‘Biners are like referees–when you don’t notice ’em, they’re doing their job. Safe, easy to use, lightweight…that’s about all you need. For years I was a Trango Superfly fan and for good reason–they’re light (32g; all weights herein home verified), have a reasonable gate opening (24mm; all measurements herein home verified as best I could), and don’t break the bank ($7.95). The Superfly is a great all-around piece, but it’s a bit small for use with winter gloves. I liked the Black Diamond Hot Wire (45g; 23mm; older version!) for a time, but it’s relatively heavy.
I scored a few Wild Country Heliums (34g; 27mm) over the winter, which I reviewed very favorably HERE, and they’re basically perfect, save for one ding: they’re $12.50 a pop! They’re extremely well made and manufactured in Wales, so I “get” why they’re spendy.
At this point, the only ‘biner that comes close in terms of performance and ease of use, without the bitchy price tag, is C.A.M.P.’s Photon Wire (29g; 29mm; $7.95). Two main differences set the ‘biners apart–1) the nose on the Helium is much more sculpted and allows the wiregate to nest within it, making it less likely to open if scraped across the rock (think pendulum fall) and 2) the Photons are made in China.
The Photon uses a notched nose, something which tends not to bother me. I rack nuts on a keylock ‘biner, but beyond that I don’t find the notched nose remarkable either way. (The Helium, in fact, has a notched nose, but the above-mentioned sculpting hides it within the ‘biner.) The wires of the Photon’s gate protrude to either side when viewed straight on (see pic) and this could rub against the rock in any situation in which a draw or sling was dragged across featured stone. I probably wouldn’t even consider this, but an Exum guide far more experienced than I pointed it out to, so maybe it’s worth a thought.
Strengths are pretty standard–21kn on its long axis, 7 cross-loaded, and 9 gate open. ‘Biner strength doesn’t matter much (within reason), unless something’s gone terribly wrong, so while there are stronger ‘biners out there, I think it’s a moot point beyond a certain point. The Photon’s on par with most BD, Petzl, and Mad Rock ‘biners, so no worries.
Weight wise, the Photon is the lightest “big” ‘biner I know of, 5 grams lighter than the Helium. Every six ‘biners you get a free one, weight wise–something to consider, especially alpine climbing.
My biggest praise for the Photon is its gate opening–29mm wide, big enough for two ropes, to use with winter-weight gloves, even to throw on a clove hitch if you’re in a low-likelihood/high-consequence spot where placing a single cam is all you need and deploying a locker seems overkill. Standing in the gear shop the enormous gate opening might nor register, but with insulated gloves on or desperate to make a clip (read: me in Eldo just about all the time), you will LOVE the swallow-it-all opening on the Photon.
The Photons come in eight colors for racking with cams ($60 for the run) and in a plain silver wire bengate version.
The Photons are made in China in a C.A.M.P. factory, with C.A.M.P. machinery. Each ‘biner is tested before leaving the factory. There was a brief halt to production in 2011 where a few (we’re talking a few anomalous pieces) Photons came out of production with a funky gate/defect, but this was corrected after only 300 or so hit the market and there haven’t been problems since.
The Photon is one of the best all-around ‘biners I’ve ever used, on par with the Helium (my other fave). The Photon’s big selling point above the Helium is price–$7.95 instead of $12.50 for the Helium. That seems like a personal decision–$4.55 for a sculpted nose and made-in-the-U.K. I like the idea of workers in Europe getting healthcare and the like, but Chinese folks working for Euro and American companies seem pretty stoked on the paycheck, too. Your call.
I think for a lot of people that $4.55 is a deal-breaker when considering the Helium. I get comments at the cliff occasionally about it. Totally legit complaint/observation. No matter the cost, the Photon is a superior ‘biner to most everything out there and at a competitive price-point, I’m not sure you can beat it for performance, ease of use, and light weight. Get yourself a couple and see what you think. I bet you’re impressed.
***Check out Dan Gambino’s cool profile of the Photon and Rob Pizem HERE!