Link cam review, by a skeptic
Omega Pacific Link Cams. The cam that goes anywhere. The “oh shit piece.”
I haven’t really had the chance to climb with Link Cams over the years. After all, they do cost and weigh twice as much as a Black Diamond Camalot, and even though each cam has a huge range, it’s still just one cam that you are carrying. I mean, it’s not like it splits into two cams. You can’t protect 30 feet of climbing with just one of them. This is a hard sell to a climber on a budget.
In addition to the perceived downfalls that I have listed above, Link Cams are known to break. I’m not talking about worn out trigger wires… I mean they explode. Alien style. This has gone largely unnoticed by the climbing community, but do some research and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
So why are they so popular? Well the first answer to that question is that they’re not that popular. I obviously haven’t climbed with many people that use them, or else I would have written this review a long time ago. But people do use them, and here’s why.
I just spent three weeks climbing in California with a friend that I got to know last fall. I flew out to meet her, which means that I didn’t take much gear. She is a regular at Indian Creek and has a pretty huge rack (of cams), so I left mine at home. One of the first discussions we had when planning our climbs was what gear to take. She has purple (.5, fingers) and gold (2, hands) Link Cams that she takes along as extra pieces. I, not being familiar with these pieces, said that I’d probably only think to use them like a .5 or a 2, respectively, which meant that I’d be carrying extra weight for nothing. I was also a bit worried by the pictures that I had seen on the web of the Link Cams that had broken and failed. I wanted to leave them in the car.
But Megan assured me that she had taken plenty of falls on both cams, and the wear on them backed up that claim. So we did take them along on most routes; sometimes in place of the C4′s and sometimes as extra pieces. It wasn’t long before I realized that there were some benefits to having a piece that can compress down so small, only to expand back to a hand size piece once placed.
The first time I noticed that they were useful was when I got to the top of a long pitch and the .5 was the only cam I had left. I had purposely saved it, knowing that it would be a versatile piece that would help me build an anchor. That was nice – having a cam at the belay that basically covered the same range as the green, yellow, gray, and red Aliens combined! That’s four CCH cams or three Camalots! Pretty cool.
Later in the trip, I was leading a pitch that had a small roof. Roofs usually have a good crack where they meet the vertical wall, and it’s always easy to see what size gear you want to place there, even when standing far below. I estimated this particular crack to be red Camalot size (#1), but I was wrong – sort of. There is nothing worse than climbing 80 feet, all the while trying to save that piece that you want for the roof, only to get up there and find out that the crack flares inwards and opens up in the back. This usually renders cams useless, but not the Omega Pacific Link Cams.
The outer edges of the crack were less than 1.5 inches apart, enough for a #1 Camalot to go in. But the inner depths of the crack opened up to over two inches; to wide for a #1 but perfect for a #2 if you could only get it in there. I’d say this is where the Link Cams shine their brightest. I was able to compress the #2 down small enough to easily fit it in the crack, and then happily watch it expand back to the size of a #2 Camalot, protecting that wide, flaring void perfectly.
I never fell on a Link Cam and admittedly I was still turning to Camalots and Aliens first, maybe out of habit rather than conscious choice. But there are situations where the Link Cam excels and some climbing areas present these situations quite often.
The 5.12 lie-back corners of Indian Creek, for example, are the perfect place for a purple (.5) link cam. The crux of some of these routes is placing gear while hanging from your tips and smearing on polished Wingate Sandstone. The Link Cam will go in and open to the correct size, whether that be a green Alien or a purple Camalot. Sure it still pays to give it a look and make sure it’s in there properly, but this is why you hear people say “it’s my oh shit piece.” Plug and chug baby!
Those inward flaring cracks seem to show up at granite areas more often than not, especially when the rock is knobby or crystally like that of Tuolomne Meadows or Bosigran in England. A Link Cam can still walk, however, and losing a hundred dollar piece of gear is never fun. Getting a good hex is probably ideal here, but it will depend on the crack and you certainly won’t get a good Camalot in these funky cam hating holes.
Finally, I can see the case being made that Link Cams would be a good replacement for Camalots on long alpine routes where you want a minimal amount of gear that is as versatile as possible. You might not be desperately slamming pieces into a thin corner up there, but when in the mountains, being able to throw a bomber belay together quickly is important. They are heavy, however, which is why you won’t see me taking them into the back country. I’d at least listen to your argument though, if you wanted them on the rack.
My final decision on the Omega Pacific cams is that I won’t be buying any. If I’m going to spend that kind of money, it will be on the new super-light cams coming out of the UK. Together, the red and gold Link Cams (#1 and #2) weigh in at 383 grams and cost over $210. For that price, I could get three DMM Dragons or Wild Country Helium Friends (review coming soon) that cover the same range as the two Link Cams while weighing less. That’s right, three of either of the cams made in Wales are lighter than two Link Cams.
I do, however, finally understand why people use these things. Like most gear that’s getting produced these days, Link Cams have a place in the climbing world. Just make sure that you get someone you don’t like to take a few whips on ‘em before you rack up for your next hard on-sight!