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Reviews > Shelters > Shelter Accessories > Nite Ize S Biners and Figure 9s > Test Report by Kurt Papke

Nite Ize Biners and Figure 9s

Test Series by Kurt Papke

Initial Report - October 27, 2008

Long Term Report - February 24, 2009

Tester Information

Name: Kurt Papke
Age: 55
Gender: Male
Height: 6' 4" (193 cm)
Weight: 220 lbs (100 kg)
Email address: kwpapke at gmail dot com
City, State, Country: Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
Backpacking background: mostly in Minnesota - I have hiked all of the Superior Hiking Trail and Border Route.  My preferred/typical backpack trip is one week, mostly in the Spring/Fall seasons.  I do periodic day hiking in Michigan, Wisconsin, Utah, Colorado and Oregon.  I am a comfort-weight hiker: I try to carry as few items as possible, but do not go to extremes to reduce the weight of items carried.  My normal shelter is a hammock, so tiedowns for my tarp are an important part of my gear system.

Initial Report

Product Information

Manufacturer: Nite Ize, Inc.
Year of manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer website: http://www.niteize.com

There are five product items being tested in this series as described in the table below.  Note that the measured weights are approximate as the items are so lightweight even my most accurate scale has difficulty resolving the actuals.  Where possible I weighed multiple units simultaneously to both increase accuracy and obtain averages across several pieces.  The measured weights do not include the supplied accessory cords.

Product
Qty
Listed weight
Measured weight
Listed dimensions
Measured dimensions
Listed
load limit
Fits
rope sizes

Material
Color
Accessory cord
supplied (if any)
Figure 9 - Small - Four Pack with Cord 4
0.13 oz (3.6 g)
.15 oz
(4.25 g)
1.5x1.125x0.125 in
(40x28x3 mm)
1.5x1.125x0.125 in.
(40x28x3 mm)
50 lb
(22.7 kg)
0.0625 to 0.1875 in
(2-5 mm)
Aluminum
None
4 x 6 ft (1.83 m) of 0.125 in (3 mm) cord
Figure 9 - Large with Rope 1
1.1 oz
(30.8 g)
1.0 oz
(28 g)
3x2.25x0.25 in
(76x56x8 mm)
3x2.25x.25 in
(76x56x8 mm)
150 lb
(67.5 kg)
0.125 to 0.375 in
(3-9 mm)
Aluminum None
1 x 10 ft (3.05 m) of 0.1875 in (5 mm) cord
S-Biner #1
2
None
0.125 oz
(4 g)
1.5625x0.5625 in
(no metric equivalents listed)
1.5625x0.5625x0.1875 in
(39.7x14.3x4.8 mm)
5 lb
(2.3 kg)
N/A
Stainless
steel
Spectrum
None
S-Biner #2 1
None 0.3 oz
(9 g)
2 x 0.875 in
(no metric equivalents listed)
1.9375x0.875x0.25 in
(49x22x6 mm)
10 lb
(4.5 kg)
N/A Stainless
steel
Black
None
S-Biner #4 1
None 1.1 oz
(30 g)
3.5 x 1.5 in
(no metric equivalents listed)
3.5x1.5625x0.3125 in
(89x39.7x8 mm)
75 lb
(33 kg)
N/A Stainless
steel
None
None

Product Descriptions

The picture below shows the various products under test as they arrived from Nite Ize.  They are respectively the #4, #2 and #1 S-Biners, and the large and small Figure 9s.  The packaging for the Figure 9s unfolds to access the usage instructions.  The S-Biners did not have any instructions included with the packaging.

Nite Ize products tested

Figure 9s

The Nite Ize Figure 9s are rope tighteners that allow a rope to be attached to itself or another object without using a knot.  The picture below shows how I will likely use the Figure 9s most often: attaching a rope to a stake.
Figure 9 attached to a stake
The Figure 9 setup is best  understood from the supplied usage instructions shown below.  In the picture the blue rope shows the configuration where the rope is attached to itself to form a large loop, and the red rope shows the fixed end system where the rope is attached to an object with a small loop, as was done in the stake example in the above photo.
Figure 9 usage I found the instructions easy to follow and remember.  With a little trial-and-error I did find that in the fixed end system (red rope), it is important that the loop goes around the large section of the Figure 9 as illustrated in step #2.  If I looped it the other way around the ring, it had a tendency to fall off.

In addition to their utility as a knotless rope fastener, the Figure 9s provide a 1:2 pulley mechanical leverage which allows the rope to be tightened down more than if a knot was used that does not provide a similar pulley.  In the instructions at left the mechanical advantage occurs in step #4.

The rope is held fixed in step #5 by being wedged into a serrated v-shaped slot.

S-Biners

The Nite Ize S-Biners are low-load bearing double-hinged carabiners - they are not intended for climbing.  The double hinges allow items to be hooked onto one end of the S while the S-Biner itself can be hooked/unhooked from an object independently using the other end of the S.  The hinges are spring-loaded to ease hooking items onto the system, while at the same time preventing unwanted opening of the hinge.

Small S-Biner in actionThe smaller S-Biners can be used similarly to a keychain.  In the photo at left I used a #1 S-Biner to attach my small knife and thermometer to a convenient zipper pull on my backpack.


Initial Impressions

The quality of the usage instructions and the manufacturing of the items is very high.  There are no rough edges, burrs, blemishes or any other detectable quality problems.

I can immediately see how I will use the small Figure 9s -- to tie down my hammock tarp lines to their stakes.  I'm not clear yet how I will use the large Figure 9.  Similarly I can see several uses for the two smaller sizes of the S-Biners, as illustrated in the picture above they will be handy for attaching various items to my pack, shelter, belt, etc.  The #4 S-Biner I am not so clear on, as I rarely tote items in the 75 lb (33 kg) range.

I have several concerns for the Figure 9s:
  1. Will they hold in high wind conditions?
  2. How well do they grip the thin tarp tiedown ropes supplied with my hammock?
  3. How will I keep from misplacing them?
S-Biner for organization
My initial thought to solve the organizational problem is to employ an S-Biner!

Test Plan

As I carry the Nite Ize products on my day hikes and backpacking trips over the next four months I will be looking for:
  • Usability: how easy is it to pack the items and not lose them?  How easily can I setup the Figure 9s in the field?  This question may become more important as the weather gets colder and I am wearing gloves or mittens.
  • Reliability & robustness:  do the Figure 9s hold up in the wind?  Do things inadvertently fall off the S-Biners?  How well does the gear function in the cold weather?
  • Functionality: how handy do I find the Figure 9s - are they that much easier than tying a knot?  How many uses can I find for the large Figure 9 and S-Biner?
  • Aesthetics: how do the items look after 4 months of wear and tear?
This concludes my Initial Report on the Nite Ize Biners and Figure 9s.

Long Term Report

Test Locations/Conditions

Testing began with a four-day Fall (October) backpacking trip along the Southern end of the Superior Hiking trail in Northern Minnesota.  This trail section varies in altitude from 650 to 1200 ft (200 to 365 m).  The terrain is forested with granite outcroppings.  Temperatures ranged from a high of 60 F (16 C) to a low of 28 F (-2 C) at night.  Winds were light, a few rain sprinkles but no serious precipitation.

Next use was December 8-10, 2008, a 3-day trip to the Superior Hiking Trail along the Beaver Bay to Penn Creek section.  Temperatures ranged from a low of -2F (-19 C) to a high of 15F (-9 C).  Winds were generally calm, but during one night gusted to 16 mph (26 kph) creating a wind chill factor of approximately -20 F (-29 C).  Elevation ranged from 750 to 1250 ft (230 to 380 m).

The January use during this period was a 3-day snowshoe/backpacking trip to the Superior Hiking Trail along the Egge Lake to Leskinen Creek sections.  Environmental conditions are included in the table below.

February included a snowshoe backpacking trip to the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Environmental conditions are described in the table in that section.

Gear Usage

My principal use of the small Figure 9s was to tie down my tarp guy lines for my hammock to the stakes.  Due to their small size and the picture resolution the Figure 9s are not readily discernible in the hammock photo, but easily seen in the close-up:
Small Figure 9s for tarp tiedownSmall Figure 9 closeup
Note from the second photo that in this case I did double-wrap the thin line around the Figure 9.  I don't know if that was necessary or of any benefit, but the line I was using (this is the stock tarp line supplied by Hennessy) was quite fine, approximately 1x2 mm (0.04 x 0.08 in).  Note that this line is at least in one dimension smaller than the minimum specification for the small Figure 9's.  I found the Figure 9s were easy to attach to the guy lines, and made tie off to the stakes simple - no knot required.  The tiedowns held up well all three nights with no discernible loosening.  In the morning when I was packing up I elected to not detach the Figure 9s, but rather to simply roll them up into the "snakeskins" that the hammock is packed in.  I was a little hesitant to do so as I was fearful that any sharp edges on the Figure 9s would fray the hammock, but my fears were unwarranted.  I was not able to detect any damage inflicted by the metal Figure 9s, and the convenience was really enjoyable as I didn't have to go looking for them in my pack the next evening.  I was not able to measure any slippage of the lines in the Figure 9s - my tarp remained taut through the night.

On my last night camping out I found a use for the large Figure 9s.  I wanted to air out my down sleeping bag, and used the Figure 9 and supplied rope to set up a line between two trees.  The first photo shows the Figure 9 in place on the rope, the second shows my bag hanging nice and secure to dry in the Fall air:
Large Figure 9 for clotheslineBag hanging from line
I found the operation of the large Figure 9 to be actually simpler that the small, most likely as I was able to more easily grasp the larger hardware with my fingers and I was less likely to accidentally drop it.

During this trip a #1 S-Biner was used to clip my thermometer and knife to my pack as shown in the picture in the Initial Report.  During one of the nights I detached the Biner from my pack and hung it from the ridge line for night-time access.  This worked very well - it was easy to detach from my pack, and simple to hang from the ridge line.

The other #1 S-Biner was attached to a loop at the end of my hammock ridge line.  The intent was to clip items to it at night to keep them out of my way, but I didn't have occasion to use it on this trip.

The #2 and #4 S-Biners did not find any use on the October trip, other than keeping things organized as in the photo above.

Endurance Testing

Endurance testing setupDuring the month of November, when hiking in Minnesota is dangerous due to the firearms deer hunting season, I did some "endurance" testing of the Figure 9's with my hammock tarp in my backyard as pictured at left.  The idea was to set up the hammock and tarp for an extended period of time and see how well the Figure 9's held up in adverse conditions of freezing rain, snow and wind.  The weather cooperated and supplied some wet, heavy snow and sleet which did a good job of weighing down the tarp.

For this experiment, I set up my hammock on Sunday, November 9 and left it set up until November 18, a period of 10 days.

For this testing I used four Figure 9's: two for attaching the tarp tieouts to the ground stakes, and two for attaching the tarp to the trees holding up my hammock.  I also used two of the supplied ropes for the tree attachments.  They were just the right length.  As can be seen in the photo, the weight of the heavy snow and ice put quite a bit of load on the tarp support ropes, but the Figure 9's held with no problems.

Icy Figure 9I did re-tension the tarp lines with the Figure 9's several times due to stretch, but I observed no slip in the Figure 9 connectors, despite the adverse conditions.  The wet, heavy snow buildup can be seen in the detail photo at right which shows a closeup of one of the tarp-tree tie-ups.

Observations: one of the things I noticed was the Figure 9's are not easy to slide up and down on a rope in the fixed end configuration, particularly when wearing gloves in cold weather.  I could not just pull on the loose rope and slide it up or down.  This is probably a good thing, as I want it to stay in place, but it would be great if Nite Ize could find a way to make it easier to adjust.  As currently designed, I either have to use a fingernail (not easy with gloves on...) to loosen the loop, or attempt to "push" the rope through the loop.  I find that I have to make these adjustments almost every time I set up camp, as I don't seem to guess very well where to position the Figure 9 on the rope the first time.  It often is too close to the stake/tree, which means that when I tension the rope I run out of "loop", or I position it too far from the stake/tree and run out of free line to hook up to the Figure 9.

Results: my suspicion was that the Figure 9's would loosen on my hammock side tieouts due to the very small diameter cord that Hennessy uses.  This turned out to be unfounded, and the Figure 9's held fine despite the cord being smaller than the specs for the small Figure 9's.

Use on the December winter backpacking trip

Figure 9 - tarp to tree
The above photo shows the Figure 9 attaching my hammock tarp to a tree.  During the night the photo was taken the wind gusted to 16 mph (26 kph) putting a fair amount of stress on the Figure 9.  I experienced no slippage.

S-Biner used to attach bite valve to shoulder strap
The above photo shows the use I put the #2 S-Biner on the trip.  My hydration reservoir supply tube did not have any kind of attachment hardware for securing it to my pack, but it did have a hole in the bite valve cover.  As can be seen in the picture, the #2 S-Biner fit perfectly through the hole, and attached nicely to a D-ring on the shoulder strap.  This worked very well - I was able to easily detach the S-Biner from the D-ring to bring the bite valve directly up to my mouth.

There was one other application of the S-Biners on this trip that I do not have a picture of.  My Hennessy hammock has a loop in the two ends of the ridge line where a carabiner or rope can be attached to hang items on the inside of the hammock.  I used one of the lengths of rope supplied with the Figure 9's in conjunction with a #1 S-Biner to hang my insulated hydration reservoir on the inside of the hammock at night to keep the water as warm as possible to prevent freezing.  This worked very well, and it was easy to attach and detach the reservoir from the hammock using the S-Biner.  It would have been easier to use a #2 S-Biner, but I was only given one to test and it was dedicated to the use shown in the above picture.

Use on January 2009 Backpacking Trip

Dates
January 11-13, 2009
Location
Superior Hiking Trail near Finland, Minnesota
Altitude
1322 ft to 1726 ft (400 m to 525 m)
Temperatures
High of 15 F, low -27 F (-9 C to -33 C)
Terrain
Forested with lakes and rivers
Rolling hills with no steep ascents

#4 S-Biner holding accessory strap in placeOnce again the Figure 9's were used to secure my hammock tarp tiedowns with no issues.  The major change on this trip was to move the #4 S-Biner to my shoulder strap so it would not only carry my supply of Figure 9's, but also keep my shoulder strap accessory pocket from sliding down as shown in the photo at right.

One of the things I liked about this configuration was I could use the upper section of the S-Biner to hold the pocket, and the lower to hold the Figure 9's.  This way I couldn't accidentally have the pocket slip off when I was accessing a Figure 9.

Also visible in the photo is the somewhat horizontal posture the S-Biner assumed when used this way.  It held the Figure 9's off to the side, which I found convenient.


Use on a February 2009 Backpacking Trip to the Porcupine Mountains

Dates
February 12-14, 2009
Location
Porcupine Mountain Wilderness in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Altitude
778 ft to 1600 ft (237 m to 490 m)
Temperatures
Nighttime lows of around 15 F (-9 C), daytime highs of 30 F (-1 C)
Terrain
Forested with lakes and rivers.  The trail was along an escarpment with some steep grades.

Once again the small Figure 9's did their typical great job of tying down my hammock tarp.  On this trip I began to notice some fraying of the lines, in the areas where I normally connect the Figure 9's.  It appears they are starting to cause some wear and tear.

The bad news on this trip is I moved the small S-Biner that I used as a keychain for my small Swiss Army Knife from the front of my pack to hold up my shoulder strap accessory pocket as shown the previous section.  On day 1 of this trip when I set my pack down for a break my knife fell off the S-Biner and dropped into the snow.  Fortunately, I was able to track it down.  Unfortunately the same thing happened the next day, but I didn't immediately notice it and my knife was lost in the wilderness  :(

Moral of the story: I have to be careful when using the S-Biners that they are not positioned somewhere that pressure against them will open up the hinge and allow gear to fall off.

Summary

I like the Figure 9's and the S-Biners.  I find the small Figure 9's and the #2 S-Biners to be the most useful size for my applications.  In intend to continue to use both of these pieces of gear on all my future backpacking trips.

Likes:
  1. The Figure 9's are easy to use and hold well with no slippage, even when used with line that is somewhat outside of specifications.
  2. The S-Biners were reliable.  I had no problems with clip breakage.
  3. The S-Biners were easy to use: I was able to effortlessly clip and unclip it to things, and add more items to the S-Biner or take them off quickly.
  4. The #1 S-Biners are very handy for clipping things to my pack, and to my hammock ridge line for nighttime access.
Areas for improvement:
  1. Make it easier to slide the Figure 9's on the rope when desired.  Clearly, I don't want the Figure 9 to slide on its own, but it would be real nice if a way could be found to get it to adjust when I want to.
  2. It is possible for gear to escape from an S-Biner if it is subjected to conditions that might force the hinge open and allow a loose piece of gear to fall off.  On their website Nite Ize does show a technique for secure attachment, but this has the downside of making it much more difficult to detach a piece of gear.
This concludes my Long Term report for the Nite Ize Biners and Figure 9's.

Many thanks to Nite Ize Inc. and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.


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