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Metolius Ultralight Master Cams: Mostly Solid, Sometimes Wobbly
Posted on: October 14, 2016
MSRP: $59.95 to $64.95
"Light. I like that," my partner said as he threw my gear sling over his shoulder. He was carrying a nearly complete set of Metolius Ultralight Master Cams intermixed with a collection of reduced-weight four-cam units (FCUs) by another brand, DMM.
Scott Bennett approaching the crux on the Naked Edge (5.11b, 460'). Note: The small stereo hanging on Scott's harness likely weighs more than the rack of cams we brought on the route; so much for "light is right." But at least we had tunage. [Photo] Chris Van Leuven
Over several months of testing—let's just call it climbing—from the sharp cracks in Vermont's crags to the sustained splitters in New York's Adirondacks (ADK) to Boulder, Colorado's smooth granite, these svelte units performed as well as single-axle cams are expected to. They're also very flexible, which helped me wiggle them into placements, and they were generally easy enough to clean.
However, sometimes it was hard to get them out because I'd over-cam them, especially with the micro sizes like #0 and #00, which is easy to do because of their limited cam range. Once I shoved a #00 (with a range of .34-.47") into a tight crack on the overgrown route Fastest Shark (5.11) in the ADK, and nearly fixed the piece. After 15 to 20 minutes of work, my partner finally got it out. But she had to rotate it in such a way that one of the cam springs snapped, rendering the piece useless until repaired (if that was even an option, I didn't know).
The broken cam spring on the 00 Ultralight Master Cam. This piece will be sent back to Metolius for repair.
Another time the Kevlar trigger on the second-to-largest unit, a No. 7 (hand-size), outright broke while I attempted to use it as part of the belay. Hence, for the next few months, I ended up climbing with a near-full set.
Tim A broken trigger on the #7 Ultralight Master Cam. [Photo] Chris Van Leuven
Later, while jamming hands/wide hands routes like On the Loose (5.10), in the ADK, and The Rose (5.10) in Bolton, Vermont, I discovered that my least favorite size was the No. 8 cam, its lopsided design and low-tension trigger made the unit especially prone to walking. Placing the No. 8, an equivalent size of a No. 5 DMM Dragon 2, didn't give me that warm feeling I was used to when otherwise slotting a big camming unit. So I rarely reached for this cam as my go-to piece—it just felt wobbly.
Metolius only recently started making the Ultralights in sizes 7 and 8, so perhaps that explains why those units didn't perform as well as the others regarding stability and trigger durability.
Bill Dodd following P1 on Sunburst Arete, ADK (5.8, 200'). Shown here is a No. 1 Ultralight Master Cam placed in a vertical crack between dirt clumps. [Photo] Chris Van Leuven
What's new about Ultralights
What sets the Ultralights apart from the earlier generation of Master Cam FCUs is that these units have a thinner, 11mm sling instead of a 13mm sling. This sling is also threaded into the unit instead of being attached below the thumb loop. This system helps the cams take up less space on the rack. The thumb bar has essentially been completely redesigned to save weight. Metolius also modified the teeth on the cam heads to a "shark-fin tooth pattern [for] optimized bite in soft rock," their website says.
Looking at the cams side by side, I noticed other differences are noticeable: the swages are smaller on the new units, for example. One thing that's stayed the same is that both generations of cams have Range Finder markings on the cam heads. (These marking help users identify the cam's sweet spot during placement.)
Down two cams, I wanted to know what I could do to get the pieces repaired. I had also read on the website that Metolius suggests replacing the cam slings every five years but it's not obvious how to do so (you can't just tie a new sling on it like you can with original Master Cams).
I called the company's Vice President, Brooke Sandahl, to learn more and to address their repair policy. Sandahl first addressed my concerns about the broken trigger on the No. 7 unit. He explained that the cams in my set were from an early batch, within the first few hundred units made, and that the hole where the Kevlar cord passed through on the No. 7 cam was sharp, thus causing it to cut.
Looking down on a perfectly placed #5 Ultralight Master Cam high on The Fastest Gun (5.10b, 500'). Ryan Sengebush is belaying. [Photo] Chris Van Leuven
"The hole hadn't been radiused (rounded)," he said from the company's headquarters in Bend, Oregon. "Once we got two to three units back, we immediately looked at the issue and addressed the sharper radius." He continued: "For whatever the reason, the bigger cams have a greater angle coming into the trigger, and it's harder on the radius. We've [since] changed the programming and now that hole gets kissed with a radius tool to make sure that problem doesn't happen again."
He also explained that users who break cam triggers or need the slings replaced can and should send them to Metolius for repair. "All our cams can be re-slung for a nominal fee," he said. "And we'll tune up your cams and inspect them to make sure they're safe. If [we find a unit is] not safe, we'll still send it back, and tell people to not use it anymore."
Regarding other broken parts of the unit, such as damaged cam springs, "if it's fixable, we'll fix it," he said.
Overall, the Ultralight Master Cams are a clear improvement over the previous generation: they're lower profile and noticeably lighter. Other than the two biggest units, which still haven't grown on me, I'm happy with the performance of all the cams, even the tinniest ones. And, now that I'm aware of Metolius's repair policy, my broken units won't have to collect dust.
Ultralight Master Cams are made in the USA.
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