Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Black Diamond C3 Camalot

I have to admit, I do most of my climbing in an area (like many areas around the country) that thrives on small gear. Eldorado Canyon has weird gear, funky gear, technical gear; whatever you want to call it. Protecting climbs in Eldo requires highly versatile gear. We demand a lot from our micro-cams because often times that is all we have.

It is easy to write a review on these cams because Black Diamond did their homework before releasing these babies. BD took the time to address many of the issues with other micro cams. And guess what, Black Diamond pull tests their gear! Quality is guaranteed.

These cams are easy to use. That sounds funny, but they just are. They are very light, especially when paired with a super light wire gate. They are color coded and match the colors of BD’s C4s. So you know that yellow is larger than red and red is larger than purple, etc. etc. The C3s also fit your hand nicely. The trigger bar is curved to fit your fingers. The thumb loop and thumb pad give you great opposing pressure for the tight springs. I have even found a way to extend my placements by putting the thumb loop against the palm of my hand and pulling back on the trigger bar. These things are stiff and do not flop when retracted.

C3s continue to amaze me with the quality placements that they allow me to get. Weird, flaring Lumpy Ridge cracks used to be a challenge. Now I can look for that small little pod and can slot a C3. Small pin scars in Eldo are no problem. The head size is quite small, but the surface area is large. Even though the C3s are a 3-cam unit, the surface area is equal to some 4 cam units due to the unique cam design. More steel contacting the rock is a good thing.

BD also produced a great size run of these cams. The largest, size #2, is approximate to a #.3 C4, while the smallest, size #000, is smaller than any other micro cam. Yes, I know they are only rated for aiding, but it will hold. The smallest 2 sizes are great as an intermediate piece and when combining with other small gear or “nesting” several pieces.

If you haven’t looked at the C3s, go to your local gear shop and try them out. Bend the stem and see that they will flex in horizontals or when slotted perpendicular. For the small sizes, take a close look at the cams. When retracted, the cams come around very far. You get a sense of their holding power because the cams retract so far and the contact point is exactly where you want it. The contact is not tight or at the top of the lobe, but right in the sweet spot. I also like the nylon slings. No need for super skinny slings for this application. The safety margin and longevity you get with nylon far exceeds any weight savings. Better than going to a gear shop, borrow some from a friend. I was lucky borrow the entire set for a road trip to Joshua Tree. That trip was enough to convince me that my other micro 3 cam units I had been using were very outdated.
Lastly, these things hold up. After using them for over a year and a half, I have noticed very little wear. They don’t seem to be effected by grit or dirt. The cam lobes are strong and do not deform under heavy use or falls. The plastic sheathing seems to keep everything clean and tight.

Oh yea, I almost forgot... Yes, they hold falls!

The details and specs can be found here. I will leave the detailed comparisons to you. However, let’s just put a few things to bed now. When comparing them the other small cams, they are as light or lighter, as strong or stronger, and have much better range. Period.

What I like:
- These cams fit, everywhere. They have great head size and range.
- When placed, they don’t walk, due to high spring tension and cam teeth
- Allow for quick placements in deep cracks or above your head. They are stiff units with plastic sheaths that protect the cables.
- They have exceptional holding power.
- Provide increased confidence as compared to other micro cams

What I don’t like:
- Small wires on the cams can snag clothing, pack, slings, etc. (a minor complaint)
- Cost is a little high, but so far worth it.

For the record, I didn’t get any C3s for free for this review. After borrowing a set, I sold all my old micro cams on Mountain Project last season so that I could convert my entire rack of small cams to C3s. Check 'em out at BlackDiamond.com.

Kevin Bains
Director of Operations
Colorado Mountain School &
Boulder Rock Club

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