[Photo] Mike Schneiter
It was my birthday, and we celebrated by climbing an obscure desert tower in Colorado National Monument. My partner had just persevered through a first pitch choked with detritus and bird feces. Our spirits low, we looked up at the sandy second pitch and wondered about continuing. In the Monument, the locals are fond of saying, “For every good pitch there’s a bad one.” I decided to go looking for that good pitch.
The thin and fragile crack had been opened up into flared pin scars. None were particularly inviting, and I fussed about with marginal placements as sand poured from the crack and my gear shifted uneasily in the soft rock.
I reached a flared opening large enough for the second smallest BD Camalot Offset X4; the cam’s offset lobes fit securely where an offset brass nut hadn’t stuck. Many of the nut placements kept pulling through the rock, yet the Offset X4 held firm, even when a piece ripped and my weight came directly onto it via an aider. I used the offsets on the remainder of the technical aid, back-cleaning them whenever possible as I went.
Two weeks later, my feet were in tight-fitting rock shoes–not aiders!–placed carefully on granite edges and protruding crystals. I locked my fingers into a thin crack. This seldomly led 5.10 offered solid gear placements, almost all of which seemed tailor-made for the varied head size of the Offset X4 cams.
Therein lies the great attraction of offset cams: their versatility and security. Sometimes seen as an aid-specific tool for the pin scars on big-wall routes in places like Zion and Yosemite, they can also be invaluable almost anywhere. Once you look around, whether you’re at Joshua Tree or Lumpy Ridge, many of the cracks are naturally flared or misshapen, creating the perfect opportunity for offset cams like the Black Diamond Offset X4s.
[Photo] Mike Schneiter
There are several things that stand out with the BD models. First: the two-toned color-coding. It’s such a simple thing yet it’s perhaps one of the most important. BD color-anodizes the cam heads by size, uses two corresponding colored beads on the trigger sleeve and tops it off with a dual-colored Dyneema sling. The result is a cam whose size is quite easily determined, helping you to select the right placement first try.
Durability and toughness stands out as well. Tough yet flexible aluminum beads (similar to the nylon sleeves found on Fixe Aliens) cover the trigger sleeve and stem, eliminating trigger wires that are likely to get trashed after repeatedly being weighted. This feature helps protect the trigger sleeve and stem on deep crack or horizontal placements where the stem is bent over an edge.
Cam springs and trigger wires can be notorious for durability issues–particularly with aid climbing, where pieces are continually being weighted and stressed over the edges of cracks. On the BD offsets, the cam springs are embedded in the cam lobes on the smallest three sizes, shielding them from abuse and allowing the head profile to be narrower.
The trigger wires on the two largest cams are Kevlar, just as Metolius uses in their Mastercams. Kevlar allows the wires to flex without getting kinked, avoiding the inevitable downward spiral you can see with metal trigger wires. It’s worth noting, however, that the three smallest offset X4s use traditional aluminum wires. I wasn’t able to seriously kink or damage these, and they have held up despite being jammed into tight spaces where the wires contacted the rock, but I wonder about the long run.
The trigger bars are durable and easy to grab, and combined with the wide, rigid, contoured thumb loop, make for a cam that can be securely gripped whether in the middle of a cruxy move or when desperately top-stepping on a sandy aid climb. Overall, the BD Offsets place and remove with as much ease as any cam on the market.
Offset X4s come in a range from .33″ (red or .1) to 1.33″ (green or .75), weighing 1.9-3.5 ounces. Fixe offers an additional sixth cam in their offset lineup, but there is no increase in size range as the sixth fits in the middle of other cams. You can get a similar size range with Metolius offsets, but this means carrying six cams instead of five, at a weight of 2.2-3.3 ounces each.
The BD Offsets weigh slightly more than comparable offsets, particularly in the larger (double-axle) sizes. The two smallest sizes are slightly lighter than Metolius offsets.
Now to the cons: at $74.95 per cam, the X4s are going to set you back a few beers–their price is $7-15 more than comparable offset cams. While the X4 Offsets share a head profile that is equal to or narrow than other offset cams, their trigger bars protrude more than others and these bars get in the way in tight placements. I encountered a number of placements where the cam lobes would fit a placement but the trigger bar would conflict with the rock below, levering out of the placement. The smallest units have tapered bars, which help mitigate the problem but not eliminated it.
[Photo] Mike Schneiter
Additionally, the stems are flexible, but not as much as Aliens. I often struggled to floss the X4s into placements where Aliens were easier to set.
Overall, the Black Diamond Offset X4 cams can be a core component of most any trad rack. Their durability, big range, smooth handling and easy identification make them an excellent cam for finicky aid climbing or everyday traditional.
Pros: Color-coded cam lobes, stem and sling for easy identification; increased range on larger sizes; durable; good handling.
Cons: Expensive; stems aren’t as flexible as other offset cams.