Friday, January 8, 2016

Equipment Review: Camp Cassin Blade Runner Crampons

The Camp Cassin Blade Runner crampons are a new super modular addition to the world of crampons. They are designed with several elements that can easily be changed. 

First, they can be configured with a mono-frontpoint or a dual-frontpoint. This isn't really new, the Petzl Lynx does essentially the same thing. The big difference here is that there are two options for the frontpoints. The Blade Runners come with both vertical and horizontal options.

Second, there are multiple options for the toe bail allowing the crampon compatibility with highly technical boots as well as with less technical options. As there is a clip on the back of the crampon, a heel welt is required for the boot to work. 

These are super aggressive crampons. I don't think I've ever encountered a pair that sports fourteen points. Indeed, there are even points on the extender bar. After using these crampons on technical ice for several months, it didn't seem like the points on the bar did anything extra, but provide additional weight to the body of the crampon. I like the aggressive nature of the crampon, but wasn't psyched on the the aspects that added weight.

On the subject of weight, at first glance, these guys seem heavy. They clock in at approximately 36 ounces (2.25 lbs), which is certainly more than I was used to. I had been using mountaineering crampons for ice climbing for the last couple seasons, which isn't a fair comparison. Other similar technical crampons are actually a hair heavier:  Lynx, 38 oz, 2.3 lbs; Rambo 4, 41 oz, 2.5 lbs. So the Blade Runners are a better option than many of its technical competitors.

The problem with comparing the weight comes in when you consider that these crampons are meant to do it all. The horizontal frontpoints exist for mountaineering routes, and as soon as you compare the Blade Runners to common mountaineering crampons, they are bit heavier. Consider the Petzl Vasak, which clocks in at 33 ounces (2 lbs), or the Girvel G12 which clocks in at 31.7 oz (1.98 lbs).

For some this difference doesn't matter. And if you're not one of those that counts every ounce, then maybe this doesn't matter. The crampon can do it all and as such maybe the $350 price tag is worth it, so that you don't have to buy one pair of mountaineering crampons for $200 and one pair of tech crampons for $250.

But I digress...

There were two things about these crampons that irked me a little bit.

First, I didn't like the immediate options presented for the mono-vertical frontpoint. There are several options available immediately for frontpoint configuration, but for some reason, three of those options requires one to actually cut a in the antibot plate on the bottom of the crampon.

Note in the picture above where the crampon point is placed. This particular crampon was for the right foot and the point was set to be close to the right big toe. And this worked fine. However, if you wanted the frontpoint to be centered in the middle of the crampon, then you would have cut a hole in the notch directly left of the current frontpoint's placement. You'll also note that there are other notches that have to be cut out in order for all the options to be easily accessible.

I suspect that the lack of holes for the crampon frontpoint attachments in the base of the crampon has something to do with its design. The engineers didn't want a bunch of extra holes that might not be used. And though I like the frontpoint closer to my big toe than in the middle, it does seem odd that a common configuration requires one to alter the crampons the day that one buys them.

Second, the crampon bag is a bit too small. This may seem like a small thing, but in order to fit the crampons into the bag, one has to unclasp the extender bar. Most other crampons collapse without this step. It isn't awesome when it's cold out and to have to reset the extender bar every time you put the crampons on.

If your feet are even mildly big, the best thing to do is to use an alternative for a crampon bag. A lot of guides use a heavy-duty USPS envelope. But there are plenty of crampon specific bags on the market that will fit the crampons.

The preceding items made me concerned that I really wouldn't like these crampons. At the start, it felt like these things were just way over-engineered. 

But then I changed my mind.

I have not done any mountaineering in the Blade Runners, but I have done a great deal of steep ice and drytooling with them, and they work exceedingly well for that. The vertical frontpoints look just like the blade of an ice tool and indeed, they slice into the ice just as effectively. They are perfectly oriented at the front of the crampon to attain the best bite. And the secondary points are perfectly positioned to bite when climbing with appropriately dropped heels.

The mono-vertical frontpont worked well for drytooling as well. The steep angle of the frontpont and it's thin profile allowed for perfect hooks. On several drytool ascents, I did a direct comparison between these and other crampons (the non-technical G12s and the Lynx), and found that these almost universally provided a better experience due to the angle of the frontpoint.

I'm not sure I'm of the mind that I would replace a pair of mountaineering crampons with these. But I would definitely feel good about using these as my primary pair of technical crampons. Though pricy, the aggressive shape and performance is worth it...

Finally, it should be noted that there was a recall on these. However, CAMP has been very proactive in fixing the problem. None of the new models have the problem that the crampon was recalled for.

--Jason D. Martin

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