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Building on the success of their popular cam buckles, Austere Manufacturing from Washington is back with their second product, a beautiful CNC machined ladder lock buckle. We’ve been playing around with a few ahead of today’s release. Find our first look, thoughts and photos from some bag makers who’ve been experimenting with them, and details here…
It’s hard to imagine that it has already been two years since Washington-based Austere Manufacturing launched their flagship product, a CNC machined cam buckle made from solid billet aluminum. Since then, Austere’s buckles have made their way onto bikepacking rigs all over the world. Whether lashing dry bags into harnesses, gear to racks, or simply tagging along as a backup on remote expeditions, they’re lightweight, they work well, and they’re incredibly durable. Austere Manufacturing’s founder Uriel Eisen surprises me with phone calls every now and again, and a few months ago, he asked if he could send a new buckle that was almost ready to release to the public: the Austere Manufacturing Pin Ladder Lock buckle.
The new Austere Pin Ladder Lock is a simple ladder lock buckle made for 3/4″ webbing. Ladder lock buckles are nothing new. In fact, they’re probably the most common type of compression strap buckle and can be found on everything from camp chairs to backpack straps to belts. They’re also a regular fixture on bikepacking bags, such as on the sides of saddle bags and panniers, and on some handlebar bag straps.
A ladder lock buckle allows a webbing strap to loop from the back of the buckle around a pin, then pass through the back of the buckle again to use friction to hold it in place. Ladder lock buckles are particularly useful for straps that are simply tightened or loosened and the strap doesn’t need to removed from the buckle entirely. What sets the new Austere apart is the same meticulous engineering and craftsmanship used in the award-winning Austere cam buckle that came before it.
The Austere Pin Ladder Lock buckles are CNC machined from solid billet aluminum and your choice of two titanium or stainless steel pins as the “ladders” inside the buckle, which is unique when compared to molded plastic buckles. The closest thing we’ve to this is Sea to Summit’s buckle with a single stainless steel replaceable pin, but the body is still made from plastic. Every lip and edge has a clean bevel, and the lever end of the buckle has a small rounded curve to make it finding it with a finger that much easier.
Since the bottom webbing strap is usually sewn into a bag, Austere sent a few buckles my way with the pins only half installed. They recommended using quality parallel jaw pliers (like those from Knipex) to set the pin once the buckle was in place, but I ended up using a vice to slowly press the pin into the body of the buckle. I originally thought the pin was slightly enlarged on one end, because a tiny ring of metal popped off the end after it was pressed into place, but Austere confirmed that is just because the tolerances are so tight. I actually think this is a clever design, as it acts like a physical thumbs up so you know the pin is in the right spot. Those who like to tinker or have the right tools will have fun installing the buckles onto their favourite bags, but I imagine bag makers will largely be the ones installing the pins and incorporating the buckles into their products so we don’t have to.
A few weeks ago, I cut out the standard plastic ladder lock buckles of the side compression straps on the new Revelate Designs Nano Panniers and replaced them with Austere’s version. There’s not much difference in size or weight compared to a standard plastic buckle. While in use, Austere’s buckle holds the webbing firmly, and it seems there’s slightly more resistance when compared to the plastic version. This translates so a slower release of the webbing, which is great when you don’t want a strap to loosen all the way in one go. Normal plastic ladder lock buckles often slip depending on the load, the angle of the buckle, and how tight the webbing is, but Austere’s buckle holds firmly in any orientation or setup. I have yet to experience any slipping at all.
The curved lever end is easier to get a finger under to loosen the strap, and the webbing runs smoothly while tightening. The real advantage is the build quality, which is hard to compare to a plastic ladder lock buckle. Just like their cam lock buckles, the ladder locks are designed to last. The titanium pin won’t rust, the Cerakote finish is hard wearing and looks great, and the entire buckle is machined in-house to the tightest imaginable tolerances. The buckles are currently available in four colors, your choice of pin material, and with the pins installed or separate. They cost $18.14 with stainless pins or $23.82 with titanium, which is undoubtedly a lot of money for a buckle.
Pin Ladder Lock Installation
Austere put together a video outlining the installation process, which you can check out below.
Thoughts From Two Bag Makers
Austere sent some prototype buckles to Aaron at Class 4 Designs and Colton at Camp 9 Threadworks, who shared some of their feedback with me. Both makers echoed everything I’ve shared above, especially the part about having more control when releasing webbing through the buckle. I particularly like how Aaron wrapped up his email by saying, “In a world of fast-paced consumerism and plastic, I will always reach for these buckles, knowing how they’ll make my products last longer, work better, and look good!” The photos below show the buckles incorporated into some of their bags. The top two are from Class 4 Designs and the bottom three are from Camp 9 Threadworks.
Here’s what Colton had to say about the buckles: “I played with webbing tension and weight/resistance of the load being secured with them, using full water bottles and empty bottles to see if the resistance or weight of a full bottle contributed to their ability to hold tension. The resistance offered a stronger hold and made for consistent and smooth releases. This was one thing worthy of noting about the Austere Pin Ladder Locks. Unlike other ladder locks when under tension that tend to release all the tension immediately, requiring the user to slightly retrension the ladder lock, the Austere Pin Ladder Locks offered smooth control of the tension in both tensioning and detensioning. There wasn’t any of the stuttering when tightening or difficulty fine tune tension that I have encountered with other ladder locks. I found the same results when there was no resistance, such as an empty water bottle or no bottle at all. The straps held with very little tension applied to the webbing, which is far better than most ladder locks I have used.”
Behind the Design
Here’s what Uriel had to say about the new buckles when I asked him why he designed them and where he sees them being used:
“For years, I slept under my sewing table, surrounded by sewing machines and gear. I would lie awake dreaming up better buckle designs, wishing someone would make them. After working on spacesuits for NASA and seeing lots of custom buckles that I thought could be improved, I started Austere Manufacturing with the goal of making the world’s best buckles for the type of high-performance, long-lasting gear I am interested in making and using.
The Cam Buckle we launched two years ago took off much faster than we were expecting, and we’ve been busy just trying to keep up with manufacturing. But we never stopped dreaming! So when we grew the team recently, the goal was to get back to developing new buckles.
The Pin Ladder Lock is intended for those who want to upgrade their bags without the need to do any cutting or sewing. If you want something substantially more resilient or easy on the eyes, you can install this buckle using a bench-vise or a Knipex Plier Wrench. Our first production run shipped to bag makers who wanted the fit, finish, and durability of our hardware for applications where our Cam Buckle was overkill.
The big breakthrough of the design process was realizing that we could press-fit in pins to form the rungs of the ladder. The round cross-section of the pin coupled with the deeper buckle body gave us really smooth action while still developing exceptional holding strength. It also let us keep the buckle very compact and lightweight while still handling some pretty serious forces. Through the development process, we’ve put these buckles through their paces, and are loving their performance. They even passed the slam-in-the-car-door-repeatedly test, though the car is now a little worse for wear.”
Durable and lightweight
Beautifully machined in the US with a high-quality finish
Better control and bite versus plastic buckles
Does not slip
Pricey for a somewhat niche item
Pressing the pins into place is a little awkward without the right tools
The pins can’t be removed and reinstalled once in place
Material: Aluminum and Titanium or Stainless Steel Pins
Weight: 5.8 grams
Dimensions: 1×1″ (2.5×2.5cm)
Place of Manufacture: Washington, USA
Price: $19.10 USD (titanium pins) / $16.20 (stainless steel pins)
Manufacturer’s Details: AustereManufacturing.com
It’s been fun watching the Austere Manufacturing name become more widely adopted within the bikepacking world. While there’s no question that their CNC machined cam locking buckles remain a niche item, they are extremely well-designed and some of the highest quality hardware we’ve come across. Their new Pin Ladder Lock buckles are no different in terms of their construction, though one could argue they’re even more niche than the cam buckles that preceded them since they either need to be sewn into a bag or installed with tools at home. I’m hoping we’ll see Austere’s buckles continue to pop up on bikepacking bags, similar to what we saw with the Rogue Panda Ripsey dropper post seat bag, but it’s also nice to know that if one of your buckles breaks someday, there’s a high-quality replacement available that will last forever.
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