There was a lot of hype surrounding the release of the Master Cams. Seen as Metolius's answer to the Alien and C3, it is the first single stem design that they have come out with. I reviewed their Power Cams a while back and was really taken by them. A year down the line of using them in all kinds of terrain (summer granite to winter mixed) I am still a really big fan of them. Therefore I had high hopes for the Master Cams, and in a way they were met and in another they weren't, says Jon Griffith.
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Will Sim putting the Mastercams to good use on the Gervasutti Pillar
UKC Gear, Jul 2010
© Jon Griffith
In a nutshell, Metolius cams are built so that they have a smaller camming angle than their competitors, meaning that they have a higher holding power but sacrifice camming range. There is no right or wrong here as it's just a case of personal preference. The BD C4s took the cam market by storm and there are die hard fans all over the world, including myself, but recently I've been really appreciating the extra holding power of the Metolius cams. It's hard to put it into words, but quite simply Metolius cams just feel bomber when they go in, which is a good thing.
In practice, the Master Cams worked really well and felt even more secure than the Power Cams that I had tested earlier (OK, pretty unfair to compare as there is one less lobe on the Power Cam). When seated correctly the lobes really held in place. In part this is due to the rather strong springs and in part due to the camming angle. Add on top of this the range finder, which Metolius has on all its cams nowadays, and you can feel really secure with your placements.
Placing them with gloves was no problem either as they have a thumb loop much the same as you see on the BD C4s. Unfortunately there is no extendable sling, which I always think should become a standard when it comes to cams. I haven't taken a fall on one yet but they have performed perfectly in aiding and winter situations, with none of the ice/snow clogging up of the lobes that you get on cheaper cams which renders them totally useless in mixed situations. So, so far so good.
However, the thing that really struck me as a bad idea when I first looked at the Master Cams was the Kevlar cord, which attaches the cam lobes to the trigger bar. It seemed a very weak point and one that wasn't going to last very long on the rough Chamonix granite and unfortunately it proved so. After a few months use some of the cords started to fray and then very quickly the sheath would break apart revealing the inner core. Quite apart from the fact that it might snap, rendering the cam totally useless, it also meant that the cord would slip around the trigger bar making placing the thing a real pain. It's impossible to explain properly so just look at the image below.
Three cams fell foul to this and it's a shame as I really liked them. However I wanted a cam that works long term and I didn't want to have to worry about resetting the cam lobes every time I wanted to place it. When I contacted Metolius I was told that it was not an issue that they had seen before - it often happens that when you review gear you get prototype kit meaning that there are often modifications before it is released on the market. They promptly sent out a new set, which have a protection around the weak part of the Kevlar cord (which happens to be where it threads through the trigger bar).
Not massively convinced that this would do the job I took them out again for a good alpine beating and surprisingly enough they are still completely intact after all this time. Having scoured the internet for similar horror stories it seems that I got a bad batch and that the versions released on the market live up to the high standard of manufacturing that Metolius are known for. At £50 a cam you do kind of expect this.
You might ask yourself what the point is in the Kevlar cord at all when metal wire has been the norm over all these years. Well, as usual it's one of those innovations that may or may not catch on. In terms of the wire, the cord is a nylon and kevlar mix which is lighter, (theoretically) stronger and more flexible than wire. The idea is that the wire does not kink (like metal wire) and there is no feedback between cam lobes, creating a safer unit. It started out on the Super Cam because they needed to make the smaller cam rotate more quickly than the larger cam, so conventional wire was not suitable. There were no issues with this, so it was decided to add this to the new range of cams to make the most of the benefits.
The smaller units are maybe what interests people the most. As already mentioned they are a direct competitor to the Alien and C3s that make up the current micro cam market. (Ed's note: Aliens are now difficult to find because the company Colorado Custom Hardware Inc. is up for sale). One of the main selling points of micro cams is how narrow the manufacturer can make the head width. The point of micro cams is that they can fit into tiny placements: with miniscule cracks you don't have much margin for space so the narrower the head the better.
Metolius Master Cams
Metolius have managed to narrow the head width by making their cam lobes thinner, which places them in between the Alien and the C3s more or less. I don't have much experience with Aliens but compared to the C3s they perform similarly well with no complaints at all. In fact, due to the rather stronger springs and more aggressive camming angle they actually feel better than the C3s, as when I put a micro in place I want to make sure that it is going to walk as little as possible as there is very little margin for error on these ones.
After good use in both summer and winter conditions in the Alps I've really enjoyed having these on my rack. Whilst they are a very different build to the C4s and therefore a little hard to compare I am equally happy with either one on my rack. Weight wise the C4s are on the heavier side but this is due to their dual axle design and therefore they have a larger camming range. The fraying wires were a worry at the start but it is good to see that this has been cleared up now and am happy to give these cams a big thumbs up.
About Jon Griffith
Jon Griffith, left and Jack Geldard
Jon Griffith's first climbing days were in the Avon Gorge at Bristol. After university he moved to Chamonix, where he works as a professional mountain photographer: www.alpineexposures.com.
"It's hard to pick one specific type of climbing that I prefer over the others but I think my heart still lies with big mixed alpine routes that potentially involve a couple of nights bivying. I am still getting used to the whole Chamonix 'get back in time for the last lift' style - I still include bivying as a part of any decent mountaineering experience. I am also still getting used to crack climbing - it hurts.... a lot."
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Jon Griffith: