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GROUP TEST: Micro Cams

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 UKC Gear 08 Sep 2020
Micro cams group test montage

Micro cams are among the most useful pieces of gear on a trad climber's rack. Having a tiny cam you can rely on to protect otherwise unprotectable sections of rock can make the difference between arriving at the top of your route... or at the bottom. However their tiny size makes them extra sensitive to the vagaries of camming devices - holding power, walking and deformation. As such you want the best quality you can get; in this test we take a look at some of the best micro cams currently available.



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 Mike505 08 Sep 2020
In reply to UKC Gear:

What are the thoughts on Alien Revolutions? I know the Evolutions were a bit of a dud but all of the quality issues seem to have been corrected with the Revolution cams.

Seeming good build quality, options of extendable and non extendable slings, I've use them alongside my Totem Basics for a few years now and rate them both. If
branding was removed from Totem basics, Dragonflys and Revolutions (the three brands I'd look to buy) is there much in it?

Post edited at 10:10
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 PaulTanton 08 Sep 2020
In reply to Mike505:

I love my aliens. Got two of the very old ones and one new, yellow, one. So handy. The cam lobe material is just the right hardness to allow the rock to bite into them.

have tried some Metolius micro cams but they didn’t inspire me with confidence.

i did have a red Alien but had to retire it after I fell 50 ft onto it.  It was pretty trashed after that. Sorry to see it go but I’m still here.

never tried Totem cams. They look a bit complicated. Simple is good.

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In reply to Mike505:

> What are the thoughts on Alien Revolutions? I know the Evolutions were a bit of a dud but all of the quality issues seem to have been corrected with the Revolution cams.

Hi Mike,

Funnily enough I had several Alien Evolution cams, with the key word being 'had', as all of them have subsequently fallen apart. As such, my confidence was knocked in the brand somewhat.

Desperation drove me back to them when my Black Alien finally died and I've been using a Black Revolution Cam ever since, which is - as you say - a significant improvement. It's still holding together well after what must now be a few years of use (although it's worth nothing that it's not a cam I use all that often). Sadly we weren't able to get a set to review, as it'd have been good to include them. Perhaps we'll try again, as it'd be interesting to see how they compare.

When it comes to whether there's much in it I'm probably not the best person to ask, as I wasn't heavily involved within the Group Test; however, when it comes to what's on my own rack - and what I've used from the products we had on review - I am still eternally grateful for owning a set of Totem Basics. They are, without doubt, my micro-cam of choice. The only exception to this is on polished Peak Limestone, where I prefer to use the standard Totem Cams - albeit in their smallest sizes.

In short: I really, really wish that Totem still made the Basic...

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 galpinos 08 Sep 2020
In reply to Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing:

> The only exception to this is on polished Peak Limestone, where I prefer to use the standard Totem Cams - albeit in their smallest sizes.

Rob, off topic, but which sizes of Totem are you using on Peak Lime? Are they that much better than than Dragonflies/Dragons/C4s?

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 galpinos 08 Sep 2020
In reply to UKC Gear:

Any info on the alloy used for all the different cam lobes? It's mentioned as important in the Dragonfly section, then not mentioned again?

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 Mike505 08 Sep 2020
In reply to Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing:

Thanks for the input, r.e the basics I know the feeling I have blue to yellow and a black alien who's uses can be counted on one hand, the main use not even being me! I abseiled past someone  on Trilogy who was lamenting the lack of a black alien, so i threw it to her as I passed by. Whilst still in goodish condition the lobes are slowly wearing out on my basics, other than the standard totems does anyone else use a similary soft alloy? Revolutions seem a little harder imo.

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In reply to galpinos:

I can't reply for Rob but I always carry the Black, Blue and Yellow Totems (the smallest 3) and then on Peak Lime I would carry all the Totems rather than any other type of cam. They seem to hold well in slippery limestone (although I'd still much rather have a wire!).

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In reply to galpinos:

We decided not to go in to alloys in detail as, essentially, none of the team are qualified enough to comment on it with authority.

Anecdotally, I've found that the Totem alloy is softer and therefore grippier than the alloy on the other cams, which all seem very similar. However, I did raise this in the Dragonfly individual review and was told that the alloys in the Dragonflys and Totems are in fact technically the same hardness and so aren't different. As such, in my experience the alloys are different, but technically they aren't... That leaves me in a tricky place to comment on the alloys of the other cams.

As such, I'd just go with: Totems seem softest, the rest are a very similar hardness.

Here's the quote from the review. It actually took me a while to find as the whole thing is so huge!

"In terms of grippiness it's interesting to compare the lobes of Dragonfly and Totem Basic micro cams. Anecdotally, the lobes of the Totems do seem to have a more malleable surface which bites into the rock, and going on feel alone this might lead us to choose them over the Dragonflys for crucial placements which lack friction. However, on paper there's no difference. The Dragonflys use 6082 alloy in their lobes and the Totems use 6061. These two alloys are the same hardness and so the perceptible difference in the lobes, which may or may not lead to a practical difference, can't be explained by a difference in hardness. 6082 alloy does have a slight advantage over 6061 in that it has increased corrosion resistance."

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In reply to Mike505:

I remember that Black Alien on Trilogy well

Whilst you don't place it often, when you do - and it's the only thing that fits - it's worth its weight in gold.

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In reply to galpinos:

Up until quite recently I was using just the Purple, Green, Red and Orange, but have recently invested in the Black, Blue and Yellow. When it comes to their ability to hold in marginal placements, and/or on polished rock, they really are unbeatable.

That said, I still prefer the Basics + Dragon Cams for almost all other rock types.

Post edited at 11:30
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 Mike505 08 Sep 2020
In reply to Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing:

Wish i was good enough for that route tbh, it's on the to do list. Though I'd actually have to pull my finger out and do some proper training for once,  rather than just taking a punt at routes that I might be able to get up if the planets are all aligned etc...

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In reply to Mike505:

It's definitely a route to aspire to: striking line, classic status and a great (albeit hard) set of moves.

Get yourself on some repeaters over the winter and I'm sure it'd feel a whole lot more manageable. The fact you've got a Black Alien means you're equipped to protect the start (although I'd obviously recommend getting some other gear in to back it up). Get properly warmed up before you to it too. I didn't and got terminally flash-pumped, which was - in hindsight - totally preventable.

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 galpinos 08 Sep 2020
In reply to Theo Moore - UKC and UKH:

Thanks Theo, with all the talk of "soft alloys" and the Totem Basics being "stickier", I was interested* to see what all the designers had chosen for their lobes and the product websites aren't clear (when I last looked).

*As an engineer with a slight vested interest..........

Post edited at 12:10
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 galpinos 08 Sep 2020
In reply to Theo Moore - UKC and UKH:

Cheers Theo and Rob. Trying to keep gear spending in check but I've never quite trusted cams on Limestone so some knowledge from more experienced people is always helpful!

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 Rod_Vortex 08 Sep 2020
In reply to UKC Gear:

Would be interested to see a comparison against the manufacturer's previous efforts so we could see what the way forward is! E.g. old WC zeros, old metolius micros with the thumb-loops, BD C3s, etc. 

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 C Witter 08 Sep 2020
In reply to UKC Gear:

I didn't find a conclusion... Which is the best?

I think the Alien Revolutions are good cams, by the by, and on paper they have narrower heads and stronger KN ratings than the Totem Basics.

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 Rick Graham 08 Sep 2020
In reply to Theo Moore - UKC and UKH:

> I can't reply for Rob but I always carry the Black, Blue and Yellow Totems (the smallest 3) and then on Peak Lime I would carry all the Totems rather than any other type of cam. They seem to hold well in slippery limestone (although I'd still much rather have a wire!).

Thanks for mentioning wires ! A good review but as us old (but not necessarily wiser) timers often note that you youngsters can often be a bit  too "cam  happy" for your own good.

The first photo looks like a perfect 4 or 5 wire to me.  Would not be surprised if the pocket opened up inside so a cam fully retracted to fit though  the lower opening could invert and be effectively useless. Hard to see how the lobes are contacting on some tiny placements.

Can you identify the location so I can slake my curiosity ?

For the record I carry a selection of gear and try to place the most appropriate. I have managed to acquire a vast selection of micro cams for a (cancelled ) trip to Yosemite . Most are still in a box in the garage, usually only carry at most three small cams.

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In reply to Rick Graham:

> The first photo looks like a perfect 4 or 5 wire to me.  Would not be surprised if the pocket opened up inside so a cam fully retracted to fit though  the lower opening could invert and be effectively useless. Hard to see how the lobes are contacting on some tiny placements.

I think it probably was Rick, but taking photos of someone placing wires doesn't help getting a suitable selection of images together for a Micro Cam Group Test ;-)

> Can you identify the location so I can slake my curiosity ?

A lot of the limestone images were taken at Staden, which - if you've ever been there - is renowned for its incredible wire placements. For what it's worth I agree entirely with your sentiments about wires too, as they're infinitely better on polished limestone (and a great many other rock types).

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 Rick Graham 08 Sep 2020
In reply to Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing:

Been to Staden a few times ( and probably never placed a cam there

I tried not to be anyway dismissive of your  ( excellent ) review but Theo's was the only reference to wires, and that was in the comments not the article .

I thought bringing up the relative merits of passive and active protection was the  responsible thing to do.

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In reply to galpinos:

Hi,

The WC Zeros use a 6082 alloy same as Dragonflys.

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 galpinos 08 Sep 2020
In reply to McKEuan:

Cheers! Thought it might be the same.

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In reply to Rick Graham:

From what I remember seconding it a few weeks ago, on Joint Effort (HVS 5b) somewhere down low on the hard bit there's a small cam under a tiny overlap that I will definitely place when I get brave enough to try lead it! It's just in the techy 5b bit and either the wires below are a bit below or are small - in some way not totally confidence inspiring anyway. I've always though that HVS 5b should mean that at the 5b bit you should have a stonking no.8 nut just slightly above your head and not be scary at all. Joint Effort was brilliant climbing but I thought not giving anything away at that grade!

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 Graeme Hammond 08 Sep 2020
In reply to UKC Gear:

I dropped my blue dragon fly in the sea recently luckily we had brought a spare green totem which covers some of the same range. Needless to say the totem was a joy to use, somehow the size of it fits into cracks so much better than the sizing between the dragonflies. Does anyone have any very good condition blue and or yellow totem basic they want to sell me?

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 Mike505 09 Sep 2020

Just for reference it seems the Alien Revolution uses 6061-T6 alloy, same as the original aliens and totem basics i think.

Though this is the only reference i could find.

https://www.climbing247.se/p-54164-alien-revolution-large-sling.aspx

Dragonflys 6082

Zeros 6082

Totem basics 6061

Aliens original 6061

Alien revolution 6061

Totem 7075

Master Cam 7075

Z4 ?

Post edited at 08:49
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 Rod_Vortex 09 Sep 2020
In reply to Rick Graham:

Let's talk about the merits of dyneema while we're at it. Or how about tricams. And sit harnesses. 

Hey, you know what's also better than micro-cams? Glue-in staples. Why didn't they get a mention in the MICRO CAM GROUP TEST? 

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In reply to galpinos:

Agree with Theo and Rob - I always carry the Black, Blue and Yellow Totems on any rock, but especially valuable on Peak limestone. C4s are fine when placed well in 'good' limestone placements but I'd always reach for a Totem first where it counts. 

We had an original Alien Black and it opened some doors, but the Totem Basics are still the grippiest cams I've fallen on. The Dragonflys and Z4s both feel like they could be convincing on Peak Lime (and the narrower heads make for more/'better' placement options in weird pockets and shallow cracks) but haven't had airtime on them yet ...there's just something super reassuring about the alloy on the Basics, even though my blue is pretty chewed up now...

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In reply to UKC Gear:

Just want to point out that the green Dragonfly is not the smallest rated cam available as it says in the review.  The green z4 has a smaller minimum size, bigger range and a narrower head width.  It’s probably worth noting also that the z4s are a legitimate replacement for the C3 range that many still favour for the narrow head width.  For me, the smallest sizes of micro cams are disproportionately important.  I have the green dragonfly and the green and red z4s.  When side by side the z4s are far superior in handling, range, head width and placement options.  The dragonfly is more like an x4, too floppy, can be awkward to place as a result and it’s head width is too wide for the size of crack it fits. The only advantage the dragonfly has vs the z4 is the sling as far as I can see.  

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 Rod_Vortex 11 Sep 2020
In reply to metrorat:

That's good to know. I don't like the extendable slings anyway, so looks like the Zs will be in favour when I replace my Metolius micro cams. I don't like the plastic on them though; the springy thing on the Zeros and the beads on the Xs seem a lot better. 

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In reply to Rod_Vortex:

I’ve been really impressed with the z4s.  I’m planning to buy more sizes.  Since getting them I haven’t placed any C3s or the green dragonfly.  My girlfriend has the BD X4s (with the beads) and I have to say the z4s handle better.  The beads can often get in the way when you’re trying to place an x4 in a constriction.

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 Dale Berry 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Rod_Vortex:

I have Zeros and really like the spring on the stem. It definitely makes them more rigid to place which is a good thing. I have used the 2 smallest Dragonflies. They seemed to hold well, but were very flexible indeed.

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In reply to metrorat:

Thanks for pointing that out, you're quite right - the smallest Z4 is smaller in both minimum size and head width. I've updated the Dragonfly section of the review to reflect that.

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In reply to Theo Moore - UKC and UKH:

While we’re on the subject I was confused by the lauding of the dragonflies for their narrow head width.  It’s not narrow, unless compared to regular dragon cams.  In the smaller sizes the other true micocams in the test are both smaller (zeros and z4s).  I personally felt the 34mm width of the green dragonfly to be bizarrely large when compared to the size of crack it goes in.  I find it odd that the dragonflies are are up first and described as if they are the last word in narrow cams when they are the same width as the smallest cams in regular (non-micro) cams sets (totems/master cam ultralights).  I own a lot of DMM kit and love it much as anyone but I don’t think this review does a good job of objective comparison.  In my opinion it reads like the dragonflies are better than what they really are.

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 galpinos 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Rebecca Ting - UKC and Rockfax:

> Agree with Theo and Rob - I always carry the Black, Blue and Yellow Totems on any rock, but especially valuable on Peak limestone. C4s are fine when placed well in 'good' limestone placements but I'd always reach for a Totem first where it counts. 

Cheers Rebecca. Looks like Outside might be getting some more of my hard earned.....

> We had an original Alien Black and it opened some doors, but the Totem Basics are still the grippiest cams I've fallen on. The Dragonflys and Z4s both feel like they could be convincing on Peak Lime (and the narrower heads make for more/'better' placement options in weird pockets and shallow cracks) but haven't had airtime on them yet ...there's just something super reassuring about the alloy on the Basics, even though my blue is pretty chewed up now...

I still find it interesting that two alloys, with near identical hardness values, can be subject to such differing real world opinions.

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In reply to metrorat:

Thanks for the input, the beauty of the UKC forums is that we can get experiences from lots of different climbers and not just the reviewer. You're right that the Dragonflys aren't the narrowest and it wasn't my intention in the review to make them out to be the best micro cam available. I decided not to award 'Best in Test' or 'Highly Recommended' labels.

I have a set of all the micro cams (apart from the BDs which Rebecca reviewed) and have climbed with them a lot. In the smallest sizes I find myself racking the Dragonflys most often. I also always carry the Black, Blue and Yellow Totems too. I can't say that the Dragonflys are objectively better than the other cams in the test, and I don't personally believe that, I just like that there's 3 sizes below the regular cam sizes and the head widths (whilst not the narrowest) are narrow enough that they work well. Perhaps it's just because I'm used to using them as I've had them for longer. 

In reality, most of the micro cams in the test are of an excellent standard and are much the same. I could have put this sentence at the start of the review but it's not quite as sexy!

Post edited at 14:56
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 Marmolata 11 Sep 2020
In reply to galpinos

> I still find it interesting that two alloys, with near identical hardness values, can be subject to such differing real world opinions.

Being an engineer but without special knowlegde of metallurgy I think the hardness does not depend on the alloy alone. Ratger the heat treatment and surface treatment and the manufacturing technoology will influence the hardness of the final component.

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 galpinos 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Marmolata:

Both alloys are a near identical alloy, both heat treated /tempered in the same manner (both are T6) and the surface machining looks very similar to me.

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In reply to Theo Moore - UKC and UKH:

I get what you’re saying Theo.  I don’t mean to be too overtly critical but I think the issue I have with this piece is simply the lack of a real comparative review element.  It reads a bit like an amalgamation of the various reviews of the individual cam sets but without a proper comparison.  
 

The dragonfly review was obviously written before the z4s had come out and therefore is inaccurate in the context of the group test.  I understand that you like the dragonflies but in a microcam group test it’s not really fair to claim that what is great about them is their head width.  When compared to other microcams they are the widest in the small sizes, which let’s be honest are the only real ‘micro’ microcam sizes.

Yes the dragonflies are narrow compared to regular cams but this is a microcam group test, not cams vs microcams.


The smallest z4 is 6.5mm narrower than the smallest dragonfly, which is a big difference, but weirdly in the review the paragraph about the importance of head width makes no mention of the z4s but just mentions it the context of how great the dragonflies are.  When I got my hands on the green dragonfly (after months of waiting) the first thing I thought was how wide it was! Having always used c3s it looked mahoosive and it has a tendency to be too wide for many placements where the purple C3 or green z4 would fit sweetly. 

Like anyone who spends money on climbing kit, I go to the reviews to help me make buying decisions.  In this instance I find the lack of clarity and proper comparison confusing.  Also I think if you got hold of some z4s and compared them to the dragonflies you’d see what I’m on about.

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In reply to metrorat:

Sorry I’m being super-moany.  What would be great in this review is a table with the different cam set stats side by side for comparison.  

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In reply to metrorat:

Thanks again for the feedback, it's good to make the reviews as useful as possible! I've added a comparison table to the bottom of the review. From looking at these it becomes clear that, as you say, the Z4s come out of top in terms of min and max range and smallest head width.

This link should take you straight to the new table: https://www.ukclimbing.com/gear/climbing/protection/micro_cams-12837#comparison

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In reply to metrorat:

Hopefully the table helps - great idea! It's good to be able to compare the objective things, but I also find there is so much that is 'gut'/personal preference about gear placements that it is hard to capture.

We haven't awarded 'Best in Test' or 'Highly Recommended' because a lot is subjective to personal preference and rock type etc. My gut feel on having seen everything in the test and climbed on everything but the Mastercams is that it would be between the DMMs and BDs for me. 

Context: My 'normal' cam rack is a multi pitch trad double rack and consists of C4s and Totems with additional Totem Basics, and guest appearances from the Black Alien and a 00 C3 at the small end. I have never got on so well with Dragons, Mastercams or Friends (for a combination of extendable slings, smaller hands and triggering action in bigger sizes, stiffness, flippiness) I also really didn't like the BD X4 (if anyone wants some I have a practically new set in a cupboard...) 

The first of the group I 'met' were the WC Zeros which impressed me in their 'micro' ness and flexibility compared to my options at the time. Now having climbed extensively on the green and red Dragonflys for nearly a year and having had a few months on the Z4s, I have added both to my rack in the micro range. 

The BDs are narrower and have a wider protective range per unit and this objectively allows more placements. Subjectively, I really like how they feel in hand and therefore how they are to place under pressure. But it's hard to know how much of that comes down to me being 'used to' the BD range. 

The Dragonflys have served me well until I got the Z4s and side by side they do feel 'grippier'. Subjectively, if both cams will place, something about the Dragonfly's alloy and lobe patterning is more confidence inspiring for grip and I will go for that. They are also objectively bendier in the stem (and therefore sometimes harder to place, but 'feel' less likely to walk/rip). 

If you have any more questions about Z4 vs Dragonfly I am happy to give my personal views

Post edited at 08:14
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In reply to Rebecca/Theo:

Cheers for the additional info and for doing the table, its very helpful to see all the stats side by side.  I do agree, the 'x-factor' with trusting gear isn't just about the stats but is so much about feel and instinctive preference.    

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 Andypeak 16 Sep 2020
In reply to Rebecca Ting - UKC and Rockfax:

"I also really didn't like the BD X4 (if anyone wants some I have a practically new set in a cupboard...)"

I'll have them if they are going

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In reply to Rebecca Ting - UKC and Rockfax:

I'd be interested to hear more about why you'd discard the Zeros for the Z4 or Dragonflys?

You mention they where the first ones you used and you liked the Microness and flexibility, what changed when you used the other brands?

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 John Aisthorpe 16 Sep 2020
In reply to UKC Gear:

I bought the BD Z4s in the end and after using them I think I made the right choice. The 'RigidFlex' stem really works. I found the X4 annoying and hard to place sometimes due to how flexible it is at the head, this is completely solved with the Z4 while still being flexible once placed. This as well as the narrow head and light weight make the Z4 the obvious winner for me. The only area for improvement I can think of might be 'grippier feel'. Other cams (dragonfly) may have it beaten in this area? It would be interesting to test if this actually makes a cam more likely to hold a fall in certain placements.

Post edited at 23:52
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In reply to galpinos et al.:

There is an interesting discussion regarding cam holding power going on over at mountainproject. As rgold sums it up, it's a dark science:

https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/119563272/holding-power-what-does-it-mean-and-how-does-that-differ-from-a-fall-rating?page=2

Post edited at 11:54
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In reply to McKEuan:

Good question. Firstly, the Zeros were not mine - I got introduced to them before they came to market when they were being tested by one of the WC team. Hence I didn't really discard them as never owned them.

Narrow, light, fit well, should grip well (not fallen on them). Bend and flex well... possibly a little too much? The stem ends up out of shape and the trigger wires seem exposed in a way that the others don't (have a look - they are more spread out than on the other two). Also with more flexibility I personally find cams get 'flippier' on the trigger action - if you press unevenly between fingers etc which I often do. Again, it is nothing objective - by all accounts excellent performance - and these comments totally subjective to me. 

I found both the DMM and BD more robust feeling, and for my trad mind, that works better. Hence buying the smallest two Dragonflys and being delighted about being fortunate enough to test the Z4s for this review. Plus Dragonflys cheapest!

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In reply to Rebecca Ting - UKC and Rockfax:

p>Thanks for your reply, interesting feedback.</p>

<p>Personally I’ve found Dragonfly’s and Z4s to feel less durable as they use a lot of plastic in their design and WC don’t use any but hey ho! I’ve got a set of Zeros and find them less flexible than Dragonfly’s which I find way to floppy for my taste!</p>

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