DMM Dragon 2 Cam Review
The spring loaded camming device industry has long been dominated by the Black Diamond C4. While many competitors exist, none have achieved the following nor the mass market share of the Camelot. However, the new Dragon 2 Cams from Wales-based DMM may prove to be a viable and attractive alternative. Like most aspiring trad climbers, my first rack of cams (and second and third) consisted of the C4’s. But as I began to expand into different brands and styles I was drawn to the craftsmanship of the DMM Dragon 2 cam and purchased a rack and a half, split between the old style and new. After two years of regular use, these are my observations.
Redesigned Lobes For Increased Holding Power
The first visible change between the DMM Dragon II and it’s predecessor is the updated lobe design. In an era where most gear manufacturers are focusing on weight reduction of their products, DMM focused much of their redesign on the holding power.
After anodizing to reduce corrosion, the edges are machined to a rough, raw aluminum finish. Lastly, two grooves are scored the length of the lobe, essentially tripling the number of corners available to bite into crystals and micro-features on the surface of the rock. This has been dubbed the TripleGrip and according to a senior engineer at DMM the added friction increases holding power by 33%. Update: This number has since been removed from literature as they found they could not standardize of substantiate this claim.
Well regarded for their hot forging prowess, DMM further increased surface area in the optimal camming position by widening the lobes at key contact points. They maintain their constant camming angle of 13.75 degrees (based on the original Ray Jardine design modelled after the logarithmic spiral), ensuring the best combination of holding power and expansion range. In layman’s terms, this means the line between the axel and point of contact is always at a constant angle to the rock surface, irrespective of the cam’s orientation.
The result is increased holding power and reduced walking, particularly in slick or soft rock types and sub-optimal placements. and reduces walking. I can vouch that the difference is noticable, even compared to the previous design. In slick shallow quartzite placements (Back Of The Lake, Lake Louise, AB) I could feel the DMM Dragon 2 almost pull itself into an ideal placement by grasping at irregularities.
The Dragon’s low weight does not come with a compromise in strength. Starting from size 1 (the equivalent of a C4 0.5) they are rated to a huge 14kN. There are some companies who make half inch nuts that aren’t as strong as this. While the likelihood of exerting this amount of force upon your climbing system is unlikely and would probably be catastrophic, I like knowing the strength exists. The lobes, hot forged out of A6082 aluminum feature additional material in vital high stress points which further improves their resistance to deformation under both active and passive placement stresses.
To speak further on the strength story, DMM builds a large buffer into their strength numbers and in testing not a single cam failed at less than 15.9kN but they opted to use the 14kN number.
Placing the DMM Dragon 2
Much like the Camelot, the DMM Dragon is a double axle cam with a large range and the ability to place passively. Whats more, in a rare display of cooperation amongst brands, DMM elected to match the colour scheme utilized by the Camelot, making it easier to compliment your existing rack and find your desired piece quickly.
The main difference visible between the two is the DMM Dragon cams lack the conventional thumb loop, instead featuring a thumb press and extendable sling. The metal thumb press takes some getting used to. On a recent guide exam, several participants initially expressed their distain, stating they were fearful of dropping a piece, however this generally subsided as the climb went on. I’ve grown to like this design as it makes placing the larger sizes easy while wearing gloves by pushing with the heel of your palm. This does not hold true for the smaller sizes as Ive found to place anything smaller than a one inch cam in a deep crack requires me to push my knuckles out quite far to retract the lobes and can cut you up pretty bad on sharp rock.
I’ll note that the omission of the thumb loop limits the functionality for aid climbing. The lack of a high clip-in point mean three inches would be lost on each placement. But for most climbers, this wont be an issue.
The biggest standout feature of the DMM Dragon Cams is the nice long extendable Dyneema sling. It’s like having a quickdraw already on your cam, making extending placements simple and quick. While the weight savings of the Dragons over the Camalots is marginal (5-10%), the further savings can prove substantial if you have the discipline to bring fewer draws. Furthermore, the Dyneema sling absorbs less water than nylon, making it an ideal choice for alpine and mixed climbing. The bar tacking has been shortened from the previous generation.
Extending the Dragons is identical to an alpine draw (place, unclip all, clip the one with the bar tack, pull). As a matter of personal preference, I insist that all carabiners on my alpine draws feature a notchless nose to prevent snagging and finding a colour coordinated rackpack without a notch isn’t easy. I’ve had luck with the Black Diamond Oz ($9 each) but prefer the DMM Chimera ($16 each).
While I found myself rarely extending placements on lead in the Rockies, it was apparent that in splitter cracks the ability to extend by just a few inches could be handy, particularly for deep placements. Where I did extend often was building gear anchors.
This doubled up sling is both a blessing and a curse. You can read my account as to how a misuse nearly resulted in a serious inconvenience here: The Dangers Of Alpine Draws
As with anything, as gear becomes smaller and lighter, there is a trade-off in durability. While I haven’t seen any signs of premature wear in the two years I’ve used the Dragons, I suspect the 8mm Dyneema slings will need to be replaced more often than the wide nylon slings found on the Camelots.
Cleaning The DMM Dragon 2 Cams
Not including the slings, C4s are noticeably longer than Dragons due to having the thumb loop design. This makes them marginally easier to place or remove in deep cracks, although only marginally because the trigger is in the same position on both units and obviously you need to get your finger round that. Nevertheless, on the C4s, being able to put your thumb either through the loop, or at the base of it, gives slightly more options for cleaning.
Additionally, they are pain in the ass for the follower to clean. It usually requires two hands to “de-extend” the sling. Unless the follower is on a stance, it is hard to do this. Usually the only option is to clip the cam to your harness or gear sling fully extended. This means the cams will hang low and really swing around and get in the way. Belay station transitions are lengthened by re-racking and de-extending several pieces. As such, I try to limit extending.
Best Application For The DMM Dragon 2 Cams
These cams are best suited for free climbing, particularly in the alpine where fast and light travel is preferred. You would be hard pressed to think of a better cam the granite spires in the Bugaboos. While the extendable sling is no substitute for alpine draws for mitigating rope drag on wandering pitches, it does makes it easy to add a little length to your placements to cut down on walking and really helps when building gear anchors with less material.
For the gram counters, with the exclusion of the BD Ultralights this is one of the lightest cams available but factor in the further weight savings gained by carrying a few less carabiners and you have a winner. And this is one obvious case where light doesn’t mean weaker. The fine craftsmanship means these cams will last a long time.
The obvious downside? They’re pricey. Starting at $105 each (Vertical Addiction as of August 2017) they’re 20-30% more than the Camelot. Over the course of an entire rack, this can add up to several hundred dollars. There is no doubting the production quality of the DMM Dragon and you’re paying for more than a reputable name, but to the average consumer the benefits might not outweigh the costs.
Pros: Light, durable, extendable sling, colour coordinated with C4s, high strength in passive placements.
Cons: Cost, ease of cleaning, extended slings can be tricky to re-rack with one hand, the lack of a thumb loop takes some getting used to.
If you’ve had a chance to play with the new DMM Dragon 2 cams or their predecessor, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. Leave a comment below and let me know what you thought.