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BLOG | PRODUCT REVIEWS | 09 September 2015

Black Diamond Camalot X4 Flexible and Robust

Since their appearance, over 20 years ago, the world of micro-cams has been monopolized by CCH Alien Cams. They functioned, simply at another level. Cams were also made by other brands, but just didn't compare.
The search was on for alternatives, and manufacturers designed cams with smaller parts (zero) or different systems (ball nuts) that would serve as a complement for the coveted Aliens. But the death of David Leon Waggoner, creator and craftsman of the Alien cams, would mean that they would leave the market for several years to come.

As a result, this led to a small tidal wave of new micro-cams, which would try to fill the gap and replace the Aliens. But Black Diamond was not to participate in that race and even though it looked that way with the C3 camalots, rather than a substitute these were a specific complement. Then the Aliens returned as a Made in Spain product and suddenly they had competition. But the new X4 would still take some time to appear. Black Diamond took their time to develop a true alternative that would be able to compete with the placement capacity of the Aliens and at the same time improve their weak point: durability.

At last, after a small marketing campaign, they appeared last year: when you first hold them they seem better finished than any other model, are very comfortable to hold and have a number of details that really attracted our attention:

There are 2 designs, depending on the size; the larger ones have a double axle with a fabric-based cable to connect the trigger to the cams while the smaller ones have a single axle with a metal wire.

Their huge expansion range means the whole set consists of just 6 pieces which cover the 8 to 40mm range.

The transmission between the trigger and the wire/textile cables uses the same system as the Aliens; a sheath covering the stem, but the X4 uses aluminium armour beads instead, which give a powerful impression.

IN DEPTH

Head

The head consists of the set of axles, cams, springs, trigger & trigger wires. As the X4 comes with 2 kinds of heads, we''ll talk about each type separately.

  • The larger sizes: these are truly exceptional. It is logical that any problems would appear in the smaller sizes, as they have such limited space, but in the larger micros the BD team has surprised us with what is currently the best on the market.

    • The axle is double: this allows a larger expansion range and is much easier to extract, making it impossible to lose because it fits into the deepest and narrowest crack yet has an extraordinary capacity to extract itself when the trigger is activated.
    • The whole unit is really narrow: rather than screwing on the axle ends they are riveted onto a small plate. The cams are exquisitely assembled and are slightly thicker in a specific area to cover the spring space and the trigger strings.
      In the middle, a steel piece joins the axles to the shaft by micro-fusion (not soldering). The whole unit is noticeably narrower than traditional cams and almost as narrow as the new Alien 2.0 or a C4 Camalot. A Kevlar string moves the cams, which is an alternative to wire or braided steel and certainly more durable and easier to repair.

  • The Smaller sizes:it is understandable that the smaller size of the head gives less room for manoeuvre; and we would therefore expect the X4 to be similar to other micros. But this is not the case:

    • Stacked axle technology allows the cams to rotate over different centres, resulting in a greater expansion range. A really impressive mechanism of precision.
    • Again, we were taken back by the shortness of the total axle length and its exceptional finishing – this time with inner cam springs. The cams are triggered by steel wires, which give the impression that they could maybe become damaged with wear or during a fall. In these sizes it''s clearer to see how the steel crossbar, inserted into the shaft is noticeably longer than in the new Aliens, for example, which means they need slightly more depth in order to function perfectly.
    • The length of the wires and the excellent finishing of their attachment to the whole trigger, means they give better performance in deep or flared cracks than their competitors. As this kind of terrain is perfect for offset cams, the X4 hybrids are now considered to be the best offsets available on the market.



Shaft

The shaft holds a single braided-steel cable which is fused to the head and well attached to the trigger. It''s notably longer than the shaft on the C4, a braided steel sheath protected by a series of aluminium beads, which are able to roll over the rock edge as they are placed, so that the cam is much more effective. If this system proves to be functional and durable, we will no doubt see it again on future models.

We should also mention that this metal “snake-skin” piece is attached at both ends to a metal piece, which is a great advantage.

Grip

The ring that is gripped by the thumb offers the best finishing we''ve ever seen on micro-cams. Combined with the trigger it is simply more comfortable than any other and is more solid, due to the ergonomic triangular piece made of forged steel, so the whole unit is therefore superior.

Strap

Finally, the wide webbing and stitching is the same as on the C4, but this time it''s made of dyneema; a durable and reliable strap. Its length is also the same and long enough for long, straight cracks.

IN GENERAL
The colour coding is the same as on the C4 cams, but the X4 cams have coloured cables as well as the slings.

Thanks to their flexibility and narrower design many will prefer to swap them directly for their C4 cams. Although this flexibility means they sometimes twist a little when placed, the placement possibilities are much greater and they perform better in any position, except in the optimum position, where the C4s are more stable, but this is only noticeable in the larger sizes. In this range, the C4s are only superior on very soft rock where the thickness of the cams is influential. br> As we said, they perform very well and it would be no surprise if the C4 take on the innovative features of the X4.
In our field test, we considered their comparative efficiency.
While using the cams, we noted several interesting differences.

PRACTICAL CONCLUSIONS
We must accept, of course, that climbers have their own preferences and favourites as far as choosing cams is concerned.

To carry out this test, we were faced with certain complications. Their main interest is obviously how they compare to the other micro-cams on the market, so we would have to compare them with the top range of micro-cams, using the same or similar sizes, such as the Dragon, C4, C3, Alien & Master cams. In Europe, as the Master Cams are not cheap (their strong point in the U.S.), it''s easy to rule them out when stuck for choice. But from here on, it''s not as easy; and this is where this article will try and help.

First, we should bear in mind that it''s not compulsory to use the same brand for all sizes, even though most of us do - in the same way as we prefer to choose 2 identical ice-axes. Anyway, we can safely say that the green and yellow Aliens are fantastic and the X4 are better in larger sizes but for the smaller sizes it''s hard to decide, so I will outline the most important features of each model:


  • Alien:Great flexibility, excellent cam grip, enough depth for minimum placement. Low durability in all of the components.
  • C3: the axle is the shortest on the market and together with the zeros; the lowest expansion range. Limited flexibility.
  • Dragon & C4: the smallest sizes of these models are very stable and robust, but their axles are much longer and the whole unit is more bulky.
  • X4: Heavier than others but with the best finishing. Durable, flexible, long and reliable. The double or stacked axles allow a greater range of use and are narrow so they fit into more places. Cam grip is adequate. In short, if durability counts, these are probably the best micro-cams on the market.

Black Diamond Camalot X4

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Tags: microcams, camalot, x4

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