Gear Review: Cassin X-Dream Ice Axe

(Originally posted September 2017)


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The leaves are starting to turn high in our notches so I find myself starting to anticipate another great ice climbing season in the Northeast. Last season I had the opportunity to demo the CAMP/Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes and while I shared my positive impressions of them with dozens of climbing partners I never got around to a full detailed review. With the ice climbing season quickly approaching what better time than now?

Cassin X-Dream Ice Axe Review
The author on Black Pudding Gully, WI 4+, photo by Brent Doscher

If I had to describe these tools in one word it would easily be…

versatile

There is more custom-ability in this model then any other ice axe I have ever used! Let’s start with my favorite feature of the Cassin X-Dream’s!

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The Handle

By simply loosening one bolt you can pivot the handle into a “dry-tooling” setting appropriate for high level mixed climbing and competitions. This setting will align the handle/pick in a configuration quite similar to the Petzl Ergo Ice Axe. I don’t personally climb in competitions or send overhanging mixed sport routes in the winter so I only tested these in the “ice” setting which was the perfect angle for comfortable swings on steep grade 4 and grade 5 waterfall ice routes, and is quite similar to the alignment of the Petzl Nomic. If you’ve never demo’d a tool with a handle angled like this it’s hard to explain how much of a difference it makes on steep ice allowing your wrist to stay in a much more natural position and facilitating the relaxed grip that is so crucial on grade 4+ ice.

CAMP/CASSIN X-Dream Review
Ergonomic handle allows for relaxed grip in steep terrain- photo by Brent Doscher

Micro-adjustable trigger finger ledges can be adjusted in multiple ways. With a small phillips head screw driver you can swap the main trigger finger ledge from the included “X-finger small” with an “X-finger large, sold separately, $6”. My medium sized hands preferred the smaller less obtrusive setting.

For those with very small hands you can snap in the X-Rest handle height insert (sold separately, $8) which raises the height of the handle interior by about 3 mm.

The X-Trigger pommel (included) attaches to the shaft for an optional third ledge and can be slid up or down to your preferred spot. I liked mine just above the X-Grip 2 friction tape that is also included on the shaft.

Finally the entire handle can be swapped out with the recently released X-Dream Alpine Grip, a feature that greatly improves security when topping out an ice route and switching back to piolet canne.

Cassin X-Dream Ice Axe Review
Original X-Dream Grip (included) next to X-Dream Alpine Grip, sold separately $79.95 ea.

The Picks

There are three picks designed for the Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes and they come stock with the “Mixte” pick which I found worked as well as any ice pick I’ve used across the major manufacture brands. All three are T-rated which adds confidence when torquing or utilizing The Stein Pull. I plan on buying a set of the ice picks this season as I think the addition of the small hammer will add a nice touch of head weight and help this tool step even closer into the alpine environment (occasional testing of pitons, tool tapping to gently set a pick on thin ice, etc).

CAMP/CASSIN X-Dream Review
Author samples the sweets on Black Pudding Gully- photo by Brent Doscher

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UPDATE: Soon after posting this review CAMP USA let me know that they just released two more compatible accessories that further add to the versatility of this tool. A new “Total Dry” pick designed for over-hanging hooking and competition. This brings the pick options on this axe to four! Also, and more exciting in my opinion is the new available head weights. I will be trying these out with a new set of ice picks this winter!


The Shaft

Cassin combines a T-rated aluminum shaft with a chromoly steel head that passes both CE and UIAA certification. Total weight is 1 lb 5 oz, 610 grams and the swing feels very natural and balanced. I did not find any need to adapt my swing to these like I have with some comparable models from other companies. With the included X-Grip friction tape and “third ledge” pommel I’ve found no need to supplement the rest of the shaft with after market grip tape. During placement the shaft dampens nicely without noticeable vibration and provides reliable feedback with each stick.

CAMP/CASSIN X-Dream Review
Balanced natural swings- photo by Brent Doscher

Summary

With a high degree of customization and optimization for steep ice, mixed routes, and competition climbing this Italian made ice axe should become a common sight on the steep ice drips around the world. If you lead or follow grade 4 and up waterfall ice you should try to demo a pair of these! While outfitting them with the new X-Dream Alpine Grip puts them in the running for the most expensive set of tools when it comes to waterfall ice axes sometimes you get what you pay for.

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CAMP/CASSIN X-Dream Review
Author on Drool of the Beast, Grade 5- photo by Brent Doscher

Thanks for reading! See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

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Product Preview- Arc’teryx AR Mountaineering Boots and Cassin Blade Runner Crampons

While I am excited about all the products I’ll be testing this winter I am perhaps most stoked to put this duo together and get on some early season ice as soon as possible! I’m hoping I’ll get enough field days in to have a full review post for each by early-mid January. I realize though by then a lot of ice climbers may have already geared up and wanted to share my first impressions on these before the season arrives.

Let’s start with a preliminary look at the new Acr’teryx AR Mountaineering Boots.

Arc'teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boot Review
Arc’teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots

“A pinnacle of design for mountaineering, ice and mixed climbing, the Acrux AR is the lightest, most durable, and lowest profile insulated double boot available.”- Arcteryx.com

That is a strong statement, and it happens to be true. Let’s compare some of the other lightweight double boots on the market:

La Sportiva Spantik (88.96 oz/pair)

La Sportiva Baruntse (82.96 oz/pair)

La Sportiva G2 SM (72.22 oz/pair)

Scarpa Phantom 6000 (70 oz/pair)

Arc’teryx Acrux AR (69.1 oz/pair)

This is actually less than an ounce difference than my La Sportiva Batura 2.0’s that I reviewed last winter here.

LaSportiva Batura 2.0 Review
LaSportiva Batura 2.0 Review

The obvious difference here between these and my Batura’s is that these have a removable liner.

ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT Review
ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT PREVIEW
ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT
ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT removable liner

These liners “feel high-tech” in hand. I wore them around the house and they feel like a comfy slipper designed for astronauts. From arcteryx.com:

“Arc’teryx Adaptive Fit technology uses a removable bootie that employs stretch textiles and minimal seams to create an instant custom fit with no pressure. With protection extended beyond the cuff of the boot and the highest level of breathability in this category, the bootie’s GORE-TEX® membrane optimizes climate control and waterproof benefit. The perforated PE foam’s quick dry properties improve comfort, and a rubberized sole allows the bootie to be used as a camp shoe.”


Arc’teryx partnered with Vibram®  and created the AR outsole using Vibram® Mont rubber which keeps its frictional properties in sub-zero temps.

Arcteryx AR Mountaineering Boots Preview
The Vibram® AR outersole uses Vibram® Mont rubber to perform well even in extreme cold

“The specially developed Vibram® AR outsole is designed for support and sure footedness. The tread and construction feature a semi-blocked toe, with anti-slip grooves, a medial climbing support zone, and heel created to provide braking on steep descents. The Vibram® Mont rubber compound maintains its performance in sub-zero conditions.”


I’ll share a promotional video on the boots and move onto the crampons I’ll be pairing with them this winter!


CASSIN Blade Runner Crampons

CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons
Cassin Blade Runner Crampons

These are the most aggressive fully adaptable to any situation crampons I have seen. I used to love my older Petzl M10 crampons because I could swap out the front points for either dual, mono, or mono-offset. The Blade Runner’s do all that but CAMP also makes optional “snow points” so you can turn your vertical ice crampon into a multiple purpose mountaineering crampon. It really does make these incredibly versatile! My demo pair arrived set for offset mono and I plan to test them that way first with our thin early season ice conditions. Included with the crampons were two more vertical front points and semi-automatic toe bails allow for use on boots without rigid toe lugs.

CAMP Blade Runner Crampons
Included extra parts

Fit

How well a crampon can attach to your boot is paramount. You want them to feel like they were designed for each other and no one else. Right out of the box the fit on the Acrteryx AR was quite good. There is plenty of adjust-ability to make it “perfect” starting with three possible toe bail positions, two possible heel lever bar positions, full vertical adjustment on the heel lever itself, and, something I haven’t seen before, the asymmetric bottom that more closely follows the contours of the boot outer-sole.

CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons
CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons- a snug fit
CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons
Vertical heel lever adjustment

Obviously we can’t talk much about performance just yet but they are definitely a very aggressive crampon! One could argue this is a 19 point crampon (20 if set up in dual front-point mode). The design looks like it will excel on steep & cauliflower ice.

CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons
Cassin Blade Runner Crampons- aggressive, included anti-balling plates

The front points are made from Chromoly Steel and taper from 5mm down to 3mm. A “wear indicator” of sorts lets you know when it’s time to swap in new front points.

CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons
CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons

Well that’s it for my first impressions. I absolutely can not wait to start putting these to use this winter. I’m also reviewing the Camp Cassin X-All Mountain Ice Tools and the Camp Cassin X-Dream Ice Tools.

CAMP USA Cassin Ice Tools/Crampons
Things with sharp points

Think the Arcteryx Acrux AR boots might be good for you?

You can purchase them on Amazon here. Ordering through that link will help support this blog.

Stay tuned this winter for lots of gear reviews and giveaways! I’ll be raffling off brand new climbing harnesses, ice screws, carabiners, and more. Don’t miss a review or giveaway! Subscribe/Follow this blog at the top right so you get all the details!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start