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Black Diamond C4 Ultralight Review
Bottom line: These are our favorite cams for all around use.
Range (inches): .61-4.51"
Length (from top to bottom of clip point): 10.87"
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
Black Diamond Camalot Ultralights have everything our testers love about the C4s at 25% of the weight. Say what you will about the long-term durability of Dyneema, or how the price of a rack of Ultralights will shock load your wallet. When our lead tester went to grab a #2 and place it in a hand crack, for a second, he thought he'd accidentally grabbed a much smaller cam. The new #4 weighs the same as a #2 C4! This is an absolute game changer when it's time to travel far into the backcountry, or in if you're climbing in Indian Creek where it's not uncommon to climb with 5 or more #4s at once. The future is here, and we like what we see.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight trims down the weight of the C4 in several obvious and a few unobvious ways, but placement for placement, their performance is very similar. Their semi-rigid stems aren't as flexible as the Totem Cams, or any of the Alien style cams, making them easier to place on the go, but not as effective in flares, pins cars, and horizontal placements.
As suggested by their name, these cams are all about the weight game and are lighter overall than the Wild Country Friends, DMM Dragons, Black Diamond C4s, and Totem Cams.
Their main contender for lightweight champion is the Best Buy Award winning Metolius Ultralight Mastercam. An equivalent size run of Mastercams weighs just 1.3oz more than the BD Ultralights and covers the same range with six cams that BD covers with 5. Each Black Diamond covers a wider range, thanks to the double axle design, but cam for cam, Metolius Mastercams are are lighter. The merits of having more cams or fewer cams that cover a wider range of placements are dependent on what style of climbing you're doing. For easy alpine climbing where you'll be using less protection per pitch, we'd go with the Black Diamond Ultralights.
Currently, the Ultralights protect cracks from 15.5mm to 114.7mm. That's fingers to fists, but no blue tips size, and no big purple or green cams for protecting offwidths.
We'd love to see Ultralight versions of the larger sized C4s. The DMM Dragon Cams offer the same size coverage, plus the blue tips size that covers cracks down to 13mm. The similarly designed Wild Country Friends cover from 20.6mm (purple Camalot) to 112.1mm (gray Camalot), and Totem Cams come in 2 smaller sizes, but don't protect cracks larger than 64mm (yellow Camalot).
Camalot Ultralights perform just as well in horizontal placements as their heavier C4 brethren. The cable that comprised the thumb loop and stem on the C4s has been replaced by a lightweight Dyneema core, but we feel like both designs bend and flex with about the same resistance.
Their stem is flexible enough to bend in the direction of pull and hold a fall when placed in a horizontal, without breaking the stem, though the stem can become permanently kinked if the cam is in a shallow horizontal placement. For these kinds of placements, we recommend a more flexible cam like the Black Diamond X4s or the Fixe Hardware Alien Revolutions.
Black Diamond has reduced the weight of the Cam lobes on the Camalot Ultralights by reducing the amount of aluminum used on each lobe, but that doesn't make the head of these cams any narrower than the C4s.
That makes these cams too wide to fit in many pin scars found on Yosemite granite. Black Diamond X4s have a much narrower head and cover smaller cracks. Our favorite cams for protecting flares and shallow pockets are the Fixe Hardware Alien Revolutions. Totem Cams are also a great brand to compliment a rack of Ultralights.
If you don't want these cams to walk, extend them with an alpine draw. Because their stem isn't floppy like an "Alien" style cam, they're more likely to shift around if you're not climbing directly above them.
DMM Dragon Cams, Wild Country Friends and Fixe Alien Hardware Alien Revolutions all have extendable slings built in, giving them an advantage over the Camalot Ultralights when it comes to walking. That being said, these cams have broad heads and are relatively stable in a parallel placement.
Our testers were skeptical about the durability of these cams, especially in comparison to our trusty old C4s.
After months of hanging dogging, whipping, cam jugging, and weighting them in awkward positions, the Camalot Ultralights have shown surprising durability. The stem is made from Dyneema, protected by a tough plastic. Only time will tell if these cams will hold up as long as the old C4s.
When it comes to aid climbing, these cams perform just as well as the C4s, but with the advantage of being 25% lighter. These weight savings are considerable if you're carrying doubles, a rack of iron, a hammer, hooks, a portaledge, and a poop tube down the east ledges.
As far as pin scars, flares, and other weirdness encountered while aiding, we like to complement a rack of Ultralights with some finger size pieces that have a narrower head and a more flexible stem. If you're concerned about weight, a rack of Fixe Hardware Alien Revolutions will do the trick. If you're looking for the best cams for aid climbing,, check out the Totem Cams.
We loved free climbing with these cams, especially in Indian Creek, where continuously parallel splitter cracks require tons of cams that can start to feel incredibly heavy.
Because the stem is semi-rigid, they are very easy to place on the go when you're super pumped, the plastic thumb loop provides a nice spot to bite down if you have to hold the cam in your mouth, and the brightly colored anodized aluminum lobes make for fast and easy identification.
Light is right when it comes to alpine climbing, and that was the original intention of the Camalot Ultralight and still the best application of the Camalot Ultralight. However, we feel that all the tweaks and redesigns to make these cams lighter hasn't affected their durability all that much, and we'd recommend these featherweight cams for free climbing or big wall climbing just about anywhere.
The Ultralights are not cheap, and you'll be shelling out around $100 per cam, ravaging your wallet for a full set of seven. Despite the price, we encountered plenty of people in Indian Creek this fall who had chosen weight savings over dollars. The Dyneema stem seems to be holding up just fine on our Ultralights, but we feel that the steel cable in the original C4s would last longer, especially if the plastic gets worn through.
If you can pony up the extra dough for a rack of ultralights, do it! These Black Diamond C4 Ultralight are everything we love about the C4s, at 25% of the weight, bringing big smiles to our faces everytime we rack the #4. The price may shy away some, but we so many shiny racks of brand new Camalot Ultralights at Indian Creek this fall. The people have spoken, and the future is looking lighter.
— Matt Bento
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