The Bottom Line: The Cassin X-Dream is a great ice tool that excels on mixed terrain, but it falls short of the hype that surrounds it. Personal preference and application should be considered before making a purchase.
The Cassin X-Dream is a fitting response to the Petzl Nomic's decade-long dominance. No other tool could really touch the Nomic for a long time. In Europe, DMM and Grivel had some success, and Black Diamond's Cobras were popular on ice. But for mixed and ice climbing it seemed like the Nomic was unassailable.
And then came the X-Dream.
The hype train steamed ahead, and pretty soon climbers in Canmore were doing everything they could to get a pair. Unthinkably, Nomics popped up in used gear sales. Now that the dust has settled, we’re left with the question: Are they much better?
Tools are tools. Any difference is subjective. Different people like different things. Personally, on ice, the Cobra's dampening carbon fibre shaft and smooth cleaning is my favourite, not to mention the natural swing. But it’s worth digging in to see just how the Cassin X-Dream holds up.
Holding the Cassin, it’s immediately noticeable how much lighter it feels. Unlike the top-heavy Nomic with it’s weighted heads, the Cassin feels nimble but also like it might lack power. You can get weights for the head or hammers, but I’ve never tried it in this configuration.
In hand, I’ve never liked the Cassin. The handle has an odd reverse curve. In theory, the plump beneath your thumb will slide in better, and the handle’s curve is more natural for the shape of your fingers. Ergonomically this makes sense, but I’ve always found my hands cramping up compared to the Nomic.
The handle is also more aggressively set back then on the Nomic. On rock, this is definitely an improvement, and it assuredly climbs best on rock. Being so lightweight, its nimbleness really stands out. But on ice, this angle feels weird and uncomfortable. The swing requires more practice and fine-tuning than standard tools and even the Nomic. Plus you have to drive the tool harder to compensate for the lack of weight.
On the bright side, the picks are superb and clean much better then any other tool I have climbed on. I prefer the Nomic, the Cobra, the X-Alp, and even the BD Fuel over the Cassin on ice. But this is preference, and the truth is that everyone will have a different experience.
On alpine, the Cassin less than ideal. In snow, they don't plunge at all. On steep mixed terrain they remain awesome, but on anything not steep they are close to useless, making approaches more challenging than they need to be, especially compared to the Nomic.