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Black Diamond Equipment
2084 East 3900 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84124
USA

(801) 278-5533 Phone

(800) 775-7625 Fax

dbmo@bdel.com


CCH

Colorado Custom Hardware, Inc.

115 Lyon

Laramie, WY 82072

USA

(307) 721-9385 Phone

(307) 721-9375 Fax

CCHaliens@aol.com


Mountain Tools 

P.O. Box 222295 

Carmel, CA 93922

USA

831.620.0911 Phone

831.620.0977 Fax

climb@mtntools.com

BD Micro Camalots  Vs  CCH Aliens

Just a few years ago,  the micro Spring Loaded Camming Devices (SLCD) market was the sole domain of the bootleg, rigid stem half-size Friend.  I specifically bought one for the moves over the roof on Disney Point in the Gunks. I had to ask someone who was in the 'know' about acquiring one of these courage boosters.  

I was directed to a dimly lit parking lot in New Paltz where the exchange of $21 cash for this Korean-made 1/2 size friend would take place....
Today, you can buy high-quality thin crack SLCD's from any decent climbing shop on the planet.  Many of the small SLCD's are three-cam units (TCU).  COL will try to give an unbiased review of two leaders in the four cam, thin crack SLCD's; Colorado Custom Hardware's Aliens and Black Diamond Equipment's Micro Camalots.  By no means are these the only ones on the market.  These are just the only very small SLCD's that we have access to right now.  Others are:  Hugh Banner Quad Cams and Flexi Fix Cams, Trango Four Cams and Wild Country Technical Friends.  We haven't even mentioned the off-set or hybrid cams.  Hopefully this review will help you pick between the Aliens and Micro Camalots.

We will be presenting a bunch of dry data in a way to help you decide which small camming units would be best for your application.  We measured the head widths with calipers.  We weighed the units as sets.  We took them out and plugged them in to get a feel for the ergonomics of the devices.  So sit back and take a look at what we feel are the best in four cam, thin crack protection available.
There are a total of four (4) BD Micro Camalots (sizes .1, .2, .3, .4).  The expansion range of the Micro Camalots is 0.34-1.05 inches.  The corresponding CCH Aliens are sizes .33, .375, .5, .75.  The expansion range of the Aliens is 0.33-1.07 inches.  Very little difference in range.  The head width and cam measurements are interesting and don't correspond exactly with the specification sheets (in the tables at the bottom).  The following table should help illustrate this:

BD Micro Camalots

CCH Aliens

BD Size

Head Width

Cam Width

CCH Size

Head Width

Cam Width

.1

1.313

0.156

.33

1.438

0.188

.2

1.344

0.156

3/8

1.438

0.188

.3

1.563

0.250

.5

1.313

0.188

.4

1.688

0.250

.75

1.344

0.188

(All measurements in inches)

The head widths of the CCH Aliens actually decreases on the two larger units versus the two smallest units.  This should make them very handy in pockets and shallow pin scars. The head widths of the two smallest Micro Camalots are a full 1/8th of an inch narrower than the two smallest Aliens.  Something to consider when selecting the smallest of SLCD's.  Another item to consider, especially for soft-rock climbers, is the cam width.  Unlike some TCU's, the units under consideration have consistent cam width on each unit.  All four cams on a single unit are the same width.  

.1 Micro Camalot on left and .33 Alien on right.  Note the long rigid neck and longer cam retraction cables on the Micro Camalot.

We weighed each set (with slings) to see how it measured up in the real world.  The Aliens came in at a set weight of 10 oz. and the Micro Camalots weighed in at 12 oz..  For all intents and purposes, they weigh the same.  It's not like a few grams difference in each of four camming units makes as much difference as a few grams difference in each of  over 100 carabiners while standing in aiders connected to that crappy circlehead.  In other words, don't worry about the mass of these devices, worry about the mass of your 'biners.

Both the Aliens and Micro Camalots have nice positive camming actions allowing the user to fire in the gear while hanging form thin jams.  The Aliens have significantly more flexible stems and shorter cam retraction cables than the Micro Camalots.  The Micro Camalots have a long, rigid metal neck leading from the head of the unit back more than a full inch on all of the units.  Only one of us at Climber Online has fallen on an Alien in a horizontal placement.  The CCH Alien that held this 15' fall was placed in a very shallow horizontal seam and it (and he) came away almost completely unscathed.  Our concern is that the rigid metal neck and long cam retraction cables of the Micro Camalots could be severely damaged in a similar fall.  The only downside to very flexible stem cables is when attempting the removal of over cammed placements or during fast, panicky placements where you'll just shove the SLCD in a potential crack while melting off those slopers.  The Micro Camalots would fare better in these situations.  But climbers never panic... right?

It would be awfully difficult to build the smallest of SLCDs with a double axle like the larger Camalots.  The two smallest Micro Camalots incorporate a single axle design very similar to the small Technical Friends by Wild Country and the CCH Aliens.  The two larger Micro Camalots use the bomb-proof and patented double axle design as seen in the larger Camalots.  In the larger Camalots, this dual axle design allows a much larger camming range for a similarly sized single axle SLCD.  Although the dual axle design is in the two larger Micro Camalot's, this greater expansion range is lost in the noise.  Very little is gained, except for a little weight, at this size by using two axles.

.3 Micro Camalot on the left, .5 Alien on right.  Note the dual axle on the Micro Camalot.

Everyone liked the option of clipping the Aliens at either the swaged cable loop or the sewn sling.  The Micro Camalots only have the sewn sling to clip into.  This is really a minor point except while aid climbing and having the ability to fifi-hook into that swaged loop on the Aliens.  Even that issue is nit-picking.

Below are spec tables provided by Mountain Tools, of Carmel California (as of 05/03/00) 

(phone - 831.620.0911, website - http://www.mtntools.com/ , email - climb@mtntools.com) :

Black Diamond Micro Camalots

no size-range
inches
wt
gm
width
inches
strength
kN
strength
lb
color MT price
.1 .34 - .54 65 1.75 7 1575 red $59.95
.2 .41 - .65 70 1.75 8 1800 yellow $59.95
.3 .50 - .86 76 2.00 10 2250 purple $59.95
.4 .61 - 1.05 97 2.00 12 2700 gray $59.95

Colorado Custom Hardware Aliens

no size-range
inches
wt
gm

width
inches

strength
kN

strength
lb

color

MT price

.33 

.33-.54

66

1.40

8

1860

black

$54.00

3/8 

.39-.67

71

1.40

9

2200

blue

$54.00

.5 

.50-.86

74

1.30

9

2700

green

$54.00

.75 

.61-1.07

83

1.30

12

2700

yellow

$54.00

(The widths in the above two tables does not correspond with COL's actual measured head widths.)

The Aliens seem to be slightly stronger at the smaller sizes and both the Micro Camalots and Aliens are equivalent at the upper end.  Strength is an attribute not helping differentiate the two types of SLCDs, but all of the Micro Camalots have cam stops.  This allows the SLCD to be used as a passive nut in dire situations.  The Aliens do not have the cam stops and will fold like a weak deck of cards if used as a stopper.  Durability might be an issue with the longer cam retraction cables on the Micro Camalots.  They will tend to get frayed quicker than the short cables on the Aliens.  A price difference of 9.9% might be a separating factor.  Based on the Mountain Tools pricing, a savings of $23.80 in your pocket will buy you a case of some sort of beer or pay gas money for a round trip to the valley.  Check your local climbing shop or an online vendor for specials and deals when purchasing a full set.
Conclusions:  It's a tough choice to make between two sets of state-of-the-art, thin crack, SLCDs.  We believe that you will not go wrong with either set.  If climbing in a place with a lot of shallow horizontal placements (Gunks), go with the Aliens.  If you climb mostly in a place with splitter cracks and clean corners, either set will be fine.  We like trad free climbing and aid climbing equally; with that in mind we would go with: .1/.2 Micro Camalots and .5/.75 Aliens.  And if we had money left, we'd go buy a small offset SLCD or two for aid climbing.  Good luck and have fun.

 

COL

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