I also found that when using the Dragons as part of the anchor, I was glad for the ability to extend the placement without having to reach for more gear (and thus making it unavailable for the next pitch). I could simply extend the sling.
This adjustable sling really is DMM’s true innovation with the Dragon cam—a sort of, “how has it taken us this long?” moment. The sling is doubled over through two eye-holes at the base of the cam, so it can be clipped doubled-up at regular length (below left) or extended to double the length (below right).
It is also worth pointing out that the sling doesn’t just exist in those two default lengths: you can tie the sling off at any point and clip in above the knot if you really need the placement to clip in short. Being able to tie the sling at any point is nice in aid situations, and, because of the short stem, you can tie the sling off near the top and clip in higher than with almost any other cam. Practically, I can really only see doing this when adjusting a difficult anchor or when aiding, but it is nice that the option exists. However, this adjustability does come in handy in other situations, which I’ll get to in a moment.
The Dragon cams buck the current trend of putting a thumb loop at the distal end of the stem. First seen in CCH Aliens, thumb loops have become ubiquitous, a design element embraced in recent lines from BD, Metolius, Wild Country, Rock Empire, Fixe, Totem, and Trango.
I personally think thumb loops are, in general, a good thing. For example, I prefer the C4 version of the Camalot with the thumb loop to the previous generation without it. A thumb loop stabilizes the cam in your hands when you’re trying to place it, and DMM made what seems to me to be a half-hearted attempt to compensate by including a small dimple in the end of the stem. Functionally, this dimple does little to affect how stable the cam is to hold when placing it. The other nice thing about having a thumb loop on a cam is that it is easier to clip aiders in high on a placement.
But the main reason DMM shunned the thumb loop was to make room for the sling at the bottom of the stem, and being able to double the length of the sling on a cam without having to reach for an alpine draw is as amazing as you would think. Not only does this save your draws and runners for other placements, it saves time if you are simply extending a placement to minimize the chance of the cam walking. The sling is also very thin relative to the sewn runners that appear on most other cams, making walking less likely because the floppy sling on the Dragon refuses to transfer as much of the rope movement to the head of the cam.
If the extendable sling is so great, then, why don’t cams with thumb loops have it? The answer is that the thinner sling on the Dragon concentrates the force into half the area (relative to thicker, non-extendable slings like those of the C4), and is comparable to clipping directly into a cam’s thumb loop, a practice that Black Diamond estimates reduces a cams strength by 2kN.
Despite being pretty smitten by this addition, I did have one complaint: occasionally, I would re-clip the racking carabiner to extend the sling, and the stiff, sewn segment of the sling that holds the two ends of the loop together would catch in the eye-holes in such a way that was difficult or cumbersome to work with. Accepting that this is an unavoidable consequence of having an adjustable sling, I still love this aspect of the Dragon cams.
I still think there is room for improvement in this design, however. It would be nice, in future generations of the Dragon, to see the bottom of the stem re-shaped slightly to form a scooped curve rather than just the dimple that exists there now, in order to take back some of the lost stability that one gets from a thumb loop.
The Dragons hold their own against both the Wild Country Helium Friends and the Black Diamond C4s. The head design is almost a carbon copy of the Black Diamond C4, so if you like or are used to BD’s cams, you will likely enjoy the Dragons.
As mentioned earlier, almost all the meaningful innovation in the Dragons is located in the stem rather than the head. That is not necessarily a bad thing, however, and if you are a Wild Country Friends or Metolius devotee, the Dragons will fill in the gaps in your sizes nicely and make great supplementary cams.
The versatility that the sling design provides makes them an attractive option for anyone who climbs aid as well as free, but doesn’t want to have two dedicated racks and is looking for gear to do double duty. While I really enjoyed the extendable sling, I can see it requiring a little getting used to for some people. If you worry you are one of these people, then buy or borrow a single cam and feel it out, otherwise I would recommend them without hesitating.