First Look: Cassin X-All Mountain

The Cassin X-All Mountain is an intriguing ice tool. As radically curved as the most modern mixed-tools, yet featuring a pommel spike and a hammer (or adze), the X-All Mountain attempts to blend the best of traditional alpine axes and modern ice tools. With three interchangeable handles, three different spike options, multiple head attachments and several specialized picks, the tools can be optimized for any terrain.

REV_X_All_004The X-Dry handle has two prominent ledges, and the X-Dry ‘spike’ has minimal teeth and no actual spike to facilitate leashless climbing.

My tools came with the X-All Mountain Pick, designed to handle both rock and ice, and the X-Dry grip, which features an upper rest and prominent lower pinky ledge. They came standard with the X-Ice spike, so to minimize the possibility of spike-in-face when drytooling, I also ordered the X-Dry ‘spike.’ The tools come standard with a hammer, and a section of the shaft was covered in what Cassin calls X-Grip friction tape, essentially skateboard grip-tape.

As soon as the tools arrived, I peeled off the X-Grip tape, as I’ve found that the rough sand-paper texture rips apart leather gloves. I also tried taking off the hammer, but discovered that due to its interlocking design, either the hammer or one of the other accessories is necessary to keep the pick from rotating within the head. This means that if you would like to take the hammer off, you need to substitute it with the X-Dry plate, an additional $8 accessory.

REV_X_All_007The interlocking pick / hammer interface means you cannot just have the pick installed, but rather need one of the three available accessories: hammer (shown), adze, or drytool ‘plate.’

The handle, or X-Grip, comes in three varieties: the X-Dry which features two prominent ledges; the X-Ice with one large ledge; and the X-Alp which has a minimal ledge for ease of plunging. Along with the handle, the spikes are interchangeable as well: X-Dry is minimal, rounded-off and designed for leashless climbing and drytooling; the X-Ice has a large spike with teeth on the ice-side for increased traction and a large opening for tethers; and the X-Alp which has no teeth but retains a large carabiner hole. Both the handle and the spike attach to the aluminum shaft with the same, single bolt.

REV_X_All_005The X-Dry spike on the left, and the X-Ice spike on the right. Both the spikes and the handles are easily interchangeable using the single screw through the handle.

The X-All’s shaft is very, very curved: its clearance is even greater than that of dedicated mixed-tools such as Black Diamond’s Fusion2 or Petzl’s Nomic. In fact, overlaid on a Nomic or the Fusion2, the X-All’s pick- and handle- angles are nearly identical to those two tools. This makes for a very natural grip, especially on vertical or overhanging terrain, but compromises comfort and usability on lower-angled ice or when using the tool in piolet canne position.

REV_X_All_002The X-All Mountain overlaid over, L to R, BD Cobra, Petzl Nomic, BD Fusion2.

Though the X-All Mountain pick isn’t optimized for ice climbing, it has a very slim profile that penetrates ice without shattering it, yet climbs efficiently on rock without undue blunting. Because of the massive shaft clearance, hooking and swinging over mushrooms or other features are this tool’s strong point. However, due to it’s relative light weight and mid-shaft balance, it doesn’t swing as confidently nor penetrate as well as heavier, or more head-heavy, tools.

With handle- and pick- angles that are so similar to those of more mixed-oriented tools, the X-All doesn’t drytool as well as I expected. On lower-angled rock the tool has a tendency to wobble side-to-side, while on overhanging sections, the tool seems to pivot outwards on the tip of the pick. Similarly, matching on the upper grip doesn’t perceptibly shift the pick, but it does feel less secure than the normal, lower grip. When testing several different tools at a local mixed crag, at around WI4- and M7-, surprisingly the X-All felt least secure on both ice and rock, even when compared to less-aggressively curved tools such as the BD Cobra.

REV_X_All_008The X-All Mountain pick penetrates easily into ice, but still holds up to drytooling use.

At an MSRP of $220, the X-All is in a crowded section of the market, richly populated with other highly-regarded tools like the Petzl Quark and Grivel Quantum Tech, the ever-popular Black Diamond Viper, not to mention a whole slew of newcomers like the DMM Apex, Trango Scorpion and Edelrid Rage. Unfortunately, depending on your primary objectives, it may require the purchase of additional accessories, driving up the base cost.

More aggressive than many of its competitors, the X-All doesn’t perform as well as more-straight / less-curved tools on moderate ground. At the same time, it doesn’t climb mixed or featured ice as well as purpose-designed tools such as the Nomic or Fusion2. It doesn’t particularly excel at anything, but neither does it fail at anything, either. X-All Mountain is a fitting monicker after all.

Good: inexpensive, modular, light, pretty good at everything

Bad: not particularly good at anything, not balanced as well as I’d like, require extra accessories

Overall: a solid all-around tool that with practiced use would make a great quiver-of-one for everything from moderate alpine to hard ice to overhanging mixed

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