Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: grip, effectiveness in shallow placements
Cons: reliability, durability
Best Uses: big wall climbing
Aliens use to be hands down my favorite cam for big walls and climbs where you have tight and shallow placements. They find their way into more placements than almost any other small cam. Then, in the last 5-10 years there have been a lot of new cams introduced that give the Alien stiff competition: Metolius Master Cam, Black Diamond Camalot C3 and Wild Country Zero. The main downsides to Aliens are their reliability, durability and they are hard to find.
NOTE: Aliens are currently unavailable except on the auction market. However, in September, Fixe has said they will start making Aliens again. Read more about the Fixe Faders Alien Cams
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Aliens used to be unchallenged among small camming units for big wall climbs. There was nothing that could get into shallow pin scars remotely as well as they could. Then in the last decade a number of other great small cams emerged. It looked like Alien rule might be over, especially when some Alien failures caused a recall in 2006. But somehow Aliens continue to win the hearts of big wall climbers. The Yosemite Mountain Shop can get only a few orders a year and they are often sold out within 24 hours. Alien love remains strong.
There are three reasons why Aliens are so good in pin scars:
The one downside to the soft metal is that after a few walls worthy of bounce testing, the lobes wear down fast and eventually become "mushy." But that is the price you pay for having softer metal that is sticky in dicey placements where most other cams won't hold.
The main dislikes of Aliens are their durability and reliability. As mentioned above, the trade-off with the cams' soft metal is that they wear out fast. After a few walls the cams will be a little sticky and lose their teeth. After a few more walls you might need to use two hands to retract them. Also, when the trigger wires break, they are much harder to replace than the Black Diamond Camalot C4 triggers. You generally have to ship them back to CCH, where customer service experiences vary from good to non-responsive.
Of more concern are reports of Aliens failing even after the 2006 recall. I don't know how much faith to put in these reports. According to CCH's web site, there has not been a recall since 2006 and everything is good. According to some independent testers, there is reason to believe CCH quality control is suspect Read more here
Finally, it is really hard to find Aliens, about the only place that carries them consistently is Mountain Tools.
Aliens excel at both granite (Yosemite) and sandstone (Zion) big walls where there are pin scars and other shallow placements. They are also useful (although not as popular) for free climbing. I recommend the sizes .33 - 1 (black to red) and then I switch to the Black Diamond Camalot C4. Larger than the 1 (red) is the 1.25 (gold), which I have not used and don't really see the need for. I do sometimes carry the 1.5 (orange) but at that size I generally prefer the Camalot C4. On a typical wall I might have one orange and two green C4s. I don't use the bigger sizes. Here is a guide to correct and incorrect placements
There are also Alien Super Long Units (SL's). I would never carry these on a wall because they reduce your reach by .75". But they might be helpful in certain free climbing applications and I assume that is why they released this size.
— Chris McNamara
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: June 29, 2011
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