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Helium Friends
Wild Country
$65-$75 size dependent

In Spring of 2011 Wild Country introduced the 3rd generation of their innovative Friend camming device - named the Helium Friend. Wild Country is marketing these units as lighter, with a greater expansion, and easier to use than the 2nd generation Technical Friends. The following photo shows the three generations of the #1.5 Friend.

3 generations of Friends

Since I began climbing over 25 years ago, Ive only racked up with Wild Country Friends as I always find myself most comfortable with these tried and true units. I have picked up a few Helium Friend pieces since they became available in the US in the early part of the Summer and have had several days on the crags testing them out. Here are my observations thus far this season:

Look & Feel - Although they still have a single axle as well as 13.75 camming angle, these are not the same Friends your mother and father used back in the 80s. At first glance, the thumb loop is the most visible addition, and the light-weight, hot-forged aluminum almost makes you think they look like a toy climbing device, somewhat like those plastic carabiners we put our keys on. Almost everything is new - the colors, the plastic which encases the single axle stainless wire, and 12 mm Dyneema webbing.

Lighter- In my hands they feel lighter than my Technical Friends, but the gram savings is most apparent when compared to dual-axle camming units, especially in the larger sizes.

Range - The increased expansion is noticeable in practice. The table below compares the ranges (in mm) from the #0 to the #4 (roughly .5 to 4) between Technical Friends and the new Helium Friends. (Notice Helium Friends no longer have the #1.25 and #1.75 sizes.)

Comparison table

Overlap - The expansion of each unit as well as overlapping sizes means that each piece now fits more placements. For example, you just placed your only #2 Friend, but 15 higher you realize you need another #2. The overlap between pieces means that either a #1.5 or #2.5 will also probably fit as well. The increased range as well as overlap also means a full set (which racks from .5 to 4) has been scaled down from 12 to 9 pieces. The chart below illustrates the range as well as overlap between pieces for both Helium and Technical Friends:

Overlap chart

Ease of Use - Ive always felt comfortable placing Friends, going back to the original rigid stems as well as the second generation Technical Friends where you had to balance your thumb at the end of the axle. Fortunately Helium Friends have adopted the thumb loop that is common to most other camming devices and not a moment too soon. The thumb loop makes the device feel more stable in your hand while placing it, and it also allows you to clip the piece short by clipping the thumb loop instead of the sling. The camming action is quite smooth as well. In addition, the new Helium Friends are longer, making them easier to place in deeper cracks and reducing the need to extend the sling. Ive read where others have commented the longer length has resulted in the unit walking less, but admittedly Ive had little issue with Friends walking on me.

Conclusion:  Wild Country reminds me a lot of Apple Computer in the 1990s. They introduced a revolutionary climbing product and dominated the market for many years, but they seemingly failed to recognize changes in climbing technology and instead relied on existing designs while most climbers began adopting alternative models. But the new Helium Friends have taken the strength of the existing design - quite simply they have the longest field record of any cams on the market and we trust them - and have improved it by decreasing the weight, increasing the range and overlap, and adding features such as the thumb loop. Plus, despite a weak US dollar, the price point is competitive with other cams on the market.

Although the new Helium Friends arent going to do for Wild Country what the iPod did for Apple, Wild Country has clearly improved the design of this classic camming device and it warrants serious consideration for your rack.

The full range

Details: New Features: Hot forged cams, New trigger, New Thumb loop, New 12mm Dyn sling. Trigger stop, Nine Sizes. New springs, New stainless axle, All units 12kN, New stem cover. More reach, Up to 6% lighter per unit, Up to 20% more range per unit, Bigger overlaps.

Classic Features: 13.75 cam angle, Single axle, Single stem, Scaled head width, Full floating trigger with independent cam triggering, Full strength cam stops , Colour coded.

Greg Gagne
August 2011

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