Battle of the Big Gear: An Off-Width Protection Review

Comparison of BD #6 and Piton “Adventure Sausage” Skiles

The ultimate buying guide to big gear is here! In this review, these burly pieces of protection chicken wing, arm bar and leviathan their way to the award podium. It makes me dream of an offwidth climbing problem in the olympics. (Speed off-width climbing? I guess I could come around to that.)

Who won? Who lost? How do the Big Bros compare with cams? What about passive gear? All is revealed below.

Big Gear Classifications

I scoured the blogs and the manufacturers for big gear and even found some gear that you cannot buy anymore or ever in the USA. I used the following size classifications:

  • Big Gear: > 2″
  • Fist Size: 2- 4.5″
  • Off-width: > 3.5″

Active Protection Podium

How all the brands ‘stack’ up.

To calculate these scores, I compiled technical spec. data and then extrapolated comparisons in an unweighted 1-10 system.

Best Big Gear (and Value): Black Diamond C4

Winner, winner, I eat crack now for dinner.

If “somehow” you are good or fast at placing Big Bros, then you can see above that Trango – Big Bros would be the all-out winner. However, I have not met anyone who can place a big bro in < 10 min that they feel confident falling on. As a result, when factoring the difficulty to place Big Bros, they come in nearly last with Black Diamond taking the crown.

Black Diamond firstly covers the size range from #0.3 – #8 covering the widest range of sizes. Basically, it covers the same range of DMM + Valley Giant combined. Similarly, each cam has the best supported size range and individual cam cost. The biggest place the large Black Diamond C4s get dinged is due to their much reduced strength compared to Valley Giant or Big Bros at the widest ranges (#7 and #8).

Lightest Big Gear: Big Bro

The look of relief after finally placing a big bro. Photo by Laurel F.

Big Bros deserve a special mention here, because some areas take them really well. While I constantly end up rotating around grains and irregularities in granite, I hear on the desert winds that sandstone’s very uniform sides take them well.

The biggest advantages to Big Bros is that they are 2-3x lighter than any comparably sized cam. Their other noticeable characteristic is they have a much smaller protection range compared to cams in a similar size. However, they are way stronger than the large BD cams.

Best Fist Sized Piece (and Value): Trango Flex Cam

The Trango Fist sized pieces match the pricing of the lesser known Climbing Technology and Kouba Climbing brands that you can’t get in the USA. At 50% the cost of other cams, they are the best cam for value in the fist size as well as being one of the lightest cams (even compared to BD Ultralights) while maintaining decent range and strength.

Trango FlexCam #9 (Photo from Trango)

Passive Protection Podium

Best (and Biggest) Hex: Black Diamond Hexentric

Hexentric #11 with range 2.6-3.5″ (Photo by Black Diamond)

I was really surprised about the lack of options in the large hex size given this is the classic trad protection. I found all options from Black Diamond, Wild Country and DMM to be pretty similar. Strength differences in 10-14 kN range are negligable, weight differences are 1-6g between brands, cost differences range $1-5. So the only really thing I have to key on is size ranges. Black Diamond blows the Wild Contry out of the water with DMM in a very close second.

Given Black Diamond Hexentrics cover a much larger range (1.85-3.5″) over three sizes and DMM only offers one comparatively large Torque Nut (2.1-2.8″). I feel this award has to go to Black Diamond Hexentrics.

Best Value Hex: Wild Country

Other Notables

Runner Up Cam: DMM

The #7 and #8 from DMM (Photo by Weigh My Rack)

DMM and Wild Country were neck-neck and Wild Country would have been the runner up, but their large cams are actually discontinued. So DMM sneaks in as the runner up, very-very close to Black Diamond and much higher than Valley Giants. If you compare just the sizes where BOTH BD and DMM have cams they are nearly equal on Strength, range, weight and cost. DMM just barely heavier by a few ozs and has less range by 0.1 inch.

Strongest Big Cam: Valley Giant

Valley Giants were the only big cam on the market until Black Diamond came in with thier economies of scale with thier #7 and #8 in April 2020. The Giants are the strongest cam for these sizes. (Caveat: Big Bros are actually the strongest and I’m not sure Valley Giants are UIAA certified so their rating may not be as accurate as Black Diamond…) However, that strength comes at a cost of them being 0.5 lbs heavier than BD and $20-90 more expensive.

Most versital fist size cam: Metolius SuperCam

The Supercam beats out all the others with an average of 70-80% range between minimum-maximum size. This means their cams typicaly have a two inch range or 0.1-0.4″ more than the next best and 50% more range than the ‘average’ cam. However, this huge advantage didn’t stop them from scoring last in the fist category. These cams are the most expensive piece of protection in a given crack range and 2-3 oz heavier than comparable cams. They also a little scary to place and more like an offset than the other cams.

The weird and wild offset lobes on the SuperCams (Photo from Metolius)

Best April Fools Joke: Black Diamond #21

The HanSolo was pretty good, the heated chalk bag is something my partner actually wanted, the spatula was surprising? However, The Black Diamond #21 takes the cake. It is a massive cam and just looks hilarious (plus the comments are pretty great). At a price as big as the cam ($2,121.21), they don’t list the techncial specs so I did a little extrapoliation to calculate them…

Range: 22.5-38.25″ (~2-3.5 FEET) 😮
[estimated based upon average range size of 1.7x lower and estimated lower range]

Weight: 6.3 lbs 💪
[estimated by approx lower range ratio * 127 to get weight]

Strength: 1 kN 🏥
[If the #8 only takes 5kN, then a #21 must be lucky to handle 1kN]

Actually, I guess I’ll just solo it.