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BD X4, ongoing real-world review (will update over time)

Original Post
shoo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 75

The purpose of this is to get a comprehensive, real world review over time of how these things actually work. As such, it will not include the marketing hype or specs (you can look all that up yourself), unless I can personally verify or reject it. I will update and bump here. I have the 0.1 through the 0.5.

Initial thoughts
So far, I have only been able to get out for a short few hours on some granite finger crack, so my initial impressions are not very solid at the moment. and I can't say a thing about durability. I will be taking them through the ringer on a whole lot of granite this summer, and will try to update as appropriate.

First, let's get some less important stuff out of the way:

Action: Very smooth. Definitely nicer than the aliens of any make. Maybe on par or a touch less smooth than the mastercams. I did notice that there is a click on the .1 sometimes due to the trigger termination shifting when pulled, but that is a non-issue for me. Trigger stiffness-wise, I think it's right on the money. The trigger is definitely stiffer for the smaller sizes, but not as stiff as the c3s for sure.

Ergonomics: Generally very pleasant (and obviously way better than aliens), but maybe not quite as nice as the mastercams. The trigger and thumb loop are both very well put together. The thumb pad could be a touch flatter, instead of the strange raised bit in the middle (will get picture). Also of note that the two smallest ones are substantially shorter than the others. This makes the distance between thumb and trigger a bit more awkward, but not really an issue. I suspect this was to counter possible flop in these sizes. But we are talking about some really nit-picky stuff here.

Now to the good stuff.

Stem flexibility: These things are REALLY supple and flexible, all the way up through the trigger beads. Not quite WC zero flexy, but still a lot. Strangely, I was surprised to find that there really isn't much or any "flop,", even in the bigger sizes, despite the flexibility of the wire. Can't say much about how well the flexibility impacts walking, but a flexy stem on a 4 cam unit is a good combo.

Head width: Holy shit these things are thin. Not much of a difference for the smallest sizes compared to aliens, but there is a HUGE difference in the larger ones (.4 and up) along the lines of a full cam lobe difference compared to the equivalent c4. Assuming that these things last, I would genuinely consider an x4 over a c4 in the larger sizes (0.4+) for this reason alone. No clue at all how these sizes compared to equivalent larger mastercams or aliens, sorry.

"Fussiness": Small cams are very finicky due to much smaller room for error and the increasing importance of the subtleties of the rock surface. As such, this is probably the most important, if worst defined, category for me. The smallest sizes are surprisingly predictable and confidence inspiring. I found that they are substantially less finicky than a similarly sized c3 or alien. I suspect that this has to do with the asymmetric axle design, which yields a touch of extra range, allowing for a bit less required precision when picking out a size, and potentially a bit more room for error. Note that I was fairly surprised by this, and was not expecting that to be the case. More time and more rock is needed to see how much this is true.

Questions for the future: Let's get this out of the way: I have not yet whipped on one. This will assuredly happen soon, as I have a strong tendency to get in over my head. As with literally every cam out there, they are going to hold in a good placement, so telling you whether or not they held isn't going to tell you anything. The question is how well they hold in marginal placements. I suspect that aliens still have an edge here due to the soft metal, but who knows. I almost certainly won't be able to give a definitive answer here, but I'll try.

Durability is the absolute top open question right now. The problem with the very narrow heads is that it will only take a little bit of deformity (like, say, from a hard fall) to make them useless. We'll see what happens when I beat them up a bit.

Summary and general thoughts: WAY more real-world testing is needed, but I think BD did it. At least as nice as the mastercam in almost every way that matters. As with the mastercam vs. the alien, there appears to be some tradeoffs between the x4 and the alien. Durability and ability to hold a fall in marginal placements will determine exactly where that line falls. Now to whip some shine off these things. . .

Update #1:

OP delivers! Some follow-up: Rain/work/other have so far prevented climbing. This will be rectified this weekend. In the meantime, I'm following up with some pictures and follow-up from discussion here.

1) As mentioned previously, the x4s are prone to kinking where the stem meets the thumb loop. The next few pics will show why. Note that the below was achieved just by bending by hand, and was easily reversible to be (mostly) straight again. This was NOT from actual falling or hanging.

Kinking x4s.
The issue is primarily with BD's stem/thumb loop interface. In aliens and mastercams, this is achieved with a side-by-side cable swage. The (very minor) issue with this is that it leaves the stem off-center from the thumb loop. BD attempted to fix this a bit with a bit of metal work, as seen below.
.3 BD x4, stem/thumb loop interface.
While this is clever, it has two problems:

Problem 1: The kinking. Oh god the kinking. You can see from the picture that the cable has room to move leftward, and it does. And it gets stuck there. You can easily bend it back, but it's kinda silly to have in the first place. Comparison with mastercam:
Stem/thumb loop interface, mastercam vs. x4
This likely could have been solved had BD not left a huge empty gap, and had the stem fixed at the thumb loop termination. Seems like a bit of filler solder would have worked wonders there. Construction-wise, looks like cable is soldered instead of swaged, and there may be a technical reason why this can't be done with the head design. Someone with more experience with this stuff should chime in here, cause I am talking directly out of my ass.

It should be noted that I did not find that this interfered with the trigger pull in any way, since the entire trigger assembly is above the kink point.

Problem 2:, for the smaller sizes, there isn't enough room to keep the cable centered, as seen below. I don't really know why they had to make the thumb loop thinner for the smaller sizes, but they did.
BD .2 x4 stem/thumb loop interface
Next up: the thumb itself. Mastercam seems to have an edge here too. The mastercam's thumb spot is wider and flatter and lacks that weird center ridge. Picture illustrates what I mean
Mastercam on top, x4 on bottom.
As far as I am concerned, the thumb loop is better in the mastercam in pretty much every way. The centering piece on the x4s makes them prone to kink and doesn't do anything at all in the large sizes. It remains to be seen how permanent those kinks might be. This is a potential durability issue, and I'm a little disappointed.

But wait, that's not all. Time to compared the tops in the next post.

Update #2:

A few more comparisons below:

Ladies, take note.
The x4s have two lengths, with the smallest two sizes being much shorter than the rest. Note that the biggest sizes are significantly longer than their c4 counterpart.

Head width:
Let's start with the good stuff. The x4 heads are WAY thinner than the c4's. Yes, those are the same exact sized cams in x4 and c4. Crazy.
c4 vs. x4 head widths
Unsurprisingly, c3 still wins in the narrowest head department.
c3 vs x4 head width
Slightly surprisingly, the x4's head appears to be a touch wider than a similar mastercam. The trade-off is that the x4 has substantially more metal on the rock.
mastercam vs x4 head width

Update #3:

Got to climb a fair bit this weekend, took a few whippers on the .5. The first time was placed a touch too widely, and then a few times in a textbook placement after adjusting it a bit. Nothing terribly exciting happened (i.e. it held, just like it's made to). Again, the only interesting info is how well they hold better in marginal placements, so nothing new learned here.

Worth noting that no kinking occurred as a result of a fall. I wouldn't really expect it to, since the thumb loop and stem are directly in line in a fall. The stem has to bend in a different direction to the thumb loop assembly in order for the cable to be kinked, so this is only likely to occur if loaded oddly. Might be more of an issue for aid climbers?

Also worth noting that, like mastercams and aliens, placing the x4s takes a bit more finesse than c4s, in part due to the stiffness of the cable. Example: placing from a hard layback, I could reliably blindly place a small c4 in a place where I know it will fit, partially because you get a bit of feedback to your hand through the stem. Same placement with an x4 takes a bit more effort. Nothing big, and nothing unexpected.

Update #4:
Credit to Neil Pence and John Wilder for pointing out the difference between the pre-production and production swages.

Pre-production x4 swage. Note that this is VERY different than the production version.

You can clearly see that the pre-production version lacks the "trough" which is causing all the kinking issues.

So now this begs the question: what gives BD? Kinda seems like you dropped the ball here. Cost skimping? Difficult to manufacture in large quantities?

For now, I will go ahead and say that my current recommendation is to wait to purchase these at this time until this is addressed. It seems like BD could have made the swages the right way, and chose not to. I am going to keep climbing on mine (and happily, I might add), but this really is a bit ridiculous.

Final thoughts:

These have now been with me for a few months and have been put through a fair amount of beating in North Conway and Squamish granite. They’ve all taken falls (and held just fine, thank you very much). I think it’s fair to say that I have a good sense of their durability and overall performance by now, enough so that I can probably call this a final review. The following is simply going to be final thoughts, confirmation, or correction of previous statements, with some additional durability info thrown in.

I’ll cut to the chase and give you the bottom line. Are these the “best” general use small cam out there right now? Answer: Sure, by a bit, probably.

This isn’t a satisfying or very specific answer, but that’s the way it goes. These are DAMN nice cams. They stack up really nicely against anything and everything else out there. They do basically everything very well. The reality is, though, that if I already had a set of either of either aliens/basics or mastercams I’d probably be about as happy.

All of what has been said previously is still true. They are easy to use, reliable, and predictable. I don’t really have much to add. My partners and I have fallen on all 5 now, and have not popped. Unfortunately, I can’t generalize or compare to other cams had they been in the same placements, but you can at least take that to mean that they don’t explode, so that’s nice to know. The flexible stem is great, as is the trigger sheath. What you see is what you get.

As mentioned earlier, the larger sizes are surprisingly nice. The choices get a little clearer here against aliens and master cams, as the double axle is a very nice feature. Against the c4s, personally, I have one of both of .4 and .5, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. The x4s have narrower heads and a more flexible stem, but the c4s are easier to place and just have that bomber feeling. No clue which I would choose if I could only have one.

Warning, speculation ahead: There may actually be something to the stacked axle thing. It’s not that the cams will place substantially differently. It’s simply that there is an increased tolerance once placed compared to a single axle design. Small cams are sketchy, almost always. This gives a touch bigger margin of error. Aliens increase their tolerance with soft metal at the cost of durability, but the x4s don’t have to compromise to achieve something similar. Again, this is speculation, but I am fairly convinced that if there is one single reason to get the x4s, it is this additional margin of error.

After some heavy use, I can say that the kinking at the thumb loop swage is mildly annoying, but not a big issue. It doesn’t really happen very much on its own, even when fallen on. I could see it happening more with weird deep placements in horizontals, but I never really encountered that. I do, however, now have a perma-kink at the head of the blue one (picture pending) from a fall when placed perpendicularly to the wall (i.e. not in the direction of fall). I also have this head kink on my offset mastercams from similar situations, so no real comparative difference.

I never noticed any substantial binding of the trigger due to dirt/sand/grit, but I was using these on mostly clean granite. Maybe people climbing in sandier or dirtier areas might have a better idea.

There was a bit of discussion in this thread about the potential for minor lobe mushrooming to result in the lobes rubbing against each other due to the tight tolerances between lobes. While I’ve experienced this quite a bit with aliens (one of the reasons I don’t have any), I did not notice this at all with the x4s. The easy explanation is that the soft metal on the aliens is more likely to deform compared to x4s. Mastercams don’t have this issue, as the lobes don’t really come in contact with each other.

Overall, the mastercams still win in the durability category, just a hair ahead of the x4s due largely to the minor stem tweaking issue. Aliens are last by a long shot, as you can effectively destroy one in one fall.

Totem basics, mastercams, and the x4s all clock in at $70 retail. Fixe Aliens come in $10 more expensive, c3s $10 less. There is a bit of extra built-in value for the x4s if you consider that fewer cams make up a slightly larger range. I personally prefer the x4s over both the mastercams and the aliens at this point, so the value judgment is a bit of a no brainer to me, but this comes down to personal preference.

And that's all, folks.

Final final thoughts:
In the long run, I think the x4 are just "meh." Given a choice between having mastercams and x4s, I think I would probably have to give the slight long run upper hand to the mastercams. The reasons for this are mostly gut feeling. I just find myself a bit happier placing a mastercam than an x4 in a place where both would work.

Over the past year or so, the x4s have proven themselves to be a bit delicate for my tastes. While the kinking at the thumb loop did not turn out to be a real problem, other things did. The heads got kinked fairly easily and frequently. When the heads got kinked even a little, the trigger pull action worsened dramatically. Take a fall on one of these in a weird placement, and it could instantly become a pain to clean, and once cleaned, required hand tweaking. All that bending back and forth might have some super long run metal fatigue issues, but I'll let an engineer who knows better give judgment here.

Kinking is just not a big issue with the mastercams I have, as they have both beefier cables (which don't tweak as easily) and a trigger system which is apparently a bit more robust (or at least that's my gut). On the other hand, the thin (and somewhat delicate) cable allows the x4s to have excellent stem flexibility. While theoretically this could reduce walking or enable weird placements, I have found the difference in walking to be negligible, but others might not.

The sizes that shine in the x4s are definitely .2 and .3 (.1 is just scary small no matter what). The larger sizes (especially the .5 and up) often a pain to place compared with their c4s brethren. When going with a single rack, I defaulted to the c4s for the .5 100% of the time, and the .4 c4 vs x4 was a coin flip. Again it's a tradeoff. The x4s give much narrower heads for weird pockets. The c4s are easier to place, easier to clean, and give more happy bomber placement feelings. The big benefit of the x4s is that they do noticeably cover a bigger range per cam compared with either mastercams, which comes at the cost of the daintiness discussed.

In the end, I am fairly happy with what I have, but would be equally happy with a rack of mastercams in the same sizes. If I were in the market, it would really come down to whatever set I could get for a better deal. With the updated aliens coming around the corner, who knows if there really is a "best" small cam out there.

Jason Kim · · Encinitas, CA · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 255

appreciate the post and look forward to updates.

NorCalNomad · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 120

Going to have to disagree with you on the action and ergonomics (in favor of the x4's). TLDR; much better than the mastercams.

Action - Smoother than the mastercams, but the totem aliens I would say are the only small cam that can touch the X4's. Where it seems like the mastercams kind of/ subtly "pop" off from their resting position, versus the X4's and totems have a smooth gradient of pull.

Ergonomics - This is one place BD kicks everyone to the curb on, they are much better than the mastercams.

The surface treatment of the mastercams trigger do nothing to help your finger locate or stay on the surface of the trigger bar you need to pull on. The X4's use subtle surface breaks and changes to help your fingers locate and stay on the trigger bar. Even without the cutout in the trigger bar just the curving concave surface on the to of the trigger makes it a better design.

Also, why do you think the surface you put your thumb on should be flatter? (an honest question). Because the curvature and surface breaks created by the ribbing versus a smoother flatter (or even a texture flatter) design would be less ergonomic in the context of a cam.

Also no click on my .1

sherb · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 60

Hi shoo, thanks for the review.

Regarding the action, yeah, I feel that mastercams have a lot of initial force to overcome before it starts to retract, retracts the rest of the way with much less force after (as NorCalNomad
described as the pop off the initial position). Some people don't like this, but I like the tightness of the spring.

I am interested in your "Stem Flexibility" compared to the Aliens because I've never tried the WC zeros. I know Mastercams was a great substitute/filled the void of the Alien hiatus, but Mastercams are not as flexible as Aliens. Becasue you've made comparisons of the X4 to the Alien, I'm hoping you can compare them on this feature as well.

shoo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 75
NorCalNomad: Afraid I'll just have to remain in disagreement about the ergonomics in particular, but this is not something I care about much. I don't think that the difference in shape of the trigger makes any difference whatsoever for me. It might for someone else. The difference between the alien and the mastercam/x4 is large. The difference between the mastercam and the x4 is negligible in comparison.

As for the flatness on the thumb, I was not suggesting to reduce the size of the raised ribs, but rather to make them all rise to a flatter plane. The center rib is substantially (and unnecessarily) higher than the rest. I think the additional surface area flat against the thumb would make it more stable and "roll" a bit less. Again, EXTREME nit-picking here.

Caprinae monkey: I'll have to get back to you on that, as I don't have access to aliens at the moment. I don't own a set (which is why I purchased the x4s), but have been climbing on my friends' for years. I should definitely do some x4 vs alien side-by-side in general for future updates.
David Cummings · · Grand Junction, CO · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 190

I am really liking the X4s so far. I climbed some granite multipitch and they didn't disappoint. I got to try them in Eldo on Sunday and I got on a few pitches that I felt in the past were made much safer by having C3s due to the narrow placement. X4s went right in but sometimes had to work a little harder due to the flexible cable compared to a C3 that you can slot due to the double stem. Still worth it with no walking or moving due to the flexible cable and the armored sheath is pretty slick, I think it will take the abuse. Can't wait to place them more!

J W · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,535
Caprinae monkey wrote: I am interested in your "Stem Flexibility" compared to the Aliens because I've never tried the WC zeros. I know Mastercams was a great substitute/filled the void of the Alien hiatus, but Mastercams are not as flexible as Aliens. Becasue you've made comparisons of the X4 to the Alien, I'm hoping you can compare them on this feature as well.
The X4s are far more flexible than the Mastercam. Basically, BD did what Metolius should have done with their stem (and actually did do in their initial prototypes of the Mastercam- those stupid trigger assembly wires were a last minute change to the cam, and frankly, its the reason I dont like them as much as I wanted to).

In comparison to the Alien- the X4 is as flexible as you want them to be. They are probably not quite as flexible, but its so close, its a non-issue. They have less flop than the bigger Aliens for sure.

disclosure: My x4s are pre-production, so i cannot comment on the trigger ergonomics, as they changed them for the production runs. They may have also changed how flexible the production ones are- but mine are very bendy. BD did provide mine, but they did not ask for any review in exchange, just product feedback directly to them.
Josh Janes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2001 · Points: 8,930

^^^ Reformed trad climber turned gym boulderer/sport climber. ;) ;)

J W · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,535
Josh Janes wrote:^^^ Reformed trad climber turned gym boulderer/sport climber. ;) ;)
turned trad climber again. back to the roots!
NorCalNomad · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 120

Stem flexibility is closer to alien level just slightly more stiff, still way more than a master cam.

Also something I forgot to add is the finish and precision on these guys is freaking amazing (not a surprise when talking about BD stuff)

OP I understand what you mean now on the ridges. I think if they just took out that center it'd be even better, but my guess is that it was a mold limitation.

NorCalNomad · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 120

Subway double post

Anfarwal Vr · · Denver, CO · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 226

So far I really like the X4's and I don't regret my decision to buy a set of them (I got a great deal). My initial impressions of the X4 are as Shoo's review said. Action is generally very smooth, and the trigger action is not too stiff but not too loose. I used these guys in Eldo, and the small head size came in handy, and I thought the placements were easy to make without much fiddling. I've used these in Eldo and Boulder Canyon.

That being said, I did manage to bend one--I didn't fall on it, so I think this might be from being placed over a rock edge? I've only climbed on them 2-3 times, and I'm a little surprised that it did this so easily.

After bending it, the trigger action is not nearly as smooth and it's bent in such a way that I can only pull the heads down if I pull the trigger unevenly (which makes it worse). I've tried to bend it back into shape but no luck. The weakness is at the insertion of the wire in the the base of the cam. I'm not sure if this is a one-time event, a defective cam, or that all of them will eventually do this if I fall on them. Anyone else have this experience? If you have any suggestions as what to do to fix it, or if it's worth letting BD know, let me know.

Bent X4
trigger action with bent x4

superkick · · Houston, TX · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 60

looks like the bend is inside the encasing. prob going to be a pain to fix

TacoDelRio · · All up in yo bidniss. · Joined Feb 2010 · Points: 2,356

I bent the stem on one of mine doing a wandering route in Yosemite. I bent it back. No issues, smooth as new.

Mine bent at the swage. How hard are you bending it back?

Really dig em. They kinda handle like larger versions of WC Zeroes, which are the tits for free stuff.

Have not aided on them yet, but I'd imagine they're like MC's but with better flexibility since they lack the two trigger cables.

Random photo.

mattc81 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 10

Don't drink the cool aid just yet.

The head is not as stable as the c4 and the stem is much stiffer than an alien, so they walk. Sometimes you want a bigger headed cam bc more surface area contact for stability. When you have a small headed cam you don't want the rope pulling the cam around so the flexible stem is key. The aliens also just sit better (differant camming angle?) and don't move at all once set. The x4 does not inspire the same confidence. The x4s are not as good as c4s or aliens for each cam's intended placements. Maybe the small x4 is better than a c3 I haven't tried red x4 yet.

shoo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 75

mattc81: While you are correct that there is a stability trade-off when you make the heads narrower, you are incorrect that the stems are noticeably stiffer than aliens. In fact, the reverse is probably true for at least a few sizes (hard to tell for sure), and both aliens and x4s are WAY more flexible than the c4s.

Going to do a bit of an update this afternoon. Sadly, couldn't climb this past weekend, but definitely will this weekend.

Anyone have anything specific they want to see? Currently on the agenda for this afternoon:

1) Head comparison pics with offset mastercams and c3s.
2) Swage termination pics. I think there may actually be something to the idea that these are more prone to kinking due to the unusual swage structure. Will have more details in a bit.
3) Some very unscientific observations about walking, comparing with c3s and c4s. Would do mastercams, but only have offsets, and have no aliens on hand.

Jake Jones · · Richmond, VA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 1,734

Not to bash mastercams, because I love them, especially in the orange and yellow sizes, but the way the two wires are oriented off the trigger so that they torque when loaded in horizontal placements has always bugged me.

Maybe Metolius had an excellent reason for designing them like this, as opposed to rotating the two wires 90 degrees.

Anyway, I think this is one area that perhaps will shine for the X4s over the Mastercams much like Aliens already do. A comparison picture of a weighted (offset) Mastercam in a horizontal placement vs. one of a weighted X4 in a horizontal placement should show exactly what I'm referring to.

I know it's hard to get offsets to place correctly horizontally because they work best in small flares and pin scars, but if you could get a comparison pic that would be cool. Since you asked. Thanks for offering.

shoo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 75

Jake: At the moment, offset x4s don't exist (outside BD, anyway), so I can't really do much with that. However, when I get some pics up, you'll see that the swage on the x4s is only semi symmetrical. However, this is what may make them more prone to kinking, as described above.

Jake Jones · · Richmond, VA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 1,734

That's not really what I meant. I was referring to the two pull cables attached to the trigger on the Mastercams that rub and twist when the Mastercam is placed in a horizontal orientation and loaded. Aliens and X4s don't have that issue because of the different design- which also makes them more flexible. Sorry for the confusion.

shoo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 75
Jake Jones wrote:That's not really what I meant. I was referring to the two pull cables attached to the trigger on the Mastercams that rub and twist when the Mastercam is placed in a horizontal orientation and loaded. Aliens and X4s don't have that issue because of the different design- which also makes them more flexible. Sorry for the confusion.
Ah, got it. Don't even really need a horizontal crack to see that, just any crack'll do. Might have to delay the in-use pics until later. For others, you can see what he is referring to here and here and here
divnamite · · New York, NY · Joined Aug 2007 · Points: 90

I just noticed FIXE alien black and blue have higher strength rating than the X4.…

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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