A Preemptive Strike Against My Ever Moving To Salt Lake City


I can imagine how the meeting went.

All the Black Diamond executives sitting around a dark oaken table, deep in their subterranean lair beneath Salt Lake City. After the invocation of the dirtbag liturgy and the burnt sacrifice of a 4′ length of tubular webbing stuffed with marijuana, a spirit portal is opened to Patagonia so that the great and venerable Yvon Chouinard can join them from the pentangle drawn in the grove behind his ranch. They say he sold this company years ago but if you ever believed that he ever gave up control you were a fool. Black Diamond’s reach is great, they say, they lead the world of climbing gadgets in every field, only a few companies, fringe players, locally marketed, are superior, but wait, one young marketing representative says, what about the Mastercam? There is a collective gasp. Chouinard averts his gaze. It is a word they do not say. The retorts come thick and fast: Blasphemy! The C3 has the narrowest head width of any finger-size cam! The 000 is the smallest manufactured by any company! They quickly rekindle the sacrificial fire and burn Metolius in effigy. Chouinard, appeased, nods slowly, but the marketing rep is not finished. He opens his laptop and pulls up the Outdoor Gear Lab website, here, he says, read it! They do and despair falls across the boardroom, Chris Macnamara, founder of Supertopo and author of its crown jewel, the Yosemite bigwall guidebook, has named the Mastercam the best of its class. The C3 comes in low on the list, an auxiliary piece, a novelty. There is silence but the marketing rep did not come unprepared, he has been speaking with the lead rock pro engineers and he has a plan. The Mastercam is superior, he says, there is no denying it now, but what has Metolius done? They have taken the CCH Alien and made it sturdier, cannot we do the same? Cannot we make a Mastercam and call it something else and pretend it was our idea all along?

And so they did, and thus was born the X4.

But seriously.

The X4 is much like the Mastercam and the Alien before it, and like the new Totem and FIxe Aliens for that matter. It contains two key features that all of these lack: double-axels like those in the C4 or “stacked axels” in the smaller sizes, and shiny color-coded beads to protect the ultra-flexible cable. The catch is that aside from a narrower head and greater flexibility, the larger X4s are identical to the C4s, while the “stacking” of the axels on the smaller X4s amounts to a negligible difference in expansion range. The other catch is that the ultra-flexible stem kinks horribly. Oh, and that much-touted narrower head? They just squeezed all the components together, giving the lobes a remarkable capacity to become jammed with dirt. Also the trigger wire cables break (to be fair, this happens to a lot of small cams).

photo 2[12]

Look at how kinked that is, obviously garbage. Photo by Ryan Hoover

When I first started using the X4, because my main climbing partner bought the .1, .2, and .3 sizes, they were my go-to small cams. This was mostly because I spent enough time playing with them to learn the sizes, while with his Aliens it was still guess-and-grab. My excitement wore off quickly once i realized how quickly they became kinked and gritty, while his and my other small cams stayed in good working order. X4s were, not too long ago, the newest shiniest gadget a climber could buy, and I suspect a lot of their sales was driven by that fact alone.

X4s look fancy but don’t be deceived, there is nothing innovative about them. The larger sizes are marginally better in pod placements than their equivalent C4s, but that is about it. With the new Mastercam design looking as wrong-headed as it does, Black Diamond may be well positioned to capture a larger portion of the small cam market, but we don’t have to let this happen, we don’t have to reward their unoriginality and short-sighted design work – buy Aliens.

This review is not supported in any way by Totem or Fixe. If either company would like to see more reviews like this they are invited to send me their products. I specifically need, black, blue, green, and yellow sizes, and offsets, offsets are cool too, any size of offset.