The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Metolius Ultralight Offset TCU: Configured For Constriction
Posted on: October 19, 2011
MSRP: $54.95 each
Weight: 1.6-2.2oz each
OK, so I'm a gear junkie. Even if I don't buy the latest gadget in the shop, I like to at least handle it at the store or stare at it in catalogs. I've been known to rack up with cams from various makers in a specific order so my placements fit precisely. And after years of crack climbing, I've grown to appreciate the subtle differences between manufacturers: materials, sizes, stem design and sling style. Putting Metolius' Ultralight Offset TCUs through the gauntlet, my gear-obsessed brain meticulously picked apart its performance and found that they're delightfully lightweight, and the tapered lobe design effectively protects those once-problematic flares and pin scars.
For anyone already familiar with Metolius cams, the Offset line is familiar. Its design and technology are similar to the company's other tri- and quad-cams. Metolius uses a double-stem, U-shaped design that fits the palm of my hand well and a horizontal trigger bar that is easy to operate with one or two fingers. This configuration also makes nut tool-enhanced extraction easy.
The head is made from 7075-T6 aluminum, which produces a strong and incredibly light cam; an advertised weight of 1.6 to 2.2 ounces makes these "the lightest three-cam units in the world." The cams are finished with a low-bulk, Dyneema-and-nylon sling that is more streamlined and supple than traditional nylon slings. They come in five sizes, #00/0 to #3/4.
The Offset design is essentially a tapered, three-cam unit—with two smaller lobes and one larger one. This configuration allows for more contact in flared placements, pin scars and shallow cracks. When placing a symmetrical cam in a similar placement, two of the lobes end up over-cammed. Traditional cams are also more difficult to place and much more prone to get stuck in funky placements.
I found that the Offsets also excel in constrictions where I might have used a nut. Instead of fumbling for the correct stopper on my overloaded nut 'biner, I pull out one of these, place it in the tapper and I'm off. And when I log some airtime, my second doesn't have to hang there and hopelessly chip away at a stopper that is now welded to the rock. But with the Offsets at roughly four times the cost of a nut, a complete substitution doesn't make sense.
The Offset TCUs are, however, irreplaceable in horizontal placements and the wider, "blown out" pin scars of Lumpy Ridge, Zion and Yosemite where nuts, even offset nuts, make questionable placements. And using a cam is nearly always faster, especially if the piece is weighted, even slightly. So because of the added efficiency, I find myself placing these TCUs constantly.
While I've had a very positive experience with these cams overall, two important pitfalls caught my attention over the course of my field test. First, the U-shape design makes the head of the cam bulky compared to single-stem designs like Black Diamond's C3 line. (The Offsets are even bigger than some quad cam units.) This bulk limits the potential for the Offsets to some degree, as the stem prevents the cam lobes from sitting well in small pods. I would like to see how a single-stem offset unit compares, but, as far as I know, this doesn't exist.
Second, I found the color-coded slings confusing. Offset sizes 1 (blue) and 2 (yellow) have a sling color that's different from the stem color, while Metolius's traditional TCUs are uniformly color-coded using the same set of colors (grey, purple blue, yellow, orange, red). Since I am in the habit of looking at the sling color to find the cam I need, it is easy to mix up a normal TCU or quad cam with an Offset at first glance. There are lots of crayons in the box; why not give each cam its own shade?
Like most new gear, the Offsets do have a learning curve, but once you are in tune with where they can be placed these cams open up a lot of opportunities for protecting cracks, grooves and horizontals. Aside from those two imperfections, I'm very impressed with the Offsets. Adding these to my collection has made my trad rack much more versatile; they absolutely excelled in the granite cracks of Mont Blanc and even tagged along with me in the desert. While they are not the best choice for Indian Creek splitters, funky, flared cracks—on both free and aid routes—are their forte.
Pros: Lightweight; less expensive compared to other cams on the market; tapered design protects flairs and pin scars effectively.
Cons: Bulky stem design; confusing color-coding.