Jeff Shapiro is a man often called to steep, icy walls. Here he shares his experience with his new favorite ice tool, the Cassin X-Dream.

Nothing affects my ice climbing experience more than confidence. For me, confidence is affected by many facets: experience, conditions, physical and mental health and, for sure, the equipment I’m using. My ice tools, for instance, are a component of my kit that directly interact with the most critical part of my environment and are my link to moving efficiently and safely through technical terrain. In the last 28 years, I’ve seen a lot of change in ice tool design – shape, weight, pick angle, profile – and one thing I can’t deny is that when I have a tool that is natural to swing, I’m more confident and in the end, have more fun.

X-Dreams and Jeff Shaprio by Chris Gibisch
Jeff Shaprio getting serious with the X-Dreams. Photo by Chris Gibisch.

As the mixed grades get pushed, the equipment manufacturers have responded with innovative design. Conversations with other climbers driven by our shared passion seem to confirm that many of the “newest/latest” tools excel at steep rock climbing or at steep and technical ice but only very few seemed to do both equally well. I’ve had tools that I loved dry tooling with but seemed to often require me to swing and swing, until I created a hole to hook. Others that swung and stuck in steep ice beautifully but had some annoying pick angle shift when matching on secondary pommels. Pick angle, flex in the shaft, pick profile and grip/pommel shape all seemed to create the need for compromise. This season however, I was psyched to discover a technical ice tool that without a doubt, works best for me throughout the diverse terrain of big mixed climbs–the Cassin X-Dream.

Cassin X-DREAM
Cassin X-Dream

Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve swung the BD Fusion, Fuel, Cobra, and Petzl’s Nomic. I’ve always loved my Cobra’s for the alpine but, appreciated how natural and efficient the swing of the Nomic was. All said and done, I still wanted that one tool that feels good to me for both rock and steep ice. For me, the Nomic was as close to the answer as I’d found. Nothing rock climbed as well as the Fusion (zero pick shift and no flex) but I simply didn’t care for the way they felt on steep ice. Not that they didn’t swing well, just not my preference.

Last season, I heard many friends agree with my sentiments regarding the Petzl Nomic but a large and growing number of friends, whom I hold in high regard, started raving about Cassin’s tool – the X-Dream – for steep ice and rock. I decided I would buy a pair and make up my own mind about the merits of this tool. After a full season, I will definitively state that they are the best ice tool I’ve ever owned, hands down.

First, the shape and weight allows for an effortless and very natural swing. Because they’re a bit lighter than the other similar tools, it took me a few swings to learn how to not “over swing” them but, the X-Dream is so easy to swing, just a few placements into the very first pitch, they felt incredibly natural and confidence inspiring to me. I quickly learned to love the weight and balance; it was easy to appreciate the lack of energy expenditure as I learned how effortless the swing to find a confident placement could be.

X Dream Photo by Chris Gibisch
Jeff using the X-Dreams. Photo by Chris Gibisch.

The angle of the grip, relative to the pick in the “ice” mode makes the tool feel like an extension of my arm and hand. All in line, I’ve been impressed with how a relaxed swing results in a secure placement with an absolute minimum to swinging…consistently. The pick profile is thin and narrow and seems to create a very efficient displacement of ice yet, the pick’s durability has been reliable even in the most heavily pulled on Steins. The pommel is slightly adjustable for accommodating hand size, made more roomy by removing the extra pad which, I did because my hands are on the larger side. Whether I’m wearing bulkier gloves in cold temps or thin “sending” gloves, I’ve found the handle, pommel and grip to be super comfortable.

I chose to change the trigger insert on the lower grip to the larger of the two choices (provided by Camp/Cassin) and for me, the large “trigger” allows me to relax my hand even more while placing gear or shaking out.

X Dream Photo by Chris Gibisch3
Jeff finally getting to the ice with the X-Dreams. Photo by Chris Gibisch.

Another thing I noticed right away was how good the tool displaced energy while striking ice of varying consistency. I’ve heard climbers say that the X-Dream has a bit of “flex” in the shaft while being used to rock climb. My climbing partner and photographer, Chris Gibisch, (also using X-Dream’s) and I agreed that this bit of flex (which to us, felt inconsequential on rock) helped to dampen the energy the moment the pick strikes the ice, making the placement’s dispersal of energy more efficient and aesthetically “feel better.” As an example from the past, I think this is why I always preferred the carbon shaft of a Cobra over a much stiffer, hydro-formed shaft for pure ice climbing. My impression is that the stiffer the tool, the more the action of striking ice has the reaction to direct some of that energy back into my hand. Simply, dampening feels better in my hand and seems to be linked to more reliable sticks because that dispersal also applies the other way (into the ice). Just my impression based on my experience.

One of the coolest features on the X-Dream is a secure and reliable way to change the angle of the lower grip to what they call “Dry mode”. I only made this change while climbing very overhanging rock but, the results were dramatic. Although the tool climbed very well on rock in the “Ice mode,” on steep roofs with moves like figure 4 and figure 9’s, the change to “Dry mode” made it so there was next to zero pick shift when switching between lower and upper pommels. The change in angle also allowed a much more efficient and natural position for my hand, making for far less energy expenditure while fighting a pump.

X Dream Dry Ice Mode
X-Dream Dry and Ice Mode comparison – the handle is a computer rendering so it looks slightly different from reality, which uses a 5 mm hex key but the Dry/Ice concept is the same.

The shaft clearance is exceptional, equal to or better than comparative tools and the balance and weight made putting the tool in my teeth while clipping reasonable, as opposed to the odd shaped shafts and heavier weights of other tools. There are many techniques being used for critical clips/placing gear and hand matches and with a little cloth tape in the right place, using the “in the teeth” method with the X-Dream was easy and preferable for me. With other comparable tools, this method always seemed like a sure fire way to an expensive dentist visit but so far, it’s easy with the X-Dream.

X Dream Pick Options
X-Dream Pick Options

There are pick choices (Ice, Mixed and Race) relative to angle and profile. I prefer the Mixed pick (which is what the tool comes stock with), for everything. The Ice pick has a fixed hammer and the Mixed does not, which is the only thing I’d love to see change. Other than that one tiny complaint, the X-Dream is without a doubt, the tool of choice for me. I’ll be grateful to be using them for seasons to come and unless some massive improvements are made elsewhere, they are only tool I’ll need for 95% of the climbing I love to do in the mountains (an exception: I would choose Cassin’s X-All Mountain for big alpine routes in the greater ranges).

And in the interest of full disclosure, I bought these tools over the counter after the rave reviews from friends (I started using them before I became sponsored by CAMP/Cassin). The benefit for me writing this review is to share my stories about the gear I use in hope that others find it helpful, as I am definitely glad friends recommended the X-Dream to me.

Or, if you’re sold on the X-Dreams, here are the online retailers and their pricing today: