MSRP: $69.95 to $84.95
At a granite crag perched on the edge of a high-alpine ridge, a wall called Dude’s Throne was split by a vertical crack that caught my attention.
Dude’s Jam Crack (5.10+/11), near Golden, Colorado, was fingers to fists, and ascended multiple roofs over 85 feet. I knew it would eat up most of the gear on my rack, including the set of second-generation DMM Dragon cams.
This generation of Dragons is similar to the original units in many ways, except the new cam lobes are substantially wider, and they have a lot more teeth (that are non-anodized). And slits were added in the thumb press, which help with your grip when you’re retracting the cam lobes.
Otherwise, they’re basically the same as before: flexible single stem, dual-axle four-camming units that come in eight sizes, from 00 to 6. These are the equivalent of Black Diamond Camalot sizes .3 to 4.
The cam lobes on the new Dragons are 1.5 to 2mm wider than the previous generation. “This translates into an average increase of 67 percent,” said Rafe Osborne, a representative at DMM. These cam lobes also have two vertical machined grooves extending down them, tripling the number of teeth. Added Osborne: “TripleGrip” was the name given to cam lobes featuring: wider cams, more surface area, machined grooves for added bite, removed anodizing for greater friction on the rock.
At the very least, visually, these added teeth make the cam lobes more aggressive than others on the market.
I wondered, does this mean that other cams without such aggressive teeth are less stable, more prone to walking or more prone to slipping out of soft rock? Over six months of using the Dragons, Metolius Master Cam Ultralights (ULs) and Black Diamond Camalots (and an Ultralight), from the Adirondacks to Eldorado Canyon (to name a few), I found that sometimes the ULs worked best, and other times the Camalots and Dragons worked best.
Placing the Dragons in the smooth granite on Dude’s Jam Crack felt just like placing Camalots except for two obvious things. First is the mild grinding sound the Dragons’ cam lobes make when they contact with the rock. The second difference is using the Dragon’s built-in extendable sling.
Since Dude’s Jam Crack slanted slightly, instead of clipping quickdraws on the Dragons to keep rope drag down and prevent the cams from walking, I used the built-in extendable sling. Doing so allowed me to carry fewer quickdraws than I would when using Black Diamond Camalots or Metolius Ultralight Master Cams. This kept my overall rack weight and bulk down.
To compare weight savings, the Ultralight No. 2 Camalot (Gold) weighs 127 grams. Add on BD’s featherweight 63-gram Oz quickdraw, and the total weight is 190 grams. The equivalent size Dragon weighs 154 grams, but there is no quickdraw needed. That’s a weight savings of 36 grams. Thirty-six grams is about the weight of one Black Diamond Hoodwire carabiner.
The bigger sizes of Dragons are comparatively heavy: a size 5 (wide hands) is 208 grams, and the size 6 (fists) is 299 grams. The equivalent Black Diamond Ultralights weigh 167 grams and 225 grams, respectively. Metolius’s Ultralight 8 (wide hands; that’s the biggest size Metolius makes) weighs merely 129 grams–that’s nearly half the weight of the equivalent Dragon.
When traveling light, I prefer to carry a No. 8 Ultralight Master Cam, to cover wide hands, and a No. 4 Camalot Ultralight, for fists, in place of the largest Dragon. Combined, that’s a weight savings of 153 grams, or the equivalent of one mid-sized cam.
Though Dragons weigh more than Black Diamond Ultralights, they weigh less than the previous generation of Camalots. They’re also similar in color to Camalots (and basic design), which helps for quick placements.
DMM uses a built-in extendable 8mm Dyneema sling on the Dragons that is the same length and diameter of first-generation Dragons, and this stitching is more compact on the newest version. This 8mm sling is noticeably thinner than the Camalot Ultralight 14mm Dyneema sling.
Back up on Dude’s Jam Crack, about half the time when I reached for the extendable sling, I ended up grabbing the wrong side and fumbling it before getting it right. This often happens in tight flares where I can’t see the side of the sling that is bar tacked (this is the side you don’t want to grab to extend). If you clip the wrong side–say, while fighting (or panicking) to make a clip–the sling jams against the unit’s metal loop. When the bar tacks are jammed, the unit is still functional but the placement is unsightly.
Another big difference between the Camalots and Dragons is the thumb press. Metolius Master Cam Ultralights also have a thumb press. Dragons have a hot-forged thumb press (and hot-forged lobes and a hot-forged axle boss) where Camalots have a loop. For aid climbers, this means they lose a few precious inches in height when clipping aiders to the sling on the Dragon instead of directly in the thumb loop, as with Camalots.
In terms of price, Dragons cost $69.95 to $84.95, which is more than the Metolius Ultralights Master Cam, at $59.95 to $64.95, but less than or the equivalent price of Camalots at $64.95 to $89.95. Ultralight Camalots, at $89.95 to $129.95, are more expensive than both Camalots and Dragons.
Chris Van Leuven is the former digital editor for Alpinist. He’s currently a “stay-at-home dude” and is working on a book. But a few times a week, he sneaks away from his desk to climb in Colorado’s Front Range.
Built-in extendable sling
Less prone to walking than some other cams
Largest units are heavy
Extendible sling only slides one way
Not ideal for aid climbing