GEAR REVIEW - Metolius Ultralight Master Cams
A decade ago or so, there was a dark age for California climbers; the ferrari of microcams, CCH Aliens, were no longer available. Crack climbers, from the throngs of Joshua Tree to the humbling monoliths of Yosemite Valley, scrambled to find an alternative. It was around this time, that I began to expand my trad rack to include microcams. After some serious research, I opted for the Metolius Master Cams, the first micro cams to ever enter the market, which touted a pretty strong reputation with the elite dirtbags I fan-girled with on stone at the time. Those Master Cams explored the highs and sometimes embarrassing lows of my first few years as a trad climber – big days in the alpine and cragging days at my local Joshua Tree.
Flash forward ten years and I have been reintroduced to a newer, lighter Master Cam, the Metolius Ultralight Master Cam (UL Master Cam). A decade ago, the Metolius Master Cam was already setting the bar for light cams, so I was curious how they managed to shed even more weight (20% according to Metolius). So, how did they do it? And did they live up to the hype?
- Weight. Ok, duh, that is why you are reading this. But how much weight was actually cut? Indeed, more than 20% from the original master Cam, on average. For 3-season climbing (read, not climbing with gloves), these are excellent paired with the color-coded matching Metolius FS Mini II carabiner, adding a mere 23 g (0.81 oz) per racked cam making for some serious weight savings.
Size Color Weight (Ultralight) Weight (Master Cam, original) Weight Savings *00 gray 45 g (1.6 oz) 62 g (2.2 oz) 17 g (27%) *0 purple 45 g (1.6 oz) 65 g (2.3 oz) 20 g (31%) *1 blue 52 g (1.8 oz) 68 g (2.4 oz) 16 g (24%) 2 yellow 55 g (1.8 oz) 70 g (2.5 oz) 15 g (21%) 3 orange 65 g (2.3 oz) 82 g (2.9 oz) 17 g (21%) 4 red 75 g (2.6 oz) 90 g (3.2 oz) 15 g (17%) 5 black 85 g (3.0 oz) 98 g (3.5 oz) 13 g (13%) 6 green 96 g (3.3 oz) 110 g (3.9 oz) 14 g (13%) 7 light blue 112 g (3.9 oz) N/A N/A 8 light purple
129 g (4.5 oz)
- Sayonara thumb loop – replaced with a two-finger trigger and aluminum thumb press, both anodized to match sling color for simple and quick identification
- Sling – now with 11mm monster webbing (dyneema/nylon blend), instead of 13mm.
- Two bigger sizes; originally available in sizes #00-6, now available in #00-8 which increases your usable range from 1.85″ (#6) to 2.80″ (#8).
- Cam lobe tooth pattern – CNC machined shark fin lobe pattern allowing for more “bite” and secure placements
- Copper swage replaced with smaller, more sleek silver coated fitting.
- Wire Cable diameter – The cable on cam sizes #5 and larger is constructed of a larger diameter to help stabilize the heavier, larger cam lobes, limiting “floppiness” commonly complained about on the original Master Cams.
What didn’t change?
- Cam strengths; strength was not compromised in weight reduction of cams
[00, 0] 5 kN,  8 kN, [2-10] 10 kN
- Price; unlike other ultralight cams on the market, Metolius kept the same price point on their UL Master Cams as their original Master Cams.
- Color scheme; color coded for easy identification, colors have remained the same as Master Cams making for an easy transition to UL Master Cams (anodization on UL makes for slight color variances, but blue is still blue and so forth).
- Range finder; sizes #2-8 cam lobes come with Metolius’ range finder, indicating green, yellow or red to help the user identify optimal cam size choice for given placement.
size color range in inches range in millimeters min. range usable range max. range min. range usable range max. range *00 grey 0.33 0.34 – 0.47 0.55 8.3 8.5 – 12.0 13.9 *0 purple 0.38 0.39 – 0.59 0.61 9.6 10.0 – 15.0 15.4 *1 blue 0.48 0.49 – 0.71 0.76 12.1 12.5 – 18.0 19.3 2 yellow 0.61 0.62 – 0.89 0.95 15.4 15.5 – 22.5 24.1 3 orange 0.73 0.74 – 1.04 1.13 18.5 18.5 – 26.5 28.7 4 red 0.92 0.93 – 1.32 1.40 23.3 23.5 – 33.5 35.5 5 black 1.10 1.11 – 1.54 1.70 27.9 28.1 – 39.1 43.1 6 green 1.30 1.31 – 1.85 2.05 33.0 33.2 – 46.9 52.0 7 light blue 1.58 1.59 – 2.26 2.50 40.1 40.3 – 57.4 63.5 8 light purple 1.92 1.93 – 2.80 3.05 48.7 49.0 – 71.1 77.4
*Range Finder color indicator only applies to sizes #2-8 [cam range guide courtesy of metolius.com].
- Single, flexible stem design
- Kevlar cord trigger wire
Metolius provided our testers with a few UL Master Cams, racked with matching FS Mini II biners, for the purpose of this review. So, how did they fare? We tested size #0-5.
Bottom Line – The Metolius Ultralight Master Cams are an excellent option for microcams, specifically for cost conscious buyers and new trad leaders. The smaller sizes are where these cams shine (size #3 and smaller), with the larger sizes not offering a broad enough range to compensate for carrying multiple sizes when you could just carry a single, dual axle cam. These fit into our rack with sizes #00-3 for our microcams, which are supplemented by BD Ultralight cams #0.5-4 (or DMM Dragon 2 cam size #1-6) for finger to hand sized pieces. For a side-by-side comparison of how Metolius UL Master Cams stack up to Fixe Alien LITE (both single axle cams), Black Diamond X4 and Ultralight C4 (double axle cams), click here or scroll to the bottom of the page.
- Weight – the weight savings is remarkable in the microcam, smaller sizes, when compared to Black Diamond X4s, and comparable in weight to the significantly more expensive Fixe Alien LITE microcams.
- Single, flexible stem – the UL Master Cams have a very flexible stem design making them optimal for shallow, horizontal cam placements, because it reduces leverage on the individual placements.
- Range Finder – While this is not as beneficial to the vetted trad climber, this provides a huge learning benefit for climbers new to the discipline. It enables the leader to visually confirm that their placement is optimal for the size of the crack.
- Price – Retails for less than $60/cam, making the UL Master Cams the most inexpensive ultralight cams on the market.
- Cam lobes – redesigned lobes now have a shark fin pattern that provides more frictional force on the rock. On soft stone, like sandstone, and for icy or mossy placements, this is huge. As a cam engages (i.e. FALLING!), it relies on an instantaneous force, known as the frictional force between the rock and cam (the cam’s “resting state”), before the outward force of cam lobes is exerted in response to the downward pull on the cam. BUT if that instantaneous frictional force fails initially, the cam will fail and pull out from the rock. So, friction is your friend here and the shark fin pattern increases the frictional force exerted on the rock in the case of a fall.
- Narrow head – easy to place and clean.
- Racks short, making for more comfortable weight distribution on harness when racked.
- Made, and individually inspected in Bend, Oregon!
- Rigid trigger action – Unlike Fixe Aliens (another single stem microcam), the trigger action on the UL Master Cams felt a bit stiff out of the packaging. After multiple use, this is something we got used to when placing gear so it’s no deal breaker but worth mentioning.
- Color coding – Metolius Master Cams have their own color identification scheme that happens to be unique. When augmenting your rack with your partner’s for a gear hungry climb, this may take some getting used to when racking like with like and plugging (unfamiliar) gear while cruxing out. It only took us a fraction of time to get used to this when testing.
- No thumb loop – Unfortunately, this exclusion makes the UL Master Cams less than ideal for aid, as it lowers the highest clip-in point. If you are solely a free climber, this is a non-issue and these cams are the best bang for the buck. We measured the high point difference between the Alien 3/4 (yellow) and UL Master Cam #2 (yellow) for curiosity sake and the difference was measured to be 2.25″ lower than the thumb loop of an alien.
- Single axle design = smaller range – This was the biggest limitation in the larger sizes tested. When grabbing an UL Master Cam size 4 and 5 to place, I found both to have a more narrow range than their equivalent Black Diamond sized (#0.75 and 1, respectively) double axle cams. In smaller, finger sizes, the single axle design is brilliant and presented no placement limitations. In our opinion, the UL Master Cam is best utilized as a microcam sized set, 00-3.
Tech Specs Comparison Chart