Alien cams

Field Tested: Alien Evolution Cams

When Alien cams were first introduced by Dave Waggoner they revolutionized climbing protection and have since become a familiar name in every crack climbing household.  The narrow head and flexible stems were unlike any cam available on the market at the time and could be securely placed where no other cam could.  While these cams have set the standard for big walls and protecting tight or thin cracks, shallow pods and pin scars for decades they were not without their controversy.  Reports surfaced of cams failing lead to a recall being issued in 2006 by CCH, the manufacturer of Alien cams.  The shadow of this recall and associated cam failures plagued the company until 2009 when sadly Dave died and the future of the Alien cams were uncertain.  Eventually Fixe, a Spanish company specializing in anchoring products designed for rock climbing, purchased the patent from Dave’s widow.  After making a few small changes to the cams as well as the manufacturing process to deal with the issues of the past they were back on the market in 2011.  Some climbers embraced the new Aliens while others, remembering the issues of the past have stayed away.

In the meantime there has been a great deal of development and innovation in cam design.  The winning formula that Alien pioneered with a narrow head and flexible stem was not missed by the competition and as new generations of cams have come out these other manufacturers been adopting some of these attributes into their designs.  Black Diamond developed the C3 cams followed by the newer X4’s, Metolius developed the Master Cam, Wildcountry the Zero Friends and the list goes on.  Needless to say the time had come for a new Alien cam and I was excited last summer when they were on display at OR.

I was able to get my hands on a few of the new Aliens this spring and have been putting them through their paces.  I chose to start with the yellow, green and blue Aliens and I’m impressed with what Fixe has done.  They have maintained the attributes that made the cams so popular to start with while the look and feel of the cams have been much improved.

Alien Evolution
My small starter new Alien set.

The narrow heads are now actually slightly narrower, this was mainly achieved by modifying the axle but the lobes and shaft connection are slightly thinner as well.

Alien Evolution
New yellow Alien on top with the old Fixe yellow Alien on the bottom. Note the difference in the ends of the axle which help to make a narrower profile.

They still have a long and flexible stems while the trigger shape and thumb loop have been modified to give a better feel.  The longer sling length of the old Aliens has been maintained but the colour of the material has been revised to give them a shiny new look.

Alien Evolution
Old and new Fixe Aliens, the redesigned trigger and thumb loop are much cleaner and have a better feel while the new sling color is unique and bright.

One of the changes that I’ve really appreciated is that the fully relaxed position of the cam lobes is 90 degrees to the shaft.  I am not sure why but the fact that the lobes on the old Aliens went past 90 degrees detracted from the security I felt in a placement.

Alien Evolution
The old Fixe Alien is on the left with the new on the right.

Lastly, the new Aliens are lighter than the old ones and lighter than many comparable sizes with other manufacturers.  For example the green Alien Cam is only 52g while the blue X4 is 75g and the blue Master Cam is 68g (all of these cams have a working range of about 0.5” to 0.75” though they are not functionally all the same).

Alien Evolution
New green Alien on the left, Black Diamond blue X4 on the left

Pros:      Light and they work exceptionally well in thin cracks and pins scars.

Cons:     Seem to have a few durability issues to work out and they are a bit more expensive than comparable cams from other manufacturers.

Overall:  After climbing with the new Alien cams for about a month now I’ve found them to be a definite improvement on the old Aliens and a real asset on the wall.  There have been some warranty / durability issues but I’m hoping these get worked out!

July 6, 2015 Update:  Trigger Wire & Sleeve Issues

August 2015 Update: Discussion with Fixe Designer

August 2017 Update: Alien Revolution