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Black Diamond C3 Editorial Review

Submitted by vegastradguy on 2006-12-31

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 5 | Comments: 3 | Views: 12020

by John Wilder

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The complete C3 set
Black Diamond

The complete C3 set. Photo: Black Diamond

Full Disclosure: The company that manufactured these cams loaned them to who in turned loaned them to the reviewer for the review period. These cams were returned to the manufacturer after the review period was over. This manufacturer does not currently advertise on 12.30.06

Iíll be the first to admit- while the C3 had definitely piqued my interest as Black Diamondís entry into the small cam market, the price tag on them made me cringe- $70 per cam??!!. At the same time, though, BD knows what its doing when it comes to cams- they continue to set the benchmark for camming units with the Camalotís latest generation. Are there some significant competitors? Absolutely. Is there new innovation out there on the market that may be able to compete against the Camalot? Yup. Yet, despite all of that, Black Diamond has continued to make the benchmark spring-loaded camming device, and climbers are no fools- the C4 is the benchmark for good reason. So, when BD asked the Booty Crew to review the C3, we happily agreed to test them.

First, the lowdown- Iíve been using them alongside the new Ultralight TCUís since September. They have been tested primarily in Red Rock, but have spent time at Paradise Forks and Joshua Tree as well. My prior experience with small cams lies primarily with Aliens- I used them exclusively until this past summer when I consciously chose to move onto a new small cam. So, going into the review, the C3ís had a pretty high benchmark- the Aliens, despite the bad press, are a great small cam that are hard to beat, and the TCUís are no pushover, either- both have well established track records and big followings.

Initial impressions: Typical for Black Diamond, these little cams are awesome at first glance. Clean, well-engineered, they feel far more solid than any other small cam at their respective size. The compression springs at the base of the cam are likely the primary reason for this- they give the trigger a stiff action that makes the cam feel like it would hold just about anything. They are also narrow- really narrow, yet the size of the lobes are not compromised to achieve this. The narrow nature of the cam is achieved by removing the springs at the lobes and replacing them with the compression springs at the base of the unit as well as interlocking the cam lobes themselves. This allows the cam to be very narrow and supposedly fit into places other cams just wonít go. Other features include a thumb loop (critical for aid climbers), a generously sized trigger, and a protective sheath to guard the solid trigger wires and narrow double stem.

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The C3 loves sandstone!
John Wilder

The C3 loves sandstone!
Photo: John Wilder

The real game in the small cam market is in flexibility- because holding power is comparable across the board with all small cams and head width, while it can certainly come into play, is not that high on the list of requirements for the average trad climber. That said, BD actually wins the head width war with a comfortable margin- theyíre ridiculously narrow.

My prior small cam, the Alien was really flexible. Think Olympic gymnast. The Zeroes may be more flexible yet- think the same gymnast on muscle relaxants. Most folks love this feature in a small cam- small cracks tend to demand flexibility in a cam and the Aliens and Zeroes capitalize on this. The C3, at first glance, looks like it may fall into the same category as the TCU- great in horizontals, a possible liability in vertical cracks. The TCU, although a great cam, if placed perpendicular to the rock, can have some real problems when weighted due to the double stem. The C3, also a double stem unit, does something really trick when weighted- it folds over on itself, moving into a horizontal position, and flexing nicely like any good TCU in a horizontal. At first glance, it looks like something only a Cirque du Soleil performer could pull off. How does it do this? Iím not a scientist, but Iím guessing the distance between the stems has a lot to do with it- itís a little over a quarter of an inch- which isnít much. This seems to allow the unit to flex much more than a standard double stem unit where the stems are further apart. I know what youíre thinking after reading that- it folds over? How strong can that be? Plenty. I took a nice whip onto the #1 stuck into a vertical crack semi-perpendicular to the rock and it held like a champ. (Iíll admit, I had it backed up, but hey, thatís because Iím a scared trad climber!)

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The narrow design of the cam will allow it to work in a variety of positions.
John Wilder

The narrow design of the
cam will allow it to work
in a variety of positions.
Photo: John Wilder

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John Wilder

Photo: John Wilder

So, where does that leave the C3? While not as flexible as the Alien or Zero, the C3 performs where it counts. The engineering on it is brilliant and it is very evident that BD was thinking hard about how these cams were going to flex when they were designing them.

The other real game in the small cam market is how secure the placement feels. This is a pretty subjective thing to gauge, so Iíll try to do my best on this one. For me, a secure Alien placement was a pretty small chunk of its range- the camming angle and the general feel only let me feel good about using them between 70% and 90% retraction. A Metolius, on the other hand, had a bigger Ďfeel goodí window- perhaps 60% to 90%, but sometimes they just donít feel right- this is hard to define, but the double stem and the overall width sometimes impair the three lobes from reallyÖsinking into the rock. The C3ís, though, they just feel bomber when you plug them into the rock. The compression springs certainly assist this- they actively push the cam lobes against the rock. Perhaps this will help- given a choice of taking a whip on the Blue Alien, Purple TCU, and Green C3 all placed properly in good rock, Iíd take the whip on the C3 without hesitation- not necessarily so with the other two.

Now, Iíd be remiss if I didnít address some of the potential problems with these units, as they definitely have their critics, and, after all, no cam is perfect.

First up is the displaced trigger wire. Black Diamond and some early buyers have discovered that when a first generation C3 is weighted in a weird way, the trigger wire can pop off of the mounting spot just underneath the trigger bar, rendering that lobe useless. Lucky for me, I got to experience this first hand when I popped off of the crux and fell onto the #1 which was backed up by the #2. Thanks to my ever so graceful fall, I managed to do something weird and pop the trigger wire on the #2. BD says that this is field serviceable on the current units, but Iíll tell you that I spent about 30 minutes with several small tools and many curse words trying to fix the damn thing that night. There is good news on two fronts, however. First- if you happened to have bought your C3ís when they first came out, BD advises you to check the loops that attach the trigger wire beneath the trigger bar and clamp them down if they appear loose. Second- BD has fixed this problem through refinement of their manufacturing process and the newer units should no longer have this problem.

Second is the price. They are expensive little gadgets, and even if you can find the set at a discount, youíre still paying a premium for them. At $70.00 a pop, you really have to want these little guysÖ.

There was a slight concern regarding the difficulty in pulling the trigger on the bigger sizes- the compression springs used to create a solid placement also have a small bit of liability- for folks who donít do much crimping, they can be a bit tough to retract for placement or cleaning. I had one partner who was unable to clean the #2 with her left hand. That said, my personal opinion is that the gain from the compression springs far outweighs this one drawback.

Finally, the serviceability of these cams. Many folks, including myself at first, are skeptical about easily they can be serviced- most specifically, whether you can even replace the trigger wire should it fail. Well, fear not, folks- BD assures me that not only are they serviceable, but the trigger wire can easily be replaced in the field with a pair of pliers. BD has replacement trigger wires available and since they are a solid wire, they slide easily in and out of the protective sheath, and a simple cut to length on them is all that is really required to replace them. That said, given the way they function and are built, Iíd be surprised if the trigger wire wore out anytime soon. Iíve been pounding on them for several months and they still look like new.

Overall, the C3 is an excellent cam and, after I return the set I reviewed, I will be purchasing at least one set to replace it, if not two. These cams went head to head against Metolius (a small cam that I consider to be the benchmark in its class and an excellent cam in its own right) and won, and I also would say that, overall, the C3 is as good as the Alien in a free climbing setting. They feel bomber, they place easily, and they do their job as well as their big brothers, the C4- these cams have definitely earned their place on my rack.

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3 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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One important downside that I found while aiding: in the smaller sizes, the fat, plastic casing around the stem and wires makes it very difficult to view the head of the cam to check the quality of the placement. With Aliens, you can simply bend the stem up and away and make sure that the lobes are going to hold your ass when you step onto your aider. Much harder to judge this with the small c3's. I found myself having to step onto the aider to get over the placement and look down on it - defeating the purpose of checking a placement!
Still, I love em. Backcleaned and placed the red one five times on the great roof of the nose.
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I love C3's, I use them in place of smaller TCU's and have no complaints.
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2 out of 5 stars Thanks for the review VTG. I'd just add that my experience was nearly the opposite of yours. I bought the largest three, intending to complement my aliens. What I found was that the c3s were inferior in every way, except for head width, which I don't feel is a make or break issue.

the plastic sheath was especially annoying. Sure, you can bend c3s is half, but their torsional flexibility is nil, and if you pull on them this way, your placement will move! this is especially vexing, because they're designed for thin cracks, and the one direction that they should be flexible (for tugs from the rope, kicking with your feet, etc) they're not! The result of this is that you absolutely HAVE to sling them long, or risk shifting and compromising a placement.

Because of this, and the stiff trigger pull, I nearly fixed the red c3 4 times in the 10 days I climbed on them. Some of this I will accept as operator error, but this never happens with my aliens. It may be due to the red c3 being slightly larger than the green alien, and me just not adapting immediately to the size difference, and overcamming.

I also hated the ultra stiff trigger pull on the two largest c3s. the small ones are a little looser and felt fine. Plus, this cam is just a U-stem cam in disguise, so I'd mention that to people who may harbor a prejudice about that kind of cam design.

And to state the obvious, the retail price of these cams is absurd.

Finally, I just want to say that I bought these cams with my own money, and was excited to add them to my rack, as a second set of small cams to supplement my aliens. I had every expectation of loving them, and keeping them. Maybe it's my alien prejudice, but the aliens are just so much better, I was extremely disappointed in the C3s, to the point where I sold them after about 10 days climbing on them, and went back to using a double set of aliens.

I'd just add that if you have C3s and love them, good for you, that's awesome! Please don't take my comments personally, and feel free to make a dimpled alien joke at my expense. These just weren't the cams for me.

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