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|Top Pick: Wild Country Pro Key with Leash
|109g (67g w/o leash)
|Ultralight Pick: Metolius Feather
|Best Value: Metolius Torque
|Black Diamond Wiregate Nut Tool
|Omega Pacific Solution
|Black Diamond Nut Tool
We whittled down the market’s best nut tools to seven top contenders and then put them through their paces on all sorts of duties. The overall winner? The Wild Country Pro Key, by just a hair.
The Wild Country tool is one of the most functional and convenient tools available, but it faced stiff competition from the equally functional and ultralight Metolius Feather. Ultimately it was the features of the Pro Key that gave it the edge, but the Feather (along with a few other tools) put in a strong showing.
Let’s be clear right up front here: all of these nut tools will get the job done. Even our least favorite tool, the classic Black Diamond, does a perfectly adequate job in almost all circumstances — if you have one, there’s no need to throw it away. The differences in tools are mostly small conveniences or improvements that make your life a little easier.
That said, nut tools are one of the smallest and most durable investments you’ll make. I know climbers who have used the same nut tool for decades. Even the most expensive ones are still relatively cheap, so there’s no reason to get one that you don’t like.
Nut tools are also one of the most useful and lucrative investments in climbing. Even if you don’t have your own trad rack yet (you can learn how to build one here), having a nut tool makes you a more attractive partner for trad outings. If you’re diligent and a little lucky, you might score some booty gear to build/add to your rack. And of course, if you’re consistently trad climbing, having a good tool is a necessity.
Curious about the details? Read on.
Top Pick: Wild Country Pro Key with Leash
Because the general designs are so similar, what makes a good nut tool comes down to the details. The Pro Key won out here — it has the right set of features for most uses, including some that make it the most convenient and versatile nut tool around.
This nut tool is available either with or without a leash. Mine came with a leash, and I’ve generally been glad to have it. Dropping your nut tool is a bummer, and the leash has saved me at least once.
My fellow tester agreed that the extra peace of mind was worth it. It does take up a little more space on your gear loop, but generally when you’re cleaning this isn’t a big deal. It’s also easy to make a leash out of cord, so if you like the idea of a leash, you’re not limited to this tool (although the collapsing coils are a nifty space-saver).
The body of the tool is a clean, stainless-steel design with several small advantages. It’s long and beefy enough to endure sustained abuse, but it tapers down to a narrower tip. Four of the seven tested tools have a similar taper, and only partly by coincidence, they’re also our top four.
It only makes a difference in narrow cracks, but a narrow tip makes the tool more maneuverable when the going gets tight. The tip of the Pro Key is relatively narrow in both dimensions, which made it one of the most practical and versatile of the tested tools.
But perhaps the best design feature on the Pro Key is the large flange at the base of the tool. When I’m trying to free an especially stubborn nut, one of my main methods is to use the heel of my palm against the tool to bump the tool and free the nut. A flat rim at the end of a tool provides a base to strike and push against, which is both more comfortable and more precise.
Personally, this is one of the features that I most value in a nut tool. I’m not sure exactly why, but the same four nut tools that have tapered tips also have flanges. The one on the Pro Key is by far the largest, and I still find it the most comfortable and usable in the field.
Ultralight Pick: Metolius Feather
“This one’s awesome,” was how my fellow tester summed up the Feather. If you’re looking for a tool that you won’t notice on your harness, this is the one.
It’s the only tool we tested that’s made out of aluminum, and it’s noticeably lighter than the rest — the Feather weighs in at a paltry 21 grams. It somehow manages to pack in all the essential features of a good nut tool, albeit in minimalist form.
The wiregate on the nut tool is small but still very functional. The two Metolius tools have narrow tips, which makes the Feather excellent in small constrictions. There is a small platform at the base to brace your palm against, and it’s wide enough to get the job done. The tip of this nut tool even works as a bottle opener. For such a small package, it’s an impressively usable tool.
Because of its aluminum construction, durability was one of my concerns when I got this tool. It’s so light that it feels like it ought to bend or snap, but after a month of abuse it’s held up fine. This is a relatively short time period for a nut tool, but if the Feather continues to hold up, I’m sold. The Feather narrowly lost to the Pro Key because of the other tool’s wider base and convenient leash, but the Feather was our other favorite during testing.
Best Value: Metolius Torque
Metolius bills the Torque as its big-wall tool due to its durability and included wrenches. I didn’t have a chance to drag it up any walls, but it is a convenient and well-designed tool that retails for a few bucks less than other options.
The wrenches are indeed functional, although I don’t find them particularly useful. To date, I’ve never been in a scenario where I was on a climb, needed to tighten a bolt, and only had my nut tool handy. If you’re a regular wall climber, perhaps this situation comes up more often. It’s a nifty feature, but it’s not a game changer.
Otherwise, the Torque is almost identical to the Feather, except made out of stainless steel. The design is just as useful here, and the Torque is a solid all-arounder. If being able to tighten bolts is important to you, then this could be the tool of choice. It’s also cheaper than our other recommended options.
Reviews of the 4 Other Nut Tools We Tested
The other nut tools had some useful features (especially the Shark), but by and large they weren’t as well-received as the top three options. They’re all serviceable, but their designs are less polished.
The BD Wiregate has most of our favorite nut tool features, it’s just that they’re all a little poorly executed.
The tool does taper slightly, but it remains noticeably wider than our top three at the tip. It has a slight rim for your palm, but it’s narrow enough that it’s less comfortable.
The tool does have a good wiregate clip, and it’s made of burly steel. It does perfectly fine in most applications, it just wasn’t particularly impressive at anything.
Along with the BD Wiregate, this was a nut tool that was adequate but never exceptional.
Some features are good: it has a compact design and a single bolt wrench, plus a stiff but decent wiregate attachment.
One of Omega Pacific’s selling points for this tool is the small tab opposite the hook — supposedly this tab makes it easier to hook cam lobes in some cases. In practice, I never found that it made much difference.
On the downside, the tool’s shape doesn’t taper at all, leaving it fairly wide at the tip. The straight base is supposed to make the tool easier to pound on, but the lack of a flange makes this uncomfortable. This is a decent all-around nut tool, but in most cases it’s outclassed by the competition.
This is one of the more intriguing tools we tested, and it is a neat design. The Shark combines a traditional nut tool with a small climbing knife.
The knife was actually pretty useful — we used it on things like food and tape, and it could conceivably be a lifesaver in a self-rescue scenario. Having it handy all the time was surprisingly nice.
Unfortunately, the Shark isn’t as good at being an actual nut tool. The shape doesn’t taper, and while the base is widened slightly by the knife, it’s still too narrow to provide a good platform. The tool’s hook is also fairly minimal: “It doesn’t really give you much to pull with,” said my other tester.
The carabiner hole works well as a locking mechanism for the knife, but it means that there’s no wiregate attachment. The Shark is also the heaviest tool we tested (not counting the Wild Country with leash). This isn’t all bad considering that you get two objects in one, but it is noticeable on your harness.
Despite its classic status, the Black Diamond Nut Tool was our least favorite. It mostly gets the job done fine, but other tools will usually do better.
This BD has an entirely uniform thickness, which means that it remains fairly wide at the tip. “It’s kind of awkward,” said my fellow tester of the shape.
The base, which is designed as a bottle opener, works well for that application but means there’s no wiregate. It doesn’t give you a flange to pound on, and it doesn’t have any other real redeeming features.
Having a bottle opener isn’t even unique anymore — four of these seven tools are designed with beverages in mind, and the other three would probably work in a pinch. Other than nostalgic value, the competition has the BD outclassed.
Here are the best nut tools for climbing:
- Wild Country Pro Key with Leash
- Metolius Feather
- Metolius Torque
- Black Diamond Wiregate Nut Tool
- Omega Pacific Solution
- Trango Shark
- Black Diamond Nut Tool
How to Choose the Best Nut Tool for Your Needs
As I mentioned above, all of these nut tools will fulfill their basic purpose. However, there are a few major considerations to keep in mind.
Do you want a wiregate?
Most of these tools come with wiregate attachments, and that’s the style I tend to favor. As my tester put it: “I really don’t like having to clip a ‘biner on these, because I feel like it both makes it harder to push on and it’s harder to maneuver in cracks because the ‘biner gets in the way.”
Plus, with a wiregate you don’t have to use an extra carabiner on your tool. Your methods may vary, but we prefer the convenience and streamlined design of a wiregate.
How do you use your tool?
If, like me, you tend to use the heel of your palm to tap nuts free, then you’ll probably like the Wild Country Pro Key.
But some climbers clean differently. I met one climber who preferred pounding on his tool with a carabiner rather than his palm, and he insisted that the traditional Black Diamond had the best shape for this use.
If that’s your style, more power to you. Most of these tools can be used any way you want, but if you know you tend to like a large hook or a certain shape, then buy what you prefer.
Do you need any extra features?
Other than basic functionality, buying a nut tool comes down to the extra features.
Do you frequently find yourself wishing you could tighten a spinner? Buy the Metolius Torque. Do you like the idea always having a knife handy for self-rescue? Look at the Trango Shark (or just throw a Trango Piranha in your pack). Do you like the peace of mind and convenience of a well-designed leash? Get the Pro Key. Do you prefer your gear light? Grab the Feather.
All these tools do their job, so get the one with the features that matter most to you.
How We Tested
I carted all seven of these nut tools to every crag I went to for more than a month, which earned me plenty of funny looks. I took them up everything from the slabs of Cathedral to the roofs of the Gunks. I took whips on nuts and then had a showdown to see which tools could un-stick them. I pounded, pried, and hooked in as many configurations as I could manage.
Most of the characteristics that separate nut tools come down to functionality and features, so it was hard to come up with any truly quantitative tests.
When I did try all the tools on the same stuck nuts, I noticed that those with narrower tips (the Pro Key, Metolius tools, and BD Wiregate) tended to unstick the nuts a little more quickly.
Otherwise, most of the testing was necessarily qualitative. To get a second opinion, I had my usual trad partner try them all out as well. I scored the tools on three categories:
How well does the tool fulfill its main purpose, which is to clean gear? How easy or hard is it to use? Does the design make your work easier or harder? This is the most important function of a nut tool, so this category was weighted most heavily in scoring.
How easy is the nut tool to carry along with you? Is it inconvenient? How light or heavy is it? Is it easy to handle and clip, or is it unwieldy?
Is the tool providing any extra features or uses? How useful are the extra features? Do they get in the way of the tool’s main function? How well are the features designed and executed?
Special thanks to Colin for helping me test the tools, and to everyone I climbed with for putting up with me talking about nut tools for a month.