Back in the winter, I was chatting with a talented British trad climber about the ubiquitous trad routes on the basalt here in northern Arizona that require tiny gear. You know–ball nuts, RPs, the tiniest of tiny cams, that sort of thing.
“You know what you need,” he said, with that endearing British accent, “you need some DMM Dragonflies.”
I hadn’t heard of the Dragonfly Micro Cams before, and I immediately looked them up. They are the subset to DMM’s Dragon Cams. If anyone knows hard trad climbing on thin gear, it’s the Brit I was talking to. So I decided to give them a try.
I got myself a set of Dragonflies for testing in January 2020. And while the COVID pandemic certainly cut in to my climbing, I have been able to climb on these units enough in the past six months to form a pretty educated opinion about them. And the educated opinion I have come up with is… they’re pretty good.
Not great. Not bad. Just pretty good.
What I absolutely love about the Dragonflies is the sling. I think it’s ingenious that they are doubled over and easily extendable. I have heard that when extended, the way the sling makes a tight wrap around the thumb loop could cause it to kink in a fall, thus weakening the overall strength of the unit. In six months of testing, I didn’t take a single whipper on a Dragonfly with the sling extended, so I can’t speak to that concern. But I did extend countless Dragonflies by simply unclipping one strand of the sling, and pulling the other strand with a quick flick of the wrist. I smiled each time I did this, thinking of the time, energy and rope drag this was saving me.
The Dragonflies are also featherlight. But that said, so are other comparable units from other manufacturers. For example, the smallest size #1 Dragonfly is 55g, the same as Black Diamond’s #000 C3 (long discontinued, but you can still find them for sale in some corners of the Internet). But the new Black Diamond Z4 #0 weighs only 43g, about 20% less than the Dragonfly. Not that you’ll ever notice the difference on such light units. The Metolius Ultralight Mastercams are also lighter (and pack smaller) than Dragonflies of similar sizes; then again, the Metolius ULs don’t have a thumb loop–a major downfall of that product, in my opinion.
The biggest selling point of the Dragonflies may be their strength. Since holding strength is a bigger concern in smaller sizes, let’s look at the smallest. The #1 Dragonfly is rated to 6kN, while the #0 Black Diamond Z4 is rated to 5kn, and the discontinued #000 C3 is only rated to 4kN. Even the #00 Metolius Ultralight (which isn’t as small as the #1 Dragonfly) is only rated to 5kN. A 1- to 2kN difference is pretty big when we’re talking 6kN.
The Dragonflies are not perfect, however.
What I find almost unpardonable about them is that the range is significantly smaller than similar microcams from just about any other company. The #1 Dragonfly only goes from 7.8 to 11mm. Meanwhile, Black Diamond’s #000 C3 goes from 7.8 to 12.9mm, and the #0 Z4 goes from 7.5 to 11.8mm. That may not sound like much of a difference, but I found it very noticeable when placing the Dragonflies. Moreover, the overlap between sizes is noticeably smaller in the Dragonflies than microcams I use from other brands, which often resulted in more umbrella’d or over-cammed placements. In layman’s terms, I found that shoving any micro units by BD and Metolius into tiny cracks was significantly easier than shoving comparably sized DMM Dragonflies into the same cracks–I had to be much more precise in my selection.
Finally (and maybe this is a bit anal retentive), the coloring scheme of the DMM Dragonflies (green, red, yellow, blue, gray, purple) matches the color scheme Black Diamond has used for micro- to finger-sized cams for as long as I can remember, including the new Z4s. But the sizing of the Dragonflies much more closely matches Metolius sizes! In other words, a gray Dragonfly may look to the naked eye like a gray BD Camalot (or Z4 or X4)… but it’s not! It’s really more like a yellow Metolius or yellow Alien. The end result is that when you look down at your harness to grab, say, a purple cam, you have to do a double take to figure out which sized purple cam you’re about to grab; and that can be very confusing.
I do find myself using my Dragonflies more and more often these days. There are certain intangible design elements, which DMM seems to master in all their products, in my opinion, that just make them feel good in hand. And again, I love being able to extend my gear so quickly and effortlessly. Besides, in the end, whichever cam you are using probably doesn’t matter nearly as much as your familiarity with that cam. In other words, if I climb primarily on Dragonflies for the next few years, I’m sure their color scheme and camming range will cease to annoy me; while other cams will become less familiar.
There are a couple other features of the Dragonflies worth mentioning–namely, the narrow head width, and the “TripleGrip” texture of the camming surface–both of which DMM touts as advantages of these units. But the head width is actually wider than that of Black Diamond Z4s in the smaller sizes. And as for the TripleGrip feature, I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes in day-to-day climbing. I have climbed on quite a few micro units with no texture at all on their lobes (Aliens, Black Diamond and Metolius cams), and that hasn’t ever seemed to matter. Perhaps it would make a difference somewhere like Indian Creek where you are placing in smooth, perfectly parallel cracks in soft rock. But ordinarily, when placing microcams, I look for super tight constrictions so that the piece is almost acting in a double capacity as a cam-nut-combo. When placing pieces in that way, I’m not sure how much of a difference textured lobes makes.
All in all, The Dragonfly is a good unit, but I don’t know if I would consider them superior to similar offerings from BD or Metolius (both of which are less expensive, MSRP). Now, if I found that 4 or 5kN wasn’t enough to catch my falls, all of this would go out the window. But the 4kN of other tiny units I have climbed on has proven to be adequate for catching falls time and again; so the biggest advantage of the Dragonflies (6kN in the smallest size) feels like something of a moot point for me.
Kalman is a former Alpinist intern, an editor for the American Alpine Journal, and the author of As Above, So Below: A Climbing Story. You can find more information about his work and climbing at chriskalman.com.
Stronger than any other cam in the smallest sizes
Not much range overlap between sizes
Color-coding matches Black Diamond but doesn’t correlate well to those sizes