Wild Country New Friends

Wild Country Friends – the world’s first camming device made to protect rock climbs – revolutionised climbing when they were invented 40 years ago. Today, Wild Country continues to produce quality gear, introducing Wild Country New Friends.

James Wilson with Wild Country New Friends
James Wilson with the Wild Country New Friend. Photo by Denis Pivot

Bogong: What was your design brief for the Wild Country New Friend?

JW: Really just bringing the best bits of every cam together into one superior unit. I don’t think it’s a revolutionary product – it’s an evolution of everything that’s out there.

JB: Yeah. We felt like those devices that are out there, they hadn’t really reached the pinnacle of their evolution. There were a lot of elements in those devices that we looked at and thought, we can improve that, infinitely.

B: And how have you done that?

JW: We’ve taken the good bits from our older designs while bringing in some new technology, like hollow axles and the extendable sling, which means you don’t have to carry a quickdraw.

We went through every component and thought about how we could lose weight in it. Now the lobes are hot-forged, so you’re saving a lot of weight. Even the plastics, we tried to keep thin. We’ve hollowed out the axles – so although we’ve gone to a twin-axle design, we’ve kept the weight of a single-axle design.

B: So the axle is the horizontal steel rod around which the cam lobes rotate. The original Friend was designed with one axle. The new design has twin axles. Why?

JW: People trust the twin-axle design. They’re less likely to move around in the crack. When they do that they can either pop out, or the lobes can invert on a single-axle. On a double-axle cam, that’s much less likely to happen.

JB: And commercially, the market is shifting. Feedback from our sponsored athletes, from end users that are essentially climbing full time, was that they like the double-axle design – mostly for reasons revolving around stability.

We felt like if we really wanted to offer the best Friend possible, it’d have to be a double-axle design because of the demand from the customer base.

B: How do the Wild Country New Friend hollow axles stack up under extreme load testing?

JW: In all of our testing, actually the first thing to break is the wire where the sling goes through the thumb loop. That’s at about 15kN. The axles barely bend during the test.

The axles themselves, the majority of the strength – from an engineering point of view – comes from the furthest point away from the centre of the axle. That means that the material near the centre of the axle is almost redundant, if that makes sense. So, if you make a bigger axle with a really, really thin wall, it’ll be much stronger than a small axle, solid.

B: My colleague says these are some of the most durable camming devices on the market. What makes them so?

JB: Overall, in terms of all the components, materials used, assembly techniques and so on, it’s all as best as we can achieve at this given time, with current technology. In its production, every last component, James selects the best material fit for purpose. Pretty much with no compromise.

JW: From a durability point of view, what you’re really looking at is four components: the cam lobes, the plastics, the sling and the trigger wires. We’re offering a trigger wire repair kit, which customers can buy if they do get compromised. We’re offering a re-sling service. Everything that’s sort of perishable on the unit will actually be replaceable.

As for the lobes, there’s no reason they should get damaged to the point of needing to retire the unit. Not during normal use. Unlike some of our competitors, our lobes are forged. That helps increase strength.

B: The hot-forging process, for people who don’t understand what that is, can you give a summary and the advantages?

JW: Basically you have a mould into which a lump of metal is squashed into. The piece of metal at the point that it’s forged is red-hot, which allows the material to move throughout the mould, following the contours of the geometry of the cam lobe. The advantage: during this process, the grain structure of the aluminium gets aligned into the best direction for maximum strength. If you imagine a piece of wood, and the grain’s all running in one direction – that’s the direction it’s strongest in.

B: Are the New Friends any safer than the original Friends?

JW: In terms of their stability, they’re safer.

JB: We’ve had strong feedback from Tom Randall, one of our sponsored climbers who has just been out to the United States for the second occasion using these units. He says, for whatever reason, they seem to perform particularly well in slightly flared placements.

B: And what's that down to?

JB: With the new shaping of the lobes – because they’re wider, and because the transition between the side face and working face [the part in contact with the rock] is so sharp, that seems to help them hold their placement really, really well.

JW: I think it’s a combination of the skimmed cam lobes – to expose the aluminium and therefore increase friction – and the sharp edges of the cam lobes. It enables the lobes to grip pieces of grit in the rock. Allows it to stick to the little rugosities.

JB: Little what?

JW: [Laughs] Rugosity. I’m not sure how to pronounce that. The little pieces coming out of the rock. Have I missed anything?

JB: It’s hard to sort of list five bullet points exactly why it performs better in flared placements. We had Tom and Pete [Whittaker] using competitor product for a year, during the design stages of this Friend. We feel it’s just all the competitive advantages and elements of the New Friend – like the extendable sling, the wider face, the sharp transition between the wide wall and the front working face of the cam lobes… all these things come together to make it better in flared placements. And that obviously comes into that safety argument. As a climber, they’re the device that I’m the most confident with.

Key improvements:

  • Lighter
  • Stronger
  • More stable
  • Stickier (changes to lobe surface design and finish)
  • Ideal length (easier to place and retrieve)
  • Bigger expansion range (thanks to twin-axle design, each unit can be used in a larger variety of cracks)
  • Built-in extendable sling
  • Thumb loop for comfort

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