Camp - Cassin X-Dream

A well used set of axes, tested over 4 winter seasons. (© Brian Pollock)

Rating: ***** (5 stars)

Recommended Retail Price: £195 f
rom Joe Brown or Climbers Shop

On the cusp of the release of a new generation of ice tools from industry leaders (the soon to be released 3rd generation Petzl Nomic and new Ergonomic as well as the new Black Diamond Reactor) we are taking a look at a lesser known but highly regarded alternative from Cassin, the X-Dream.

Let's be honest, the market for high-end technical ice tools is flooded with worthy contenders. Whilst Petzl's Nomic remains the most popular choice, it is not uncommon to see the likes of the DMM Switch, Black Diamond Fusions / Fuels or Grivel Tech Machines in the hills over the winter season. However, Cassin X-Dreams have so far remained relatively anonymous in the UK market. After 4 years of testing during back to back Scottish winter seasons - arguably the ultimate testing ground for modern mixed/ ice tools - we think it's time the market woke up to Cassin's flagship tools.

Suited to drytooling as well as mountain use. Fast and Furious (D10), Newtyle Quarry  (© Brian Pollock)
Shaft & Head

The X-Dreams, unsurprisingly, look and feel similar to the Petzl Nomics with an uncomplicated, flat-edged, aluminium shaft (as opposed to the muscular hydroformed shafts featured on Black Diamond's tools). The shaft is slightly narrower than the majority of competitors tools but has nonetheless proved to be equally, if not more, robust. After 4 seasons of hooking, torqueing and general abuse our tester's pair feel as solid as ever despite an abundance of cosmetic scratches. Despite our initial reservations, the narrow profile of the shaft has proved an asset when mixed climbing allowing for deeper placements in narrow cracks.

The narrow profile of the shaft is reflected in the head of the tool which is sleek and flush with the shaft. Whilst largely irrelevant when ice climbing, a slightly wider or tapered head profile can be advantageous on mixed terrain - acting like a nut when placed in constrictions within cracks. The narrow heads can therefore feel a little less secure in certain instances than the industry standard Nomics, although this should be viewed as a fairly niche observation as it is rarely (if ever) a make or break factor in use.

That being said, the heads are solid in construction and they have to be as Cassin only sell a small forged hammer with their "ice" picks - the "mixed" pick protrudes slightly from the back of the head giving a narrow slither of steel which can be used as a hammer although in use the head will inevitably take a lot of the abuse. Despite this, we have not noticed any movement in the head such as the renowned wobble associated with the Petzl Nomics. We have heard of one instance of very minor movement developing in a single tool used by a friend although Cassin repaired this under warranty with no issues since. Whether it's down to the double rivets connecting the head to the shaft or a more solid construction overall, the X-Dreams have proved to be very durable tools.

Great on ice. Umbrella Falls (V,5), Liathach (© Brian Pollock)

Perhaps the most interesting and certainly the most unique feature of the X-Dreams are the handles. Whilst most handles are fixed in place, the X-Dreams' handles can be removed, replaced and rotated the standard "ice" position, to a more aggressive "dry" position (12 degrees more aggressive to be precise). Our tester has predominantly used the standard "ice" position for everything from vertical ice to near horizontal roofs whilst dry tooling. In this position the tools feel secure and exhibits minimal pick shift when matching the upper grip rest - which is equally as comfortable as the commodious main grip rest. The "dry" position could be useful for those spending most of their time hanging around on overhanging terrain, otherwise, we think the "ice" position does everything you ask of the tool comfortably. One possible downside to regularly shifting grip positions is wear and tear on the connection point which could lead to some movement developing - although we can only speculate as our tester did not experience this in use.

Generally, the handles are very comfortable and set back further than many other tools protecting the knuckles from contact with bulging ice. We would say they are most suitable for small to mid-sized hands as although they can be enlarged slightly by removing the cushioned base of the handle, our tester (who has fairly small hands) found the handles tight with thick gloves on but perfect with thinner gloves. The handle can also be customised with a mid-grip trigger or a more subtle bump depending on the user's preference.

Finally, there is a third upper grip rest which can be moved to suit the user's preference. Whilst this looks unique and interesting on the shelf, in use, this proved to be a source of annoyance when placed midway up the shaft as it impedes the tool hooking over bulges. However, when moved to the base of the shaft our tester found this to be a convenient way to gain an extra inch or two when matching on the upper grip rest without affecting performance as described above. This extra grip rest can also be removed so any issues can easily be resolved.

Also well suited to mixed, The Crack (VI,7), Coire an Lochain (© Brian Pollock)

Picks & Accessories

As mentioned, Cassin make both "ice" and "mixed" picks, the main difference being the presence of a forged hammer on the ice picks which adds weight to the head for improved penetration on hard ice. They also sell a "race" pick designed for competition style dry tooling. The picks are fairly unique in that they all feature a prominent bird beak style tip. In use, our tester found this penetrated ice very effectively with minimal displacement (both ice and mixed picks). They also clean very smoothly without too much effort. On mixed ground the picks bite into rock well but durability did prove to be an issue. This is somewhat offset by the fact replacement picks are slightly cheaper than competitors (they can be found online for around £30). If a more long term solution is sought, we found the after-market picks offered by Kuźnia Szpeju (now available online) to be far more durable and more suitable for intensive use on mixed terrain. However, on ice we prefer Cassin's picks.

Additional accessories include, pick weights, replacement grip tape, grip rests and accessories but notably no adze or hammer (apart from the forged hammer on the ice pick). However, an after-market hammer can also be picked up from Kuźnia Szpeju - although these can only be fitted to custom picks also sold by Kuźnia Szpeju.

Final Thoughts

If you're in the market for a solidly built, versatile ice or mixed tool with a comfortable grip and customisation options, the Cassin X-Dreams could be the tools for you. We view this tool as a more refined and robust Nomic, equally as capable on the steepest ice or mixed ground - although perhaps less suitable for more moderate terrain or general mountaineering use. 

Perhaps the ultimate compliment of the X-Dreams is the remarkable similarity with the latest offering from Black Diamond, the Reactor, and arguably Petzl's new Ergonomic also. How these tools will compare in practice remains to be seen but one thing is for certain, the X-Dreams are excellent tools, available now at a very competitive price point (they can be found for around £350 for a pair online).

Things we liked: performance on ice and mixed; long term durability; customisation options; price

Things we didn't like: lack of adze; narrow head profile; manufacturer's picks not durable

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