In a world of shiny cams, why would anyone care about some oddly shaped metal at the end of a wire?
Stoppers, nuts, chocks or wires. Call them what you will. So many names for a piece of tapered metal. But can you really call yourself a trad climber if you aren’t up to speed on using passive protection?
Maybe it’s because I’m old-school but when Black Diamond released the Offset Stoppers I was excited to try them out. While I appreciate the quickness and ease of placing a cam, nothing gives me more confidence than a well-placed nut. There is just a feeling you get when it slots in the crack and a sharp tug seats it cleanly.
My home crags are limestone, which has a well-earned reputation for spitting out cams due to its slippery nature. I see far too many people just jam a cam into a crack and climb on with little understanding of the quality of their placements. When you are trad climbing, your life and the life of your partner depend on the quality of your gear placements. Taking the time to learn how to place nuts will increase your skills and safety.
Cams exert an outward force that is double the downward force, which is what makes them hold. That is good but if you have placed behind a flake or in blocky rock, that outward force can cause the rock to shift leading to your cam popping out. Nuts, on the other hand, exert most of the force in the direction of the load with only a minor outward force. So if you climb a lot of chossy blocks like I do then you will appreciate gear that stays in the rock.
Benefits of Nuts
Stronger – For the size, they are stronger than cams. A 10mm nut is rated 10KN while a cam that size is rate5KN.
Cheaper – A set of 5 nuts costs about the same as one Black Diamond Ultralight C4 or Totem Cam
Lighter – Compared to cams, nuts are about half the weight.
Longevity – Since nuts have no moving parts and are all metal they last a lot longer than cams
Downsides of Nuts
Slower – Nuts can take longer to place than a cam. With practice, this can be overcome.
The right crack – Requires a constriction in the rock so won’t work in uniform, parallel-sided cracks.
One Way – Will only hold a downward force so you have to get creative if you expect an upward pull.
Can get stuck – A well-seated nut can be hard to clean, so always have a nut tool.
When it comes to nuts versus cams it’s not a case of one is better. They are both good to have in your toolbox. The goal of protection when climbing is to keep you off the deck, so don’t sell yourself short. Learn everything you can so you can deal with any situation you are faced with.
So what is an Offset Stopper?
Normal nuts have a curved taper that fits cracks that are parallel but taper in a downward direction, whereas the offset version is tapered horizontally as well vertically allowing them to fit flaring cracks and odd placements. Since there are more irregular cracks in the world, at least on the rock I climb on, this is a good thing.
Black Diamond Offset Stoppers taper on both the wide and narrow side giving two placements per nut. There are grooves cut into the sides easy awkward placements. The edges are rounded to help with fiddling into placements and removal. These stoppers come in a set size #7-#11 picking up where the Black Diamond Micro Offset Stoppers finish. The range covers from 11mm to 24mm (roughly .5 inch to 1 inch) over 5 sizes. Like most Black Diamond gear they Offset Stoppers are color coded for easy identification on your rack. And as a bonus, the set comes with an oval wire gate carabiner for racking.
How do they work on the rock?
The first time I used them was on Ontario limestone. The climbs around here seem to just gobble them up. I was able to find placements on just about every climb. Due to the nature of the rock, a solid nut placement is much more confidence inspiring than a cam placement.
I travel a lot to climb so I had the chance to test them out on Adirondack granite and the quartzite of Seneca Rocks. There are many flaring cracks in the Daks, so I used them frequently to good effect. Seneca Rocks feels and looks a lot like a bigger version of my home crags, right down to the super featured rock and slippery feet. The Black Diamond Offset Stoppers were at home here finding bomber placements on every pitch.
I even had a few climbs where I placed all 5 sizes and wished I had a second set. In fact this year, I will be picking up a second set and leaving some of my regular nuts at home. All sizes are rated to 10KN so even the smallest is strong enough to take a big whip on. Under any normal loads, you stand more risk of rock crumbling than the stoppers to fail.
When it comes to actually placing them, the rounded edges do make it easier to wiggle into featured slots. The side cut-outs allow irregularities in the rock to seat securely compared to standard nuts. I just wish they made one or two sizes bigger. I’ve occasionally found a spot that the biggest size is a bit small. Since they have the Micro Offset Stoppers you can expand your range on the lower end, adding the #3-#6. The two smallest (#1-2) are only rated for aid climbing.
I’ve used other offset nuts including the DMM Alloy Offset nuts. While there may be places where you may get a more secure placement with another option, overall the Black Diamond Offset Stoppers are a great option for featured rock and flaring cracks. They are easy to place, easy to clean and inspire confidence to go for the crux knowing you have good protection below you.