Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight Cams
Sizes Tested: 0.5, 1, 2, 3
Available Sizes: 0.4, 0.5, 0.75, 1, 2, 3, 4
- Double-axle design offers widest range for each cam unit
- Dyneema core stem design is strong, durable and low-profile
- 14 mm dyneema tape sling
- Ergonomically optimized stem and thumb loop for precision placements
- Color-coded for easy identification and wide range of sizes
Test Locations: Swan Range, Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, & Gallatin Canyon, MT; Wind River Range, WY; Zion National Park, UT; Yosemite National Park, CA; Rocky Mountain National Park, Independence Pass, & Eldorado Canyon, CO
- Matt Zia: 30
- Dave Alie: 15
For many modern American trad climbers, Black Diamond’s C4 Camalots are an integral part of their experience. The wide expansion range, good durability, and comparably low cost have made C4’s the dominant device in the US market. Additionally, many climbers learn traditional climbing with them and develop a fluency in their size and color scheme, reinforcing continued use of the C4s. (note: these are so named because they are the fourth generation of BD’s flagship cam, but are listed on their site simply as “Camalots.” We will refer to them here as C4s to avoid confusion).
Nonetheless, the enduring criticism of Black Diamonds C4’s has been that they are heavier than comparable options such as the DMM Dragon Cams, Wild Country Helium Friends, and Metolius Ultralight Mastercams. That is, until the arrival of the Camalot Ultralight.
With a claimed 25% weight savings despite covering the same range, and a step up in price of between $25 and $40 more per cam, the Ultralights reflect a change in both the weight and reasonable cost of C4s.
Black Diamond still sells the C4, and we’ve received a lot of questions surrounding the issue of why one might choose the Camalot Ultralight if the Camalot C4s are still on the market for much cheaper. Beyond the price disparity between the Camalot Ultralights and the competition, we also had concerns about durability, so climbing editor Dave Alie and I decided to use and abuse them in all sorts of situations in order to address these questions and concerns. Let’s start with exactly what is different about the Camalot Ultralights relative to the C4s.
Construction and Weight
The broad theme here is weight savings. There are a handful of minor changes made to the anatomy of the cam, but all are in service of the goal of trimming weight. More metal has been machined out of the lobes than is the case with the C4. Inside the stem and thumb loop is braided Dyneema, rather than metal cable. The plastic housing around the stem is thicker and stiffer, presumably to retain some of the rigidity and durability that the metal cable provided in the C4. Finally, the thin cables connecting the lobes to the trigger on the C4 have been replaced with single strand wire encased in a plastic/rubber sleeve.
Beyond a few minor aesthetic changes to the thumb loop, very little else has changed. Yet these modifications combine to offer a stated 25% weight reduction throughout the line. It is worth noting that not every size in the C4 line has an Ultralight counterpart. Those familiar with C4s will find the smallest (#0.3) and largest (#5 and #6) omitted from the Ultralight line.
For reference, here are some measured weights for both the C4 Camalots and Camalot Ultralights.
Black Diamond C4 Camalot:
- #1: 4.46 oz / 126 g
- #2: 5.43 oz / 154 g
- #3: 7.04 oz / 200 g
Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight:
- #1: 3.56 oz / 101 g
- #2: 4.44 oz / 126 g
- #3: 5.74 oz / 163 g
The first big question we had about the Ultralights was durability. For reasons that are obvious, it’s very often the case that weight savings are achieved by sacrificing longevity: less weight = less material = less durable. Further, Dyneema is known to degrade under prolonged exposure to UV light, and also simply breaks down over time like any other textile. Though the Dyneema sling is visible through the thumb loop, Black Diamond says that the clear plastic that houses the Dyneema does block UV light. This means that while you can see the Dyneema, it remains protected from UV light.
This, however, addresses only the narrow question of the sling. After a big summer climbing season all over Montana, Utah, and Colorado, we both felt that the Ultralights are absolutely less durable than C4’s. I can see more noticeable wear on the cam lobes from placing and falling on them than I usually see on a C4 with equal usage, and I also see more wear on the stem than on a C4.
That said, the Ultralights are not intended for use as cams on a daily rack. Black Diamond will readily explain that the Ultralights are designed for situations where weight truly matters. When I’m cragging in areas like Gallatin Canyon, MT, where I’m between five and thirty minutes from the truck, I’m not too worried about how much my rack weighs. But when I’m hiking 14 miles into the Wind Rivers, I’m more concerned with every gram. So, the Ultralights stay in the truck unless I’m hiking an excessive distance with an exceedingly heavy pack.
Action and Placement
The Ultralights have the exact same expansion range and head width as the C4’s, and as one might expect, place just the same. If anything, I found the action on the Ultralights to be a bit smoother and softer than on C4’s, possibly a result of thinner gauge springs in the head.
Who are they for?
If the Camalot Ultralights aren’t as durable as the C4s and they’re substantially more expensive ($40 more expensive, in the case of the #4), what is the appeal? Really, just the weight savings. Because you’re shelling out more upfront and still more further down the line in the form of earlier retirements, you’ve really got to want those weight savings.
The Camalot Ultralights are lighter than even Wild Country’s New Friends, which borrow heavily from Black Diamond’s successful design. The Metolius Ultralight Master Cam, however, is right in the same weight class as the Camalot Ultralights. The hand-sized #7 Ultralight Mastercam (light blue) has a similar (though narrower) range as the #2 Camalot Ultralight (gold), and weighs 113 g as opposed to 126 g for the Camalot Ultralight (both measurements recorded by us). Granted, the Ultralight Mastercam owes some of its weight savings to the fact that it’s simply a smaller unit: it has a very basic design with a thin trigger and no thumb loop. Thumb loops are nice, but something’s got to go to get the cams down to these feather-light weights. However, we’ve found that the Metolius Ultralight Master Cam is more capable of standing up to the abuse of climbing than the Camalot Ultralights.
If fast and light is the appeal of the Camalot Ultralights, then they’ve got serious competition from the current crop of Metolius Ultralight Master Cams. It is worth noting that the Master Cams are lighter per unit, but because the Master Cams don’t have as much usable range as the Camalots (because they have a smaller cam angle and lack the latter’s double-axle design), you need 7 Master Cams to cover everything from tips to cupped-hands, whereas both Camalot lines cover this with just 6 cams. Consequently, the weight of the total set is comparable.
Once price is considered, though, there is no comparison. The largest Ultralight Master Cam (the purple #8), a cupped-hands sized piece, is $65. The comparably sized #3 Camalot Ultralight (blue) is $110. That’s a tremendous difference in price, and for the most part what you’re getting for that is a plastic thumb loop and a less durable cam. Even when you account for the greater number of Metolius units to cover the same range, a set of Ultralight Master Cams ranging from fingers to wide hands (#2 – #8) runs $430, while the same range of Camalot Ultralights (#0.4 – #3) is $570.
So where might the Camalot Ultralights have an edge? Most obviously, the #4 Camalot Ultralight doesn’t have a Metolius equivalent. If you’re making an alpine run at something and you’ll need a #4 (or several) on your rack, the Camalot Ultralight is a good option if you don’t mind the fact that the #4 costs $130. Routes like Pervertical Sanctuary on Longs Peak’s Diamond come to mind as good candidates: most parties will want two, if not three cams in this size, while the long approach and high elevation punish you for bringing every last unnecessary gram.
Outside of niche applications like this, however, we feel that the Ultralight Camalots are caught between the standard Camalot C4 (cheaper, more durable) and the Metolius Ultralight Master Cam (cheaper, more durable, and also ultralight weight, but with no thumb loop).
The weight reduction of the Black Diamond Ultralight Camalots is noticeable and appreciated on alpine climbs, especially when a long approach is involved. This is especially true for the larger sizes where the weight savings become even more substantial. Whether the weight savings is worth the extra cost per cam is a decision you may need to make for yourself: if you need a couple pieces for alpine climbing (particularly the #4, which doesn’t have a competing ultralight cam on the market) and money is no object, the Camalot Ultralights bring all the things climbers have embraced about the C4s into a leaner, lighter package.
For most sizes, the Metolius Ultralight Master Cams provide a more durable, much cheaper lightweight alternative. For cragging and most climbing without a long approach, the standard C4s offer the same features and familiar sizes at a much lower price point. So with all that said, I plan on keeping my rack of C4’s for the majority of my climbing, but will continue to take the Ultralights out for those longer missions a long way from the road.