C.A.M.P ..... Italy: Who are on earth are they?by Ian Smith Oct/2008
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Many climbers in the UK, though familiar with name C.A.M.P., are unaware of the story behind this long-standing, family-run company which has always been at the forefront of innovation and design in climbing gear. Yet C.A.M.P. is one of the biggest climbing equipment manufacturers in Europe and their gear has been available in the UK for more than 30 years, distributed through Allcord of Newcastle. They have a remarkable history and are currently looking forward to a very exciting future.
Let's start with the name, C.A.M.P. This is an acronym for Costruzione Articoli Montagna Premana which roughly translates as 'making climbing equipment in Premana'. The first part is obvious but what about that word Premana. Well, Premana is the town where C.A.M.P. has been based since the founding of the company in 1889. Premana is situated at the highest point of Valsassina, in the mountains just to the east of Lake Como in northern Italy with the nearest city being Lecco. It is a delightful small town nestled at the foot of snow-capped mountains and is built on a series of terraces, in fact, it's quite a remarkable place as it is situated on some of the steepest terrain I've ever seen a town built on.
A short distance away is the city of Lecco, well-known in world climbing as home to the 'Ragni', or Lecco Spiders, an active climbing club that has had as members mountaineering legends such as Walter Bonatti, Riccardo Cassin, Casimiro Ferrari and Carlo Mauri. There is certainly plenty of quality climbing to be found in the area. The local guidebook lists 64 crags around Lake Como with limestone sport climbing ranging from short grade F3s to 15-pitch monster grade F6s and F7s. On my short visit to only one crag I was struck by the rock quality and the excellence of the bolt equipping, if that's typical then there's yet another area of Europe that's worth a return visit. Also, a short drive to the north are venues such as the Bregaglia, home to classic mountains like the Badile and the Cengalo, and the Mello Valley, one of the most beautiful areas in Europe and providing stunning granite big walls and also the venue for the popular Mello Blocco, the international bouldering festival.
The founder of the company, Nicola Codega, was an expert in wrought iron working and operated a little workshop making products for the village and its surrounding area from the late 19th century. This was, and is, typical of Premana, a place that still produces a considerable number of knives and scissors. The business was handed on to Antonio who developed the company by producing, in 1920, ice-axes which equipped Italy's Alpine troops. Later, Antonio expanded into the wider mountaineering market following a meeting with the aforementioned Riccardo Cassin, producing pitons and as well as axes. A further example of working with leading climbers is their long relationship with the well-known Lowe brothers from the US, still producing such popular kit such as Tri-cams. C.A.M.P. work with many top European climbers and have close relationships with the mountain guides of Courmayeur and Cortina and British climber, Andy Earl, is a member of their current team of sponsored climbers.
C.A.M.P. are possibly best known in the UK as manufacturers of ice-axes, crampons and helmets but they have pioneered major innovations including:
• the first ice-axe with a light alloy shaft
• the first UIAA approved ice-axe
• the first modular axe
• the first rigid frame crampons
• the first crampons with step-in fast-binding system.
The driving force in the whole market now is the desire of climbers for the lightest weight of gear matched by advanced materials that combine minimal weight with maximum strength. C.A.M.P. recently developed the Nanotech axes and crampons that are stunningly light and use an innovative patented steel alloy that is 60% stronger than normal steel which allows for a major reduction in the amount of metal used. Going even lighter still, C.A.M.P. make an ice-axe for ski mountaineers that only weighs 205 grams, the Corsa, which can be matched up with XLC 390 crampons weighing 390 grams and the XLH 95 harness at a remarkable 95 grams (this will be replaced shortly by an upgraded version called the Alp 95). They also produce a comprehensive range of karabiners which included the Nano Wire, at 28 grams which was one of the lightest full-strength karabiners you could buy and they recently launched a brand new version, the Nano 23, weighing in at 23 grams, five lighter than the Nano Wire but the same size and strength. There is also a great new helmet to watch out for, the Armour comes in men's, women's and children's models and is lightweight and has a great fit. For many years they produced Hexcentrics and other nuts and have now introduced the new Carvex nuts as well as a range of camming devices with the Air-Cams and Jet-Cams.
C.A.M.P.'s range of climbing harnesses are beginning to be better known in this country and they have their own quick fit buckle design called the Sicura, but less well-known is the fact that they also produce a wide range of other gear, not all of which is available here in the UK. This includes sleeping bags, both down and artificial fibre and a variety of rucksacks, from big backpacking and expedition 'sacks right down to little day 'sacks and a very good line of technical, lighweight 'sacks for ice-climbing, cragging and ski mountaineering called the Campack range. They even produce tents starting with little one and two-person bivouac tents and going all the way up to a six-person family style tent. Continuing their search to create ultra lightweight gear C.A.M.P. have a range they call their 'Essential Line' which consists of sleeping bags, tents and waterproof/windproof jackets and trousers, not only are these all very light but they also all pack down very small, in fact, one of them, the Magic Anorak, once packed into its stuff sack, fits into the palm of your hand.
The fourth generation of the Codega family now run the company: Eddy, Antonio, Paolo, Giovanni, Isacco and Andrea. This is very typical of Italian businesses which are frequently handed on down the generations. The company has recently taken a major step forward with the building of a new Research and Development unit on top of their traditional workshops where they are totally committed to creating the most advanced lightweight gear around. This makes for an interesting and contrasting building with the old workshops below, where you can still smell and hear the metal being melted, formed and stamped and upstairs, which is all modern, high-tech and the loudest sound is the hum of computer or printer.
The R&D area is fully equipped with state-of-the-art computer aided design and a variety of manufacturing and testing equipment, for example, a drop test rig and a hardness tester. This will allow them to take a product through from idea, to design, to small scale production through to full testing and eventual manufacture. Continuing their tradition of working with top climbers they are getting technical input from the likes of Tomaz Humar, Simone Moro, Denis Urubko, Cristian Brenna and Maja Vidmar.
The author Ian Smith works for Allcord. A version of this article was first published in Climb magazine when Ian was Deputy Editor.