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Metolius Ultralight Master Cam Review
Cons: Doesn't have a thumb loop
Bottom line: The Ultralight Master is a great addition to any rack and cover the in-between Camalot sizes really well.
Range (inches): .34-2.81"
Length (from top to bottom of clip point): 9.87"
The new Metolius Ultralight Master Cam is lighter than the originals, adds two larger hand sizes, and gets rid of the old thumb loop design. Our testers loved the original Master Cams for their durability and their value. They came along at a critical time when CCH had stopped making Aliens and filled the narrow-headed-flexible-stem shaped hole in our hearts. A few of our testers would save a set of battered, worn out Aliens for aid climbing while free climbing on the more durable and readily available Master Cams. Now that the thumb loop is gone we have lost much of our affinity for these little guys. However, they are still one of the best values out there, they fit in a variety of awkward placements, and are available in offset finger sizes. The old Master Cams flopped over on the largest size (green) when you engaged the triggers, so they were challenging to place and pretty much useless. Metolius has addressed this issue, making the entire stem a touch shorter, and now the action is pretty dreamy.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Metolius Ultralight Master Cams take home our Best Buy award because they are well constructed and reliable, and are the least expensive cam in our review. We've climbed many pitches on these cams and wouldn't hesitate to fall on a bomber Master Cam placement. Metolius is on top of its quality control, and we aren't aware of any recalls on the Master Cam. Their expanded range now lets you protect up to wide hand sizes, though the finger sizes will always be our favorite.
A size run of Master Cams is barely .1 ounces lighter than the same range of Ultralight C4s but covers that size range with seven cams, where the C4s do it with six cams because of their bigger range. Cam for cam, the Master Cams are lighter than every other brand except for the Fixe Alien Revolutions, which don't offer as big of a size range. While climbing on a windy day at the City of Rocks in Idaho, our lead tester noticed the finger-sized Master Cams blowing upwards with the wind. A set of these featherweight cams would do well in the alpine or on any expedition where weight is a big concern.
These cams protect cracks from 8.5mm to 71.5mm, or sub-tips to wide hands, using ten cams. Metolius sizes cover some of the "in between" BD sizes very well, with the red Metolius being perfectly cammed between a maxed out BD purple and a too tight BD green.
The orange Metolius makes for a great fat fingers placement between a BD gray and a BD purple. While the BD cams cover a greater range with fewer cams, crack aficionados will appreciate the extra sizes, and the finger sizes up to red do a great job covering the gaps when the BD sizes are over or under cammed. The 00 (gray) and 0 (purple) are some of our favorite micro cams out there, and we always reach for them before a less stable cam like the BD C3s. They are also available in offset sizes up to red/black.
The stems on these cams are a flexible, stacked cable design, where the two outside cables that come in contact with the rock are sheathed in plastic.
While not as malleable as the Fixe Alien Revolutions, the Master Cams are confidence inspiring in horizontal placements, easily bending towards the direction of pull.
These cams do great in pods and pin scars, especially when compared to larger, more rigid cams like Black Diamond Camalots. However, the Fixe Hardware Alien Revolutions and the Black Diamond X4s have surpassed the Master Cam in the competition for the narrowest head.
Ultralight Master Cams have the shortest slings and are the most prone to walking of any of the models in this review.
The stems are stiffer than Fixe Alien Revolutions and Black Diamond X4s, and they don't come with an extendable sling option like the Wild Country Friends, the DMM Dragons and the Aliens. You'll want to make sure you extend these cams if you're climbing a pitch that wanders or goes through roofs, so they don't wiggle into a position where they become hard to remove. By no means a deal breaker, but something to consider when you're racking up.
Cam stops milled into the lobes on these cams keep them from umbrella-ing if they pull out or are placed in soft rock. The metal on the lobes is harder and more durable than the lobes of the Fixe Alien Revolutions.
The thumb piece where a Dyneema sling is connected to the stem is a bulky, bombproof hunk of aluminum and our testers joked that it might be useful as a nut placement (don't do it). If you're aid climbing on these cams, repeated bounce testing can wear through plastic protector sheath on the stem.
Though light and durable, the loss of the thumb loop docks major points from these cams in the aid climbing metric. Those that have a thumb loop are so much easier to clip or Fifi into than a taught, weighted sling, and the thumb loop on the old Master Cam allowed us to clip in higher, reach higher, and ultimately climb faster.
The Fixe Alien Revolutions are only marginally heavier than Master Cams in some sizes, and still, include a thumb loop. The offset sizes are great in flares and pin scars but don't match the versatility of the Totem Cams, which have independently loading sides and can be used as offsets or in a perfectly parallel crack.
Again with the thumb loop! Metolius dispensed with thumb loop in pursuit of weight savings and changed one of our favorite cams for the worse. We miss it so.
When you can barely hold on anymore, and you're so pumped that you can barely pull the trigger, the thumb loop makes all the difference in the world. Plus, a nice, plastic covered thumb loop is way better than biting down on metal when you need to hold the cam in your mouth. This puts the Master Cams behind Fixe Alien Revolutions, Black Diamond X4s, and Totem Cams when it comes to free climbing. The stems on the Master Cams are stiffer than Aliens and X4s, and one of our testers prefers this because it's easier to shove the cam in the crack without pulling the trigger. However, this desperate method often results in a poor placement.
If you're headed into the alpine where you'll be doing some easy free climbing where you only need a little protection, a set of Master Cams will do the trick without weighing you down. Most cam companies are adopting a size range similar to Black Diamond, but Metolius is holding fast to their original designs, and their sizes can be bomber when the BDs are too over-cammed. For certain cracks in Indian Creek like the Optimator or Powerline, a handful of red Metolius can inspire way more confidence to plug it and gun it than a slightly tipped out BD purple or a stuck green. If the thumb loop isn't a concern for you, they're a great choice for free climbing.
The Ultralight Master Cams are manufactured in Oregon and are the least expensive in our review, winning them the Best Buy award! They are $59.95 per unit, with the largest two hand sizes costing $64.95. This makes them $10 less than the Black Diamond X4s, so the savings really add up if you buy a set of finger sizes.
We really wish Metolius would bring back the thumb loop and return these cams to their former glory. That being said, these cams do what they were designed to do - hold fall after fall, and fit into small placements where cams with wider heads and more rigid stems can't go, at a dirtbag-friendly price.
— Matt Bento
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