When you first build your trad rack you’ll probably have cams that go as small as .75 inches. That will cover you on most easier climbs but as you move up the grades you will find the need for smaller more flexible cams. While there are a lot of options on the market, for this review I’m going to check out the Black Diamond Camalot X4 cams.
Black Diamond came out with the X4 to complement their classic C4 line up. The X4’s start smaller and overlap with the smallest 4 C4 cams. They are available in .1, .2, .3 .4, .5 and .75. The 3 smallest sizes use a stacked axle which is elliptically shaped giving a wider camming range for a single axle design. The 3 biggest X4’s use a double axle like the C4 family giving an even wider expansion range. With C4 they go down to size .3 which covers from around .5-.9 inches (13.8-23.4mm). This is pretty small but the head width is still pretty wide for the size in addition to having a relatively stiff stem. The X4 addresses these issues with a narrower head width and a super flexible stem.
Black Diamond uses a cam angle of 14.5 degrees which makes for a wider expansion range but will give slightly less holding power in slick rock like limestone. As well they use a harder aluminum for durability which will make them a little slipperier. Other cams like the Metolius Ultralight Mastercams use a lower angle of 13.25 degrees and softer metal. This potentially can improve holding power on rock with a lower coefficient of friction. This is always a trade-off, as you will more cams to cover the range.
As my home crags are limestone, I’ve got a lot of experience placing cams on slippery rock. Always look for pods or other constrictions so the cam acts like an expanding nut. You almost always want to extend your pieces to keep them from walking.
To further expand the utility of the X4 line, they are offered in offset sizes, for flared placements like pin scars. This means that half of the cam would be one size and the other would be one size up. This allows for even cam engagement in flared placements. This isn’t something needed for all climbs but if you are climbing in popular areas that saw a lot of traffic before clean climbing, then you may run into a lot of flared placements from old piton scars.
How do they work on the rock?
When climbing with the X4 cams, sizing is easy to understand if you are used to using the Camalot C4 models. The colors match up so yellow is a .2 and a 2. They repeat the color scheme which I find easy to look at my harness and grab the right size. Get in the practice of judging sizes based on hand and finger sizes. With time you will poke a finger in a crack and know what cam you will need.
In thin seams, I had no problems placing bomber pieces. Shallow cracks are protected with ease due to the narrow head width. I’ve fallen on a couple of less than ideal placements that I was unable to place in the direction of fall and they held due to the flexible stem not causing the cam to rotate. Not something I would recommend to anyone but nice to know it can work. Sometimes you are just happy to be able to get a piece in. The rock doesn’t always give you perfect placements where you need them.
These are amazing cams for horizontal placements. The stem being so flexible just goes over the edge. If you take a big fall, you might kink the stem but that is still better than hitting the ground. There are protective aluminum beads on the stem and the trigger is metal rather than plastic so durability so far has been very good.
The cams have shorter stems than the C4 so deeper placements can sometimes be tricky. I also found the shorter distance from the head to the trigger meant they didn’t have to walk in very far before you couldn’t reach the trigger bar. Make sure your second knows how to clean then as it’s an expensive piece to have to leave. Always have a nut tool, even for retrieving cams. The simple solution to this is to extend your placements with a sling. I tested them without to see how much the rope caused them to move but my usual approach is to extend my placements.
I would suggest only getting up to the .5 size as the .75 head is floppy on the flexible stem. I found it a little harder to place due to this. At that size, I find the regular C4 works better.
As with all small cams, visually inspect your placements. The difference between a perfect placement and under-cammed is only a few millimeters. This is also why extending placements is so important because if the cam walks a tiny bit, what you thought was a solid placement could now pull from a hard tug.
- If you already have Black Diamond Camalot C4, they complement the line and you are used to placing them
- Durable, well-made cams that pick up where your bigger cams leave off
- Great for horizontal and shallow placements
- Expensive compared to some of the competition
- A little more prone to walking due to short stem
- .75 is floppy and harder to place due to bigger head on flexible stem
A great complement to your rack of bigger cams. While I have used other small cams, all of mine currently are Black Diamond X4. The construction quality is top notch. Holding power versus cam range is good. I like being able to carry fewer pieces to cover the size range I need. The availability of X4 Offset cams can be a game changer is you climb in an area with a lot of flared cracks or you aid climb. There are a number of good small cams on the market, but with all of them, the key is a good placement. Additionally, it’s nice that all my rack matches.