Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review of Black Diamond Gridlock

Is it possible to avoid cross-loading a carabiner? I'm not sure, but some people might find success with the BD Gridlock. We didn't find success, and were actually quite disappointed. I haven't really researched other people's experiences, so this is strictly a quick review based on our initial use. I'd rather post positive reviews, but we were so disappointed with the Gridlock's tendency to crossload with a Grigri, that I decided to share my thoughts.

There have been a few innovations in the past that have been improvements over a standard HMS or belay biner. The typical concept is to restrict the ability of the locking belay carabiner to rotate through/around/about the belay loop. With few exceptions, it seems as if cross-loading occurs with short lead falls or top-roping falls. Forces tend to be low in these situations, well within the tolerances of even the most flyweight locking carabiners. I also tend to notice that it occurs slightly more with a Grigri than other belay devices, and in these instances it seems to occur with rounded HMS biners the most, then standard pear HMS. With a Grigri it actually seems rare for it to occur with lightweight modified D carabiners - hence my preference of just using a Petzl Am'D or something similar.

It always seem worthwhile to explore new options on the market. Black Diamond tends to be fairly innovative with their designs, and they produce a few of my favorite products. On the other hand, some of their recent products have been remarkably cheap, flimsy, and unimpressive. I still hold the company in high regard because it's constantly adapting and trying new concepts, as well as addressing issues with some of their rollouts (e.g. early skis). Because of the brand's impressive lifetime reputation, I'm always interested to try out some of their new products, leading to our purchase of a BD Gridlock belay carabiner. There is a simplicity to the Gridlock's design that seems more
elegant than previous concepts by other manufacturers. We didn't find the design to help prevent crossloading, nor make setting up the device easier. For now, it's in one of the extra gear bins in the closet, until we see some better display of it's use by some friends or colleagues.

What we didn't like about this product:
  1. Our immediate response after doing about a dozen pitches with a Grigri (doubtful it was designed for this), was "Holy crap, it cross-loaded AGAIN." The curve of the belay end actually seemed the perfect size to cam in the Grigri in a cross-loaded configuration, and we found ourselves unseating it repeatedly. This was surprisingly bad. So in this case, it exacerbated the main problem it was trying to prevent. Note: this didn't seem to happen with the Cinch or a tube.
  2. We weren't able to easily use it one-handed. I'm certain that there are people who are figured out the tricks to the Gridlock, but we weren't finding the right positions for easy one-handed operation. I have pretty good one-handed carabiner use - I can typically load or unload a Petzl Grigri with the "dreaded" Petzl Triact Am'D in under five seconds, which requires operating the Triact completely with one hand (actually quite easy). No matter what, the Gridlock seemed to add 5-10 seconds for loading, and 10-15 seconds for unclipping and reracking (longer with a Grigri, shorter with a tube). Getting the carabiner on your belay loop with one hand is quick, but getting it off seems to require a second hand. The biggest problem with a two handed unclip is that the belay carabiner is typically "stowed" on a rear gear loop. On a long multi-pitch route, or an alpine route where you are wearing gloves and a pack, this would be a pain. So in the applications where we might have a tube, the extra time and fuss to unrack/rerack the biner offsets it's supposed benefits.
For several years, I've used the DMM Belay Master for select applications and would consider it slightly less likely to cross-load than a standard HMS biner. I'm not going to consider substituting the Gridlock for these uses at this time.

I rarely have cross-loading issues with my belay technique, and almost never have issues when using a tube-style device. And I never, ever have issues with cross-loading with a direct belay off the anchor. So for trad/multi-pitch settings where I wouldn't bring a belay-assist device, I don't think that the Gridlock will make it into my pack.

On a side note, I have heard that using the device "backwards", with the narrow end facing the belay tube (only suitable for single ropes or belay-assist devices, as opposed to a two strand rappel or two-rope system) is a faster way of using the carabiner, but we didn't try it out this way. This might be cool, because the screwgate mechanism might actually have a tendency to stay locked in this orientation (with gravity assisting the lock versus helping unlock it), for a super prolonged belay session. But this is precisely why a Triact is nice.

Before this replaces anything on my harness, I need some first-hand convincing that this biner is actually any more help than hinderance. Anyone run into different experiences with this biner?


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