DMM Dragons vs. Black Diamond C4 Camalots vs. Ultralights Comparison (and giveaway!)

For the last two decades Black Diamond Camalots have been a mainstay of my rack. When the new C4’s came out in 2005 I upgraded my whole rack and saved over a pound in the process. While I’d been aware of the DMM Dragon Cams for a few years it wasn’t until I needed to replace a few well loved cams on my rack that I decided to give them a try.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
DMM Dragon Cams Review

I picked up the 2, 3, 4, and 5, which is equivalent to the Black Diamond C4 .75, 1, 2, and 3.

Since the numbers the manufacturers assigned for the sizes do not correlate well we will be happier if we refer to them by color (which thankfully correlates). So I picked up the green, red, yellow, and blue size.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
A welcome addition to the rack

While they felt light in hand manufacturer specs and my home scale confirmed they are almost identical in weight to the Black Diamond C4’s. A full set of each weighs within one ounce of the other, with the Dragons coming in a hair lighter.

While I was not able to obtain a set of Black Diamond Ultralights for this review using the manufacturer specifications I calculated one would save about 8 ounces, half a pound, over either the DMM Dragons or the Black Diamond C4’s for a full rack.  That weight savings comes at considerable cost, about $200 more for a full rack. The weight savings are noticeable throughout the size range but the largest gains are made in the biggest sizes.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
Breaking down the numbers

When comparing weight savings we have to take a look at probably the most noticeable feature of the DMM Dragons, the inclusion of an extendable dyneema sling.

DMM Dragon Cam Review
Expandable sling not extended
DMM Dragon Cam Review
Expandable sling extended

The advantages & disadvantages to this unique feature are a bit specific to the route & type of climbing you predominantly do, but lets take a look. First, you can gain 12-14cm of “free” extension on your placement without having to carry an extra quickdraw. How much weight can that save? Well 7-8 average quick-draws like the Petzl Djinns weigh close to 2 pounds, so that’s significant. On a straight up route where the gear is in-line this advantage is less pronounced as you’ll be clipping the sling un-extended, just like the sling on a C4. On a wandering line or alpine route this feature could probably save you a few draws and slings further reducing total pack weight.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
Hot forged thumb press

There are a few considerations with this design. First, the “thumb loop” found on the Black Diamond C4’s is considered to be one of the easiest to manipulate when pumped or trying to surgically get the best possible placement in a weird situation. Personally I feel the thump press on the DMM Dragons is plenty sufficient to keep control of the cam while making difficult placements. The thumb loop does provide a higher clip point on the protection, which should only be used for aid climbing applications, so this point is quite obscure for non-aid climbing applications. The last concern is the more complex cleaning process for the second. If the sling is extended it can be tricky to re-rack the cam one handed without it hanging low off the harness. With a little practice it can be done, but it is definitely not as easy as re-racking an unextended sling.

As for holding power there has been anecdotal comments since they were released in 2010 that the slightly thinner surface area might be a concern in softer rock (sandstone). I have not seen any evidence of DMM Dragons failing in softer sandstone conditions when a thicker cam head may have held, so I think that theory can be debunked at this point.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
DMM Dragon Cams Review

While I can only compare tech specs on the currently sold out Black Diamond Ultralights I am looking forward to reviewing them (and the Metolius Master Cams) in detail once I get my hands on them. I’m hoping the above spreadsheet is helpful for some when deciding if the additional weight savings is worth the additional moo-lah. For some it will be a resounding yes, and others will be happier with the flexibility of the DMM Dragons, or the time-tested standby of the C4’s (especially if also aid climbing).

Right now both DMM Dragon cams and Black Diamond C4’s are on sale on Amazon here and here! You could pick up a full set of Dragons for around $450 or C4’s for around $400!

I’m giving away a brand new Black Diamond Camalot C4 Size #1, a $79.95 value! The contest is being run through Rafflecopter and ends at 12:00am September 30th, 2016! Enter up to four times!

Just click the link below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

9/30/16 UPDATE! Contest over! Congrats to Brandon M.!

Disclaimer: David Lottmann bought all the items referred to in this review with his own money. This post contains affiliate links.

 

 

 

24 thoughts on “DMM Dragons vs. Black Diamond C4 Camalots vs. Ultralights Comparison (and giveaway!)

    • I’ll be honest, I’m catching up on the new Dragons and haven’t gotten my hands on them yet. I’d say the greater surface contact would make sense in the scenarios they are being billed for, i.e. soft sandstone or really slick rock… like super polished varnish (ever climb Dark Shadows in Red Rocks?). That said I don’t hear of narrow cam heads failing that often, so it wouldn’t be the key feature I would be into personally… but I’ll need to get some in my hands to really have an opinion here.

  1. Thanks for the review. C4s have been my cams of choice, but it’d be interesting to try out a few Dragons. I’ll definitely keep them in mind when the time comes. How does the range compare?

  2. Nice review Dave. I have checked the DMMs out in the store but have never placed one. Would like to try them at some point. So far, if you could only pick one set which would you choose? I’m a BD lifer so far.

    • Putting me on the spot huh? As I mentioned in my review I have pretty much been a BD lifer. That said I am so glad to see that the industry supports so many great options. We now have so many choices compared to 20 years ago! I’m also hoping to get some Metolius Master Cams soon so I can do an updated review with those and the new Dragons!

  3. I have a mix and match set of C4s and DMMs. I buy them interchangeably depending on which one is on sale when I pull the trigger. In real use, the extendable sling on the DMM is nice, but not long enough to take the place of an alpine draw or a sling. The best use is to extend the placement a bit so the biner does not sit against the rock in an awkward spot.

    None of my DMMs are old enough for me to say that I have put them through the ringer, but I like them. In practice, I don’t see a difference that would make me convert into one cam over another.

  4. The new Dragon 2’s have wider lobes (with the Triple Grip). I don’t know how much the TripleGrip makes a difference, but according to DMM removing the anodization on the contact portion of the lobe increases grip (until the anodization inevitably wears off on your other cams…)

  5. I opted for the BD Ultralight #4 since the biggest savings are in the higher range. I find it just as easy to use and it is most definitely lighter (0.14lbs). So far it is holding up well, granted it sees less use than its companions. Nice “light” feel in the hand for a #4, weight balance feels like a #3 C4. I haven’t done any tests for holding strength in the field yet, but I plan to keep it that way.

  6. Nice review! I’d be very interested in hearing about the ultra light C4s if you ever get your hands on some.

  7. I have several friends who will clip the thumb loop on C4’s to shorten an anchor or to reduce the length of a fall. I would like to highlight this and recommend against it. The most recent C4/Ultralight instruction manual has a diagram that cautions to not clip the thumb loop because it weakens it by 2kN. Here is an article BD posted that dives into the why. In short it weakens the cam and reduces the longevity of the cam. The C3 manual actually describes the issue in addition to a diagram(second link).

    http://blackdiamondequipment.com/en/qc-labreslinging-camalots-and-c3s.html

    http://demandware.edgesuite.net/aakn_prd/on/demandware.static/-/Sites-bdel/default/dw1084cefd/files/MM5931_D%20C3%20IT_WEB.pdf

    For guides this also posses a liability problem. By using a piece of protection outside of manufactures recommendations it can be viewed/treated as negligence if an accident happens while the C4/C3/X4/Ultralight is clipped through the thumb loop. Why not have a piece of gear be 2kN stronger?

    With that said these cams are very strong reducing the strength by 2kN(450Ibf) should not be harmful unless something has gone terribly wrong.

    • Thanks for the comment and links to more reading. It’s important for all end users, guides or not, to understand the details. In practice, shortening the clip makes 100% sense in aid climbing applications. It is properly discouraged when free climbing due to the potential damage to your equipment. Better to extend that whip by 2 inches huh? Personally I will sometimes clip the loop direct when tweaking a solid 3 piece anchor as these anchors never see the kind of forces that could damage the gear (outside the catastrophic).

  8. Thanks for the review, I love the C4’s and have a full rack of them but I have been thinking of getting doubles as dragons so I can carry less slings for longer routes.

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