Mixed Nuts

Mixed Nuts – a guide to the best nuts this side of Macadamia

Nuts or wires, rocks or stoppers.  Whatever you call them, these magic wedges of metal are the key element in every climber’s protection system.  They are cheap, strong, durable and relatively easy to use – when I’m pushing it out on a lead I’d always rather be above a solid nut than a cam (although a mega thread or a quality hex placement would be up there on the list too!).

Having said all that, if you’re getting your first rack together you’ll find a pretty bewildering choice available and those pesky critters all look so blooming similar.  So, here’s a little advice on the nuts I use plus some ideas on racking and other nutty snizzle.  Please bear in mind that this is nowhere near a definitive guide to everything available - just a look a few models I’ve tried and loved.  Oh yes.  I should also say that this is just a look at the standard sizes from 1 upwards…chunky nuts rather than micro nuts!

Wild Country Rocks

Universally used, universally loved.  A design so good it’s hardly changed since Adam and Eve.  Rocks have a gentle curve which allow solid placements time after time.  They are made to exacting standards but still offer great value for money (between £7 and £12 individually or available as sets which work out cheaper).  Rocks are many climbers’ number one nuts and Wild Country has probably sold more units than the Live Aid song did!  

You can choose Rocks in either a shiny alloy finish or an anodised finish, which is colour coded.  The anodising process physically alters the metal surface providing high corrosion resistance but it’s also an environmentally damaging process due to the chemicals used and the lovely coloured finish does scratch off over time. The choice is yours.  

Rocks are available in a wide size range between 1 and 14 and the larger sizes (which inevitably have some crossover with smaller hexes) place just as well as the smaller sizes and are light for their size.  Having said that, I don’t tend to routinely carry sizes over 10 unless I’m pretty sure I’ll need them.

Wild Country also make Superlight rocks, which come in sizes 1-6.  I love these too.  They are essentially full sized Rocks cut in half with a single length of wire swaged at the top loop.  They place brilliantly and are really light (and so they should be with a name like that!) but they are less strong and less durable than the normal Rocks - and more expensive (about £9 each or available as a set).  They are sometimes a bit trickier to remove but overall these little beauties are brilliant and place really well due to the slim profile. Superlights are ideal when you’re travelling light on big mountain routes or need an extra set of wires on a long route where you are taking several sets. They are also great for icefall climbing where you might want to take some wires ‘just in case’.

DMM Wallnuts

There is really very little to choose between Wallnuts and Rocks and these nuts are brilliant too.  They are also well-designed, superbly made, great value (£8 to £11 with prices working out cheaper for sets) and brilliant to use.  They are also available anodised in the same colour for each size as Rocks which is very handy.  I can almost imagine the meeting between Wild Country and DMM where they got the colour charts out and selected the colour for each size…”Right.  So that’s agreed.  We’ll have moody Mexican blue for size 3 and satin summer sunrise for size 9!”

Wallnuts have a more shaped face profile that sometimes means they place better than Rocks - but sometimes Rocks place better too.  The main faces are slightly spilt in two due to the central recess scoop (I made that up but I don’t really know what it means!) which can make them a little trickier to remove than the uniform curve of Rocks, but this does allow them to seat better when only part of the nut is placed in shallow cracks which can be handy.

You are probably getting the idea that I don’t think there is much to choose between these two brands and that’s certainly the case.  I routinely use them both - and they both perform brilliantly.  If I’m taking 2 sets of wires on a route I take a set of each which gives me a great variety of placements and allows me to play to the strengths of each design.

If I’m going light or need a big rack of wires I often take along some superlight Rocks to supplement the standard range too.  It’s surprising how wires get eaten up on long Pembroke pitches or Gogarth greats; so 3 sets are sometimes a very useful investment.  

Racking nuts 

Rack them like this but definitely not like that…..every climber has their own nut racking techniques – and solid reasons why it should be done in such and such a way.  The truth is that whatever works for you is a good way.  If you’re racking nuts efficiently, and keep yourself safe, it’s all good.  Having said that, here’s my racking system and it’s definitely, certainly, absolutely the right way (maybe!!).

If I’m taking one set of wires I rack 1-6 on one crab and 7-10 on another.  If I’m taking two sets I replicate this on 2 different biners.  Some people would rightly argue that this is too many crabs and some would rightly say there are too many sizes on one crab but it works for me.  

My reasoning is that if I drop a crab of wires I still have a good range of sizes left,  separating the different types means I can choose the type and play to their relative strengths, and I can usually choose within a couple of sizes so I usually manage to  get the right set.

Racking crabs

In a survey 100 climbers were asked which crab was their first choice for racking wires.  One said it was an oval snapgate, one preferred a D shaped wiregate, one  always………..you get the idea; 100 climbers, 100 choices (sorry, that was a made up survey in case you hadn’t guessed!).  

Well, I like a clean nose D carabiner for what it’s worth.  Infact, the last batch I got was of a type of crab called the ‘Simond Rocky’, which came from Decathlon for about £3.65 a shot.  The D shape works for me although many climbers prefer an oval shape biner as the nuts will slide round the curved shape and not get caught up at the bottom which is a good point.  I also like the clean nose design (meaning there isn’t a ‘hook’ where the gate meets the nose) as the nuts don’t keep getting caught on the hook as you’re trying to get them off.  However, on the clean nose style nuts are more prone to accidentally sliding off so many climbers like the hook on the gate.  You’re probably getting the idea – there are pros and cons to every choice and the only way to find out what works it to experiment for yourself. 

You do see some people using those mini accessory crabs for nut racking but I would never recommend that.  The trend probably comes from some manufacturers who supply them as a package with full sets of wires.   Mini crabs are easy to fumble and drop and the wires don’t move around them very easily.  It’s also useful to have a few spare full strength crabs incase you need to rap off and leave some behind (not too big a stress if they only cost £3.65 though) or to use at the top of a long pitch when you have run out of quickdraws - which happens to me with worrying frequency!  Infact, it’s best to leave those mini crabs at home altogether when climbing so there’s no possibility you will accidentally clip it in a load bearing situation (sounds unlikely but it has happened).  

Marking nuts

Finally, if you’ve stuck with me this far it’s time to share my top wire-racking tip.  A tip I feel confident in saying I invented – or maybe not – but I’ve never seen anyone else using it.  On multipitch climbs it’s handy to be able to get your wires re-racked quickly at the belays.  So, all you need to do is to get several colours of electrician’s insulation tape and use a different colour on each set of wires and crab.  So, green might mark rocks 1-6 and their respective crab, red is rocks 7-10 and crab etc.  (I use this in addition to my normal ‘stop your partners half inching your gear’ marking system).  Now, when you’re balancing on that toe width ledge 10 pitches up the diamond, all you need to do is rack according to colour rather than trying to search for individual types and sizes.  Quick and slick.  Remember where you heard it first! 

Obviously this information is only my opinion and if you choose to follow it you do so entirely at your own risk.  If you are in any doubt of the techniques described please check before you do anything dangerous.