Friday, February 09, 2007

Black Diamond Reactors: a review

A few people have asked me what I think of my new Reactors, and when I was deciding what to buy I could only find one other brief review of them on the net, so hopefully this review might be of interest to other ice climbers.

This is only a 'first impressions' style of review - I've used them for four days of climbing so far, so I can't say that they hard wearing or not. I'm not a particularly hard ice climber, nor a particularly brave one, so the tools have mainly been used on ice from about 65 degrees to vertical, and when its vertical it's never for very far as I'm simply too weak to climb vert ice for more than a few body lengths. The routes in my local area tend to be pure water ice, and I haven't tried them on any mixed routes yet. But if you are a mid-grade punter thinking of getting a second set of tools for ice cragging, this review is perfectly aimed at you!

Proof that I have actually been climbing with them. Thanks to Jody for snapping the pic.

The tools are new for this winter but show a lot of Black Diamond's ice tool heritage. The laser pick is the same as is used on various other tools and the headset design is basically the same as they have been using since at least the early 90s when I first saw BD tools like the X-15s. Everyone says it works well, but I had never tried it before. Changing the blades is a breeze - really a two minute job. In comparison when I tried to change the blades on my Quarks last winter for a day's mixed climbing, after fighting with them for half and hour with ever increasing amounts of leverage, I ended up just stripping the allen bolts, which it now looks like I'll need to drill out when I really need to change the blades. Why Petzl-Charlet make their head bolts out of an alloy with the strength of butter I don't know. Other picks are available for the Reactors so if you were going to redpoint an M8+ in the morning before tapping your way up a delicate WI5 pillar in the afternoon - changing blades at the crag would really be a possibility with these tools.

The tools swing perfectly. Someone called them a leashless version of the BD Vipers, and when I used my mate's Vipers the first time I actually thought they felt as good as, or possibly even better, than Quarks. So praise indeed. The Laser pick is brilliant - you can use it straight away without filing. It's teeth aren't too big and are bevelled which makes extraction fine. Compare that to the nightmare of new Grivel picks for example, with teeth that make extraction next to impossible.

The handle looks very fat in BD picture (see top) but as you can see a bit better in my picture above it is actually shaped - so it is narrower at the front. Although I have reasonably large hands, my fingers are short - bunch of bananas etc. etc. I've heard it all before! - and even with my stubby digits I have no problem gripping them. I wouldn't imagine that anyone except perhaps the smallest-handed women would find the grip too big. It doesn't feel dissimilar to the grips on my Quarks. The rubber of the grips is sticky. Only if I got lots of snow on my palm did it feel in the slightest bit slippy, and obviously climbing leashless you just need to make sure your gloves aren't snowy before you try hanging on. The small spike at the bottom makes them usable in more classic mountaineering settings and provides a hole for connecting a spring leash if you wish. The bottom 'hook' of handle isn't nearly as big as on some leashless tools but seems to work perfectly well. It looks similar to the Quark ergo handle and they seemed to work very well in the hands of the talented.

The upper hand position has no grip, you are just holding the aluminium of the shaft, and I have noted in some pictures that climbers have added some kind of grip tape here. Even without tape though its surprisingly 'gripable', although I'm sure this would be much less the case in a full on blizzard when everything is covered in sticky snow. I haven't actually hammered anything with the hammers yet, but using the upper hand position seems like the more controllable position to hammer from.

The author on steep ice using his leashed Quarks

To leash or not to leash, that is the question

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous pumpage,
Or to leash arms against a sea of troubles,
And by hanging on them end them? To die...

Well, hopefully not.

Overall the Reactors seem like an excellently designed leashless tool for ice climbing. The major question everyone wants to ask themselves is do they want to climb leashless? As regular readers know, I have good reasons to ask this question to myself - but it's a question worthy of some more thought so I think I'll leave it for another post. But if you think leashless is for you, and you are climbing mainly ice, not hard mixed, the Reactors may well be the tool for you.

And just in case anyone accuse me of getting freebies from BD in return for saying nice things about them, all I can say is - I wish. I bought my tools from Camu in Helsinki and the guys there deserve a mention as after some negotiation they gave me a good discount on the pair. But if any BD employees do stumble across this review, I am completely open to offers of bribery; your new little Camalots look just splendid...


First Ascent said...

`if any BD employees do stumble across this review, I am completely open to offers of bribery; your new little Camalots look just splendid...`

Sorry Toby, we would never forgive ourselves if we were to compromise your integrity.
Nice try though :)
And a well thought through review.

ed said...

Ho ho - free PR and not even the hint of even a Black Diamond sticker, let alone anything substantial - typical! I borrowed Mr Archer's tools when I went climbing with him the other day and thought they were very good. But I usually just use a couple of bent forks and some gaffer tape on my welly boots to climb hard ice, so anything would be an improvement..