This post originally published in Fall 2016. In Spring of 2017 I added a set of Black Diamond Ultralights to my kit and now with a year of testing it was time to update my findings. New contest for a free cam as well!
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. Note that this original review compares the previous version of the Dragons. The DMM Dragon 2’s are now available and have slightly wider cam lobes (more contact) and a textured thumb press for better grip.
C4’s vs DMM Dragon Cams
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.
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. When you consider the amount of quick-draws you could reduce from your kit while using the DMM Dragons (because of the built in extendable sling) the DMM Dragons are definitely a lighter option than a set of the Black Diamond C4’s.
However investing in the Black Diamond Ultralights 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.
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.
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.
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 (and has since be improved with the DMM Dragon 2’s). 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 un-extended 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. (Update the newer DMM Dragon 2’s have increased their cam head by 1.5 – 2 mm in size).
Black Diamond Ultralights
As mentioned above I picked up a set of Black Diamond Ultralights during Spring of 2017 and now have one full year climbing on them. I guided over 40 days of rock in the East with them and took them on a two week trip to the Cascades. They are holding up extremely well for the amount of use they see and have become my most reached for set whether I’m heading to the local crag to guide or off on a Cascades climbing trip.
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 (especially with the improvement made to the DMM Dragon 2’s), or the time-tested standby of the C4’s (especially if also aid climbing).
Where to Buy
First shop local! You can find most of these items at the following retailers in Mount Washington Valley!
You can also find them online at the following merchants:
Backcountry has all Black Diamond Cams 10% OFF!
I’m giving away one DMM Dragon Size 5 (equivalent to a Black Diamond #3), a $70 value!
To enter click the link HERE!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: David Lottmann bought all the items referred to in this review with his own money. This post contains affiliate links.