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CCH Alien Review

   

Climbing Cams

  • Currently 4.5/5
Overall avg rating 4.5 of 5 based on 9 reviews. Most recent review: February 5, 2014
Street Price:   Varies from $58 - $68 | Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  grip, effectiveness in shallow placements
Cons:  reliability, durability
Best Uses:  big wall climbing
User Rating:     
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  • 5
 (4.8 of 5) based on 8 reviews
Recommendations:  100% of reviewers (4/4) recommend this product
Manufacturer:   CCH
Review by: Chris McNamara ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ January 31, 2010  
Overview
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

Likes
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:
  • narrow head width; few other caming units are as narrow
  • flexible stems: helps them hold in awkward placements
  • soft metal for the cams; it grips the rock better than just about anything

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.

Dislikes
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.

Recommended Application
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.

Other Versions
The CCH Hybrid Alien, $68, is still the best cam for pin scars, especially in Yosemite and Zion.

Chris McNamara

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: February 5, 2014
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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  • 5
 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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  • 5
 (4.8)

100% of 4 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
7 Total Ratings
5 star: 71%  (5)
4 star: 29%  (2)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)
Sort 8 member reviews by: Most Recent | Most Helpful
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Feb 5, 2014 - 01:53pm
 
Tito · Climber · everywhere
There is the totem basic cams
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Jun 29, 2011 - 07:14pm
 
elmonotitiritero · Climber · Barcelona,Spain
Good news!
It seems aliens will be again in the stores in september.
No official confirmation yet, but the news says that the spanish manufacturer Fixe-Faders has obtained the patent.

http://www.barrabes.com/revista/noticias/2-7100/fixe_faders-comienza-fabricar-alien-llegar.html

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   May 8, 2010 - 10:24am
Morgan · Climber · East Coast
Aliens are awesome. You'll get placements with these that you just know are better. I think they do require more monitoring/vigilance/inspection than other cams out there.

For example, in inset photo number 2, you can see how much softer the metal is for Aliens. If the edge of the cam mushrooms over too much, it can affect the action of the cam next to it, making it sticky when either retracting it or letting it expand. An easy fix to smooth it down, though.

Also, If you look at the cams in inset photo number 1, you can see how the wire cable to the cams is free floating thorough the capsule shaped metal guide plate. Sometimes the cams will become off center and stick that way in the guide plate. That's why it's a good idea to check them before casting off on lead and re-center them. The larger sizes had each cable individually swaged with mini-copperhead-like termination. And later versions of the smaller sizes have a spot weld on each cable where it goes through the guide plate which seems to address this issue.
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   Jan 23, 2010 - 08:18pm
Rankin · Climber · Greensboro, North Carolina
On aid, these are the still the best. But for free climbing, I prefer a set of Master Cams and TCUs. Aliens don't hold up that well, and some people have gotten some dangerously defective units. That being said, the yellow alien might be the greatest cam ever made.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Jan 23, 2010 - 12:14am
Captain...or Skully · Climber · Where are you bound?
I like my aliens. I've used them A LOT, for years now…..
They go in spots where it's just hard to get gear, and had them hold some pretty good falls.
I kinda wish they were harder, sometimes, because the cam surface gets all manked up after a while. I guess it's a trade-off for that Bite.
All good.
I like my Aliens.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Jan 19, 2010 - 12:26pm
matty · Climber · under the sea
best small cams for aid in yosemite

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Jan 18, 2010 - 06:58pm
JP.Franklin · Climber · Santiago-CHILE
Are superb protection into pin scars and granite overall. A friend of me had a fall arrested well with no consequences. Unfortunately they were hard to find items and in the future will be seldom seen as production stopped when David Waggoner passed away. Still hoping to hear some good news soon…, JP.
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   Jan 18, 2010 - 01:40pm
Sascha · Climber · Sebastopol, CA
I'm not personally familiar with any instance of an alien failing due to poor material quality or workmanship, though I've seen some photos online. But I frankly don't spend too much time worrying about that. The fact of the matter is that a cam placement is far more likely to fail where the lobes meet the rock, rather than anywhere internal to the unit. Many, many more cams pull because they were imperfectly placed (whether due to a lack of skill or due to limited options) than break internally. So your best bet to minimize the probability of failing pro is to optimize the fit of the placement.

I've used aliens for as long as I've led trad (over 15 years) and just recently bought a set of C3s, so I don't have a lot of mileage yet to compare those. I do recall many times a 0.3 or 0.4 C4 refused to fit where a green, yellow or gray alien did. (Do they even still make the gray one, sized between yellow and red? It's one of my favorite pieces of all time.)

The orange alien I don't like much because of its limited range compared to a C4; at that size and above, the extra width of a C4 rarely prevents a fit (and in fact seems to add lateral stability).

All said, I LOVE my aliens. Please don't get in line ahead of me when the next shipment arrives at the store.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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CCH Alien Small Camming Device
Credit: aliencamsbycch.net
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