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Wild Country Zero Friends Review

An excellent small sizes cam to add to your free climbing rack
Wild Country Zero Friends
Photo: REI Co-op
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Price:  $80 List | $79.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Great individual cam range, very narrow heads, stiff yet flexible stem, extendable sling
Cons:  Pricey, not the lightest, soft aluminum alloy in cam lobes can be damaged easily
Manufacturer:   Wild Country
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 9, 2020
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79
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 10
  • Free Climbing - 20% 9
  • Weight - 15% 7
  • Range - 15% 6
  • Horizontal Cracks - 15% 9
  • Tight Placements - 15% 9
  • Durability - 10% 7
  • Walking - 5% 8
  • Aid Climbing - 5% 6

Our Verdict

The Wild Country Zero Friends have been newly redesigned and re-released in 2020, and are one of the best smaller camming devices you can buy today. They have a flexible cable stem and recessed cam spring design, and also have a narrow head design, which is optimal for shallow placements. The wide camming range means that you are more likely to manage to make the cam you select off the harness fit, and the sizes and coloring are very familiar to most, exactly matching those used by Black Diamond. With their thumb loops and extendable slings, these are excellent small cams for free climbing, among our favorites, and are a top choice for both new climbers and experienced tradsters that want some fresh metal on their rack.

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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Great individual cam range, very narrow heads, stiff yet flexible stem, extendable slingSuper light, durable, easy to place while free climbing, great rangeWide range per unit, light, rigid when placing but flexible when placed, narrow head width, thumb loop, smallest unit currently madeDurable, wide rangeFantastic design, smallest cam in the world, great strength, extendable sling, flexible stem
Cons Pricey, not the lightest, soft aluminum alloy in cam lobes can be damaged easilyExpensive, need for potential early retirementNot the most affordable, smaller units lack double axle and aren’t as smooth, trigger wires can’t be replaced at homeHeavy compared to Ultralight C4s and MetoliusNot available in offset sizes, smaller individual cam range, action on smaller cams not as smooth as larger cams
Bottom Line Very fine tuned design that integrates into a rack very well due to matching sizes and colorsThese cams are awesome for long Yosemite free climbs and Indian Creek splittersA Top Pick for smaller sizes due to the widest range and incredible ease of useThese are the most popular cams at Indian Creek due to their great range and durabilityWorthy of our Top Pick for small cams due to their excellent design and performance
Rating Categories Wild Country Zero Friends Black Diamond C4 Ultralight Black Diamond Camalot Z4 Black Diamond Camalot DMM Dragonfly
Free Climbing (20%)
9
10
9
9
8
Weight (15%)
7
9
7
6
8
Range (15%)
6
9
7
10
5
Horizontal Cracks (15%)
9
6
9
6
9
Tight Placements (15%)
9
6
9
6
8
Durability (10%)
7
9
7
10
8
Walking (5%)
8
7
7
7
8
Aid Climbing (5%)
6
7
8
6
6
Specs Wild Country Zero... Black Diamond C4... Black Diamond... Black Diamond... DMM Dragonfly
Weight (1 inch size piece) 2.7 oz 2.6 oz 2.8 oz. 3.28 oz 2.6 oz.
Range (inches) .32 - 1.62" .61-4.51" .29" -1.66" .54-7.68" .31-1.11"
Sling Length (inches) 3.75" - 7" 3.75" 3.75" 3.75" 5-10"
Stem width above trigger
Single or Double Axle? Single Double Double down to .3 Double Single
Extendable Sling? Yes No No No Yes
Sling material Dyneema Dyneema Dynex Nylon Dynatec
High Clip in for Aid? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cam Stops? No Yes Yes down to .3 Yes No

Our Analysis and Test Results

These small camming devices have been newly released in the middle of 2020. They come in six sizes, from .1 to .75, which roughly match the sizing and colors of Black Diamond cams of similar sizes. They have a consistent 17.6 degree camming angle, which allows them to fit in rounded pocket-like placements very well and gives them a wide range per unit. They only come in standard sizes, without the ability to purchase offset sizes at the moment. All-in-all, they are one of the best small cams we have used, and have a very fine-tuned design and functionality.

Performance Comparison


The Zero Friends are newly redesigned, and have a lot of great...
The Zero Friends are newly redesigned, and have a lot of great features we love to see in a high performing cam. The have narrow heads and a great range for placement, have a smooth trigger pull and a durable trigger wire design. They also have easy to learn colors, thumb loops, and extendable slings, all which add up to one excellent small camming device.

Free Climbing


We love these cams for free climbing, and think they complement other small camming devices well. The wide size range per unit means that it is easier to find the cam you need for the size placement you want it to fit into. Put another way, if you accidentally grab a cam that is the wrong size off your harness, it may still fit in the crack, and the cams allow a bit of forgiveness in selection. They follow the familiar Black Diamond color scheme, so they meld in well with other BD or DMM small cams on the harness. They also have a large and easy to grab thumb loop, combined with an extendable sling, so you can carry fewer runners if you choose. Our testers thought these cams were solid and easy to use for free climbing.

Derek putting the Zero's to the test on this traversing finish to a...
Derek putting the Zero's to the test on this traversing finish to a cool multi-pitch route on Independence Pass. We all agreed we loved how they work for free climbing.

Weight


We use the 1-inch size piece, in this case a .5 purple cam, to compare weights across the spectrum of many different camming devices, and found that the Zero Friends are right about in the middle. They are slightly lighter than Z4s, but heavier than Dragonflies, and a decent amount heavier than Metolius or FIXE Aliens. This is understandable when you look at them, because many of the parts are made of metal, including the thick cable and metal spring trigger wire.

At 2.7 ounces for the 1 inch purple cam, these units are not super...
At 2.7 ounces for the 1 inch purple cam, these units are not super heavy, but also are nowhere near the lightest. We think their robust construction is worth the extra half an ounce or so compared to the very lightest units.

The whole range of six cams, from size .1 up to .75, would weigh right around 14.38 ounces, which once again, is slightly lighter than the entire run of seven Z4s, and slightly heavier than the other choices that have six cams in the same range.

Range


The range of these cams is very good. The entire set of six covers almost the exact same range as most other sets of cams, from 0.32 inches on the small end, up to 1.62 inches for a fully extended green .75 cam. The smallest cams made by Black Diamond and by DMM have an ever so slightly smaller bottom range of 0.29 inches and 0.31 inches, but this difference is likely so minimal it will only potentially be realized once in a climbers lifetime, and likely while aid climbing.

These cams have a wide range compared to many others, making them...
These cams have a wide range compared to many others, making them easier to place. This placement is perhaps a bit tight and slightly over-cammed, and yet there is still room to retract it for easy removal.

The individual units also have a very good cam range, which makes them easier to place in a wider variety of placements. The range of the smaller sizes is very comparable to BD units and quite a bit bigger than Metolius or DMM units. Once the cams reach the .3 size, then BD units have double axles that allow them to have a wider per unit range.

Horizontal Cracks


These cams work very well in horizontal cracks. The stem is made of a thick and strong wire cable, and the trigger sheath is made of a metal spring tightly coiled around the stem. This design bends easily over edges, and uses more robust materials than plastic, so it is less likely to break if you take a fall over a sharp edge. They also have an extendable runner, which means that if the cam sits well back from the edge of the horizontal, you can more easily extend the placement over the edge, thereby protecting the carabiner attaching it to the rope.

A horizontal placement such as this one requires a flexible stem to...
A horizontal placement such as this one requires a flexible stem to bend over the edge, which this cam has. The metal spring-like trigger wire is pretty durable and can handle some abuse in this kind of situation if one was to fall. Also, the extendable sling is nice for extending placements further back from the edge than this one.

Tight Placements


These are some of the best cams you can buy for tight placements, as they have a head width narrower than all other designs save for the Z4's, which they match. A narrow head means that if the placement is shallow, you are more likely to still get four lobes of contact with the rock. They accomplish this by using the same recessed cam spring design as Aliens and now many others, where in the larger sizes, the cam spring lives in a groove cut out of the lobe itself and doesn't have to be coiled along the axle. The stem of these cams is also quite rigid compared to the competition, making them easier to place and easier to fiddle around to remove once they are inside the crack. Unfortunately, they are not currently being made in offset sizes, so they may not be the absolute optimal choice for pin scars.

Zero Friends on the bottom and Z4s on the top, lined up for...
Zero Friends on the bottom and Z4s on the top, lined up for comparable sizes and colors. As you can see, the head widths almost exactly match each other across the board. These two cams are the narrowest of any we have tested and reviewed, which makes them easier to fit in shallow placements, and is a solid advantage. You can also see the differences in the trigger wire sheaths -- black plastic for the BD, and aluminum wire coil for the Zeros.

Durability


We were not able to trash one of these cams during our test period and think the design of the stem and trigger wires is quite durable compared to the competition, which uses plastic or woven sheaths. The sheath used here is a coiled aluminum spring, which is not only stronger than plastic, but can separate around protrusions to minimize damage. That said, the cam lobes are made out of a fairly soft aluminum alloy, which helps them deform slightly to grip into the rock. Wild Country apparently decided that the cam angle necessitated this extra grip, which is welcome. However, when the cam lobes grip and deform, they stay that way, and so accumulated falls over time may eventually mangle the lobes enough to necessitate retirement.

You can start to see a slight deformation in one of the lobes. These...
You can start to see a slight deformation in one of the lobes. These cams have relatively soft aluminum lobes, which is designed to deform a bit for better bite, but which isn't the hardest and most durable over the long haul. Worth noting, is that we have used cams that deform a similar amount for many many years in the past before needing to retire them.

Walking


The extendable sling is a nice feature for helping to reduce the walking of a cam without having to carry lots of extra slings and carabiners up a climb for the same purpose. However, compared to other small cams, the stem is somewhat stiff. It still flexes a good deal, and there are advantages to having a stiffer stem, but it also means that it may walk a little bit easier than floppier stems. There is no attribute of these cams that is especially prone to walking, and whether they do so depends mostly on the circumstances you place them in, and how you mitigate rope drag.

As you can see, if this cam was to walk upwards, it could easily...
As you can see, if this cam was to walk upwards, it could easily move into a position where the lobes were too extended, rendering the placement potentially useless. Two features here help prevent this: the bendable stem, which you can see in action, and the extendable sling, which makes it less likely the rope will shift and jolt the cam into walking out of position.

Aid Climbing


The shape of the cam lobes makes them a good fit for use in pockets or in some rounded out pin scars, and the flexible and durable stem means they shouldn't bend or kink when you stand on them a lot. The thumb loop serves as a high clip-in point, a necessity for aid climbing. However, get much above C1-2, and a rack of these will not be anywhere near as useful as racks of offsets or Totems for fitting into funky pin scars, which is mostly what hard clean aid climbing is all about.

Value


These are not the best budget purchase, although they are slightly cheaper in the smaller sizes than in the bigger ones, and also come at a small discount if you buy them in sets of three. They are sold in sets of either the three larger sizes, or the three smaller sizes. Despite the price tag, they aren't really out of line with top quality camming devices, which frankly, are really darn expensive. They are also among the best smaller cams we have used, so we think they present good value.

These cams present good value, despite not being the most affordable...
These cams present good value, despite not being the most affordable in this review. We loved adding in a set to our rack, and are thrilled to free climb with them in the future.

Conclusion


The Wild Country Zero Friends are, in our opinion, the best version of the "Alien" style camming devices, which include a long trigger sheath and cam springs recessed inside the lobes. They match up sizes and colors to many other popular small cams, so are easy to integrate into the rack, and have a nice wide range that makes them easy to place. We think they are ideal for free climbing, and would be a worthy addition to almost any traditional climber's rack.

Testing cams on a cool multi-pitch route on the fabulous granite of...
Testing cams on a cool multi-pitch route on the fabulous granite of Independence Pass, Colorado, on a fine fall day.

Andy Wellman