Kouba Top & Vector nut protection
By Stewart Moody
The financial crisis might be over but everyone seems to be looking for a bargain. Last week I watched an episode of Dispatches where a woman slashed her usual £100 weekly shop in half, simply by transferring her patronage to that well-known German supermarket whose name begins with an 'A'. If you cast your mind further back to this time last year you might recall tabloid photos of Aston Martins and other luxury cars in that same shop’s car park whilst their well-to-do owners queued around the block on its opening day. Amazing.
There aren’t too many instances in the climbing world where you can pick up such a bargain so we become creatures of habit and remain loyal to certain brands or products. It seems that Kouba, who are brand new to the UK market, are looking to shake that up by injecting some competition into our passive protection market. Your European climbing friends might already be familiar with the name as they’ve been around on the Continent for 15 years. They are based in the Czech Republic and manufacture their gear there too. They have a big range of products and they look pretty serious.
The Top (sizes 1-7 for £42) and Vector (sizes 1-5 for £40) are two sets of offset climbing nuts that you’ll soon see on the shelf (or web site) of your local retailer. Those are some pretty good prices but you want your gear to be trustworthy as well as good value so what do you get for your money? The asymmetric/offset shape of both sets of nuts gives a nod to the fact that most cracks are flared and that symmetrical nuts can rattle around or not bed in very well. When you’re after a bomber placement the Tops and Vectors give you an extra orientation option and you can really maximise the amount of metal that is in contact with the rock which, in turn, gives you plenty of confidence when climbing above your gear.
Combining the Top with the Vector gives a pretty good range of sizes and a total of 12 nuts to place. Looking specifically at the Tops, sizes 1-2 are made out of brass. I presume this is for its hardness to strength ratio – it is soft enough to bite into the rock for extra stability, but hard enough that it won’t shear. These two are great for narrow and shallow cracks. The other five are made out of harder aluminium and place well. A real plus here is that you get seven nuts for your £42. My first complaint is that they aren’t colour coded. Maybe I’ve become lazy, but I’ve grown accustomed to nuts being anodised and coloured to help me recognise the size I’m looking for. It feels like Kouba have taken a bit of a step back in time here and I can see this being a posible turn off for some people.
I’m pleased to say that the Vectors are colour-coded. They also have holes and grooves machined into them to keep the weight down. They felt pretty chunky despite being relatively light and I’ve found some really snug placements for them. My second (and last) criticism is the ease with which the Vector nut can slip down the wire. It’s not too much of a problem for the leader to push the nut back up the wire before placing it, but it could be a fiddle for the second to remove the nut as you often rely on being able to gently push with the wire to force the nut back out of the crack. I’d like to think that a narrowing of the wire hole would help alleviate this.
I feel it prudent to say something specific about how the strength, weight and ranges of the Tops and Vectors compared to other nuts on the market. It’s unfair to make direct comparisons as the size ranges that the manufacturers produce are not standardised (which isn’t a bad thing for obvious reasons). But let’s consider a few statistics for a Kouba top with its counterpart DMM Offset that has a similar range size.
They’re pretty comparable and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. The important point I’d like to make here is that despite their subtle differences they are both perfectly fit for purpose and both are approved by the UIAA, at the end of the day what it might just come down to your personal preference. Earlier, we asked what you get for your money. Well, you get a pretty good set of nuts at a good price. I don’t think I’d ever climb only on offsets but my rack now comprises a selection of offsets along with symmetrical ones giving me more gear options than I’ve had before. I just wish they were all colour-coded.
Top (sizes 1-7 £42) and Vector (sizes 1-5 £40)
Photograph above shows Top at the top (where else) and Vector below it.