CAMP Photon Wire Straight Gate Carabiner
- Weight: 29 grams
- Major axis strength: 21 kN
- Minor axis strength: 7 kN
- Open gate strength: 9 kN
- Gate opening: 28 mm
Days tested: 100+
Locations tested: Red Rock NCA, NV; Indian Creek, UT; Rocky Mountain National Park, Clear Creek Canyon, South Platte, Eldorado Canyon, CO; Crawford Notch, NH; Joshua Tree National Park, CA
CAMP touts the Photon Wire Gate as one of the lightest full-size carabiners in the world. The numbers certainly back this claim, but it’s the combination of its light weight, size, design, and cost that set the Photon apart.
With a large gate opening, snappy action, and a wide, rope-bearing surface, the Photon wire gate performs much like the Petzl Spirit, which is an excellent solid-gate carabiner that’s wonderful for sport climbing. But the Photon weighs and costs significantly less than the Spirit.
The Photon’s shape is a variation on the “offset D” shape seen on most non-locking carabiners today. The advantage of the D-shape over an oval carabiner is that the D creates an asymmetry which concentrates the load on the spine, rather than sharing it evenly with the gate area. This off-set also allows manufacturers to trim material from the design while maintaining a relatively large gate opening.
In the case of the Photon, weight is reduced via a very thin I-beam construction of its spine, a feature that is starting to appear on other carabiners too, such as the Petzl Attache 3D.
I’ve been using the same set of Photons for nearly a year on everything from single-pitch sport routes in Garden of the Gods, to alpine multi-pitch in Rocky Mountain National Park, to ice climbing in New Hampshire. The Photons have held up well to the rigors of trad climbing, though I can’t speak as well to their performance in hard sport climbing and through numerous large falls.
The Photon ‘biners I use on the gear/bolt/piton side of my alpine draws do show noticeable wear on the inside of the basket from being clipped into hard steel protection. This happens to any carabiner used on the bolt side of a draw, however, so I can’t say is a real cause for concern with the Photon. It does reinforce the importance of keeping rope-side carabiners distinct from bolt-side carabiners, though. On each of my alpine draws, I use one straight gate (gold) and one bent gate (silver) Photon so I can easily identify which side is which. I will say that the wear I’ve seen from gear/bolts/pitons on the Photon, leads me to think it wouldn’t be the best choice of a ‘biner to use while taking repeated falls onto a sport route, but to be fair, hard sport climbing is not the Photon’s intended use anyway.
If projecting sport routes is your thing, I’d suggest taking a look at the Petzl Spirit or similar carabiner/quickdraw. Carabiners geared toward sport climbing like the Petzl Spirit or the Black Diamond Hot Wire, although they are still made out of aluminum, are generally built with a thicker spine that holds up better to repeated falls on bolts, compared to the slimmer spine of the Photon.
Where the Photon shines is on long trad or alpine lines, as well as ice climbing.
Consider this: an average solid-gate carabiner weighs about 40 grams, the average wire gate weighs about 35 grams, and the wire gate Photon weighs in at 29 grams. 6 grams might not seem like a big difference, but if you carry 15 carabiners with you between draws and cams, using the Photons will save 90 grams over normal wire-gates, and 165 grams over solid-gates. Again, this may not sound like much of a difference in overall weight, but during long days in the mountains, that weight adds up.
There are lighter carabiners out there (which I’ll address below), but I haven’t used any that match the Photon’s balance between weight and usability. The Photon’s gate action is one of the nicest I’ve found on a wire-gate. The tension is firm yet smooth and consistent when clipping. I’ve found that on many other wire gate ‘biners the gate action feels almost gummy, a result of having too much tension. The Photon’s gate action is sharp and snappy. What’s more, for ice climbing, the wiregate on the Photon resists freezing shut better than a solid gate, making it a good choice for the ice crag as well.
Although the Photon comes in both a straight and bent wire gate version, the difference between them is fairly negligible. CAMP makes the bent gate in only one color, silver, whereas the straight-gate version comes in eight different colors, available individually or as a full set of eight. The eight colors correspond to common cam colors for easy racking. (Strangely, the straight-gate also comes in silver, somewhat negating the color differentiation between straight and bent gate versions of the Photon.)
CAMP Photon vs Other Lightweight Carabiners
Smaller carabiners like the CAMP Nano 23, Metolius FS Mini, and even the Black Diamond Oz and Neutrino may be lighter than the Photon, but I’ve found their small size makes them difficult to handle with bare hands, let alone with gloves on. The Photon is big enough to easily clip when wearing gloves and is very easy to clove hitch when building an anchor, especially with its massive gate opening of 28mm, which is nearly 50% bigger than the Edelrid Nineteen G, the current lightest wire-gate carabiner (19g; 19mm gate opening).
At 29 grams, the Photon is 10 grams heavier than the Edelrid Nineteen G which obsessive gram-counters can certainly point to as a drawback, but my personal opinion is that the better handling of the Photon allows for easier, smoother climbing, which uses less energy.
At $7.95 per ‘biner, the Photon is also one of the most affordable options in the lightweight, full-size wire gate category—compare to $13.50 for the Wild Country Helium, and $11.95 per for the Petzl Ange L. The Wild Country Helium has somewhat of a cult following, but I have not had a chance to use one, so can’t say if its higher cost is justified. I have used the Petzl Ange L (and Ange S) and found both more difficult to clip than the Photon, though that could be due to my relative unfamiliarity with their different gate design (a single, thicker wire instead of the usual double-wire loop used on the Photon).
The CAMP Photon is a fantastic choice for use in both trad climbing and ice/alpine climbing. Its size and design make it a versatile carabiner for everything from alpine draws to building anchors, with a low weight to keep you moving fast and light.
Obsessive gram-counters can find lighter carabiners, and sport crushers can find burlier ones. But for all-around use in the mountains, the Photon is hard to beat. It provides lightweight performance and full-size versatility at a very reasonable price tag.