Black Diamond Camalot C4

Gearheads pouring over catalog specs may not be all that impressed, but get some of the new Black Diamond Camalot C4's in hand and you'll understand why this is the best upgrade yet.

Gearheads pouring over catalog specs may not be all that impressed, but get some of the new Black Diamond Camalot C4's in hand and you'll understand why this is the best upgrade yet.

While the original U-stem Camalots left much to be desired (retire any you still have), the second-generation single-stem models have arguably become the most popular cams on the market. Although these have a smidgeon more range than competing cams, the significant weight penalty gives their main contender (Wild Country Technical Friends) a real advantage.

BD's latest permutation of Camalot C4's offer a slight reduction of weight and a major boost in ergonomics -- more than any other cams at present, they feel right. The new thumb loop and refined trigger fits the hand nicely so they are easy to grab and harder to drop.

The thumb loop is big enough for insulated gloves so alpine climbers will really dig them. The loop also lets the C4 rack better than slings for faster selection, particularly when multiple cams are stored on a carabiner. And aid climbers will appreciate the ability to clip short.

A new stem construction is more flexible and 1-inch to 2-inches longer overall, which should reduce walking somewhat. However, due to the thumb bar, you lose about an inch of reach when making placements at your limit -- a minor tradeoff.

Using a new half-million-dollar laser cutter allowed intricate cutouts in the cams for maximum weight reduction and a bit of artistry. Even the head extrusions were reshaped for greater efficiency.

The combined weight savings of the first six sizes (#0.4 to #3) is 5.1 ounces, a 15 percent decrease equaling the weight of three carabiners. These six sizes, by far the most commonly used, have the identical dimensions and color coding as the current models so climbers don't have to relearn the sizing.

The large sizes are where the big weight reductions come into play, especially since one 10-ounce cam has been eliminated from the range (now just #4, #5 and #6, instead of #3.5, #4, #4.5, #5). Because BD changed the size of the cams, direct comparisons aren't possible. The new #4 is a tad larger and 1.2 ounces lighter than the old #3.5; the old #4 is gone, the new #5 is a bit bigger and 2.1 ounces lighter than the old #4.5; and the new #6 is bigger and a half ounce heavier than the old #5.

The width of the C4 #4 and #5 is the same as the older models, but the #6 is a half-inch wider making it more stable (the old #5 was too narrow). Indeed, the #5 and #6 Camalot C4's are now, without question, the best cams for cracks between 3.5 inches and 6 inches wide. (The springs on our pre-production #6 sample seemed too weak but that will hopefully change by the time they reach stores.)

Though BD has long ballyhooed the increased range of Camalots, the reality is far less than it would have climbers believe -- only about 0.1 inches through the range. For example, the #1 Camalot has a usable range of about 1.3 inches to 1.7 inches, while a #2 Friend fits 1.2 inches to 1.5 inches (0.4 inches versus 0.3 inches). Likewise, the #2 Camalot fits 1.6 inches to 2.1 inches and a #3 Friend goes from 1.8 inches to 2.2 inches (0.5 inches to 0.4 inches). By spring 2005, new cams from Metolius, Omega Pacific and Trango will offer greater range than Camalots. But not the same great feel.

For C4's, BD opted against doubled slings because drop tests showed this configuration reduces durability of the sling and the cable housing. At least climbers now have the option of having them installed. One feature we'd like to see on the bulky #5 and #6 is a mechanism for carrying the unit with the cams collapsed.

With BD's patent due to expire September 2005, this upgrade was the first step in BD maintaining its dominance. Next year, its first 3-cam models (called C3's) will debut and a C2 is rumored. Fair to say the cam market is about to get very interesting in the next couple of seasons.

Although BD was targeting a reduced price, in the final analysis, C4's came out at the same suggested retail as the current models. When they reach stores in January, Camalot C4's will be the new standard against which all other cams are judged, at last dethroning Friends. While it's doubtful hordes of climbers will rush out and replace their existing cams, we certainly expect the C4's will definitely be on every climber's drool list.

SNEWS® Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)

Suggested retail: $59 to $113 (as of printing, but prices may change when product actually hits retail shelves)

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