Beyond weighting the cams during routine use, such as when building anchors, etc., I was also fortunate enough to do some “surprise testing” of the cams on one occasion. In this instance, the silver #1.5 placed in a crack just behind a refrigerator block right below some slippery face moves at New River Gorge. I showed up planning to climb despite the fact that it was actively raining—I’m not out that way as often as I’d like, so I figured why not go for it. We found a couple sections of wall that were “mostly dry” and decided to try it out.
Feeling insecure because of occasional wet spots, I guess I wasn’t surprised when I slid right off a smear, but it always seems to quicken my heart rate, regardless. The cam held fine, didn’t move or walk despite not being extended (there’s that slightly longer sling put to good use), and I felt confident falling on it. That, getting back to the mysticism of cams, is a point worth dwelling on for a moment.
I know that these cams are well made, and they are designed to hold these falls. To that end, saying that a well-placed piece did what it has been rated to do doesn’t seem like sufficient analysis. The point behind that, though, is that I trusted it and felt good about it. Considering my inexperience with these cams relative to the rest of my rack, I think my confidence level with them is an unequivocal success on Wild Country’s part.
In general, the quality of the pieces was consistent throughout the range. Small sizes performed as well as the larger sizes, though subjectively I tend to prefer cams with narrower heads (i.e. TCUs) in the finger sizes. If you like the smaller C4 sizes (0.3, 0.4, 0.5), then you will be just as happy with the Helium Friends in those sizes.
Aside from being as good and as user friendly as Camalots, they complement an existing rack of Camalots nicely if you, like many people, bought C4s as your first set. The sizes, while relatively similar, are subtly different, and it is nice to complement an existing set of cams with a set that fills in some of the overlap spaces.
The benefits of this are immediately clear on many Indian Creek cracks that slowly widen (or taper) as you go up. Though any set of cams, because their ranges technically overlap, should be able to handle this, there are still crack sizes (especially in larger sizes, since overlap relative to cam size decreases as cam size increases) where, say, a number 3 C4 is a bit under-cammed but the number 4 is over-cammed and threatening never to come out. Having more than one brand of cam for these situations is ideal.
The Wild Country Helium Friends cams are a great option for any trad climbing application. The longer stem and sling make deeper placements possible, while the small, single-axle head keeps the bulk down on your rack. As stated above, even Camalot loyalists should think about outfitting with these so as to fill in the size gaps that exist between cams.
Because of the smaller cam angle, you need one extra cam to cover the same range when compared to C4s, a significant drawback from a cost perspective, though this is really only an issue when looking at buying a full set of cams. When looking at individual pieces, they are as solid as anything else on the market and are ideal for filling in gaps on your rack.