If you’ve been trad climbing for any length of time you will have used or at least seen the Black Diamond Camalot C4 cams in action. They are so widely used that most guide books reference the protection you will need based on the size of the Camalots. 2019 marks the fourth generation and first upgrade in 15 years. And before anyone says the Ultralight Camalot is a redesign, they are a different beast with Dyneema stems and slings, aimed at either the rich or those who want the lightest rack.
The standard C4, on the other hand, is the workhorse cam on most racks. The double axle design gives a wider range per size allowing each cam to have more latitude when placing and needing fewer pieces to cover the standard sizes needed for most climbing. Additionally, the double axle acts as a cam stop so the C4 works passively as well. In a pinch, you can slot them into a constriction like a nut. Not something you will use very often but nice to have in your back pocket when runout above your last piece.
When you have a product that is so popular, how do you improve it?
The first is to make it lighter. The new Camalots are 10% lighter due to new lobes that are similar to the Ultralights. The slings have been modified slightly as well to save a little weight and color-coded to the cam making identification easier. Over a whole rack, this is a noticeable difference. Going from the older models, you can feel the difference on your harness or gear sling.
They have added a trigger keeper to the 3 biggest cams so you can carry them closed to save space on your rack. But they deploy instantly by just pulling the trigger as you normally would to place them. The #4 racks the same size as a number #3. This is a really nice feature as the bigger cams are like metal umbrellas as they would stab me in the leg and I found they would snag in the offwidth climbs you would use them for. In the past, we would come up with DIY tricks to accomplish the same thing. I tried the twig in the lobes, which worked but you had to pull the twig out with your teeth. And I always lost the twig so on multi-pitch routes the cam was only closed for the pitch.
And on the issue of engaging the trigger, the new cams are buttery smooth. While I didn’t use a trigger gauge, they feel a bit stiffer than the previous models which will be good to help keep them from walking in placements.
Other changes include the texture on the lobes to increase surface area, with the aim of increasing holding power. This combined with the stiffer springs will help them perform better on a smoother rock like limestone, which is notorious for cams sliding out of when loaded. The stems have been modified to be more flexible on the smaller sizes and stiffer on the larger making placements easier and have similar performance over the whole range.
How do they perform?
While officially spring, in Canada winter is still holding on so my climbing partner and I headed south to Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. This unique quartzite crag is a mix of textured and smooth rock with both cracks and irregular features but all of the placements in my test were bomber. I did some aid climbing with bounce tests on smooth sided placements without a single slip. Climbing a crack that started with thin fingers and expanded to medium hands, I sewed it up starting with the .5 up to the #2 with quick easy placements.
Since Black Diamond makes the Neutrino carabiners available in matching colors to the cams, picking the right size when I look down at my gear loops is even easier. Plus it looks nice when everything matches.
The stems on the medium to big sizes is a bit stiff for horizontal placements. They would hold a fall but you may end up kinking the stem. This is the trade-off as the bigger heads would be floppy and hard to place if the stems were more flexible.
In placing the #4 with the trigger keeper, it worked as advertised. I didn’t really notice the size on my harness as the points were retracted so I wasn’t getting it jammed into my leg as I shuffled up an off-width crack. But when it came time to place it, one pull of the trigger and it was ready to go. I don’t need that size for a lot of climbing I do, but both Seneca Rocks and Red Rocks have routes that suggest it so I grabbed one when getting these new cams.
Cleaning is easy and we didn’t have any cams get stuck or need a nut tool for cleaning. As long as I extended my placements I didn’t have any walking. On a vertical crack climb, I clipped directly to the cams to test how much the rope movement would cause them to walk and they stayed in place. For shallow, thin cracks the heads of the cams are a bit wide making something with a thinner head like the Black Diamond X4, Metolius Ultralight Master Cams or the much-revered Totem cams a better option.
- Lighter weight with the same rugged durability
- Widest range of sizes from any brand of cams
- Smooth action and easy to place
- Not the best in horizontal placements
- Better options available in sizes smaller than .5
- Still not the lightest option
I bought these with my own money, to supplement my current rack. While not revolutionary, the changes are a nice improvement to an already great product. Black Diamond Camalot C4 cams are the best medium to large cams on the market. There are better options for the smallest sizes including the Black Diamond X4. The prices, while not cheap are fair and since they are sold by everyone you are more likely to find a sale on them than some more obscure brands. I’ve mainly owned Black Diamond cams have used other models. If you want to try other solid options, the DMM Dragons or Wild Country Friends have a similar range. They don’t go quite as big but they even match Black Diamond’s color code for sizes in the mediums sizes you will use the most.
There is a reason why new trad climbers are told to get a set of nuts and C4 .5-#3 as their rack to get started. That set-up will get you started very well at most crags, unless you go to Indian Creek, Utah. In that case, you better make friends who will share as you might need 6 of the same size for those beautiful splitter cracks.