Freshly released in the fall of 2019, we think the DMM Dragonfly Cams are the best small camming devices you can buy. They come in six sizes, ranging from a purple one-inch piece (they follow the same color scheme as Black Diamond cams), down to the smallest cam currently available in the world, which has a range as small as 7.8mm, or .31 inches. The smallest sizes are not only really small, but also have holding power tested at 6kN, an impressive upgrade over the strength ratings of other brands' smallest cams. It isn't their super small sizes that most impressed us, though, but their ease of use combined with the quality control and design perfection that DMM has long been known for. They work great for free climbing and are also a valuable addition to an aid climber's rack.
DMM Dragonfly Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Fantastic design, smallest cam in the world, great strength, extendable sling, flexible stem
Cons: Not available in offset sizes, smaller individual cam range, action on smaller cams not as smooth as larger cams
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Dave Waggoner invented and designed the original Alien cams, selling them for over 15 years through his company CCH (Colorado Custom Hardware). These cams quickly gained a cult following and were well loved as one of the best small cams, in no small part due to their unique design. However, in the second half of the 2000's they were plagued by quality control issues, leading to recalls and shortages, and then eventually went out of business when Waggoner died in 2010. A scramble for the Alien design patents ensued, but surprisingly few viable spin-offs have made it to market. The FIXE Alien Revolution uses the same original Alien design, are made in Spain, and perform excellently, but have a long history of poor quality control and even worse customer service. Totem made the Basics for a while, which were basically the same design, but they suffered a recall and production was permanently stopped. Kailas Nuco cams are made in China with the same design features, but lack the smallest and largest cam sizes. With the Dragonfly, DMM becomes the fourth company since CCH went out of business to produce cams with the essential Alien design features, and we feel these are the highest quality ones yet.
The are two main features that make these cams unique. The first is the cam springs that are recessed inside the cam lobes themselves, allowing for a very narrow head width that fits easier into shallow, tight placements and pin scars. The three largest Dragonflies incorporate this design, while the three smallest have cam lobes that are so small the springs cannot fit inside. These smaller cams actually have wider heads than the larger ones for this reason, because the springs also have to fit along the head axle. The smoothness of the trigger pull is compromised slightly by the added friction of the compressed springs in these smaller cams, although it doesn't affect the performance or grip of the cams in any way. The second unique design feature is the soft sleeve that links the cam lobes to the trigger pull, which allows for an extremely flexible single stem. While the outside of this sleeve is cosmetic black fabric, the inside is a thin layer of woven aluminum fibers. Before this design feature was included in the original Aliens, there were no flexible stemmed camming units (at the time many cams still had two stems), and this feature has since been imitated by the Black Diamond X4's. A flexible single stem not only opens up a world of potential horizontal placements without risk of mangling the stem, but also allows for a wider range of shallow and pocket placements, including in pin scars, without the potential for a rigid stem levering the head out of the placement when weighted. The Dragonflies also include a handy thumb loop and a doubled-up, extendable sling.
The Dragonflies are awesome for free climbing. They stick to the exact same color scheme as Black Diamond cams, which is likely the most familiar cam color scheme in the world, so not only do they mesh seamlessly with those cams, but don't require learning a new scheme. These colors are ubiquitous throughout the design, with a colored sling, thumb loop, trigger bar, and anodized cam lobes, so quick and easy identification on the harness is a breeze.
The cam angle used throughout is 13.75 degrees, which is the same as used on other DMM cams. This gives them a rather round shape, which fits great into pockets and pin scars, while providing excellent holding power. The alloy used is 6081, which according to DMM is the same softness as 6061 but has better corrosion resistance, so they are will deform slightly to bite into granules and crystals. However, the camming angle means that each unit has less range than one might expect with FIXE or BD small cams, so there is a bit less forgiveness if you size the crack wrong and grab the wrong cam off your harness. In essence, you must grab the right cam.
The stem of the cam is the most flexible of any we have tested, which has merits and some disadvantages. In general we noticed no difficulties while placing these cams despite their floppy stems. However, at times they prove slightly harder to remove if they are stuck, because wiggling the stem around to free up the lobes doesn't have the same effect it would with a more rigid stem. Overall, these cams work great for free climbing.
We weighed the 1-inch sized piece, a purple #6, to compare it to other brand's cams of the same size. It weighed 2.6 ounces, which is a bit heavier than comparable sized FIXE or Metolius small cams, but a bit lighter than comparable Black Diamonds.
However, when comparing the entire range of six small cams, the Dragonflies would weigh 386g, or 13.62 ounces. This is heavier than a comparable range of other small cams, although if you didn't choose to carry the smallest #1, which few will while free climbing, it would immediately be middle of the road. Bottom line, while they aren't the lightest, we are talking very small cams here, and the differences are pretty negligible.
The Dragonfly cams come in a set of 6, with the largest being the same size as a .5 Camalot, and the smallest #1 representing the smallest cam currently available in the world. Remarkably, the two smallest cams have a holding power of 6kN, which is a fair bit more than the 5kN rating for most other micro cams, and certainly could be considered viable to fall onto, given solid rock and a perfect placement. The entire range spans from .31" (7.8mm) up to 1.11" (28.3mm).
Due to their relatively low camming angle though, which is the same as the camming angle on the Dragon Cams, and second smallest next to those made by Metolius, the range of an individual cam is quite small, requiring precision in your cam selection. If you choose a cam that is slightly too big for a given placement, you likely will not be able to simply jam it in there fully contracted. Similarly, if you choose a cam slightly too small, it will umbrella out enough that you will likely not feel super inspired and confident. Accurately choosing the perfect sized piece is a skill that climbers will develop with time, so experience is the antidote to this problem.
The Dragonflies are one of the best cams we have tested for horizontal placements, and are thus an excellent choice for areas that mainly protect in horizontals, such as the Gunks. The extremely flexible stem and sheathed trigger allow the stem to flex downward over rounded edges, and the extendable sling allows for greater versatility for setting the cam well back from an edge.
Worth pointing out is that no cam, no matter what sort of stem design it has, is designed to be loaded over a sharp edge. If you fall in this situation, the cam will most likely hold that fall, but will also likely be irrevocably damaged and need to be retired. Optimize your horizontal placements so that the stem is not loaded over an edge.
These cams are excellent in tight placements. The smallest unit will fit into a smaller placement than any other you can buy today, with a strength rating that is strong enough to be able to fall onto it. What more could you want?
In terms of head width, we found that the larger three sizes have very narrow heads due to the internally recessed cam springs, and are thus very serviceable in shallow placements, and fit well into pockets and pods. The smallest three sizes are still quite narrow in the heads, but are actually slightly wider than competing micro cam sizes, although they are all within a couple millimeters.
We tested these cams for a couple months in the fall of 2019 before publishing this review, and noticed no issues with durability. However, this is not long enough to truly understand potential issues, so we will continue testing into the future and update with issues if we come across any.
With over 20 years of trad climbing experience by multiple reviewers, we have a good understanding of where cams are likely to fail. The trigger wires are made of solid metal, rather than wire, so are not capable of fraying over time, and furthermore look very easy to replace by hand in the field if need be. A simple paper clip would likely do the trick! The soft 6081 aluminum alloy in the head means there will be some deformation of the metal on the cam lobes when they are fallen onto, but this is by design, and we have never noticed this negatively affecting performance on similar style cams in the past. The internal springs have the potential to get more easily gummed up by dirt, so you need to keep them clean and lubed for ideal performance. According to testing done in the lab by Black Diamond, the extendable sling may actually be this cam's biggest weakness, so the biggest durability concern may be the thumb loop if you take a high impact fall onto it with the sling extended.
All cams will walk if they are put in a position where outward and upward pull by the lead rope is frequent. The Dragonflies do a good job of mitigating much of this potential, however, with their extendable sling and very flexible stem.
The extendable sling is convenient simply because it allows you to extend the protection without needing to use a quickdraw or alpine quickdraw, so you can get by with carrying less carabiners on your harness.
Like most small, Alien-style camming devices, the DMM Dragonflies are good for aid climbing. They can fit in tiny little cracks, potentially protecting slots where you may have only been able to use a piton or cam hook. Their thumb loop clip-in point and flexible stem enhance their value in this arena.
Unfortunately, they do not currently come available in offset sizes, where one side of the cam is a different size than the other. Offsets are invaluable for aid climbing in pin scars, and so we suspect that climbers looking to enhance their aid rack will prefer one of the brands that has offsets, or simply opt for Totems.
While it's hard to call these cams affordable, the fact is that they are less than or the same price as every other small cam option, with the exception of our Best Buy Award Winner, the Metolius Ultralight Master Cams. Purchasing these cams should not lead to a budget induced crisis, and since we think they are the best options available, and are made by a company long known for high quality and excellent customer care, we think they are an excellent value.
The DMM Dragonflies are our favorite small camming units due largely to their effective use of the old "Alien" design, and we have been very happy with their performance. While no small cam design is literally perfect (yet!), we think these are the most reliable and highest quality one that you can buy, with performance to match.
— Andy Wellman