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.
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 triggers. You generally have to ship them back to CCH, where customer service experiences vary from good to non-responsive.
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. 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. On a typical wall, I might have one orange and two green Camalots. I don't use the bigger sizes.
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 and Accessories
CCH Hybrid Alien
- Excellent in pin scars and flares