The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
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Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Wild Country Rockcentrics: Flexible Not Stiff
Posted on: June 20, 2011
MSRP: $100 (set of seven)
I've always climbed with hexes. I use them in anchors, for easy placements when conserving cams, at rap stations while bailing and in the winter as lightweight, "the ice is too thin but I need some pro" pieces of gear. While many climbers look down on hexes as outdated, I was excited to try out Wild Country's version of this classic trad protection.
Rockcentric's six concave and convex faces are a break from the traditional flat-sided hex. These curved angles are supposed to help the hex "nest" into oddly shaped placements more securely, and provide a greater range in caming placements. To test the this "nesting" idea, I climbed some of my favorite easy routes with Rockcentrics and old-style hexes, trying them both in the same placements. The Rockcentrics "nested" into the cracks well, but with extra effort I was usually able to get an older style hex into the same placement. But in the process of climbing routes repeatedly with different types of hexes, I found one big complaint with the Rockcentric: flexible slings.
I am not a fan of the Dyneema slings on hexcentrics. With a wired hex, I can make placements well above my head because the stiffness of the wire holds the hex upright. With Dyneema or nylon slings, I have to hold onto the body of the hex while making placements. In one case this meant the difference between placing from an awkward smear instead of a nearly hands-free stance. Still this is only an issue with the small to medium sizes. Large hexes are heavier and cause even wire slinging to droop. It was also more difficult to wiggle the Dyneema slinging material into thin cracks than wires.
There are a few advantages to using Dyneema slings. A Rockcentric slung with Dyneema is rated to 14kn. A similar sized wire hexcentric from Black Diamond is rated to 10kn and is heavier. Dyneema's flexibility also absorbs the rope's movement. Because of this, Wild Country says climbers only need one carabiner to connect a Rockcentric to the rope. But the single carabiner technique rarely worked out for me. Most of the climbs I use hexes on tend to wander, so the Dyneema slings still had to be extended to reduce rope drag. Also in the winter, if left in the back of one's vehicle for weeks on end, the Dyneema slings are likely to freeze solid. When this happens one can place the hexes while holding the sling at the very end, but it loses its flexibility. But this was only a problem when I left my gear outside for weeks at a time.
In the end the Rockcentrics performed well. If I am carrying large hexes the Rockcentrics are my first choice. And in smaller, strangely shaped cracks the Rockcentrics definitely fit more easily than angular hexes. My complaint about the stiffness of the slings still stands. The trade-off with the smaller Rockcentrics versus wired hexes is strength, flexibility and weight at the cost of a couple inches of reach. But that is a trade-off that many climbers will be willing to make, especially if you want to supplement an existing rack or simply plan on using them in anchors.
Pros: curved sides make seating for placements more effective; lightweight; strong; inexpensive.
Cons: Dyneema slings are harder to place than wired hexes.