Fixe Hardware’s Ultralight Alien Revolution may just be one of the “friendliest” cams to have on your rack. Advancing the possibilities of active climbing protection yet again, these little extraterrestrials continue to push the evolution of clean and forward-thinking climbing.
Spring-loaded camming devices (SLCDs) have contributed much to the progress of modern climbing. The first SLCDs were introduced to climbing in the mid-1970s, allowing climbers to protect more safely and cleanly the parallel-sided cracks that lacked the constrictions necessary for good nut placements. In the 1980s Colorado Custom Hardware began producing a new style of camming unit: the Alien. The Alien featured a revolutionary flexible cable stem and boasted a narrower head than that of other cams, enabling it to protect piton scars and tight placements better. CCH eventually shut down, but the Aliens became a cult classic and Fixe Hardware reintroduced them to the market in 2011. The Alien Revolution is the newest and most streamlined iteration of the Alien design and in my opinion is the best small SLCD on the market.
I put these cams through their paces this past summer in the Sierra Nevada Range. I cragged a bit here and there, but overall I mostly used them on longer routes in the mountains where their weight savings and packability became evident well before I clipped them onto my harness. I bounce-tested them, fell on them and aided on them, and the one thing I really noticed was how little they deformed–less than their competitors did. I will say, however, that in my experience the previous iteration of the Ultralight Alien was complete shit. The stem would kink and the plastic triggers would get stuck and even break. I didn’t find that to be at all the case with this new model. The only criticism I can understand regarding a possible lack of durability is the softness of the metal, but that quality is a conscious decision made by the manufacturer to provide better grip in placements. Seems to me that a person needs to recognize that the soft metal wears quicker before they buy, but I don’t think that aspect means these cams are unreasonably delicate; it’s a consequence of improving their grip performance. Similarly, the Black Diamond Ultralight Camalots wear quicker than the regular Black Diamond C4s, but I would argue that is the price you pay for a lightweight kit; you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
Getting back to the Ultralight Aliens–these things are tiny! For the alpine climber this small size can be a big deal. When you’re packing for a weeklong mission in the hills, the volume-saving Aliens help free up space for other things like food, allowing you to climb more and carry less.
A full bouquet of six Alien Revolution cams weighs in at roughly 324 grams, making them some of the lightest cams out there, 20% lighter then the last Ultralight Alien, according to Fixe. The Revolutions range in size from 0.33 to 1.3 inches to fill gaps in everything from seams to large fingers. The cams are built on a single axel, and feature an almost suspiciously narrow head width. Though there have been numerous copycat designs in the last few years, the low-profile Revo is still one of the most petite cams in existence, making it a “tricky placement” specialist.
The trigger action on the Alien Revo is smooth and easy, one could even say otherworldly… When you are pumped or need to fire in a quick placement this cam shines. This newer generation of the Alien features all aluminum trigger components, tremendously increasing the durability over the last model. I used these cams on more than 20 big routes throughout the Sierra Nevada Range (mostly in Mikwok, Mono/Monache territory) this season, and they still look almost new. If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to replace your trigger wires, you can find them for $16.65 on the Fixe Hardware site, as well as a video to offer guidance when rewiring them.
As I touched upon earlier, the lobes are constructed from a soft aluminum alloy. This leads to a firm bite and a confidence-inspiring placement. Softer alloy generally makes for a lobe that wears down faster, though so far I haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary when considering the wear and tear of the mountains vs. the pitbull bite of the softer metal. If you expect the Aliens’ lobes to wear at the same pace as your BD Camalots, however, you may be disappointed.
Unlike some of the other cams in their weight class, the Revolutions feature an ergonomic thumb loop. The flexible cable stem does wonders to reduce leverage that can cause the cam lobes to “walk” out of the placement. The stem also holds its form much better than those of other similar cams after being weighted. Every now and again the flexible stem can serve as a hindrance if you find yourself trying to smash in an overhead placement, or end up getting stuck cleaning your partner’s over-cammed (read: gripped) gear.
The cams are slightly tapered across the size spectrum, meaning the smaller units have a shorter stem and the larger units a longer one. This design makes for convenient racking, and reduces cam flop on funky placements with the smaller sizes. Sometimes the shorter stem can be a little restrictive with the tiny black or blue sizes if the desired placement is deep.
The Revo comes in three different variations. The “Hybrid” is a stacked set of six offsets that are great for flared cracks and pin scars; the “Double Sling” (my personal favorite for alpine climbing) is identical to the standard Ultralights but comes with an extendable sling to reduce walking, to help cut down on rope drag and to minimize the need to carry extra runners; and the tried and true standard Ultralight Revolution comes with the regular, non-extendable sling–your best bet for simple, user-friendly trad climbing. This classic design is nice when it’s either not necessary to sling your piece (i.e. desert splitters).
Cams have a hard life. They get used and abused, and time after time we expect them to hold up and take on the next challenge in stride… This should go without saying, but it is important to monitor and maintain all of your hardware, especially your protective camming units. Keep it tight out there.
These are my favorite small (finger size) cams I have used so far. They are incredibly light and they have proven to be impressively durable, given their weight. The simple, eloquent, and functional design makes this cam an easy choice for nearly any climbers rack. The color code may be different than the BD Camalots, but you’ll get over it… It’s the alpinist’s small cam.
Tad McCrea is an explorer, guide, photographer and longtime Alpinist contributor.
Narrow head width
Low volume, packable design
Color-coded size range
Optional extendable sling helps reduce rope drag and saves on runners
Smooth, clean cam trigger action
Cable is flexible yet doesn’t deform when weighted
Softer aluminum alloy lobes bite like a pitbull
The grippy softer alloy lobes will wear out faster then harder alloys… is this a con?
No cam stops