Quickdraws are utilitarian and having the best ones available isn't going to make you climb harder, but even though your 1991 Chevy Cavalier will still get you to the crag, it sure would be fun to roll up in a Ferrari. The new Petzl Spirit Express quickdraw is the Ferrari of quickdraws. Since their debut in 1991, the old Spirit draw has been a tried and true favorite among sport climbers. Now, Petzl has refined every detail to improve it while still maintaining the much-loved design.
Most notable is the move to an I-beam stock that lightens the weight for a 6-inch draw from 104 grams to just 93 grams. With that comes some changes in the details that are, in my mind, major improvements.
My biggest, and only, gripe with the old design of the Petzl Spirit carbiner was the shape of the stock used, particularly around the rope-bearing surface. The old design was almost flat where the rope ran over it and then drastically cut back, more than perpendicularly, toward the spine. Out of the box, this wasn't too big of a deal, but after just a bit of rope wear, the Spirit would attain a very sharp edge. Any carabiner that shows signs of wear should be retired, but the Spirits seemed to wear into retirement quite quickly and I'd know it by how they started to shred the sheath of the rope during normal use like lowering or short falls.
An old-style bent-gate Petzl Spirit. Note the sharp edge from rope wear.
The new design has addressed this issue. The stock of the carabiner flares out toward the rope-bearing surface creating a very narrow, but strong, spine for weight-savings while still offering a wide, smooth surface for the rope. Additionally, the rope-bearing surface is thick and rounded-out so that even with a small amount of wear, you won't start cutting into the thin part of the stock and creating a sharp edge.
Note the narrow spine and flare of aluminum toward the rope-bearing surface to create a smooth, wide surface for the rope or bolt.
Other improvements come in the design of the nose on both the straight-gate, bolt-end 'biner, and the bent-gate, rope-end 'biner. They've slightly narrowed the nose and extended it by about 1mm. This creates about an extra millimeter of clearance between the fully open gate and the nose. Of course, the same smooth keylock design on both 'biners allows for snag free clipping, whether it's a bolt, a piece of trad gear, a sling, or a rope.
Snag free clipping due to the keylock design and wide gate opening.
The gates have been redesigned on both the straight-gate and bent-gate models. The gate on the straight gate has a little divot that catches the thumb/finger and narrows toward the top. The bent-gate has the opposite characteristic. A smooth, wide, flat surface flares outward toward the nose of the 'biner. It only took a few moments of messing with the action to realize how helpful it is when clipping the rope. No matter how sloppy you are with the clipping action, the extra surface area seems to grab the rope and pull it in.
A wide gate surface that grabs the rope on the rope-end 'biner.
Tapered gate on the bolt-end 'biner.
The final improvement is in the design of the dogbone sling that holds the two 'biners together. It's a strong and durable polyester sewn sling that is a bit stiffer than the old floppy nylon design. The shape is asymmetrical, tapering from the narrow bolt end toward the wider, bar-tacked rope end. This makes it easy to grab and pull up while working a route. The bolt end is left open, offering a bit of play for the top 'biner while the rope-end 'biner is held firmly in place by a Petzl string, basically a beefcake rubber band that keeps the bottom 'biner from flipping.
The R+D team at Petzl seems to have addressed and improved upon every feature of the already excellent Petzl Spirit carabiner and Express Quickdraw. They've got some serious work ahead to find anything worth improving in this excellent design.