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.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Metolius Master Cam: Sleek and Sexy
Posted on: March 31, 2011
MSRP: $59.95 each
As a lover of finger cracks, I long anticipated the release of Metolius' Master Cam ever since the rumors of a new single-stem cam started circulating. Last summer I finally got my paws on a No. 1 and 2. My initial impression was "stellar." Since then, this pair has tagged along on all my rock climbing adventures throughout the Northeast. While there is a cam or two on the market that has a wider expansion range and can handle shallower cracks, the Master Cam is a worthy competitor and an expertly manufactured piece of pro.
The cam's most intriguing feature is its stem design. In creating the Master Cams, Metolius strayed from their usual U-stem design, which is used on all their other camming devices. The flexible, single stem, along with a narrow head profile, is made to fit the most awkward micro-crevices a desperate climber can find. Placing the cam in horizontal cracks, I notice that the attachment loop swivels slightly to find its own "sweet spot" in the crack. The movement is not enough to significantly change the placement and instead, it reduces sideways torque on the head of the cam. I am also appreciative of the cam's sleek stem design. I love my Black Diamond C3s, but have never been truly happy with the bulk of the plastic stem housing. Metolius has solved the issue with the Master Cam by leaving out the plastic covering all together.
The lobes are machined from 7075-T6 aluminum, a high-density alloy that maintains its shape, opposed to softer metals that lead to deformed lobe grooves over time. After a month of constant use, there was no discernible change to the lobe profile. I don't expect to see any wear on these for a long time.
The Kevlar trigger cords also deviate from the normal cabled triggers that most manufacturers use. Even after many weeks of intense use the cords look brand new. In the unlikely event that the cables need replacement, Metolius does offer trigger cord and sling repair for a surprisingly cheap rate.
Thirty-six percent Dyneema and 64 percent nylon make up the cam's Monster Sling. The sling is a little short, but it hasn't been a nuisance so far. In fact, the short sling is just the right length for steep, beeline cracks like Airation at Cathedral Ledge in New Hampshire. When the cam needed more wiggle-room on wandering pitches like Whitney-Gilman Ridge at Cannon Mountain, I just add a long draw.
Like other Metolius cams, the Master Cams use color-coded "range finder" marks on the heads of the outside lobes to encourage bomber placement. I find this to be more useful as a teaching tool than in actual practice. The molded plastic thumb loop is comfortably wide, with channeled grooves that offer traction for my sweaty thumb. Though the trigger looks small, it is wide enough for my fingers without getting in the way. While these are all small and perhaps insignificant details, these features are a good illustration of how well thought-out the design of this cam is.
Ultimately, it's hard not to compare the Master Cam to its peers, like Black Diamond's C3 and the CCH Alien. The Master Cam just doesn't have the range that the Alien has. The difference is slight, but important for some climbers. The proportionate range is comparable to the C3. The narrow head of the Master Cam allows for shallow placements, similar to the C3 and Alien. However, those three-lobe cams will always fit in more shallow cracks better than a four-lobe model like the Master Cam. In the end, a narrow head design, coupled with the Master Cam's single stem and standard expansion range make this a solid competitor in the world of small cams.
Pros: smooth action; rotating stem to accommodate horizontal cracks; lack of stem housing; narrow lobe width; inexpensive factory repair program.
Cons: smaller expansion range than CCH Aliens; four-lobe design limits placement in super shallow cracks.