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Gear Review - Black Diamond C3s
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By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Sep 6, 2006
Artist Tears P3

Welcome to the first in a series of gear reviews that Iím starting up. With a bit of dedication (and time) I hope to publish reviews on a regular basis. As always, your comments are much appreciated, so if you have any thoughts about the format, findings or have any gear that you would like to see reviewed please let me know. Okay, here goes:

Black Diamond C3s
Price: $69.95 each or about $350.00 plus tax for a set of five.

First I'll start with what Black Diamond says:
"Protect the impossible with Black Diamond's revolutionary new C3 camming units.

  • Averaging 30% narrower heads than any other 3 or 4-cam units on the market
  • Patent-pending interlocking cams allow for solid placements in narrow constrictions and pin scars
  • Patent-pending compression drive springs push each cam independently with greater force so they hold better in tough placements
  • U-stem design provides a balanced combination of stiffness and flexibility
  • Ribbed trigger and thumb rest improve handling when you're really pumped
  • Color-coded units and slings for quick and easy ID.Ē


C3s, sizes 000, 00, 0, 2 (missing size 1)

First Impression
The first thing I noticed when I picked them up was the weight and quality of the units. A set is incredibly light, weighing in at (200 grams, 10.5 oz). That is five cams covering a range from 7.8 mm to 22.6 mm (0.30 - 0.89"). The engineering is mind boggling and the finish exceptional. They radiate quality and inspire confidence.

The second thing I noticed is that the pull trigger requires increasing amounts of strength as you progress from the smallest size - 000 to the largest - size 2. Barely noticeable at the smallest size, but considerable at size 2, which started to concern me ... only field testing would show whether this was going to matter.

Design
The C3 is a 3-cam lobe unit! There I've said it. The C3 has interlocking cam lobes and an internal dual-stem design to achieve its slim profile and smooth action. Independent trigger springs allow each cam lobe to operate freely. At the end of the stem there is a large thumb loop to make it easy to place and clip-in short if you so wish.

In other words, the springs that would normally would push a cam lobe open, have been replaced with compression springs in the stem. Each cam lobe has its own spring and as the cam gets bigger, the spring tension increases. Cam lobes are totally independent of each other.

The spring/trigger mechanism is covered by a laterally stiff but flexible over the edges urethane molded body. This sheath holds the unit together and keeps all the moving parts in alignment. Don't think for a minute that this makes the C3s inflexible, these units are very flexible, only less so than Wild Country Zeros. The finger trigger has holes on either side of the stem to aid purchase with your nut tool if the placement is too deep. Finally, the set is color coded to distinguish individual cams on your rack.


Size 00 C3 placed in a shallow flared crack


Close up of the above placement

The cam lobes on the smallest sizes, (000, 00, 0) are smooth. Size 1 and 2 have teeth. My assumption here is that if teeth on the smallest sizes may make removal more difficult since it is possible to get crystals hung up in the gaps. Whether teeth increase the holding power is up for debate. They appear to work fine without teeth. The head profile is also narrower in width than that of other cams on the market, especially in the smaller sizes. Measured with a ruler, C3 cam head width varies between 28 and 30 mm (1.10" - 1.18").


Width comparison between two similar sized cams


Width comparison between an Alien and C3 cam (as close as possible to the same size)


Width comparison between an Alien and C3 cam (as close as possible to the same size)

 
Specifications
Size Range Strength Weight Color

000 0.30 - 0.50" (7.8 - 12.9mm) 4kN 55g Gray
00 0.35 - 0.54" (9.0 - 13.7mm) 6kN 57g Purple
0 0.42 - 0.62" (10.7 - 15.8mm) 7kN 59g Green
1 0.47 - 0.74" (12.0 - 18.8mm) 10kN 62g Red
2 0.56 - 0.89" (14.2 - 22.6mm) 10kN 66g Yellow

Comparison to Aliens made by Colorado Custom Hardware(Cost: @$60.00)
 
no size-range Wt width strength Color
inches gm inches kN lbf

.33 .33-.54 66 1.40 8 1800 black
3/8 .39-.67 71 1.40 9 2025 blue
.5 .50-.86 74 1.30 9 2025 green
.75 .61-.1.07 74 1.30 9 2025 yellow
7/8 .78-1.12 84 1.30 12 2700 gray
1 .75-1.33 88 1.30 12 2700 red
1.25 .97-1.5 108 1.56 14 3300 gold
1.5 1.03-1.63 110 1.56 16 3700 orange
2 1.20-1.95 122 1.56 16 3700 violet
2.5 1.40-2.35 139 1.56 16 3700 white

Overall Impression
The C3s are a pleasure to climb with. The large thumb loop makes them easy to place, the cam fits the hand nicely, and isn't prone to dropping. But the mechanism is relatively stiff and takes some getting use too. Over time I expect that this problem will diminish with practice. The plastic sleeve is very helpful for pushing into cracks and pin scars just out of reach. The springs really seem to help hold them in place in tenuous situations. The large thumb loop allows you to clip shorter and will be a nice feature for aid climbing.

They loved Eldorado Canyon sandstone, slotting into small pockets and flares. South Platte, no problem, I found places to place them where normally I would have spent considerable time fiddling with a small nut and tiring out.

The metal cam lobes seem soft and after using them one or two times you see marks and grooves develop. Iím not sure whether this is just part of the breaking in process or whether over time they are going to get mangled. My guess of this is that Black Diamond choose a soft metal to help ďthe biteĒ.

Wires protrude from the cam lobes and at times I found these would get caught up on clothing or a sling. It would be nicer if they were finished off flush like the C4s. I would also have liked one size larger, a size 3 for blown out pin scars, where I usually have to place a tricam.


Size 000 C3 in a tight placement

Bottom Line
The C3 is a very well made small cam and a welcome addition to the small crack protection fleet. It's a precision instrument, undoubtedly with a lot of R and D undertaken. Although I was initially concerned about the stiffness of the pull mechanism this proved to be a non issue as I wasnít conscious of it while climbing.

If you are building up your rack or supplementing your current thin crack pro for aid or free climbing, then the C3s would be a good choice. They are a small crack alternative to Aliens.

In closing, I have one suggestion for Black Diamond with regard to the C3s and that's the price; $69.95 just seems too much, a view shared by all of the testers and people with whom I spoke with about them. I reckon once the price gets down to below 60 bucks they'll be flying off the shelves.

Thanks to the other members of the test crew; Eric Jolley and Mike Carr, for providing feedback. Itís a tough job but someone has to do it!

So thatís it, one down. Please let me know whether you think this is a worthwhile addition to the site. It takes a lot of time so if itís not adding anything positive then I would rather spend my time climbing!

If you would like to send me stuff to review, please rest assured it will be returned in about 4 to 6 weeks! Please email me and I can send out my contact details. Next on the agenda is the Black Diamond ATC Guide. Itís time to replace my tried and tested Petzl Reverso.


Next Review: Black Diamond ATC Guide

Black Diamond C3s are available at our following sponsors:

Boulder: Neptunes

Denver: Wilderness Exchange Unlimited

Golden: Bentgate

Please support our sponsors.


Disclaimer:
The cams were provided on a loan basis only. They have been returned to their owner.


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By Andy Laakmann
Site Landlord
From Bend, OR
Sep 6, 2006
Racked and loaded... name that splitter behind me? Hint, its on Supercrack Buttress

Great review John - thanks!

I love my green and purple C3s - they're smaller than a green alien, so they fill a nice niche on my rack. But in the bigger sizes I still prefer my aliens - perhaps because they have a bigger range?


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By Lee Jensen
Sep 6, 2006
Top of the second pitch on Touchstone.

Great review John. Thanks for the time you put into it. The pictures and specs were welcomed additions. I hadn't realized that the strength ratings on the smallest pieces were so low. Did you take any falls on them?

Looking forward to your ATC Guide review. I just replaced my Reverso (due to sharp edges developing) with the Guide. I'm taking it to Tuolumne next week for some field testing.


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By munge
Sep 6, 2006

Not having placed them, I'm not entirely certain of this, however, the head is extremely rigid compard to a CCH alien. Consequently, in non-optimal placements I would predict that the cam is likely either walk or lever some, possibly compromising the holding power.

Obviously, they could be slung with longer slings for reduced walk, but even then the following is a limiting factor.

That is, the head is too stiff to effectively use as an Aid climbing unit. in shallow flared placements that are more vertically oriented where you migh get an alien to stick, the rigid head may lever the cam head when weighted thus effectively losing the ability to 'bi' cam.


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By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Sep 6, 2006
Artist Tears P3

I did a lot of agreesive bounce testing on the smaller size 000 and size 00. I didn't take any falls.

I think the spring tension really stops them from walking and helps with the placements. I was pretty surprised how well they worked. I personally think they will be great for hard clean aid.

Hopefully someone who has used them more than me can chip in here.


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By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Sep 7, 2006
Artist Tears P3

Scott,

The photos comparing C3s to Aliens are coming, hopefully in the next couple of days. I had time yesterday to get the review finished and decided to go ahead without them.

Be sure to check back for the pics. I'll probably post an update in the news section as well.

John


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By Brian in SLC
Sep 7, 2006
Climbing in Smuggler's Notch

Great review, John. Nice close up pictures.

Yeah, that cost is a huge driver.

A direct comparison to Metolius TCU's would be nice...function, placement, especially shallow cracks and/or pin scars, size range, weight.

Good stuff, thanks!


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By tenesmus
Sep 7, 2006

Take some whippers on it man! Tell us how it goes.

Used the C3s at Lone Peak this weekend and they were posh. Can't wait till they are affordable.


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By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Sep 7, 2006
Artist Tears P3

tenesmus wrote:
Take some whippers on it man! Tell us how it goes. Used the C3s at Lone Peak this weekend and they were posh. Can't wait till they are affordable.


Bentgate in Golden had on sale this weekend at 20 per cent off but I missed the boat. It was either cams or mortgage payment! Since they were on sale this weekend I wouldn't be surprised they go on sale again around thanksgiving when some of the fall sales hit the shops...


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By Bosier Parsons
From Colorado Springs, CO
Nov 7, 2006
Preparing to descend west-most branch of Y-Couloir on Pikes Peak.

I've been climbing with these most of the summer and they are splendid. One thing I really like, since I also carry Camalots in the larger sizes, is that the color schemes are consistent. This makes it much easier for a partner to climb with your rack or vice versa, as it's a lot easier to recognize the size progression.

I admit I did not read the review above, but I think these are totally worthy. I have not fallen or really abused them much to know how well they'll hold up.


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By Ryan Brough
From Arvada, Colorado
Nov 7, 2006
Chickenhead surfing at the beginning of S-Direct.

It seems that everyone wants to know how these guys hold up for a fall. I pulled out a #00 C3 and fell 20 feet before a #3 C4 caught me. I didn't have the chance to compare a #00 TCU in the same conditions because my heel was injured in the fall. To tell the truth, I don't want to compare. The rock was probably more responsible for the failure than the C3 (the rock didn't offer any other placement options, and wouldn't take a nut). Besides, any cam that small wasn't meant to catch a whipper (low strength ratings). I would still consider adding C3s to my rack, if TCUs weren't so inexpensive.


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By caughtinside
From Oakland CA
Dec 4, 2006

I picked up the three largest sizes of these, the 0, 1 and 2. Climbed with them for about 10 days.

Then I sold them.

I had a couple beefs with them. I would agree with the review, that they are very nice looking, well machined units. I should also mention that I climb with aliens in the small sizes. I thought the C3s would complement the aliens. I don't climb on other TCUs if there are Aliens available.

What I found was that I hated the super-stiff trigger pull of the C3s. I also did not like the stem. They are flexible front to back, but sideways, not at all. If you do so much as tap them with your foot, they can rotate up sideways and walk in.

My results with these units was that in probably 20 pitches of climbing, I got 4 of them stuck to the point where I or my partner had to hang and work on these with the nut tool for several minutes to get them out. I am sure some (much?) of this is operator error, but I've been on Aliens for years and never have this problem. It might be because the sizes are slightly different than Aliens, but I don't know, I just couldn't win with these things.

Finally, I'd just like to mention that I think I purchased and used them with an open mind, I thought they were cool and I wanted them on my rack! I'm not just trying to slag on them to be a jerk. I'm sure some people will love them, and I hope they work out for the guy I sold mine to. I just couldn't see any real upside to using them over Aliens.


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By lee hansche
Administrator
From goffstown, nh
Apr 20, 2007
getting to the last jug before the top out

i love my c3s... i still carry the TCUs that i have always used but the c3s are great for pin scars and weird placements...

they do have faults, like the stiff trigger and small range but for the most part i love em... i did get them for $34 each so that helps... i wouldn't pay $70 for a cam made of solid gold, haha...


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By Court Bartholomew
From Clovis, CA
Apr 21, 2007

I purchased all five of the C3s a few months after they became available. They seemed like well thought out and well made units. I packed away the 000 because it is only for direct aid. Within a few weeks of use, the trigger action started getting choppy on the remaining four units. When I would squeeze the triggers all the way to the stopping point and then release the trigger, there was a brief split second pause before the units would expand. I cleaned them, lubed them, cleaned them again and they were still having the issue. In January of this year, I sent them into Black Diamond in Salt Lake City, and they called me stating that there was not a problem with them, just that I needed to clean them. They sent them back to me.

I spoke with a Black Diamond representative at Red Rocks in March and he said he had the same issue with his and that the little wires inside the stem section get hung up on each other. He asked if I could send them directly to him and he would walk them down to the engineers and get them fixed. The units on demo did not hang up like mine either.

I have taken falls on all four of the units that I use and they have held. Twice my belayer could not get the #1 out of the crack and I had to retrieve it on the rappel. I do not seem to have issues getting them out of the cracks, but my climbing partners do. I usually extend the C3s 24Ē with an alpine draw if there is a chance that the cam may walk due to its stiffness. The strong independent springs keep them in place.


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By Andy Laakmann
Site Landlord
From Bend, OR
May 15, 2007
Racked and loaded... name that splitter behind me? Hint, its on Supercrack Buttress

I've been climbing on C3s for 6 months now... and for the most part have liked them. I was using the green and purple sizes (two smallest) along with Aliens for the remaining sizes. Needless to say I haven't been using my Aliens lately, and have been using the larger C3s instead.

I had my first big "C3 bummer" recently. I am fairly certain the cam is tweaked beyond use and I need to send it back for repairs.

Here is how it happened, and I suspect this could happen again:

  • Placed a green C3 as the first piece
  • Climbed a 100 foot pitch
  • Lowered off, cleaning along the way
  • When I got the the C3, I observed it had walked (because of the outward tug of the belayer since it was the first piece and the act of lowering)
  • One of the cams had completely inverted, the other two cams were still engaged. I'm talking completely upside-down for the cam lobe.
  • After much thrutching, I got the cam out, but something within the "sealed" trigger mechanism had gotten tweaked by the cam lobe inverting and the cam no longer functioned properly
  • Since it is a "sealed" trigger mechanism... not much I can do except send it back.

The thing that surprised me was the cam lobe totally inverting. Obviously the cams are designed to be used umbrellaed (if absolutely necessary), but the interlocking design only works if all cams umbrella equally.

In my case this didn't happen and one cam was able to completely invert.

I suppose this could happen with other small cams, but in 20 years of climbing I've never had a cam lobe completely invert.

And in looking at the C3 design, it seems this cam-lobe-inversion is likely to happen since all the cams need to open equally for the interlock to work. If you have a flared crack in the back like this case, this could easily happen again.

Has anyone had a single cam lobe invert with an alien or TCU?


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By Lee Jensen
May 16, 2007
Top of the second pitch on Touchstone.

Andy Laakmann wrote:
The thing that surprised me was the cam lobe totally inverting.


Andy, I am having a hard time envisioning this. Can you post a picture?

I have been climbing on c3s for eight months now. No problems and lots of placements that I couldn't have gotten with other gear.


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By Andy Laakmann
Site Landlord
From Bend, OR
May 16, 2007
Racked and loaded... name that splitter behind me? Hint, its on Supercrack Buttress

I don't have a picture handy... but imagine two adjacent cam lobes engaged, and the third cam lobe completely upside down in the crack (the crack flared in the back and the rope action walked the cam backwards).

Try it (gently) with one your your C3s just using your fingers, you'll see what I mean. Just hold two lobes closed, and try to invert the other lobe.

I agree they go in where nothing else will go in... and all-in-all I like them.


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By paulraphael
May 28, 2007

Nice review, but I think it's silly to write a glowing review and end with a suggestion to lower the price.

They're not stupid at B.D.; they sell gear at the price they have to. Climbing gear has a ridiculously low margin compared with most other things around the house.

You already mentioned the design, the obvious amount of r&d, the fit and finish ...
And you can probably imagine the overhead, the quality control costs, and the liability insurance. It's really pretty remarkable that any cams cost under $100.

I personally may not be able to afford a $70 cam, but that has nothing to do with whether the price is reasonable or not.


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By reddirt
Dec 15, 2007
.

Now that it's been made know that C3 production will be shifting to China , I can't decide whether to wean off of all camalots or stock up on American/SLC made ones.


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By Luke Hanley
From Boulder, CO
Dec 15, 2007

Good point Reddirtgirl. It's time to stock up!


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By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Dec 16, 2007
Artist Tears P3

paulraphael wrote:
Nice review, but I think it's silly to write a glowing review and end with a suggestion to lower the price. They're not stupid at B.D.; they sell gear at the price they have to. Climbing gear has a ridiculously low margin compared with most other things around the house. You already mentioned the design, the obvious amount of r&d, the fit and finish ... And you can probably imagine the overhead, the quality control costs, and the liability insurance. It's really pretty remarkable that any cams cost under $100. I personally may not be able to afford a $70 cam, but that has nothing to do with whether the price is reasonable or not.


I still think the C3 is overpriced. If it was 60.00 and not 70 I would buy them. Otherwise I'll continue to wait. I worked in retail for several years and it was amazing the difference in pricing makes. If we put something out on sale that was 10 percent off the full price it would fly off the shelves. With Master cams coming out at 59.95 each, C3's are going to be a tough sell in my opinion.

Thanks for the feedback.


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By reddirt
Dec 16, 2007
.

Surely I can't be the only one who had to look up: Master Cams . On first impression, they look a little alienesque, no?

Master Cams (pic from Mountain Gear.com) <br />
Master Cams (pic from Mountain Gear.com)

master cam <br /> <br />
master cam


master cams
master cams


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By rockklimber
Feb 12, 2008

Nice review John. How would you compare these with the Metolius TCUs? I carry a set of Aliens in the smaller 6 sizes as well as a set of TCUs in the smaller 6 sizes. I love Aliens and was going to replace my TCUs with another set of Aliens, but before doing so I discovered on a climb that my TCU fits in a narrower crack where my same size Alien would not fit. So the TCUs have stayed on my rack.

PS. Have you noticed that in the picture of your BD ATC guide that you have it upside down? The rope going up to the anchor should be coming out the top of the device and the brake hand side of the rope should be coming out the bottom of the ATC (ie. the device needs to be rotated 180degrees clockwise). The braking action is supposed to be down in the opposite direction of the load (which is up). In this picture you would not be able to adequately brake downward (which would also have the rope rubbing along itself), so you would either have to break to the side at 90 degrees to the direction of the load or when you break the opposing load and braking forces would force the ATC in the correct orientation which would cause the belay loop to twist (thereby weakening it) and would also crossload the carabiner.


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By Mike Pharris
From Longmont, CO
Feb 28, 2008
Belay at top of P3, "Three Tiers" Ten Mile Canyon. 11/30/12

Great review. I've been slowing acquiring a full set of the C3's (sans the 000 probably). I used the Metolius tri-cams climbing with a friend who has them and while they are fine - i seem to like the trigger mechanism on the C3 cams better. Purely a personal preference on the feel of them for me.

They are a bit pricey, but i felt like the size of the cam head and the feel of them were worth the extra bucks for me.

You can't really compare theme to the Master Cams - they are much wider in the head and are a 4 cam unit.


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By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Feb 28, 2008
Artist Tears P3

rockklimber wrote:
PS. Have you noticed that in the picture of your BD ATC guide that you have it upside down? The rope going up to the anchor should be coming out the top of the device and the brake hand side of the rope should be coming out the bottom of the ATC (ie. the device needs to be rotated 180degrees clockwise). The braking action is supposed to be down in the opposite direction of the load (which is up). In this picture you would not be able to adequately brake downward (which would also have the rope rubbing along itself), so you would either have to break to the side at 90 degrees to the direction of the load or when you break the opposing load and braking forces would force the ATC in the correct orientation which would cause the belay loop to twist (thereby weakening it) and would also crossload the carabiner.


Thanks for the heads up on that. Its funny how you screw things like this up when you're staging photos...


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By Nick Stayner
From The Magic City
Mar 17, 2008
Nick Stayner near the crux. Ryan Minton photo.

Does anyone know what the crossover sizes for the blue and yellow TCUs are? Red and yellow? Or is the yellow C3 more like a blue TCU? I know my .4 camalot is slightly larger than the yellow TCU...


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