I’m just going to come out and say it: the Cassin X-Dream is the best ice and mixed tool I’ve tried to date. Granted, I’ve only used them three times but first impressions count for a lot when you know what to look for…
Upon first impression, this tool feels extremely light, even though it is only 11 grams lighter than the gen-2 Nomic (597 vs 608). This feeling of lightness can be attributed to the tools’ balance point, which in my highly unscientific test looks to be about mid-way on the shaft (whereas the Nomic’s balance point is around an inch further up the shaft).
The handle is also the most comfortable I’ve wrapped my hands around, with a generous palm rest, nice profile and anatomical shaping. It is a pleasure to hold, and promotes a natural, open-thumbed swing. The handle is made of a single piece of aluminum from the pommel/hand-guard to the shaft attachment point, with adjustable finger trigger inserts. The handle angle is adjustable via a single bolt at the shaft joint, and though at first it appears like it might flex, there is absolutely no movement between the handle and shaft interface.
The one-piece grip/handle of the X-Dream. As you can see the angle is adjustable between two settings — Dry & Ice — and the finger-trigger is adjustable as well (the little black insert in the handle).
There are three different picks available for the X-Dream, all easily interchangeable via a single bolt: a dedicated Ice pick with a small hammer; a Mixed pick with a slightly more aggressive pick angle, smaller hammer and more aggressive teeth over the head for steinpulls; and a Comp pick for, well, comps with a large front tooth for secure placements on plastic and even more aggressive head teeth.
I’m very impressed with the range of customization options and accessories available for the X-Dream. The pick prices are impressive, too: $35 for the Mixed and Comp, $45 for the Ice. By comparison, the Dry pick for Nomics is $59 while the Ice is $53. That’s a substantial difference just in the price of extra picks!
The Ice pick overtop of the Mixed pick. You can see the slight angle difference well here. Disclaimer: I haven’t yet used the Ice pick. The X-Dream has so many options it’s going to take a while to find the ideal settings for different types of climbing!
But, on to performance… as I’ve mentioned I’ve only had the X-Dreams out for three sessions, but they have been very, very impressive.
Day 1 was an outing to the Cineplex projecting Steel Koan, an almost-exclusively horizontal roof rated at M13+. The start involves some relatively delicate placements on vertical to slightly-overhanging ground before moving into the roof. The first large move in the roof is around a 4-foot reach to a large secure edge, onto which you figure-4 to clip. From there you go into a stein in the roof, clip, then there is another large, this time around 5-foot (maybe more, maybe less, it’s hard to tell when you’re upside down) move over an edge to a thin, dicey hold that you can’t actually see. Basically extend, reach around the edge, feel around and hope you’re on the right spot, at which point it’s a figure-9 onto the tool and a release resulting in a swing out into space. If you hold the swing and remain on the rock, you know you’re on the right hold! Now immediately tuck in and reach up with your left tool, going for a bomber ledge. You’re now 4 bolts in to a 13 bolt route… It’s all slightly contrived, extremely demanding of every single muscle in your body and also incredibly fun.
For this rather acrobatic route, I set the X-Dream handle to their Dry setting, retained the smallest finger insert and used the Mixed pick. The Dry handle setting steepens the handle angle by 12-degrees (versus the Ice setting), making the handle sit almost parallel to the pick. This eases the angle at which your wrist sits when you grab the handle, and makes manoeuvres over a horizontal roof a bit easier. In comparison, the handle in its Ice setting definitely feels a bit more strenuous and more taxing when hanging out in figure-4s. Matching onto the upper handle shifts the pick angle slightly, however this is of minimal consequence on a route this horizontal, with mostly secure placements. The pick bites nicely into the rock, and the Mixed picks’ head-teeth made for very secure steinpulls. All-in-all, I was very impressed and didn’t even bother using my tried-and-tested BD Fusion2s, which I had brought along, just in case.
The X-Dream, with the handle in the Ice setting and the Mixed pick, overlaid over its two main competitors: Nomic 2 on the left, Fusion 2 on the right. Though it doesn’t look like it, the picks were overlaid directly over the other tools to match pick angle and length. The X-Dream definitely has more reach than the other tools.
Day 2 with the X-Dreams was an outing into the Ghost, climbing everything from soft WI3 to gently featured and somewhat brittle WI5-. I set the handle on the Ice setting, reversed the finger insert for a more pronounced index finger ledge but kept the Mixed pick. The tools totally blew away my expectations. (And a friend had mentioned they climb ice better than the Nomic — so I was expecting a lot!)
The pick literally slices into all sorts of ice. I really can’t think of a better way to describe it – it’s like jabbing a knife into styrofoam. Displacement is minimal, there is almost no fracturing and every swing feels absolutely bomber. Due to a large, pronounced tooth about 2/3 of the way down the pick, hooking is a pleasure with deep placements over mushrooms feeling more stable than any other tool I’ve tried. The rest of the teeth are quite aggressive as well, slightly more so than those of the Nomic Ice pick and substantially more than the Fusion Ice pick. Despite this, the picks clean well and I only managed to get them stuck when they sunk in so deep that the head-teeth also contacted the ice.
The other wonderful thing about the X-Dreams on ice is the handle. I haven’t quite yet placed what it is about its design, but the handle actually promotes an open-handed, thumbs-up grip and open-handed swing (read this blog post from my friend Will as to why this is a good thing: How To Hold An Ice Tool). Several times while leading that WI5- pitch, I got an odd feeling and would glance unconsciously at my hands only to see them in a relaxed, open-handed position, thumbs wrapped over the top of the handle. For the whole 55m pitch I think I shook out twice – a testament to how well the handle encourages proper technique. Amazing, really.
Day 3 was a short training session at our local bouldering Cave (where drytooling is allowed on designated holds). I brought the wrenches to adjust the X-Dreams, and dragged along a pair of Nomic 2s and Fusion 2s as well: the Cave is the perfect place to compare subtle differences between tools.
On slightly overhanging ground, I discovered that the X-Dream does exhibit a bit of pick shift in the Dry handle setting but remains almost perfectly neutral when in the Ice setting. Traversing, moving on holds and matching on the tools at under 45-degrees feels slightly more secure in the Ice setting, with pick shift minimized. However, moving into the roof and a series of figure-4 & -9s, the Dry setting again came into its own, better aligning wrist with forearm to maintain strength and endurance. The feeling of lightness again became apparent, the tools being easy to hold and maneuver even at arms’ length.
I am very impressed with the X-Dreams. They climb ice, rock, and even plastic, better than any other tool I’ve tried. With customization options for the handle angle, adjustable trigger finger rests and even a third, removable, pommel for the upper shaft, as well as three different picks to choose from, the X-Dream can be tailored to almost any climbing situation. I can’t wait to get back out and put some more mileage on these tools: stay tuned for a full report!
NOTE: Camp USA provided The Alpine Start with a sample of the Cassin X-Dream for review, however this in no way influences our opinion of the product.