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Metolius Master Cam Editiorial Review


Submitted by vegastradguy on 2008-04-06

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 10 | Comments: 28 | Views: 25069

by John Wilder


By vegastradguy.

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The Metolius Master Cams- so shiny!
J. Wilder
The Metolius Master Cams- so shiny! Photo: J. Wilder.

A little over a year ago, rumors started circulating that a prominent climbing company was building what was thought to be an ĎAlien Killerí- a cam designed specifically to compete with CCHís venerable Aliens. Those rumors became more solid as summer approached, and then, of course, at the Outdoor Retailer Show, they were revealed to the world- by Metolius. The cam, of course, is their new Master Cam, which is now finally on the market except for the two smallest sizes. I received a set for review from Metolius at the January show, but wasnít able to get out to test them thanks to the shoddy weather we managed to get for a couple of weeks afterward. I have, though, now climbed on them enough to have an opinion, as well as the input from several different partners who also had a chance to climb on them. First, of course, letís check in with the specs on these bad boys.

In essence, the cams are a single stem version of their famous TCUís and FCUís- Metolius has always been a U-stem cam company and this is their first shot at a single stem unit. As usual for Metolius, they have built it with strength and safety in mind. Constructed with 7075 Aluminum, the smaller cam angle that Metolius says gives you greater holding power with a slight range sacrifice, the cam also includes a sweet molded thumb loop reminiscent of Black Diamondís C4 and C3 loops as well as a very unique trigger assembly. As far as head width goes- the smaller units (yellow and below), are as narrow or narrower than the Aliens of the same size, but not as narrow as the C3. They achieve this by making the cam lobes themselves quite a bit narrower. At orange and above, though, they return the lobes to a bigger width, and as a result, a wider head width overall.

A little background on the trigger assembly. I asked Doug about this at the August (and January) shows and he basically said that the reason they chose to go with the assembly held together with cable rather than a sheath was due to the strength/flexibility payoff with a sheath. That is, if they used a more flexible sheath, the sheath itself wasnít strong enough to meet Metoliusí standards. If they went with a sheath strong enough, it wasnít flexible enough for their liking. As a result, they came up with a twin cable design with it oriented so that cams placed in a vertical crack would not tweak when taking a fall- a nice compliment to their TCU/FCU line, which are great for horizontal cracks, but can be a liability in certain vertical cracks due to the stem located on the outside of the unit.

Also included in the cam assembly is the Kevlar trigger cord that Metolius started using with their Supercams a few years ago. While the cord has met with some skepticism, Metolius maintains that aside from some issues with the glue in the original batch of Supercams (which was fixed right away), they have received no complaints or breakages from customers. With that said, I will note that in my scouring of the forums on the internet, I did come across one person saying that they managed to snap a cord on the first day of use, although I would take that with a grain of salt. Iíve logged roughly 50 pitches on the Master Cams to date and the Kevlar still looks brand new- and I climb on sandstone most of the time.

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The lineup- C3, Master Cam, and Alien....which is better? The answer- as always, it depends!
J. Wilder
The lineup - C3, Master Cam, and Alien....which is better? The answer, as always, it depends. Photo: J. Wilder.

Now, when I got a hold of the cams, I knew that you folks would want to see them side by side against Aliens- so I dusted off the Aliens from my gear room and put them back on my regular rack. I also figured that I should compare them against my new small cam- BDís C3 units. So, I wandered around the desert looking for finger cracks and thanking my lucky stars that Metolius didnít come out with a new 6Ē cam, and after 50 pitches of climbing, I came to a couple of conclusions.

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Side by side, the BD C4 and the Master Cam- both bomber!
C. Cauble
Side by side, the BD C4 and the Master Cam - both bomber. Photo: C. Cauble.

First and foremost, I want to say that Metolius has designed and built a great cam in the Master Cam. All of my friends who climbed on them gave them great reviews on placement and ease of use. When I was cranking at my limit, I found myself reaching for the Master Cam just as often, if not more so, than my C3s or the Aliens. Perhaps even more surprisingly, I found myself reaching for my green Master Cam more often than my #1 C4- something I really did not expect to happen!

The second thing I came to realize is that the Master Cam is a great general purpose cam. Hereís also where I think that some folks may hesitate when purchasing them because they are perceived as a direct competitor to the Alien. The Alien is a great design- especially because it set the bar so high in versatility and specialty use in addition to general use. The Master Cam comes really close to the Alien- probably the closest yet, but it doesnít quite make it. However, thereís good reason for this- Metolius has a safety and Ďbomberí standard that they live by and my personal opinion is that the Alien doesnít meet this standard, and cannot meet this standard- so to expect the Master Cam to be identical to the Alien is silly- itís not and it shouldnít be. The Master Cam was built according to what Metolius standards, not CCH's- and the result is a beefy cam that is, in my opinion, their most versatile yet and will compete against any of the other single stem cams on the market, not just against Aliens.

I also want to note that I did not go aid climbing on the Master Cam, and while I probably should have, aiding really isnít my thing if its more than C1 finger cracks, at which point, Iíd rather free them anyway. I also note that I was pleased enough after about 30 pitches that I stopped carrying my Aliens again and my rack now consists of C3s to yellow, Master Cams to green, and C4s yellow and bigger.

I should also say here that while the Master Cams were occasionally weighted on anchors and difficult trad pitches, a nagging shoulder injury prevented me from climbing at a level that I would start falling on the cams, so alas, they didnít take any falls. That said, I have absolutely no reservations about their flexibility in any position that is a good placement for the cam itself- this of course is a judgment call for each user.

Now, onto the comments Iíve seen in the forums and my own general concerns about the cam- as of course nothing is perfect, and the Master Cam is definitely not an exception to this rule.

The first comment is that they can be difficult to clean if the cam is bent at all while in the crack. I did my best to replicate this outside- placing it in tight corners, cleaning it from tight corners, and I have to say that I couldnít replicate it. I did notice that if the cam is bent severely, pulling the trigger is impossible, but, if the cam is bent so severely that this happens, the placement is probably not ideal and Iíd look for something else. This may be a limitation of the cam, but itís a small one, in my opinion.

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The Master Cam finding a home in some sandstone...a little small for the crack, but hey, its yellow!
C. Cauble
The Master Cam finding a home in some sandstone...a little small for the crack, but hey, it's yellow! Photo: C. Cauble.

The second issue seems to be with the trigger assembly. This issue seems to be composed of two issues- the actual assembly of the trigger, and the width of the assembly that might compromise a placement of one of the smaller units. After placing the Blue Master cam in several shallow and deep placements, I can safely say that the trigger assembly width is simply not an issue at all thanks to the extension spring that Metolius wrapped around the cable, pushing the trigger assembly down the stem another three quarters of an inch or so. I of course must reserve comment on the two smallest Master Cams, as they are not available as of yet. As to the trigger assembly- I can see the concern, the unit doesnít bend horizontally as well as it does vertically. The trigger assembly is a sheath design, though, so it bends easier than a U-stem, but it is definitely not as flexible as the Alien in this regard. However, it does bend, so itís not like the unit wonít work, and if youíre planning on climbing something with lots of horizontals, Iíd suggest using one of those other really nice cams that Metolius makes that work great in horizontal placements.

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Then again, maybe you can use the Master Cam in a horizontal....
C. Cauble
Then again, maybe you can use the Master Cam in a horizontal... Photo: C. Cauble.

Now, onto my own concerns. The first is the length of the sling on the cam. Metolius shortened up the sling length on them so that their overall length would be the same as the TCU/FCUs. While this is, on one hand, a nice touch, on the other, you have to sling these cams if you donít want them to walk. I discovered this over the course of a few weeks and I finally realized its due to the really short sling on the cams- if the pitch wanders even a little bit, even if it leans somewhat, the cam can start to walk due to the short sling. Personally, I almost always carry a dozen trad draws, so its not really an issue for me, but for some folks, it may be annoying- especially when climbing at your limit and you want to clip and go.

The second concern I have is the Kevlar. While I think that it will hold up find under normal use conditions, I have this sneaking suspicion that if youíre aiding on them the cord may not hold up as well. I also didnít get a chance to climb on really rough rock like Jtree- something I would have liked to have done. I do think that Metolius did everything they could to alleviate cord problems- the longer cords on the smaller cams will probably actually help them in the long run, giving them more slack in the line- as they are the most likely to suffer from cord abrasion. Time will tell on this one, Iím not ready to call it a liability at this point, more of a small concern.

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Grrrr....stupid head tilt!!!
J. Wilder
Grrrr....stupid head tilt! Photo: J. Wilder.

Finally, although itís a seemingly small thing- the Master Camís lobes seem to want to tilt more than usual. Maybe Iím just used to BD stuff, but man, itís annoying. It doesnít seem to affect the placement at all, thankfully, but I do have to adjust the heads often if I want them to stay shiny and pretty!

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Truck.
C. Cauble
Truck. Photo: C. Cauble.

All in all, though, the Master Cam is a very nice single stem cam. It works great, feels great, and I can safely say that theyíll be on my rack for a very long time to come. Of course, at the end of the day, it really comes down to personal preference- but the best advice I can give is that when looking at these cams, donít compare them to the Alien- just look at them for what they are- a very nice single stem unit that does its job very well.

View this item in our Gear Database: here.

Full Disclosure: The company that manufactured this item provided it free of charge to rockclimbing.com who in turn provided it as compensation to the reviewer for his review.

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28 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 shimanilami
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 2008-04-06
Great review. A few questions:

=> How does the narrowness of the lobes affect feel/performance? Do you have any concern that this would be an issue in soft sandstone?

=> Why do you like the big ones over the C4's? (I can't imagine replacing my green and red C4's.)

PS - I wish I had your job.
 vegastradguy
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 2008-04-06
Thanks for the kind words. As for your questions....

The narrowness doesnt affect the feel of the cam at all, imho- and considering I climb on sandstone thats....kinda soft most days, i'm not too concerned about it. Really soft stuff like Zion...I dunno- probably not a big deal in most cases. Of course, I'm anything but an expert in this regard.

I can't tell you exactly why i prefer them over the #1 and .75 C4...I just kinda do- its really weird because I'm such a BD guy- have been for my entire climbing career....but there's just something about the green and black Master Cams that makes me smile whenever I get an excuse to place them....
 flint
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 2008-04-06
5 out of 5 stars great review vegas...

j-
 climbingaggie03
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 2008-04-06
Great Review. Shimanilami, I like to carry both a green metolious and and a red c4. I've seen a fair number of placements where the green fits wonderfully, and the C4 fits terribly. I can't think of many that were the other way around. I don't know why except for maybe the narrower head width or the different camming angle, but sometimes it happens.
 tradrenn
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 2008-04-06
"donít compare them to the Alien" -I don't think I can do that, MC were suppose to be a direct competition to Aliens and they don't even come close.

Thanks for your review.
 no_email_entered
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 2008-04-07
Good work. Thanks for sorting out the pros and cons.

Are they going to send you the 0 and 00, and will there be a follow-up on those? I'd like to know how they compare with C3s---
 caughtinside
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 2008-04-07
Nice review. From what I can tell, they seem like new... cams.
 vegastradguy
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 2008-04-07
i don't know whether Metolius will send me the 0 and 00, but I will probably be purchasing them to augment my tiny cam selection. i'll probably do a follow up this summer at some point with them as well- both on the two smallest as well as how well the bigger sizes are holding up. the blue, though, compares nicely with the yellow C3 and truthfully, the only time i'd pick the C3 over it would be for head width, as the C3 is quite a bit narrower.
 boadman
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 2008-04-08
I played with them in the store the other day. They do have great action, and are very well made. I've only really ever carried the purple and gray tcus as "specialty" pieces for the rare spots that aliens don't fit better. I might consider getting a couple of these to suplement my aliens. The "slight" range loss from the metolius cam angle doesn't always feel "slight" when you're feeling wobbly.
 jimo
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 2008-04-12
Great review and timely! I'm currently looking to add to my scary cam range (grey and purple size) Bummer that you didn't have the 00 an 0 to test. I'm concerned about horizontal placement- I'm at the Gunks often... seems like the u shaped stem would be more stable, and easier to clean.
 brent_e
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 2008-04-12
Good review, John! Very useful. Thank you.

 healyje
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 2008-04-16
John, in horizontals the trigger assembly 'auto-rotates' 90 degrees as the stem bends which I've found not to be a problem at all. And I second you're "general purpose" comment - I never switched from to their Ultralights from their original FCU / TCU's and at the moment I prefer the Master Cams to either the original or Ultralight U-stem units. I will probably end up with a mix of Master Cams, Master Cam Offsets (whenever they appear), and Ultralight TCUs.

With regard to the trigger assembly, folks should note the trigger assembly sits considerably further back on the stem away from the cam lobes than on an Aliens (see John's picture above) - I personally like difference and it makes the size of the upper trigger piece less of an issue than it would be if it were closer to the cam lobes. If they maintain the same trigger assembly front-piece on the #0 and #00 then it will mean you can't sink them really deep, but I suspect the need to do so won't be all that common or necessary. In all honesty, overall I would have preferred a stainless woven sheath over the wired design they ultimately shipped with.

I have no qualms about the kevlar at all though it will be interesting to see how it holds up at places like JTree and Vedauwoo given it is more 'exposed' than it is on the Super Cams. Trigger wires on all cams are a pain in the ass at some point or another and I don't really see how the kevlar cord could be any worse a solution then broken, frayed, and mangled tirgger wires.

Haven't really run into your 'head tilt' problem but I haven't used them on as many pitches as you so maybe that will show up but is a pretty minor deal if it ever does.

A significant difference between Master Cams and Aliens is Metolius obviously felt Aliens were too 'floppy' and so chose coarser / thicker stem cable stock by design so that Master Cams would be stiffer. And the principal performance differences with Aliens are that stiffer stem, softer Alien cam lobe aluminum grade, and Aliens larger cam angle (range). The 'Alien advantage' that comes from softer lobes (stickier) comes at the price of faster and more severe wear and the greater range (cam angle) at the expense of holding power. Stem flexibility either way is pretty much a toss up depending on individual placements in my opinion.

I have two sets of Alien Hybrids and don't do much aid and don't climb on granite, so there is little-to-no advantage to me in using Aliens as a general use cam. I've largely, but not entirely, ditched the Alien Hybrids in favor of Metolius Offsets, but would switch entirely if Metolius would switch Offset production to the Master Cams from TCUs which I hope they do quite soon.

In sum I'd say each company made design decisions which mean the products still feel and perform a bit differently by design and so if you want that exact Alien 'feel' on stone and their specific [specialized] performance you should stick with Aliens; if you want a great general purpose cam that does 90-95% of what Aliens do then I say jump on the Master Cams.

Also, I've personally never liked the Camalot double axle design from it's original Chouinard days on through to the C4's as I just can't come to terms with what I perceive as the flimsy and floppy feel of their business end. So for me it's nice to have a new single stem option with that Metolius bomb feel about them.
 vegastradguy
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 2008-04-17
healyje- i probably should have clarified- i would totally whip on any solid horizontal placement of the Master Cam....but, at the same time, the U-stem is a great option as well, so whichever floats your boat!
 healyje
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 2008-04-18
John, yeah, both work fine - but so far I'm liking the Master Cams well enough to dump my FCUs in the same sizes at this point. I'll have to see if I feel the same way about the #0 and #00 when they come out. I suspect I'll still be carrying the FCU/TCU versions in those along side the Master Cams.

Oh, and I see I forgot the "walking" issue. I haven't experienced any sign of that at all in my short three weeks of using them, but then my take on any cams walking is that cams don't walk - people simply inadequately sling whatever gear you might be talking about relative to the placement (whether one is talking about passive or active pro).

I essentially hardly ever directly clip any cams and given these cams heads function identically to the regular Metolius line-up I wouldn't say they have anymore propensity to 'walk' than the TCU's, FCU's, or Ultralights. However long the stem and slings on them are - they are that long and I'd say use them appropriately.

To me this is a lot like the busted Link Cam issue; it is what it is and I'd say don't expect them to operate other than how they exist in you're hand when you pull them off your rack - place and sling them for the reality of the piece of gear - not how you hope or wish it might work. As I said, I haven't experienced them walking, but again I basically never directly clip cams unless they are dead on the fall line. I consider this a really bad habit in general to get into outside of somewhere like the Creek, and even there it can get you in trouble if you aren't paying attention.
 wmfork
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 2008-04-18
Nice review.. but 1 question.

Has anybody compared the master cam to Wild Country cams (zeros in the smaller sizes and tech friends in the larger sizes)??? It seems to me about ALL the criticism/preference against all of master cam's other competitors has already been addressed by WC.

Seriously, about the only thing I see different is that the master cams are narrower. Unsubstantial head feel of dual axle? Check. The tech friends have always been burly and the new ones have free-fall rated cam stop to boot. Soft metal and too large cam angle? Check. The zeros have harder aluminum and narrow cam angle.

I know Metolius is an American company and all, but come on.
 atlnq9
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 2008-04-19
If you want harder lobes on the aliens all it is is a simple treatment although it would probably void your rights when they fall apart because of poor manufacture if they found out.
 vegastradguy
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 2008-04-19
wmfork- the reason the Master Cams were not compared to the WC cams in this review is simple- i dont own any WC cams...and, as this is a strictly volunteer position, you'll forgive me if i dont purchase a set from every manufacturer to compare!

healyje- with regards to the 'walking' issue. its not really a huge issue, its simply something to note if you're used to cam slings being a tad longer (which most people are- these cams have the shortest slings i've seen)- even a slightly leaning crack can cause them to walk where another cam wouldnt...it was really just something for people to note....
 wmfork
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 2008-04-19
vegastradguy-please don't take it personally... I was posing this as a question to you and others who have used/bought master cams. Obviously, you were given a set to review voluntarily, but for those who actually bought them, I'd assume they actually compared with WC cams?

I have only played with master cams in store, so my experience is limited. I just wasn't overly impressed with the smaller (1&2) sizes (I bought the zeros instead, and like them the more I use them). 3&4 looked pretty cool, but I already have a good mix of TCU/FCU/camalot/friends in those sizes.
 healyje
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 2008-04-21
wmfork - could you clarify these two statements?

- Unsubstantial head feel of dual axle? Check. [I assume you're speaking of Camalots]

- Soft metal and too large cam angle? Check. [Here I'm guessing Aliens]

The way you originally wrote it, you seemed to be somehow implying they referred to Master Cams which neither would. I agree both WC and Metolius cams feel 'burlier' than the rest. Nothing particularly 'wrong' with Tech Friends, they just never ringed my bell and I was an original Friend owner. As for the Zeros, in the #1-4 I'd take a Lowe Ball over them any day.

John, I had the all the slings on my two sets of Alien Hybrids shortened so they hung the same length as my Metolius cams which shortened them to about the same length as the Master Cam slings and never had the problem with them either. Again I'd say this is more an issue of folks developing the bad habit of directly clipping cams - so, it may be worth noting - but also worth reiterating folks should sling all gear appropriately.
 Natefosho
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 2008-04-22
I don't know what I would do without my FCU's on my rack. I may have to snag a set of these to fill some gaps. they look super bomber. the only thing that may be kinda sketch is the short sling. there can be some crazy trad lines in Montana. But that may not be such a big deal. Thanks Vegas.
 zoanyway
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 2008-05-02
How does one know if the cams in the local shop are from the suspect "first batch"? I dropped by a Vegas climbing shop, and the very nice sales girl was mentioning that they've had a couple returned for popped kevlar. Then, right in front of my face, as she was gently flicking the action on a brand-new unit - the kevlar trigger cord popped right out of the cam lobe. Dead cam. Otherwise, I really love the new design.
 zoanyway
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 2008-05-02
Oh, I read a little more carefully, and see that you mentioned the bad glue was on the Supercams. Not on these... but... I did witness a trigger cord pop out of the lobe on a brand new Mastercam.
 vegastradguy
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 2008-05-03
They have resolved the glue issue- it was part of a very small sample and as far as i know, all the current cams are good to go.
 angry
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 2008-05-06
This review felt extremely biased. I learned nothing.
 weccleston
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 2008-05-07
In response to the question of why they weren't compared to Wild Country, I have a wide variety of cams on my rack, including Metolius TCU's, C3's, C4's, and three Wild Country Technical Friends. I will NEVER buy Wild Country cams again. I know from experience that they will hold a fall just fine, but they are the clunkiest cams on my rack when it comes to placing and cleaning.
 le_bruce
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 2008-05-09
Thanks for the piece. Agree that you seem reluctant to be critical, almost apologetic - maybe just your style, looking for the good side of things in life. For the three 'concerns' you note, you eventually qualify each with phrases like "a small thing" "a small concern" "really not an issue for me". In reality, this is not a 'strictly volunteer' write-up, as you say: you were compensated with +/- $360 worth of gear for 500 or so words. Maybe you cared less about the negative aspects of the cams b/c you didn't have to lay out a fat wad of cash for them? I wouldn't say I learned nothing, but I agree that some bias might have crept into your point of view.
 vegastradguy
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 2008-05-09
sorry so many folks feel that its a biased review. the honest truth is i would pay out of pocket for these cams in a heartbeat. before i used these cams, i was very happy with a full rack of Black Diamond cams...now, i only carry BD's #2 and up when I carry a single rack- even after i completed the review. oh, and for the record- the price of gear has never come into any equation with me- i paid full retail for 90% of my rack and don't regret a dime spent. The other 10% comes from this position, most of which does not get used on a regular basis after the review is completed.

i think that the reluctance that came through in the review was my struggle to classify these cams. they have been billed as 'Alien Killers' and, at the end of the day, they really aren't, but at the same time, they're a really nice cam.

finally, i never said it was a strictly volunteer write-up. The full disclosure at the end of the review is there for a reason. my 'volunteer' comment was the answer to a question- in other words, i am not going to go out and purchase every make of small cams to compare these with....i am only willing to compare them to what i currently own. while this is a 'volunteer' position, rockclimbing.com does its best to provide myself and the other reviewers with some compensation for our work- in most cases, this means we keep the gear we review- however, in just as many, we have to return the gear after we review it.
 le_bruce
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 2008-05-10
VTG, thanks for further comment and there's no need to explain yourself. Every writer can benefit from some critical feedback, right? That's all my comment was. I apologize for confusing your 'voluntary' comment, and I appreciate the write-up! Now get out there and put some scratches on those babies! Got to take that first fall on new gear sometime!

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