tapered nylon QD in the future (September onwards). This has a 14mm neck and a 20mm body; thus it sits nicely on the biner, but is wide enough to grab easily when in dogging mode. It will still have the rubber retainer so that the rope biner stays orientated correctly/can be angled to make the clip easier."

Toby Archer
Toby Archer, based in Finland, works as a researcher specialising in terrorism and political Islam for an international affairs think-tank. "Climbing keeps me from getting too depressed by these sort of things." He blogs about both at Light from the North. He is part of the Gear Review Team.
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